There are those times I look at a baseball team and wonder, “How the heck did this team win?” Sometimes it’s obvious, other times obscure. For a good case of obscure I give you the 1959 Chicago White Sox, the “Go-Go Sox”.
First, a brief review of the players is in order. The infield consisted of, from first around to third: Earl Torgeson, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, and Bubba Phillips. During the year both Torgeson and Phillips had problems and by the World Series Billy Goodman was doing the bulk of the work at third while Ted Kluszewski had come over from Pittsburgh to hold down first. The outfield consisted of four players doing the bulk of the work: Al Smith, Jim Landis, Jim McAnany, and Jim Rivera (I always wondered how “Al” got into that mix). The catcher was Sherm Lollar. Norm Cash did much of the pinch-hitting work and stopgapped at first, Johnny Callison was the other outfielder, and Sammy Esposito did the back up work at second, short, and third.
How’d they do? well, they ended up sixth in runs (in an eight team league), sixth in hits, fourth in doubles, dead last in home runs, sixth in batting average, seventh in slugging, and sixth in OPS. The did finish first in steals and triples, and third in OBP. They ended up with an OPS+ of 91. Lollar led the team with 22 home runs and had the team high of 451 in slugging, a .796 OPS, and an OPS+ of 118. Aparicio led the American League in steals (56), and Fox hit .306, led the team in OBP (380), had 191 hits, and won the AL MVP award.
OK so the hitting wasn’t all that great so it has to be the pitching, right? Well, sort of. The team finished first in ERA and saves, runs and earned runs, which is good. It’s ERA+ was 155. But they gave up a lot of hits and were fifth in walks and fourth in strikeouts, which isn’t so good. In total, those aren’t bad numbers, but they are, at best, a mixed bag. The starters who gave the team these numbers were Early Wynn who led the team in wins and strikeouts and picked up the Cy Young Award that season (there was only one Cy Young Award in 1959). Bob Shaw, Dick Donovan, and the immortal Barry Latman completed the right-handed starters, and Billy Pierce was the sole lefty among the regulars. The bullpen was pretty good, especially for the era. Turk Lown led the team in saves (which wasn’t a stat yet), with Gerry Staley right behind. Ray Moore and lefty Rudy Arias were the only other pitchers with more than 25 games.
All this, plus a league leading fielding percentage, got them a five game victory over Cleveland, manager Al Lopez’s old team. I’m not sure how much credit goes to Lopez. He’d been there three years, finished second twice, then broke through. But then the Chisox had finished third the year before Lopez arrived.
They got to the World Series, won game one, lost the next three, won game five, then lost the Series in six games to a Los Angeles team that, frankly, wasn’t a lot better than they were. Kluszewski had a great Series hitting .391, driving in 10 runs, hitting three home runs, and tying (with Fox) for the team lead in hits with nine. Wynn and Shaw both won a game and Wynn led both teams with 19 strikeouts, but posted an ERA over five. By way of trivia, game five had the largest crowd in World Series history (The LA Coliseum will do that for you), so more people watched the Sox win a World Series game (1-0) than any other team.
It was the high point for them. By 1961 they were back to fourth and didn’t make a World Series again until 2005. Today they are noted mostly for having “invented” the modern running game. In doing so they showed both leagues the advantages and disadvantages of that style game. Aparicio had 56 steals, but scored only 98 runs, and had the second lowest OBP of the starters. Those 98 runs would have led only two other teams in the AL, sixth place Baltimore and seventh place Kansas City (and he would have tied for the lead with last place Washington). But their defense, of course, was that they won. Other teams tried it, a few succeeded, but the power game coupled with good pitching still dominates.
As the above should tell you, I’ve never been a big fan of this team. Aparicio and Fox were good up the middle and Wynn had one last good season, but there’s not a lot else going for them. Kluszewski is old, Callison will hit his stride with Philadelphia. Cash will have a good year in 1961 but will do it with Detroit. All in all, I rate them one of the weaker teams to win a pennant in the modern era.
An aside before anyone asks. Minoso, pictured above, was with Cleveland in 1959. He came to Chicago in 1960. The picture is of the fielding awards ceremony in 1960 (making the date of the caption wrong—sorry).