The Chicago White Sox All-time Starting Rotation
Imagine you are the lucky individual chosen to select the Chicago White Sox all-time starting rotation for a special fantasy league.
Your rotation would then have to face off against every other team’s rotation to determine a champion. Whom would you select? Who would back up your top five starters and close out games?
The rules are simple. You may select anyone from the entire history of the White Sox. Starters need to have pitched 1,000 innings for your team. Relievers chosen need to have logged 250 games for the White Sox.
The origins of the team
Chicago already had a rich baseball history before the founding of the American League White Sox. Al Spalding and Cap Anson had acted as owner and player/manager for the history rich White Stockings of the National League.
They had won consecutive titles back in the 1880s before Spalding had sold or traded all the star players away for going out for a “pint” after the game.
The NL Chicago team seemed to have abandoned the White Stockings name by the 1890s, going by the “Colts” and “Orphans” before landing on the “Cubs” by 1903.
The White Sox original team came from the Western League, a minor league, and more specifically a team which Charles Comiskey had bought and moved to St. Paul.
When the NL gave the new American League permission to put a team in Chicago in 1900, Comiskey moved his St. Paul team to the near south side of the city and named them the White Stockings, taking the old name from the then-named Orphans.
The White Stockings won the Western League title in 1900, and the following year, the American League withdrew from the national charter for minor leagues and called themselves a major league, with Ban Johnson as the president, (a friend of Charles Comiskey from his days as manger of the Cincinnati Reds.)
Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey were clearly the major driving forces of the newly formed league.
Comiskey brought in some players to give the new team a successful debut. His lead pitcher was Clark Griffith (later owner of the Washington Senators), and long time friend and premier centerfielder of the 19th century, deaf lead-off hitter, Dummy Hoy.
Comiskey had been involved with the initial use of signs for Hoy when he played for him in St. Louis and Cincinnati, signaling balls and strikes with the right and left hands.
I’m sure Comiskey was also involved getting signs used for Hoy when he ran the bases as well.
Now Comiskey had convinced Hoy, at the disbanding of the Louisville team in 1899, not to go with Honus Wagner, Fred Clarke, Tommy Leach, and Rube Waddell to Pittsbugh, but to come help him inaugurate the new American League in Chicago.
Hoy led off for the new White Sox, leading the league in BB, and the team in 2B, and OPS and OPS+ with a .407 OBP.
Griffith did his part, winning 24 games, and the White Sox were the initial champions of the American League! Next to Hoy in RF was Fielder Jones.
Over the next few years the team developed a strong defensive attitude and rallied behind the pitching of Ed Walsh, Doc White and Nick Altrock.
By 1906, the team surprised the baseball world by winning the World Series, defeating the juggernaut Cubs from across town for the title.
The team was known as the,"Hitless Wonders”, as the top batter hit .279 and they were led by Fielder Jones’ 2 HRs!
In 1910, Comiskey Park was built. They had consulted with leading pitcher Ed Walsh in designing the stadium, and it became known as one of the great pitching havens in baseball lore.
Walsh had pitched the peak of his career before the stadium was built. He was a spit ball artist of the highest level.
Batters had complained that his spitball would just disappear at the plate. Ed Walsh was so adept at preventing runs that he established the lowest career ERA (1.82) in the history of modern baseball.
Just as Walsh’s career was winding down, the White Sox developed star players Eddie Collins and Shoeless Joe Jackson, and pitching star Eddie Ciccotte.
The White Sox won the pennant and World Series in 1917 behind the pitching of Ciccotte, Red Faber, and Reb Russell.
The White Sox again won the pennant in 1919 and were favored to win the World Series against the upstart Cincinnati Reds.
This is when “the fix’ is to have been made, throwing the series to the Reds, and forever marring the team as “the Black Sox.”
Eight players, including stars Ciccotte and Jackson, were given lifetime bans from the game by newly appointed commissioner Landis by the end of the following season.
Landis was determined to get the game “clean.” There was no wavering in his decisions. This put an end to a potential HOF career by Eddie Ciccotte.
His credentials are actually strong enough for HOF consideration, having won 209 games. But he is ineligible because of this somewhat self-induced tragedy.
The Sox were not the same after the scandal. Whether from guilt or just a lack of the right players, they rarely produced even .500 baseball for the next two decades.
The team had stars like Luke Appling and pitcher Ted Lyons, but not much success to go along with them.
Ted Lyons became a local hero of sorts, pitching seemingly forever...the last few seasons only on Sundays!
He was able to stretch out his long career, garnering success as a once-a-week starting pitcher through 1942. He ended up with 260 wins and a place at Cooperstown for his efforts.
The Early Rotation –
1 – Ed Walsh – 1904-1916 – 195W; 57 SHO; ERA+ 147 – the master of the spitball shut down opposing teams with remarkable efficiency for six incredible years.
2 – Red Faber – 1914-1933 – 254W; 29 SHO; ERA+ 119 – Faber also featured the spitball and was one of 17 pitchers “grandfathered” in to allow him to continue to throw it after the rules changed. He remained remarkably successful throughout the 20s, pitching his entire career for the White Sox, and is in the HOF.
3 – Ted Lyons – 1923-1946 – 260W; 27 WHO; ERA+ 118 – another career White Sox pitcher, Lyons won 20 games three times. Later in his career, manager Jimmy Dykes decided to pitch Lyons only on Sunday afternoons. He gained the nickname “Sunday Teddy” and was very popular among the Chicago faithful. Lyons pitched his way into the hearts of the HOF voters as well.
4 – Doc White – 1903-1913 – 159W; 42 SHO; ERA+ 114 – White was a slow ball specialist who led the league in ERA (1.56) in ’06 and wins (27) in ’07. He held the scoreless-inning streak record until broken by Don Drysdale in 1968! His 42 SHO are something to write home about as well.
5 – Ed Ciccotte – 1912-1920 – 156W; 28 SHO; ERA+ 133 Ciccotte was a battler on the mound. He was widely successful until derailing in the 1919 postseason.
Spot Starters – Reb Russell, Thornton Lee (1940s – 104W)
When motivational manager Paul Richards took over the team in the early '50s, things began to change. Richards was highly into player development, especially developing young pitchers and young defensive experts.
Richards groomed young Billy Pierce, who the Tigers had cast off, and by ’53 had developed the next White Sox ace.
The dominant team in the league, the Yankees featured a young Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and their young ace Whitey Ford. It was the most powerful team baseball had seen since the Yankees and Tigers of the 30s.
The other leading team of the day was the Cleveland Indians with their incredible pitching staff, featuring Bob Lemon, Bob Feller, Mike Garcia, and Early Wynn. The Indians set an American league record for wins in ’54 with 111.
But the White Sox had their own mojo. The team and their fans seemed to have an insatiable drive to win each year. They brought in Latin American favorites and stars Minnie Minoso and shortstop Luis Aparicio. They teamed up with defensive whiz Nellie Fox to make a great up the middle defense for the team.
Paul Richards and new manager Al Lopez were the architects of this pitching and defensive oriented team. They became known as the “Go-go Sox” in the late 50s for their base stealing as well.
From ’55-’60 the rivalry between the White Sox and the Yankees grew very intense. Both teams would hold back their best pitcher to face the other team.
Billy Pierce became the face of White Sox for these rivalries. He faced down the Yankees 42 times during those years and came away with a 21-21 record.
He pitched many low scoring gems, leaving without a win. Sportswriters marveled how he could pitch on even terms against the far superior offense the Yankees possessed.
Particularly, his duels with Whitey Ford were legendary. He came away with a 15-15 record against Ford which was finally broken by shutting out the Yankees and Ford in Game 5 of the 1962 World Series, while pitching for the Giants.
The White Sox brought in Early Wynn, who won 20 games for the ’59 season. Things started to break the right way for the Sox that year, and they won the pennant for the first time since the 1919 scandal.
They featured running, pitching and defense against the LA Dodgers who had surprised the NL as well that year.
The White Sox won two games in the series, but strangely, manager Al Lopez failed to start Billy Pierce even once in the series.
This was the pitcher who had been tested in the fire of facing big game after big game, and had won the game that put the Sox in first place for good in August of that year. But Lopez refused to start Pierce, and his teammates remained quiet.
The next several seasons witnessed some more great pitching in Comiskey Park. The team often led the league in ERA, but just couldn’t score enough runs to top the Yankees. In 1964, they won 98 games but fell short by one game!
New star pitchers came along, giving the fans hope of future success. Gary Peters won two ERA crowns and a rookie of the year award in ’63. Joe Horlen won the ERA title in ’67, and Tommy John was putting up great stats as well.
If your team wasn’t shut down by Peters, Horlen, or John, then you had to face one of the stingiest bullpens ever assembled, with the likes of Hoyt Wilhelm, Ed McMahon, Eddie Fisher, and Bob Locker.
Wilbur Wood came along just as the rest of the team was starting to fade back to mediocrity.
Since the Sixties, the White Sox have featured pitchers like Jack McDowell (not Sam), and more recently their sometimes ace, Mark Buehrle.
The team finally won a World Series, breaking their long drought one year after the Red Sox broke their alleged curse in 2004!
In 2005, they hired Venezuelan=born manager Ozzie Guillen. Guillen wanted to emphasize, of all things, pitching and defense, and the ability to move the runner along the bases without the reliance on the home run. This became known as “small ball.”
The baseball gods must have been smiling at the throwback to the “Go-go Sox” style of play and reliance now on Latin leadership for the team.
The White Sox dominated baseball as the best team for most of the year with their pitching and defense which could win 6-5 or 1-0 just as comfortably.
Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, and Orlando Hernandez won 72 games and were supported by a deep and versatile bullpen.
It was a gritty, diverse, and motivated team. They were led on the field by hard-nosed catcher AJ Pierzynski, offensive sources Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye, speedy Scott Podsednik, and defensive standouts Tadahito Iguchi at 2B, and Aaron Rowand in CF.
The Modern Rotation –
1 – Billy Pierce – 1949-1961 – 186W; 35 SHO; ERA+ 123 - Billy "The Kid” Pierce was slight of build, but big of heart. He was twice pitcher of the year (’56, ’57), and started 3 All-Star games for the AL. He was the face of the Yankees – White Sox rivalry of the 1950s, and his size bespoke of the “David vs. Goliath” mentality many White Sox fans held at the time.
2 – Wilbur Wood – 1967-1978 – 163W; 24 SHO; ERA+116 - Wood threw a knuckleball he obviously learned during his days in the Chicago bullpen from Hoyt Wilhelm. It served him well as he moved from White Sox closer to ace in the early 70s, pitching as many as 376 innings, and winning 20 games four times.
3 – Mark Buehrle – 2000-2010 – 141W; 8 SHO; ERA+ 121 – Buehrle has been an important part of the White Sox success this past decade. He has been a constant presence for the team, and the author of two no-hitters, one a perfect game last year.
4 – Gary Peters – 1959 – 1969 – 91W; 18 SHO; ERA+ 115 – Peters was the ace of the White Sox staff of the middle '60s. This was one of the stingiest pitching staffs in history and he won the ERA title twice.
5 – Jack McDowell – 1987-1994 – 91W; 10 SHO; ERA+ 117 – “Black Jack” enjoyed his peak with the White Sox from 1991-’93. He won the Cy Young award in ’93.
Spot Starters – Joe Horlen, Tommy John, Alex Fernandez
The Relievers –
The top two relievers in White Sox history are Roberto Hernandez – 345 games, 161 saves, and ERA+ 154, and Hoyt Wilhelm – 1.92 ERA, 361 games, 98 saves, and ERA+ 171.
The White Sox have been rich in relievers throughout their modern history with closers like Bobby Thigpen, Bobby Jenks, and Keith Foulke. Setting up they have had standouts like Eddie Fisher, Bob Locker, and Damaso Marte.
The All-Time White Sox Starting Rotation and Pitching Staff –
1 – Ed Walsh – lowest career ERA in modern baseball history and 57 SHO to boot!
2 – Billy “The Kid” Pierce – 5’ 10 “ and 160 lbs. dripping wet, he was ready for any showdown against any pitcher!
3 – Red Faber – show me that spitter one more time!
4 – Ted Lyons – ages like fine wine – on Sundays only!
5 – Doc White – holder of the scoreless streak record for over 50 years.
Filling in during the week when Lyons can’t make his scheduled start – Eddie Ciccotte – just make sure it isn’t the post season, and your team isn’t favored; Wilbur Wood – just in case your opponent haven’t seen enough junk yet!! He excelled starting and relieving.
Closers – Roberto Hernandez – led the White Sox resurgence in the early 90s along with Frank Thomas and Jack McDowell.
Hoyt Wilhelm – Hoyt was at his stingiest best while with the White Sox – virtually unhittable! From ’64-’68 his ERAs ranged from 1.31 to 1.99, and his H/9 marks ranged from 5.5-6.6 – unbelievable! It is no wonder he is the first reliever in the HOF.
Chicago pitchers must have loved to pitch for the White Sox. Many of them stayed their whole careers if they could. Old Comiskey Park was the home to many a pitcher’s duel, whether it was at the hands of Ed Walsh, Doc White, Red Faber, Billy Pierce, against the Yankees, or a gem from modern-day Mark Buehrle.
The White Sox have always been at their best when they emphasized their pitching, defense and “small ball.”
Today’s deep bullpen of Jenks, Thornton, Putz, and Co. belies the great pens of ’05 and the 60s. The White Sox certainly have storied pitching careers and exploits to mark the way for the next generation of pitching success.