Before I begin this series, I would like to cover my rear and say that these are in no particular order at all. I will do a total of five of these, all in separate articles.
The first team I have chosen to highlight is the 1906 Chicago White Sox. To start things off on the right foot, here is some background information, so you have a better feel for what is going on.
The early 1900s were filled with star pitchers: Christy Matthewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Eddie Plank, Cy Young, and the great Walter Johnson. At the time, there were 16 teams in two divisions, the American League and the National League.
Before 1903, these two leagues were separate and competing with each other for players. The National League had been around long before the then-infant American League, but in 1903, they decided to place their respective winners in a World Series.
After a successful 1903 Series, the 1904 edition was abruptly canceled, thanks to John T. Brush, president of the National League champion New York Giants. He said that he refused to play a "representative of the inferior American League." He soon embraced reality, however, and conceded to the rest of the league. The World Series would continue as planned.
After another Series in 1905, the 1906 season was under way. Cy Young was 39-years old, still pitching, and still the ace of the Boston Pilgrims. Christy Matthewson was in his prime with the New York Giants, and the Chicago Cubs were considered baseball's best team.
They were anchored by five pitchers with ERAs under two, but I'll get more into that team in a future article.
If you travel south from West-Side Grounds, where the Cubs played, you wind up in South-Side Park
. The Chicago White Sox packed a total of 585,202 people into that stadium over the course of 151 games—an average of 3,876 people per game.
The White Sox, like many other teams at the time, were a very new team. Since the inception of the American League, in 1902, the South Siders had been in the hunt for the League title almost every year. In 1905, the White Sox had finished just two games behind league-leading Philadelphia; the closest they had ever been to a title.
The 1906 team looked fairly pathetic. There were no power hitters on offense, but the pitching was shaping up to be fantastic. At the time, everyone must have known that in order for Chicago to have any chance, the pitching would have to be extraordinary.
The pitching carried the team all the way to the World Series, behind an offense that sported a batting average of .230 and combined for seven home runs over the course of the entire season. Needless to say, they earned the moniker "The Hitless Wonders."
22-13, 2.33 ERA, 293 IP, 66 K, 27 CG, 7 SHO
Owen was the anchor of this young rotation. At only 26-years old, many more years were expected from him. As it turned out, 1906 was the last year he won more than six games. For a reason unknown, he stopped playing after the 1909 season and never returned.
Perhaps it was because his effectiveness had plummeted from what it once was.
Whatever the case, Owen led the 1906 White Sox in wins, but he had the highest ERA of all five starters.
17-13, 1.88 ERA, 278.1 IP, 171 K, 24 CG, 10 SHO
Walsh is one of the best pitchers of all time. At 25-years old, this was just his third year in the major leagues. He would go on to pitch until he was 36-years old and compile 57 complete-game shutouts.
He is one of only 20 pitchers ever to cross the 50-game plateau in this category.
In 1906, Walsh perfected his infamous spitball. Obviously, this pitch was legal in 1906, and Walsh almost single-handedly brought it to the popularity it had at that time. Three years after Walsh retired, in 1920, a spitball off the hand of Carl Mays hit and killed Ray Chapman.
More than half of Walsh's victories that year were complete-game shutouts, which tied the then-record 10 shutouts in a season held by Cy Young.
20-13, 2.06 ERA, 287.2 IP, 99 K, 25 CG, 4 SHO
Altrock headed into 1906 coming off the best season he would ever have. Many expectations were placed on this 29-year old, as he was one of the oldest in this rotation. He didn't repeat 1905's numbers, but no one could be disappointed with what he did provide. He didn't surrender a home run over the course of the entire season and sported an awesome 1.08 WHIP.
He proved to be crucial in the World Series later that year against the Cubs. He hurled a gem in the first game, beating out future Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown by one run.
18-6, 1.52 ERA, 219.1 IP, 95 K, 20 CG, 7 SHO
27-year old White was in his fourth year in the major leagues. He was very consistent over his 11-year career, only recording an ERA over 3.00 twice. In 1906, White was among the top five in ERA, and his seven complete-game shutouts were also near the top of the league.
White was one of the league's youngest and brightest stars. He pitched for Chicago his entire career, and he led the league in WHIP in 1906 with an outstanding 0.90.
10-7, 2.09 ERA, 142 IP, 45 K, 12 CG, 3 SHO
Patterson was at the bottom of the list of five starters for the 1906 White Sox. He only enjoyed a five-year career, spending all of it with Chicago. In 1906, he was 29-years old and was the oldest on this rotation.
He had some excellent starts during the season, and he provided an extra day of rest for the other four starters 18 times during the 151-game schedule.
Patterson would be the ace on almost any modern team, but on this outstanding White Sox team, he was the bottom of the barrel.
The South Siders would go on to shock the world by upsetting the heavily favored Chicago Cubs. The World Series itself was a classic "Windy City Series," switching between two stadiums on opposite ends of Chicago.
In Game Five, the "Hitless Wonders" exploded for 12 hits and eight runs against three Cub pitchers.
After pitching three innings of relief in Game Five, Doc White was called upon to pitch Game Six. White pitched the complete game against the suddenly stoic Cubs, as they only managed to dent the plate three times.
Again, the "Hitless Wonders" managed to score runs in bundles, making Brown pay for six runs before his second-inning exit. The White Sox went on to win the deciding Game Six by a final score of 8-3.
The 1906 Chicago White Sox pulled off one of the biggest World Series upsets in baseball history, and the majority of the credit goes to a simply incredible rotation. There is no doubt that Frank Owen, Ed Walsh, Nick Altrock, Doc White, and Roy Patterson were one of the greatest pitching rotations of all time.
Sources: thebaseballcube.com, baseball-reference.com, wikipedia.org, mlb.com, espn.com, baseball-almanac.com, "The Great Shutout Pitchers" by Joe MacKay.