Thursday, August 2, 2012

The First Great South Side Run

The ponies run, the girls are young,
the odds are there to beat.
You win a while, and then it's done - 
your little winning streak.
And summoned now to deal
with your invincible defeat,
you live your life as if it's real,
a thousand kisses deep.
Leonard Cohen, "A Thousand Kisses Deep"

Messrs. Wonders, Hitless.
Surely more than a thousand lips kissed the 1906 Chicago White Sox, a true miracle of a club, who pulled off the first great World Series upset, over the crosstown Chicago Cubs.

It was just 106 years ago today that the White Sox embarked on the streak of a lifetime, setting an American League record with 19 consecutive wins. That record run would be tied by the New York Yankees in 1947 (the Yanquis would eventually upend the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the World Series in seven games) and last 96 years before being surpassed by the 2002 Oakland A's (who won 20 straight and made the playoffs, but failed to take home the pennant).

G. Davis, prodigious.
Those Pale Hose of ought-six are said to have dragged Wiffle bats to the plate, being dubbed the Hitless Wonders for a league-worst .230 team batting average. But that reputation as a punchless club is a bit overstated, as they finished third in the American League with 567 runs. Still, these White Sox were no clouters, to be sure, finishing last in the majors with just seven home runs and last in the AL in slugging (.286), total bases (1,410) and OPS (.588, tied with the Boston Americans). If not for the utterly hapless offense of the Boston Beaneaters of the National League, the White Sox would have finished last in baseball in batting average (Boston hit .226), total bases (1,385) and slugging (.281).

Offensive leaders, so to speak, were second sacker Frank Isabell with a .279 average, outfielder/manager Fielder Jones with a .346 OBP, shortstop George Davis with 80 RBI, a .355 SLG, .694 OPS and 120 OPS+. Jones and catcher Billy Sullivan tied for the team lead with two dingers.

So it's safe to assume that the Hitless Wonders might also have been nicknamed the Hurling Mites, because pitch the Chicago 7 sure could (you got that right, the White Sox used just seven pitchers all season: Frank Owen, Nick Altrock, Ed Walsh, Doc White, Roy Patterson, Frank Smith, and Lou Fiene, with Isabell throwing two mopup innings in a rout). The White Sox ranked first in the AL in run differential (2.99 runs per game), shutouts (32, best in the majors), walks (255, also best in the majors) and second in ERA (2.13) and WHIP (1.067).

F. Owen, iron man.
D. White, stingy.

Individual pitching leaders were Owen with 22 wins (22-13) and 27 complete games, while Altrock added 20 wins (20-13) and was the team's only other 20-game winner. White spun a 1.52 ERA and 167 ERA+, and Walsh threw 10 shutouts. No. 4 starter White also threw an incredible 20 complete games in 24 starts, at .833 the highest percentage of CGs on the team.

The White Sox could also pick the pill, finishing third in the AL in defensive efficiency (.705) and second in fielding percentage (.963).

White paced the Pale Hose with a 6.1 WAR, followed by Davis (6.1), Walsh (4.1), Jones (3.9), Isabel (3.3) and Altrock (3.1). (Walsh, in his third campaign of what would become a Hall of Fame career, was paid $1,800 for his 4.1 WAR.) 

The Streak, in Focus
The South Siders' record run started with them lodged in fourth place at 50-43, 7 1/2 games behind the AL-leading Philadelphia A's. The New York Highlanders stood in second, with the Cleveland Naps third. On the afternoon of August 2, 1906 the White Sox knocked off the Americans, 3-0, in front of a crowd of less than 15,000 at South Side Park, which was located just three blocks south of where the team plays today.

Eleven wins into the streak, on August 12, the White Sox finally reached first place, after a 3-0 win over the Highlanders (the contest was played in Chicago, as the White Sox were playing in game 16 of a 17-game homestand). The record run didn't propel the Pale Hose into first place for good, however; by September 5, Chicago had fallen out of first and the club would fight back to the top and fall out twice more before ascending to first for good on September 25.

Among many things, what impresses about the 19-game streak is how uncharacteristically dominant the White Sox were. Before the run began, Chicago had a 0.0 run differential, scoring 318 runs, and surrendering 318. But for those 19 games, the White Sox thumped four opponents (Boston for six wins, Philadelphia for five, New York for seven, and the Washington Senators once) 100-24, a run differential of 4.00.

The pitching and defense were remarkable. Aside from an 11-6 win at the Highlanders and back-to-back 9-4 and 4-3 wins at Boston, the White Sox staff failed to surrender more than two runs in any of the wins. They also threw eight complete-game shutouts during the streak--although to be fair, almost all games were completed at the time, and certainly all shutouts were--and spun five one-run wins.

The streak jump-started a storied White Sox run to the AL pennant, of course, spurring them to a 43-15 record, second in baseball only to the Cubs, who went 50-7 over the same period. After that 318/318 scoring split start to the season, the Pale Hose scored 249 runs the rest of the way, surrendering just 142 (2.45 per game) for a differential of 1.84.

Base-ball triumph, ca. 1906.
Chicago would finish second in the AL to Cleveland with a 0.7 run differential on the season. The Naps were likely both woefully unlucky and terribly managed by Nap Lajoie, as their run differential was a league-best 1.2 and their pythagorean record was 98-55, eight games better than Chicago's.

But win the pennant the White Sox did, buoyed by a league-best 54 wins at South Side Park and a second-best 29-19 record in one-run games.

So if you've got a cap, short-billed or no, doff it to the first of three White Sox champions, who started a miraculous run to the title 106 years ago today. "Breaking down fences" (see third subhed, at right) is optional.

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