Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Ones That Got Away: White Sox, Part 1

Of the three dozen or so most prominent examples of players and managers who left Chicago early in their careers and went on to greater glory elsewhere, refugees from the Cubs outnumber those of the White Sox by a substantial margin. However, the Sox have not been entirely immune themselves. A few noteworthy White Sox castoffs from before 1950 are recalled below.

Gavvy Cravath
White Sox, 1909

     Outfielder Gavvy Cravath had hit one homer in 19 games for the White Sox when he was traded to the Washington Senators for pitcher Sleepy Bill Burns in May 1909. Burns went on to an undistinguished career that was tainted by accusations of complicity with gamblers (after his playing days were over, he became a key figure in the Black Sox scandal of 1919-1920). Cravath, meanwhile, emerged as the greatest slugger the game had seen up to that time.
     Playing for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1912 to 1920, Cravath led the National League in homers six times and tied for the lead another time. His 24 round trippers in 1924 established a new single-season record, which was broken by Babe Ruth in 1919. Cravath retired as baseball's all-time leading home-run hitter with 119. He retained this distinction for one year. In 1921, Ruth hit 59 homers to bring his lifetime total to 162.
     Cravath got off a memorable quote while managing the woeful Phillies. When one of his players complained about the razzing the club was getting from opponents and fans, Cravath did his best to console him. "Don't let anyone tell you that you're not a major leaguer, son," Cravath said. "We might not be a major-league club, but we are playing against major-league clubs."

Edd Roush
White Sox, 1913

     In his brief trial with the White Sox, 20-year-old center fielder Edd Roush managed but one hit in ten at-bats. He signed on with the Indianapolis Hoosiers of the upstart Federal League the next year, lured by the princely salary of $225 per month.
     When the Federal League folded after two seasons, Roush joined the New York Giants, where he took an intense dislike to legendary manager John McGraw. Since the feeling was quite mutual, Roush was soon traded to Cincinnati. With the Reds, Roush became the most popular player in franchise history before the emergence of Pete Rose half a century later.
     Roush was only five-foot-eleven and 170 pounds, but he used the heaviest bat (48 ounces) in major-league history. Because the bat was hardly tapered at all, Roush could bunt, get good wood on inside pitches, and slap balls to the opposite field. From 1917 through 1926, his lowest batting average was a league-leading .321 in 1919. That year, Roush and the Reds triumphed over the "Black Sox" in the World Series.
     Roush retired with a .323 average and two batting titles in 18 seasons. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1962.

Dixie Walker
White Sox, 1936-1937

     Early in the 1936 season, the White Sox picked up right fielder Fred "Dixie" Walker on waivers from the New York Yankees, for whom he had been bouncing between Triple-A and the majors since 1931. Walker had a big year for the Sox in 1937, hitting .302 with nine homers, 95 RBIs, and 105 runs scored, while also leading the league with 16 triples. He was promptly traded to the Detroit Tigers.
     When Walker landed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in mid-season 1939, his career took off. In Brooklyn, he soon became known as "the People's Cherce" for his popularity among the fans. Walker was a four-time All-Star for the Dodgers and four times finished in the top ten in MVP balloting. He led the National League in batting average in 1944 and in RBIs in 1945.
     The lefthanded-hitting Walker emphasized contact over power; he never hit more than 15 homers nor struck out more than 28 times in a season. He was a key player on Brooklyn pennant winners in 1941 and 1947. Before the '47 season, Walker balked at playing alongside his new teammate Jackie Robinson and also tried to enlist other Dodgers in a boycott. To his credit, he came to sincerely regret the episode, calling it "the stupidest thing I've ever done in my life."

Ed Lopat
White Sox, 1944-1947

     The prototypical small, crafty lefthander, Ed Lopat had a record of 50-49 in his four years with the White Sox. After the 1947 season, he was traded to the New York Yankees for three players--only one of whom, pitcher Bill Wight, lasted long enough to make an impression (he lost 20 games in his first year with the Sox). Lopat became a mainstay on the Yankee teams that won an unprecedented five successive world championships between 1949 and 1953.
     At five-foot-ten, Lopat was far from overpowering, but he knew how to get people out. Though he yielded about a hit an inning and a walk for every strikeout, Lopat compiled a phenomenal record of 92-40 from 1949 through 1954. He led the American League in winning percentage and earned-run average in 1953. He won four out of five World Series starts, including two complete-game victories in 1951 in which he allowed a total of one run.

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