The most amazing thing about this year's amazing American League race is the fact that the Chicago White Sox, who haven't finished first since 1919, are going to win the pennant. Yes, this year. A month ago this was a remote possibility at best, for everyone knew that the White Sox would fold when the hot, humid days of summer rolled around.
Well, summer, hot and humid, has been here for some time now, but the White Sox haven't folded. Instead, they are roaring along in first place, with Cleveland the only challenger left. The old devil Yankees are a fatal dozen games behind.
The pennant-chasing White Sox are an anachronism in this era of power batting. Of the 20 teams that have won major league pennants in the last decade, all but one led or were among the leaders in team home runs. The White Sox are different. They are dead last in hitting home runs, and only Baltimore and Washington have scored less often. Lacking home run hitters, the Sox laboriously squeeze out their runs, one by one, and then rely on pitching and defense to hold off the opposition. This formula has worked well for Chicago this year, because the pitching has been sound and the defense, particularly around second base, has been superb.
An example of this defensive genius is pictured above. The White Sox were leading the Yankees 2-1 in the ninth inning. Suddenly the Yankees rallied. With one out Yogi Berra singled and went to third on Norm Siebern's base hit. It was a typical, old-fashioned, break-your-heart Yankee rally. Manager Al Lopez called in Relief Pitcher Gerry Staley, and the game waited on this fine edge of tension while Staley trudged in from the bullpen.
When action resumed, Staley threw just one pitch. Hector Lopez hit a sharp grounder to Chicago Second Baseman Nelson Fox who flipped it to Shortstop Luis Aparicio who tossed it on to first base. Double play. Game over. White Sox win.
"The double play is doing the job for Chicago," says George Kell, the Detroit Tiger broadcaster and former All-Star third baseman. "Here is a club trying to win on pitching and defense and little power. Their double-play combination of Fox and Aparicio is the most important factor in Chicago's strength. They are the best in baseball. Chicago could hardly win without them."
Second Baseman Jacob Nelson Fox is a small man. So is Shortstop Luis Ernesto Aparicio. Fox chews tobacco when playing ball. So does Aparicio. Both are polite, intelligent baseball players who save their money and are good to their families.
But don't be fooled by this, nor by their engaging grins and casual pose on this week's cover. Certainly no one in the American League is. When Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio put on their baseball uniforms they rarely stand around and smile benignly at their opponents.
Fox is a tough, aggressive self-made ballplayer. He became a highly skilled major leaguer only after years of hard work. He would swallow his tobacco whole if it meant winning a ball game. Aparicio had all of the skills from the start. Three seasons in the majors have given him the self-assurance of experience and much of Fox's competitive drive.
" Nellie Fox isn't real fast, and he doesn't have a great arm," says White Sox Manager Al Lopez. "He doesn't have good hands. No, wait a minute. He never bobbles a ball. I'd say he does have a good glove hand. He works hard, and he knows the hitters as well as anyone in the league. The big thing with Fox is that he anticipates where the ball is going."