Baseball buffs may look back with reverence on the 1959 White Sox, the team that dared to challenge its era and got away with it. They will remember with awe how the Sox won 35 of 50 one-run games, scored fewer runs than the fifth-place club, hit fewer home runs than any team in the major leagues and scrambled to a pennant on the walk, stolen base, wild pitch and sacrifice fly. Most warmly they will recall the defensive magic of Nelson Fox (here completing a double play) and Luis Aparicio in the infield and Jim Landis in the outfield.
?AN ADDED ELEMENT
These winning ways have been modified, perhaps significantly, by the White Sox management. A new and foreign element has been added—power. Not that speed and pitching and defense have been cast aside. They have merely been squeezed over to make room for the big stick. If President Bill Veeck has his way, the 1960 Sox will look and play much like any other ball club, only better. As Veeck knows, 1959 was a subpar season in the American League and the Go-Go Sox (who have been playing the same way for years without taking a pennant) will have to improve to win again.
If only in light of last season, Chicago's new-found punch looks impressive. Minnie Minoso (returning to the South Side after two years with Cleveland) and Gene Freese (from the Phils) can each match Catcher Sherm Lollar's team high of 84 RBIs; they hit 44 homers between them last year, almost half as many as the White Sox hit as a team. But though Minoso is a proved big leaguer (.306 BA for nine major league seasons), Freese's ability is still open to question: he has had only two reasonably notable seasons. Yet he can deliver the long ball and, under the new system, this ranks him well ahead of last year's third basemen, singles hitters Bubba Phillips (now with Cleveland) and Billy Goodman. Add the raw muscle of Ted Kluszewski, the dependability of Lollar and the sporadic power of Al Smith, and you have a team with at least average run-scoring potential. Big Klu came to Chicago for the 1959 stretch drive and performed admirably; he batted .297 in 30 games and played errorless ball in the field. Though bothered by chronic back trouble, he expects to play 125 games this year. Lollar, always the master receiver, is good with the bat, too, and enters his 15th season fresh from a career high in hits (134) and home runs (22).
?THE OLD GUARD
Despite the push for power, old White Sox hallmarks like Fox and Aparicio will still, thank goodness, be very much in evidence. Nellie and Louie get an invigorating kick out of playing baseball, and their competitive spirit sparks the whole club. They delight in racing around the field while sucking a hefty chaw of Favorite chewing tobacco ( Aparicio, still a growing boy, holds himself to one pack a game). Fox flourishes a big red handkerchief ("Red doesn't get dirty as fast"), guards his infield terrain like a bantam rooster and hits consistently. Aparicio, fielding or base stealing, is undiluted genius. Surprisingly, both had only normal years in 1959. Fox played in every game, hit safely 191 times and led the league's second basemen in putouts and assists. Aparicio had more base hits (157) than ever before but fell four points below his major league batting average; he again handled more chances than any shortstop in the league. Yet Chicago fans will gladly settle for normalcy of this sort: it fashioned a pennant and firmly established Nelson Fox and Luis Aparicio as baseball's best second-base combination.
?THE GO-GO BOYS
The White Sox again have men with the ability to get on the bases and the speed to move around them. The Sox stole 113 bases last season, high for both leagues. Aparicio accounted for 56 (he was caught 13 times) and Center Fielder Jim Landis 20. Freese has good speed and so does Minoso, now 36 but the league's best base stealer until Aparacio came along.
In depth and experience, Chicago's pitching staff is unmatched in either league. Early Wynn, the stopper's stopper, shows no signs of slowing down and could well make this his sixth 20-victory year. Burly Gus continues to defy at least two of pitching's Ten Commandments—he insists on throwing letter-high and repeatedly falls behind the hitters—but the results could hardly be improved upon. Early's 22 wins topped both leagues and brought his career victory total to 271, more than 100 better than his nearest American League competitor. Dick Donovan and Billy Pierce, mainstays of the staff in previous summers, were decidedly off form last year ( Donovan 9-10, Pierce 14-15) but the White Sox won anyway. Handsome Bob Shaw performed astonishingly well (18-6, 2.69 ERA) after a couple of nondescript years, and no one expects a return to mediocrity. A pair of well-traveled old codgers, Gerry Staley and Turk Lown, are the league's best bullpen team. Two newly arrived left-handers, Frank Baumann (from the Red Sox) and Don Ferrarese (from the Indians), may work into the starting rotation. If not, the fifth starting spot will go to broad-shouldered Barry Latman, a fast-balling right-hander whose talents have been carefully husbanded by Chicago (only 19 decisions—12 of them wins—in three years). Mike Garcia, Cleveland's Big Bear, has recovered from a finger injury and an appendectomy and is trying to catch on as bullpen long man.
If the pitching is experienced, it is also aging. Wynn is 40, Staley 39, Lown 35, Pierce 33 and Donovan 32. Even Shaw, still a neophyte, is no boy. He'll be 27 in June.
?AGE AND ERRORS
The problem of age is not limited to the pitchers. Of this year's eight regulars, only Aparicio (25) and Landis and Freese (26) can be called young; the other five are well over 30, as are key reserves Billy Goodman, Earl Torgeson and Jim Rivera. In his determined bid for a second pennant, Veeck has exchanged his best young prospects ( John Romano, Johnny Callison and Norm Cash) for short-term help, and has found only two promising rookies from the spring crop. Joe Hicks, a fast and able outfielder, is a good hitter, with average power; he did so well in training that he won a place on the squad, and may even work into the starting lineup. J. C. Martin will concentrate on third base for now, but is being groomed as a long-range replacement for Kluszewski and Torgeson at first.