Intent on revenge, confident of success, the Chicago White Sox swept into New York last week to challenge the Yankees for the American League lead. For three days they poked singles over and through the Yankee infield. When throws came in high, they took an extra base. They bunted. They played hit-and-run. They forced the Yankees into errors. They won three of four games, and when they left New York they were in first place.
One month earlier the White Sox were barely breathing. They had just lost four games to the Yankees—making 19 losses in 31 games—and they had fallen into the second division.
Such sudden reversals of form are not rare in baseball, but they frequently are hard to explain. Not so in the case of Chicago. At the bottom of their dreary plunge, the White Sox suddenly lost their confidence. Then they began to win.
There is nothing mysterious about this seeming paradox. During the off season Owner Bill Veeck, seeking to strengthen the Chicago attack, had bought Washington's home run hero, Roy Sievers, and had traded for Minnie Minoso and Gene Freese, both power hitters. For the first two months of the season the Sox suffered the delusion that they could win on this purchased muscle. The corollary conviction, of course, was that they no longer needed to play the smart, savvy, something-out-of-nothing baseball that brought them the 1959 pennant.
Thus it is fair to say that Chicago's recovery began when its players finally lost confidence in the long ball as the sure route to victory. One reason for the loss was the shocking realization that Messrs. Sievers, Minoso and Freese had produced no more home runs than last year's hitless champions. Confronted with the necessity to play ball, the players made a surprising discovery—they could still do it. The team had not really sacrificed defense to get the sluggers, as everyone believed. The statistics say the White Sox are fielding better than last year, and they are stealing more bases than any other club in the league.
The illusion of power had made the White Sox a careless team. "We were playing sloppy baseball," said Earl Torgeson last week. "We relaxed too much, waiting for someone to win the game for us with a home run. Last year we were always tight, that is, alert, careful. Runs were scarce, so we made certain we didn't give any away. We're playing that way again now."
The problem was not, of course, entirely mental. Chicago pitching was not up to expectations, and still isn't. Both Early Wynn and Bob Shaw, who between them won 40 games last year, started poorly.
" Wynn has had control trouble," said Manager Al Lopez in New York. "I don't mean he has walked a lot of batters. He's been missing with the important pitch, the 2-2 pitch for instance, and that has forced him to make the 3-2 pitch too good. He's been hit hard. Shaw has been getting the ball too high. He's a low-ball pitcher. Last year he'd go out there and simply fire the ball. This year he's thinking too much."
During the Sox' descent, Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox were not hitting and therefore were not getting on base as often as they did last year. It was said that Fox was making bad plays at second base.
"That's not quite true," said a teammate. "Nellie's never been a top fielder, but because he's always hit .350 in the spring no one mentioned his bad plays. This year he's hitting .260. That makes his fielding look worse."