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CHI, OH MY!
Peter Gammons
July 25, 1977
The toddlin' town is going bananas over baseball even though, except for imported sluggers Richie Zisk and Bobby Murcer, the rosters of the White Sox and the Cubs consist of "Who are these guys?" The reason is, those perennial Chicago losers have been holding down first place in their respective divisions, and Chicagoans are daring to dream of an intracity World Series in October. If it happens, Harry Caray will be there to describe it, but it might be too cold for any outdoor showers
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July 25, 1977

Chi, Oh My!

The toddlin' town is going bananas over baseball even though, except for imported sluggers Richie Zisk and Bobby Murcer, the rosters of the White Sox and the Cubs consist of "Who are these guys?" The reason is, those perennial Chicago losers have been holding down first place in their respective divisions, and Chicagoans are daring to dream of an intracity World Series in October. If it happens, Harry Caray will be there to describe it, but it might be too cold for any outdoor showers

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Sutter's split-fingered pitch breaks so radically that hitters now complain he throws a spitball. He labored with a knot in his right shoulder for most of the last two weeks, and during that time his pitch did not work very well. So Franks ordered Martin to join the Cubs immediately and give Sutter a refresher course in the split-fingered fastball. With Martin looking on, Sutter earned his 24th save in the 9-8 win over the Phillies on Saturday. However, Sutter complained that his shoulder was still knotted up, and he later decided to miss the All-Star Game.

Besides keeping the Cubs in first place, Sutter's superb performances also have helped keep the normally dour and snarling Franks in a state of semi-permanent good humor. The only manager who chews tobacco on the field and wears Brooks Brothers suits off it, Franks, who managed the San Francisco Giants from 1965 to 1968, left baseball after coaching for the Cubs in 1971 and made several more fortunes in the real estate and investment businesses he operates in Salt Lake City.

"Managing's what I love to do," Franks says. "Since I don't have to worry about anything, I can tell people what I want." For his first act, Franks assembled an infield that nobody expected to survive the first month of the season.

Steve Ontiveros at third base, Ivan deJesus at shortstop, Manny Trillo at second base and Larry Biittner or Bill Buckner at first base hardly has the ring of Tinker to Evers to Chance or even Santo, Kessinger, Beckert and Banks. But Ontiveros, who was acquired from the Giants along with Bobby Murcer in the Bill Madlock deal, is hitting .294 and has fielded better than even Franks had dreamed possible, while deJesus, who was acquired from the Dodgers along with Buckner in the Rick Monday deal, is hitting .268 and fielding brilliantly. Trillo, whose previous claim to fame was that Charlie Finley attempted to activate him to replace the "fired" Mike Andrews during the middle of the 1973 World Series, is hitting .304 now but was at .350 for almost three months, and he works easily with deJesus around second base. And Biittner and the oft-injured Buckner have double-teamed first base with eight home runs and 56 RBIs. "Everyone's a little tired right now," Sutter says, "but the All-Star break will enable us to catch our breath. We'll still win it."

O.K., now what about the White Sox. "I still don't think anyone outside of our fans believes what we've done," says Spencer. "I'd never have believed it in spring training, but I sure do now. There's some magic here."

Indeed, the 1977 Sox may be Veeck's greatest flim flam. At the trading deadline the financially strapped Veeck swapped unsigned Pitcher Ken Brett, then 6-4 for the White Sox, to the rich California Angels for three minor leaguers and $400,000 in cash. Publicly, most of the Chicago players ripped Veeck for "selling off our chance at the pennant." So, a few weeks after that deal, the White Sox ran off nine straight victories and stormed into first place. And Brett? He is 0-4 for the Angels.

Earlier, Veeck had dumped unsigned Shortstop Bucky Dent on the Yankees, collecting Oscar Gamble and some 200,000 of George Steinbrenner's dollars in return. And before that he had sent $100,000-a-year Relief Pitcher Clay Carroll to St. Louis for Lerrin LaGrow, a righthander whose career record was 16-41. LaGrow now has a 4-1 record with 16 saves and a 2.29 ERA.

Veeck's best move, though, was the deal that brought Richie Zisk, a real live major league hitter, from Pittsburgh in exchange for Pitchers Rich Gossage and Terry Forster. "We led the league in only one department last year—runners left in scoring position," says Veeck. "I didn't want that to happen again." Zisk is hitting .297 with 19 home runs and 63 RBIs for a team that used to be called the hitless wonders. Zisk still has not signed a contract with the White Sox, but with the money from the Brett and Dent deals in the bank Veeck no doubt will make his slugger an offer he can't refuse.

Maybe the other White Sox are using Zisk's bats, or maybe they're using magic, as Spencer suggests. Whatever they're doing, they trailed the Red Sox by only .001 in American League team hitting. Jorge Orta, Ralph Garr, Lamar Johnson, Jim Essian and Eric Soderholm have batted near .300 all season, and Bannister, Dent's replacement at shortstop, has stayed near .315. Spencer has had two games with eight RBIs, and in one of them he played only four innings. Essian had not had a homer in four previous seasons, but during one four-game stretch he hit a home run in every game. When Zisk was hurt and missed a game, his replacement, Wayne Nordhagen, had four hits in five at bats.

For White Sox fans, though, the best news is that the pitching staff no longer is called the Missile Launchers. Knuckleballer Wilbur Wood has almost completely recovered from the knee surgery that sidelined him for a season, winning three of his last four starts. A healthy Wood, Veeck says, will take some of the pressure off the White Sox' young pitchers—Barrios, Kravec and Knapp—during the dog days of August and the pennant-race days of September.

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