Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Forgotten Champions - 1901 White Sox

In my second installment of analyzing the great White Sox teams of the past, I thought I'd turn my attention to the White Sox first championship team - the 1901 squad. In fact, that team wasn't even a White Sox team, they were known by their more formal name - the Chicago White Stockings. One might not consider them a championship team in the traditional sense inasmuch as they did not play in the World Series - the first World Series was staged in 1903. So they were not "World Champions," but they did win the AL Pennant. And this was a pretty amazing team.

The Hitting

The White Stockings/Sox finished first in the AL in runs scored, scoring 819 runs in 137 games - a 5.98 runs per game clip. Over a 162 game season, that would be 969 runs - good by any measure. They had a .276 batting average, which was good for only 5th out of the 8 AL teams, but had a nice .342 on base percentage, second in the Junior Circuit (it was severely junior at that time). With a slugging percentage of .370, it tied for fourth in the league. They lead the American League in walks by a wide margin, totally 475 walks. The next best total was 380.

But where the 1901 White Sox stood out was their larceny on the base paths. It's commonly known that the dead ball era was also an era of stolen bases, but the 1901 White Sox were a special team in that regard. They stole 280 bases, which was first in the league by 73 - a whopping 33% more than their nearest competitor. And the stolen bases were distributed pretty evenly throughout the lineup - Frank Isbell led the team and the AL with 52 stolen bases, and every position player had 12 or more steals. Even Nixey Callahan, a pitcher, stole 10 bases.

The White Sox had some pretty good performers on offense. Four hitters stood out: OF Fielder Jones (.311/.412/.365), OF Dummy Hoy (.297/.407/.400 and a league leading 85 walks), 3B Fred Hartman (.309/.355/.431), and OF Herm McFarland (.275/.384/.383 - including the first ever AL grand slam). Second baseman Fred Mertes paced the team with 17 triples, 5 homers, and 98 RBI, while Hartman topped the team with 23 doubles. Other than Dummy's walks, no Sox player led the league in any category. But from a hitting standpoint, perhaps pitcher/manager Clark Griffith was the best guy to have at the plate. He hit .303, had a .446 OBP and a .427 SLG, even hitting 2 home runs, exclusively from the pitcher's spot (he'd play some OF for the White Sox in 1902).

[Incredible aside - Nap Lajoie was the dominant player in the American League that year - he led in batting average (.426 - next best was .340), on base percentage (.463), slugging percentage (.643), runs (145), hits (232), total bases (350 - next best 279), doubles (48), home runs (14), and RBI (125). That's like a nine-tuple crown. He jumped from the National League, where he was one of the top 10 players or so for he Philadelphia team].

The Pitching

The 1901 Sox also lead the league with a 2.98 ERA. They were solid in every category, second in hits allowed per game, tied for 3rd in walks allowed per game, second in strikeouts, and first in the league with 11 shutouts. A total of 10 pitchers made appearances for the White Sox in 1901. Of course, three of those pitchers only pitched one games, meaning that 7 pitchers accounted for 99% of the innings. Of the 137 games started, the White Sox had 110 complete games.

[Another aside - To give you an idea of how prevalent errors were in that era - the Sox allowed 4.61 runs per game, meaning that, on average then allowed about one and a half unearned runs per game. That was standard in the league. Cleveland allowed about two unearned runs per game. Detroit committed 410 errors that year, including 76 errors by shortstop Kid Elberfeld.

The best pitcher on the Sox squad was Clark Griffith, who was so good they named a stadium after him in DC. He finished 24-7 with a 2.67 ERA, which was good for fourth in the league. Cy Young led the league with 33 wins, and Griffith's 24 were third best. He tied Cy Young for a league-best 5 shutouts. Roy Patterson also won 20 games, and had 127 strikeouts in 312 innings - a pathetic strikeout rate by modern standards, but his total was good for second to Cy Young. Nixey Callahan had a good season - he led the team with a 2.42 ERA (second in the league), with a 15-8 record in 27 games (22 starts). Jack Katoll rounded out the rotation with a 2.81 ERA and an unlucky 11-10 record.

The Makeup of the Team

The 1901 Sox had a mixed level of experience in the majors prior to the inception of the American League that year. On the inexperienced side, P Roy Patterson was a rookie in 1901, 1B Frank Isbell had spent 1898 with the Chicago Cubs, C Billy Sullivan had 2 years with the Boston Beaneaters, P Jack Katoll had pitched two years with the Cubs, and Herm McFarland - despite being 31 years old - had played only two years in the "majors" (Louisville and Cincinnati).

Several of the White Sox had bounced around the majors for several years, including 2B Sam Mertes (2 teams and 4 years in the NL), 3B Fred Hartman (4 teams over 6 seasons in the NL), SS Frank Shugart (4 teams over 7 seasons in the NL), and OF Dummy Hoy (5 teams over 11 seasons in the NL, American Association and the 1890 Player's League). Hoy was also the oldest player in the league in 1901.

There were a few Sox with success in the majors prior to 1901, especially on the pitching side. Clark Griffith had won almost 200 games in the NL. Nixey Callahan, although only 27, had a couple of 20-win seasons with good ERA totals for the Cubs, among others. OF Fielder Jones had a good run with the Brooklyn Bridegrooms/Superbas, hitting over .300 4 times in 5 years.

The Season

The team started well and stayed pretty consistent all season. They tore out of the gate with a 24-9 record, lost 11 of their next 16, but then rattled off a 10-game win streak to hit 39-20. They cruised through August and September, eventually hitting a high water mark of 82-48 before losing 5 of their last 6 to finish 83-53. Boston stayed close to the Sox through late August, reaching a 62-40 mark on August 23, just 1/2 game behind. But September was poor for the Pilgrims, and only a 6-game winning streak at the end of the season brought the Pilgrims from 9-games behind to 4-games out to end the season.

The Sox dominated several teams, winning 16 of 20 from the Milwaukee Brewers and 14 of 18 from the Baltimore Orioles - two teams that would leave their cities in the upcoming years only to be reborn in their cities with the same names years later. The Sox kept the Pilgrims close by playing them poorly, going 8-12 against the Boston team.

The Sox were able to draw a fair amount of fans to see them play. They led the league in attendance with 354,350 coming to South Side Park (it seated 15,000) - an average of a little over 5,000 per game. The hapless Cleveland Blues were only able to draw 131,000 that year (the next year they obtain Nap Lajoie and drew 275,000. Not surprisingly, by 1903 the Cleveland team was called the "Naps"). The Sox fans were treated to victories very often - going 49-21 at home. The same year, the Cubbies (known as the Orphans) drew a scant 200,000 to West Side Park despite being an established team in the National League.


Nope. Clark Griffith faded in 1902, Dummy Hoy was gone, and Herm McFarland played poorly. Mertes shifted to the outfield, but his replacement at 2B, Tom Daly, put up a woeful .225/.303/.288 performance. The team dropped to the middle of the pack in OBP and ERA. Fielder Jones had a pretty good season again, but everyone else trailed off. The 1902 squad wound up 74-60, 8 games out in 4th place. By 1903 they were the 7th place team. Only Billy Sullivan, Fielder Jones, and Frank Isbell would be positional starters for the 1906 World Series Champions, and Roy Patterson was the only pitching carryover.

Well, that's about as much as I could glean from Baseball Reference. But given their performance relative to their league, I'd have to say the 1901 Sox Team ranks in the top 3 of the 10 greatest Sox teams. I'll figure out where in the top 3 when I get to ranking them all.

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