Chris Kamka

White Sox pitchers' greatest hitting performances before universal DH

White Sox pitchers' greatest hitting performances before universal DH

The universal designated hitter is coming in 2020. Of course, the White Sox have had the DH since 1973, but when interleague play was introduced in 1997, there were still a handful of games where the pitchers hit. Now we won’t have even that.

And that’s fine. White Sox pitchers from 1997-present have hit a collective .104/.137/.144 with three home runs, 17 walks and 205 strikeouts in 516 plate appearances. That’s hard to watch. But there have been some fine moments by White Sox pitchers at the plate throughout history.

On April 29, 1901, Frank Shugart hit the first major league home run in White Sox history. He was a shortstop, but the second home run was by pitcher John Skopec the following day. So, believe it or not, there was a time where the White Sox had an equal number of home runs by position players and pitchers. One apiece — after the game on April 30, 1901.

In 1908, Big Ed Walsh had a season for the ages. He went 40-15 while tossing 464 innings, striking out 269 (a White Sox record until Chris Sale broke it) with 42 complete games and 11 shutouts. He even made 17 relief appearances; what more could you ask for?

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Well, on July 4, he hit a home run — one of only three home runs the Sox hit ALL SEASON! Walsh’s round tripper was the team’s first of the season — in Game 68. So, Ed Walsh won 40 games and hit 33.3 percent of the team’s home runs in 1908. That won’t happen again.

On Aug. 31, 1935, the White Sox beat the Indians 5-0. Three of those runs were on a bases-loaded triple by Vern Kennedy in the sixth inning. Of course, that wasn’t the big story. The big story of the game was that Kennedy tossed a no-hitter.

Tommy Byrne had notorious control issues, but he had talent, so the White Sox traded for the 33-year old lefty for 1953 trying to catch lightning in a bottle. The White Sox ended up trading Byrne to Washington in June, but not before he put up one of the stranger statlines in franchise history. Byrne made six starts but only pitched 16 innings. In four of his starts, he failed to make it out of the second inning. He walked 26 in 16 innings and struck out only four. His ERA was a nightmarish 10.13 but he was 2-0!

But that’s not it. He made twice as many appearances as a pinch hitter (12) than he did on the mound (6). And on May 16, 1953 at Yankee Stadium, he dug in to pinch hit in the ninth inning against Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell with the bases loaded and the White Sox trailing 3-1. You probably know where this is going. Yes, Byrne hit the most improbable pinch hit grand slam, one of only eleven in White Sox history, and the only one by a pitcher.

Jack Harshman holds the White Sox record with 16 strikeouts on July 25, 1954, which you may already know. What you may not know is that Harshman was the New York Giants Opening Day starter in 1950 — at first base. With 12 home runs for the White Sox, he’s one of only two pitchers in franchise history with at least 10. And on June 16, 1957, Harshman started against the Washington Senators and was knocked out of the box after allowing six runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Harshman didn't hit a home run but was relieved by Dixie Howell, who hit two of them. It’s the only multi-homer effort by a White Sox pitcher — and it was a reliever. Howell had one other home run in 1957, and it was a walkoff — the only White Sox walk-off homer by a pitcher (excluding pinch hit appearances) — on Sept. 6. The year before, Howell homered in consecutive relief appearances for the White Sox — June 27 vs. Boston and July 1 at Cleveland. Not bad.

Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio and Early Wynn finished 1-2-3 in AL MVP voting in 1959, as the Go-Go Sox went on to the World Series. Fox won the MVP, hitting two home runs and posting a .389 slugging percentage. Meanwhile,  Wynn was third in MVP voting, won the Cy Young Award, matched Fox’s two home runs and .389 slugging percentage.

MORE: Tim Anderson leads growing White Sox toward contention: 'He's a man'

His masterpiece was on May 1, when he tossed a complete game, one-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts. But he also homered for the lone run in the 1-0 victory! And that June 14, he went 4-for-5 with three runs, two doubles and an RBI in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Baltimore. It remains the last four-hit game by a White Sox starting pitcher (Adam LaRoche had four hits in a game where he pitched the ninth inning. It doesn’t really count, but it’s fun to mention).

There have been four pinch hit home runs by White Sox pitchers — Byrne’s grand slam (mentioned earlier), Charlie Barnabe on May 1, 1928, and two by Gary Peters. Peters hit a remarkable 15 home runs for the White Sox, a record 13 as a pitcher and two as a pinch hitter. One of those two was a walk-off blast on July 19, 1964 in the first game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City A’s. Peters also hit one of two grand slams by a White Sox pitcher — three, if you count Byrne’s pinch hit blast. Peters hit his grand salami on Cinco de Mayo in 1968 off the Yankees’ Al Downing.

The other grand slam by a Sox moundsman was by Monty Stratton on June 10, 1938. Tragically, later that year Stratton suffered an accidental gunshot wound which required his leg to be amputated. Monty never made it back to the majors, but made it back to the minors in 1946 and pitched for several more years on a prosthetic. The 1949 movie "The Stratton Story" tells his inspirational tale.

The best single-season batting average in White Sox history (minimum 15 at-bats) is .526 by Terry Forster, a pitcher. Years before David Letterman referred to the big lefty as a “Fat Tub of Goo,” he went 10-for-19 for the White Sox in 1972 — 10 hits and 29 saves in the same season And then of course, the following season, the American League adopted the designated hitter.

What about those three home runs hit by White Sox pitchers in the DH era?

The first was by Jon Garland in Cincinnati on June 18, 2006 off Esteban Yan, who allowed two of the more unlikely home runs in White Sox history. It was Yan who allowed Paul Konerko’s epic inside-the-park homer at Tropicana Field on April 11, 2000.

Next was Mark Buehrle, who homered off Milwaukee’s Braden Looper on June 14, 2009. Of course, Buehrle later tossed a perfect game on July 23 that year. Buehrle in 2009 became the second pitcher in White Sox history to homer and toss a no-hitter in the same season, along with Frank “Piano Mover” Smith in 1905. Smith had two hits, three runs and a walk in his Sept. 6, 1905 no-no.

The most recent home run by a White Sox pitcher was Anthony Ranaudo on July 27, 2016. It was Ranaudo’s first game in a White Sox uniform; he is one of only two pitchers to homer in their White Sox debut, joining Jack Salveson on June 14, 1935. The 6-foot-7 righty is also one of only two AL pitchers ever to homer at Wrigley Field, joining the Tigers’ Daniel Norris on Aug. 19, 2015. Ranaudo was the first White Sox starting pitcher to homer before allowing a hit in a game since Peters on July 14, 1965.

But of course, Ranaudo’s blast was not the greatest moment by a White Sox pitcher in 2016. That of course would be on June 1 at Citi Field in Queens, when Matt Albers doubled to lead off the 13th inning, scored what would be the game-winning run and got the win over the Mets. The moment was immortalized with its own Topps Now card.

If you take 119 years of history, you’re bound to find a few rays of sunshine. Such is the case with White Sox pitchers at the plate. Fortunately, the designated hitter has allowed generations of White Sox fans to enjoy the fine hitting of Harold Baines, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, just to name a few. So, if Major League Baseball wants to implement a universal DH, that’s fine by us.


Top 10 longest games in Chicago Blackhawks franchise history

Top 10 longest games in Chicago Blackhawks franchise history

There’s absolutely nothing better than playoff hockey. It’s an edge-of-your-seat adrenaline rush each and every shift. It’s easy to forget to breathe during particularly intense sequences. And the best part: it doesn’t end until one team scores.

Obviously, that leads to some very long, but memorable games.

These are the 10-longest games in Blackhawks history.


Why Sammy Sosa was second to Mark McGwire AND Albert Belle in 1998

Why Sammy Sosa was second to Mark McGwire AND Albert Belle in 1998

When you think about Chicago baseball in 1998, the first thing you think of is likely to be Sammy Sosa and the great home run chase with Mark McGwire. Sosa ended up four home runs behind Big Mac’s 70, but he took home the NL MVP award and exploded into the national spotlight. Sosa crushed the single-season Cubs home run record by 10, and baseball fans across the country were imitating his trademark home run hop and kiss salute.

And Sosa wasn’t even the best Chicago outfielder in 1998.

On November 20, 1996, the White Sox stunned the baseball world by signing Albert Belle to a record five-year, $55 million contract. After becoming the first player in MLB history to hit 50 doubles and 50 home runs in a season with the Indians in 1995, Belle followed it up with another monster campaign with 48 home runs and 148 RBI in 1996. When he dipped to .274 with “only” 30 home runs and 116 RBI in his first season with the White Sox in 1997, he was seen as a bit of a disappointment. So in the backdrop of the Sosa and McGwire (and Ken Griffey Jr.) home run extravaganza of 1998, Albert Belle flew under the radar. And he quietly had a historic season.
Better than Sosa, even, despite Sammy’s considerable fanfare.

Through May, Sosa was red hot; Belle was on pace to duplicate his 1997 season.

                             Games  BA         OBP       SLG        HR         RBI
Belle                    54          .264       .348       .508       10          40
Sosa                    52          .343       .415       .583       13          39
In June, Sosa had a month for the ages – at least as home runs are concerned. His batting average and on-base percentage are probably less than you might remember.

                             Games  BA         OBP       SLG        HR         RBI
Belle                    28          .295       .360       .518       7            23
Sosa                    27          .298       .331       .842       20          40
But make no mistake about it, that was an amazing June for Sammy. At the All-Star break, this is where they stood:

                             Games  BA         OBP       SLG        HR         RBI
Belle                    87          .278       .354       .517       18          66
Sosa                    83          .324       .384       .667       33          81
Belle didn’t even make the All-Star team! But then he went on a second half tear unlike anything we’ve seen since.

                             Games  BA         OBP       SLG        HR         RBI
Belle                    76          .387       .451       .816       31          86
Sosa                    76          .290       .369       .626       33          77
After the 1998 All-Star break, only Belle (31), Sosa (33) and McGwire (33) hit at least 30 home runs. Belle’s 86 RBI were seven more than anyone else (Jeff Kent was next with 79). Belle was tied with Derek Jeter for the major league lead with 109 hits. Among players with at least 200 plate appearances, Belle’s .387 batting average was second only to Larry Walker (.402). His .451 on-base percentage was fifth in the Majors. His .816 slugging percentage was by far the best; Mark McGwire was the only other player over .700 (.734).
And with that white hot finish to 1998, here’s how Belle stacked up with Sosa at season’s end:

              Games   BA         OBP       SLG        OPS       Runs     Hits       2B   HR    RBI    BB    K
Belle     163        .328       .399       .655       1.055    113        200        48    49    152    81    84
Sosa     159        .308       .377       .647       1.024    134        198        20    66    158    73    171       

Belle took the edge in all three slashline percentages. He reached 200 hits – he’s the only White Sox player with 200 hits in a season since Nellie Fox in 1954. He set White Sox single season records in doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases and extra-base hits. All five records still stand. He trails Sosa in runs and RBI, as well as home runs. In fact, it was Belle’s second season with 48+ doubles and 48+ home runs. At the time Belle had the only two such seasons in MLB history. Since then, only Todd Helton (2001) has done it. Belle walked eight more times, and struck out EIGHTY SEVEN fewer times.
Belle also has an edge in advanced metrics

                             OPS+     wRC+    wOBA   WAR (baseball-reference)           WAR (fangraphs)
Belle                    172        165        .437       7.1                                                    7.1
Sosa                    160        159        .425       6.5                                                    7.1
Both OPS+ and wRC+ are metrics which measure total offensive value, with 100 being league average and any point over or below 100 representing one percent over or below league average. So according to OPS+, Belle was 72% above league average and Sosa was 60% above league average. These measures also take into effect the ballparks in which they played, so if you wanted to argue that New Comiskey Park was a better hitter park, and thus Belle had an advantage, OPS+ and wRC+ both account for that. As far as wins above replacement is concerned, Belle has a slight edge in the baseball-reference version and they’re even according to fangraphs.

Better batting average. Better on-base percentage. Better slugging percentage. More walks. Half the strikeouts. While Albert Belle may not have hit as many home runs as Sammy Sosa in 1998, he was a better hitter. And the numbers back it up.

RELATED: Albert Belle: 'I had a better year' than Sammy Sosa during 1998 season

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