Many men have thrown pitches for the White Sox over the course of their more than 100-year history, but these 14 pitches were the best to ever grace the South Side.
14. Shingo Takatsu’s frisbee curve
Shingo wasn’t in Chicago for long, but he was able to make an impression. He was nearly unhittable for most of 2004, and one of his biggest weapons was his “frisbee” curve. There aren’t many pitches that cause the crowd to gasp, but the frisbee did just that, often thrown too slow to even register a reading on the radar. Many batters were frozen by the slo-mo offering, which Shingo saved for when he really needed it. It looked super slow, even compared to his mid-80s fastball.
13. Carlos Rodon’s slider
Whereas Chris Sale’s slider sweeps down and into the right-handed batters box, Rodon’s seems to dart down toward the plate more suddenly. Perhaps that’s the illusion he creates because he doesn’t have the long arms and lanky frame that Sale has. Regardless, Rodon’s power slider has been his bread and butter ever since he was drafted out of N.C. State and has racked up many a strikeout.
12. Ted Lyons’ sailer
The winningest pitcher in White Sox history (260 wins), Lyons’ best pitch was referred to as his “sailer,” though descriptions of the pitch sound like the pitch we know today as the cutter. The October 1927 issue of "Baseball Magazine" said it was a “peculiar fast ball that ... will swerve from a straight line as much of a foot or more, breaking somewhat like a curve.” Lyons also featured a knuckleball, particularly later in his career. Whatever he threw, Lyons was the ultimate pitch-to-contact hurler, averaging 2.3 strikeouts per nine innings. It was a winning formula; he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1955.
11. Bobby Jenks’ fastball
When the big right-hander began to emerge from the White Sox bullpen in mid-2005, he brought a fastball that most White Sox fans hadn’t seen before. Maybe that’s because pitch speeds on telecasts were still relatively new, and before that you couldn’t see one 100 after another because the technology wasn’t there to bring it to us. Either way, Jenks' triple-digit heat was an unexpected surprise for the 2005 White Sox down the stretch and throughout the playoffs.
10. Jose Contreras’ forkball
The White Sox brought in Jose Contreras at the 2004 trade deadline after he struggled to get going with the Yankees. He was red hot down the stretch in 2005 and into 2006, and ended up the Game 1 starter in the 2005 World Series. The secret to his success was a forkball which darted sharply downward as it reached the plate. Contreras’ massive hands were an asset; he held the ball deep in his hand (as opposed to the split-finger pitch, which is held further up in the hand) with his fingers spread wide apart. His grip almost hurt to watch.
9. Red Faber’s spitball
After the spitball was banned in 1920, Faber was one of the 17 pitchers grandfathered in and allowed to continue throwing the slippery pitch. Faber hung around long enough to be one of the last two legal practitioners of the pitch, along with Burleigh Grimes. He managed to set a White Sox career record with 254 wins (later passed by Lyons) over 20 seasons. Faber (as well as his catcher, Ray Schalk) maintained that he used the spitter only occasionally, making sure to keep batters off guard from his diet of fastballs and curves. It clearly worked; Faber entered Cooperstown in 1964.
8. Wilbur Wood’s knuckleball
Wilbur Wood was fortunate to arrive in Chicago at the right time — the big knuckleballer had the opportunity to learn from the master — Hoyt Wilhelm. Unlike Wilhelm, “Wilbah” used his knuckler primarily as a starter (though he broke in as a reliever), and the reduced strain of throwing the pitch allowed him to amass incredible workloads during the early 1970s. According to the "Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (2004), Wood’s knuckleball is ranked as the third best all-time, after Wilhelm and Phil Niekro.
7. Mark Buehrle’s changeup
Buehrle controlled the pace of any game he pitched. And armed with a fastball that topped out around 90 mph (later in his career, he was in the mid 80s), Buehrle had to change speeds to survive, and his changeup was the key to induce weak contact and double-play grounders. He racked up more than 200 wins and 3,000 innings despite being a 38th-round draft pick.
6. Eddie Cicotte’s shine ball
Eddie Cicotte is best known for being one of the “Eight Men Out” on the 1919 “Black Sox,” but he had a near-Hall of Fame-caliber career. He was known for his knuckleball, but arguably the best pitch in his arsenal was the shine ball. According to his teammate Frank Shellenback in an April 1948 issue of "Baseball Digest":
“Eddie darkened the ball on one side by rubbing it in the dirt. Then he slickened the ball by rubbing it vigorously on his pants. ... The process camouflaged the ball perfectly. The ball, thrown with blazing speed, rotating quickly, and showing the white side only at split-second intervals, baffled batters completely.”
5. Jack McDowell’s split-finger
Over a three-year span from 1991 to 1993, “Black Jack” McDowell averaged a 20-10 record, a 3.32 ERA and 13 complete games per season, taking home the AL Cy Young Award in 1993. His money pitch was the split-finger fastball. As McDowell noted on his 1992 Pinnacle baseball card: “The split-fingered fastball can be used both as a breaking pitch and a changeup. The difference is usually achieved by varying the grip and spreading the fingers. The most effective method is to create top-spin or down-spin on the ball.”
4. Goose Gossage’s fastball
Gossage had an intimidating presence and a fastball to match. He (along with Nolan Ryan) was clocked at 103 mph at the 1978 All-Star Game. Had there been speed readings on every pitch as there are today, the Goose would be considered a bigger star than he was. His fame was at its peak with the late-1970s Yankees, but he most likely threw his hardest coming up with the White Sox in the early 1970s.
3. Hoyt Wilhelm’s knuckleball
Not just the best knuckleball in White Sox history, but Hoyt’s fluttering offering is generally regarded as the best of its kind in major league history. Writing in the April 13, 1968, issue of "The New Yorker," Roger Angell had this to say of Wilhelm’s knuckler: “The ball sailed up, made a sudden small swerve, like a moth in a hallway, and flumped feebly into the catcher’s glove. ... He delivers the pitch with approximately the same effort as a man tossing a pair of socks into a laundry hamper.”
2. Chris Sale’s slider
One of the nastiest pitches in the game, Chris Sale’s slider looks even nastier with the combination of his long, lanky frame and three-quarters delivery. When the ball leaves his hand from the first-base side and sweeps across the plate, it looks like it moves 10 feet sideways. Hitters have no chance, whether coming in on a righty or sweeping away from a lefty.
1. Ed Walsh’s spitball
“Big Ed” Walsh carved out a Hall of Fame career using the spitball, which of course can’t be used now; it was banned in 1920. But it was a legal delivery back when Walsh took the mound in the deadball era, and his 1.82 career ERA is the best of all-time. Hall of Fame outfielder Sam Crawford described Walsh’s wet one this way: "He threw a spitball. I think that ball disintegrated on the way to the plate, and the catcher put it back together again. I swear, when it went past the plate, it was just the spit went by."