Ron Kittle

12 White Sox hitters who had big seasons in fewer than 80 games

12 White Sox hitters who had big seasons in fewer than 80 games

If baseball returns in 2020, it looks like it will be no more than an 80-game season.

It got me to thinking: What are the best White Sox offensive seasons of 80 or fewer games? I went back and looked through seasons from 1950 to 2019 to find a dozen of the best.

Most of them are either because the player was a midseason acquisition or suffered an injury, and while it’s not the same circumstances, it’s still fun to find who packed the most punch into a reduced number of games. One player made the list twice — and it should come as no surprise who it is. Here they are in chronological order:

Ferris Fain, 1954

282 plate appearances, .302/.399/.417, five home runs, 51 RBIs, 40 walks, 14 strikeouts in 65 games

Fain suffered strained ligaments and a bruise on his right knee in a play at the plate in Game 2 of a doubleheader on June 27, 1954. He ended up missing the rest of the season. But before that, Fain was productive. The two-time AL batting champ with the Philadelphia Athletics (1951 and 1952) dropped off a bit in 1953, hitting only .256 in his first season with the White Sox, but even then he could still get on base with the best of ‘em (.405 on-base percentage). In 1954, he added nearly 50 points to his batting average, but unfortunately the injury curtailed his campaign. In December, he was traded to Detroit.

Charlie Maxwell, 1962

242 plate appearances, .296/.394/.495, nine home runs, 43 RBIs, 34 walks, 32 strikeouts in 69 games

Known as the “Sunday Slugger,” Maxwell had an uncanny knack for homering on that day of the week. In fact, 40 of his 148 career long balls (27 percent) came on Sunday. When he was acquired from the Tigers in exchange for Bob Farley in a June 25, 1962, trade, he seemed to hit every day of the week for the White Sox, though he still saved his best work for Sunday. Five of the nine home runs he hit after joining the White Sox that season were slugged on Sunday.

Dick Allen, 1973

288 plate appearances, .316/.394/.612, 16 home runs, 41 RBIs in 72 games

After winning the AL MVP in 1972, he played only 72 games the following season. That’s unfortunate, since he was on pace for an encore performance. Allen suffered a hairline fracture of the small bone below the left knee in a June 28 game in Oakland. He returned to the lineup on July 31 and made two more pinch-hit appearances, but he was still in pain and missed the rest of the season. Allen ended up holding at least a share of the White Sox home-run lead with 16 until Bill Melton hit his 17th on Aug. 28.

Ron Hassey, 1986

174 plate appearances, .353/.437/.500, three home runs, 20 RBIs, 22 walks, 11 strikeouts in 49 games

Hassey is the only catcher in MLB history to catch two perfect games: Len Barker's in 1981 and the one Dennis Martinez threw in 1991. The 1986 campaign was the midpoint between those two seasons, and the White Sox acquired him from the Yankees on July 30 with Carlos Martínez and a player to be named later (Bill Lindsay) for Ron Kittle, Joel Skinner and Wayne Tolleson. Hassey had the hottest stretch with the bat of his major league career with the White Sox to close out 1986. He even appeared in yet another no-hitter — this one thrown by Joe Cowley on Sept. 19. But he didn’t catch. He was DH that day.

Carlton Fisk, 1988

298 plate appearances, .277/.377/.542, 19 home runs, 50 RBIs in 76 games

Pudge’s 19 home runs in 76 games in 1988 are a White Sox record for a season of 80 or fewer games. Not bad for a 40-year-old catcher. Fisk suffered a fractured right hand after getting hit by a Jack Clark foul tip on May 10 and ended up missing two and a half months. The setback didn’t rob Fisk of his power; he hit 11 of his 19 home runs in 52 games after returning.

Ron Kittle, 1989

196 plate appearances, .302/.378/.556, 11 home runs, 37 RBIs in 51 games

Iván Calderon led the 1989 White Sox with 14 home runs — in 157 games. But it could have and should have been Kittle to lead the team. Returning to the White Sox for 1989 for the first time since being traded to the Yankees in 1986, Kittle was having a career-year. His 11 home runs through June 10 were tops on the White Sox, and his .302 batting average and .932 OPS were career-highs. Unfortunately his back acted up, and he ended up having season-ending surgery to remove a herniated disc.

RELATED: White Sox should still play Field of Dreams game — against Cubs

Frank Thomas, 1990

240 plate appearances, .330/.454./529, seven home runs, 31 RBIs in 60 games

Thomas was selected seventh overall in the 1989 MLB Draft, and just a year later he tore through Southern League pitching to the tune of a .323/.487/.581 slash line, with 18 home runs and 112 walks in only 109 games. The White Sox could hold him back no longer, and he was called up to the majors to make his big league debut on Aug. 2. Thomas showed an approach rarely seen by a player of such a young age and posted one of the greatest starts to a career in major league history. An improbable nugget for Frank’s first taste of major league action: He hit three triples before hitting his first home run.

Charles Johnson, 2000

158 plate appearances, .326/.411/.607, 10 home runs, 36 RBIs in 44 games

An All Star in 1997 and a four-time Gold Glove winner by 2000, Johnson was acquired by the White Sox with Harold Baines in a July 29 with the Orioles for Brook Fordyce and three minor leaguers. He hit so well down the stretch for the division-champion White Sox that you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Johnson stayed in Chicago for more than just a 44-game stint in 2000.

Jose Canseco, 2001

306 plate appearances, .258/.366/.477, 16 home runs, 49 RBIs in 76 games

The big 36-year-old slugger was released by the Angels in spring training after he went homerless in 49 at-bats. He wasn’t done yet, though. He had 446 career home runs entering the season and had his eyes on 500. Canseco went the independent route, signing with Newark of the Atlantic League, and was fairly decent. Luckily for him, the White Sox had a need at DH after Thomas suffered a torn triceps in May and the 42-year-old Baines was hitting just .133. They signed Canseco in June. He still had something left in the tank, connecting for 16 long balls. After that season, he never played in the majors again.

Carl Everett, 2003

289 plate appearances, .301/.377/.473, 10 home runs, 41 RBIs in 73 games

A player so nice, you trade for him twice (in a row). The White Sox acquired Everett on July 1, 2003, getting him from the Rangers for players to be named later (Frank Francisco, Josh Rupe and Anthony Webster). Everett signed with the Expos for the 2004 season, and the White Sox traded for him again in July of that season. Of course, he hung around for 2005 and helped the White Sox win a World Series.

Frank Thomas, 2004

311 plate appearances, .271/.434/.563, 18 home runs, 49 RBIs, 64 walks, 57 strikeouts in 74 games

By 2004, Thomas' batting average wasn’t what it had been, but he was still an elite performer. He could still post a .400 on-base percentage and slugging percentage north of .500, and he was coming off a 42-homer campaign in 2003. But the end of Thomas' White Sox career was plagued with injury. He played his final game of the 2004 season July 6 and missed the rest of the year with a stress fracture in his left foot. In 2005, he only got into 34 games and none in the playoffs. Never forget Thomas' reign of terror in the 1990s. You’ll likely never see another stretch that good in your lifetime.

Alejandro De Aza, 2011

171 plate appearances, .329/.400/.520, four home runs, 23 RBIs in 54 games

Álex Ríos was hitting .208/.255/.300 with six home runs in 97 games when he was benched in favor of the journeyman outfielder De Aza, who was called up from Triple-A Charlotte for the July 27 game against the Tigers. In his season debut, De Aza went 1-for-4 with a two-run homer off Max Scherzer as the White Sox went on to win, 2-1. He finished 2011 with a nice 54-game stretch, which led to a pair of seasons as an everyday outfielder for the White Sox. He was about league average, but that has value.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Jordan's first batting practice with White Sox

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USA Today

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Jordan's first batting practice with White Sox

While everyone remembers Michael Jordan quitting basketball in 1994 and trying out for the White Sox, the seeds of Jordan's baseball career were actually planted in 1990 when he took batting practice at Old Comiskey Park.

This was the very first time Chicago saw Jordan play baseball.

Decked out in a White Sox practice uniform, Jordan went into the cage and proceeded to hit two home runs, one of which almost reached the upper deck in left field.

Former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle was there. So was 10-year-old NBC Sports Chicago producer Ryan McGuffey, who, through a family connection, was driven to the game and chaperoned by Kittle himself.

Both of them join host Chuck Garfien on the "White Sox Talk Podcast" to relive the special day when Jordan held the most exciting batting practice in White Sox history.

Kittle tells stories about playing golf with Jordan, Charles Barkley and Bucky Dent, and the practical joke he once played on former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause.

You also won't believe who was throwing batting practice to Jordan. Here's a hint: He's the father a former notorious White Sox player from the last 10 years.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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When They Were Prospects: Ron Kittle

When They Were Prospects: Ron Kittle

With such a strong focus on current White Sox prospects, we thought it’d be fun to take a look back at statistics and scouting reports of other South Side stars on their journey to the MLB. Our Chris Kamka dug deep into the numbers.

Ron Kittle’s ascent to the Major Leagues was improbable. Maybe even impossible.

Consider that he said this in 1981 (source: Chicago Tribune 7/20/1981) about his 1977 season:

“I played all season with a paralyzed arm. I don’t know when it happened, but it had to be during baseball because I know I was OK when I went to spring training. At the end of the season, I had surgery, spinal fusion. They took out a piece of hipbone and put it in my neck. I went back to spring training the next year and tried to play, but I couldn’t do it.  Everything was stiff. I couldn’t swing, and I couldn’t throw.”

He won the AL Rookie of the Year six years later.

Released by Dodgers in mid-1978, he went home to Gary, Indiana and played semipro ball and worked in the iron mills with his father and eventually received a tryout with the White Sox. 

By 1981 he was the Eastern League (AA) MVP with Glens Falls, crushing 40 home runs.

For an encore in 1982 he was the Pacific Coast League (AAA) MVP with 50 home runs. Nobody in the MLB-affiliated Minors has hit 50 in a season since.

In 1983 he was the lone White Sox representative in the 50th anniversary All-Star Game held at Comiskey Park. Kittle garnered AL Rookie of the Year honors with 35 round trippers which served as a White Sox rookie record until José Abreu did one better in 2014.

Kittle remains a fan favorite in the Chicagoland area, and he can still handle the lumber… although now he uses bats to make beautiful benches. You can check them out over at ronkittle.com.