Shingo Takatsu

The 14 best pitches in White Sox history: Who threw it best?

The 14 best pitches in White Sox history: Who threw it best?

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."

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Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

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USA Today

Trust in White Sox closer Shingo Takatsu dwindled early in 2005 season

Early in the 2005 season, there was one White Sox player that fans thought was on thin ice and another who actually was on thin ice.

Despite playing great defense at third base, Joe Crede hadn’t exactly won over the fan base yet. He hit just .239 in 2004 with a .717 OPS in his second full major league season. He was already 27 and the White Sox had used their first round draft pick in 2004 to select hot shot third baseman Josh Fields, who was already considered an MLB Top 100 prospect.

So when Crede got off to a 3-for-21 start in the team’s first six games in ’05, there were already calls for his benching.

It wasn't going to happen. Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen were prepared to be patient with Crede. They seemed more concerned with closer Shingo Takatsu.

Takatsu had taken the South Side by storm in 2004, entering games in the ninth inning to standing ovations and the sound of a gong playing over the speakers at U.S. Cellular Field. After taking over the closing duties in June, Takatsu converted 19-of-20 save opportunities in his first year with the White Sox.

Still, there were concerns that his unique frisbee style of pitching wouldn't last once teams saw Takatsu more than once. Those concerns were heightened when the Indians tagged him for three solo home runs on April 7, 2005, leading to the White Sox’s first loss of the season. Takatsu’s only blown save in 2004 also came to the Indians and Guillen was already voicing his concerns.

“I might not use him against (the Indians),” Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. “They have a good left-handed lineup. Right now, he’s going to be there no matter what. We’re going to see the next couple days.”

It wasn’t exactly a vote of confidence, especially considering the White Sox had already played three straight close games against the Indians, including two one-run victories.

But that was the situation as the White Sox went to Cleveland with a 4-2 record for the Indians’ home opener. Freddy Garcia took the mound for his second start of the season, while Kevin Millwood countered for the 3-3 Indians.

Here was Guillen’s lineup:

LF Scott Podsednik
2B Tadahito Iguchi
DH Carl Everett
1B Paul Konerko
RF Jermaine Dye
CF Aaron Rowand
SS Pablo Ozuna
C Chris Widger
3B Joe Crede

The White Sox-Indians game from Apr. 11, 2005 will air Saturday at 4 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago. For the full White Sox Rewind schedule from the 2005 season, click here.

Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu

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NBC Sports Chicago

Remember That Guy: White Sox reliever Shingo Takatsu

In 2004, a Japanese sensation arrived in Chicago, and then, almost as quickly he was gone. But it was fun while it lasted!

Shingo Takatsu. Remember that guy?

Takatsu was born Nov. 25, 1968, in Hiroshima, Japan and attended Hiroshima Technical High School and later Asia University. He was drafted by Tokyo’s Yakult Swallows, and built an impressive resume, helping the team win four Japanese League titles – 1993, 1995, 1997 and 2001 – and was on the mound for the final out in all four. He did not allow a run in any of the 10 championship series games he appeared in, earning the nickname “Mr. Zero.”

By the end of the 2003 season, Takatsu held the Japanese professional record with 260 career saves (since broken) and was ready to test the waters in the USA. He held a workout in January 2004 in San Diego and eventually signed a one-year deal (with a club option for 2005) with the White Sox on Jan. 22. He became the first Japanese-born player in White Sox history (since, only Tadahito Iguchi and Kosuke Fukudome have joined him among Japanese-born White Sox).

Mr. Zero made his MLB debut on April 9, 2004, at Yankee Stadium, and well, no zeros yet. He pitched one inning, allowing two hits (the first batter he faced was Hideki Matsui, who doubled), two runs and a walk, although he did notch his first strikeout – future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter, who struck out looking to seal the 9-3 White Sox victory. He next pitched a week later, going an 1 2/3 scoreless, and then allowed a run in a third of an inning at home against the Yankees.

But then Takatsu got rolling, and the zeros starting piling up. He amassed a 24-game scoreless streak, going 26 1/3 innings (at the time the 10th longest scoreless inning streak in White Sox history) with 10 hits, no runs, five walks (0.570 WHIP) and 16 strikeouts, wresting the closer’s role from Billy Koch along the way.

After another zero on June 29, Takatsu season ERA was down to 0.92, having given the league a steady diet of sidearm 87 mph fastballs, 75 mph sliders, 70 mph changeups and low 60’s (and even lower at times) “Frisbee” curveballs. Some of those frisbees made the crowd gasp and the radar gun didn’t even register some of them.

Takatsu finally allowed a run on June 30 – a ninth inning Joe Mauer home run at the Metrodome, but the White Sox held on to win 9-6. He posted an acceptable 3.55 ERA from that game through the rest of the season, but it’s hard to forget the phenomenon that was peak Shingo Takatsu in mid-2004.

Takatsu earned one first place vote in the 2004 AL Rookie of the year voting, finishing second to Oakland’s Bobby Crosby. His season line showed a 2.31 ERA in 59 games, 40 hits allowed and 21 walks in 62.1 innings (0.979 WHIP) with 50 strikeouts and 19 saves. Not bad for a one-year flyer, though the White Sox ended up exercising his option for 2005.

2005 started out business as usual for Takatsu with a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve a 1-0 win on Opening Day. It all started to unravel in his next outing three days later, when he coughed up three solo home runs to turn a 5-2 lead into a tie game. Pretty soon, Ozzie Guillen was mixing and matching before Dustin Hermanson took over the closer’s role in May. Takatsu allowed at least a run in 11 of his 31 appearances before the White Sox released the 36-year old hurler on Aug. 1. He quickly latched on with the Mets to finish the season and allowed just two runs in nine appearances.

Mr. Zero racked up quite a few miles over the next few years.

Shingo returned to Japan, reuniting with the Yakult Swallows for 2006, and he pitched well (2.74 ERA) but struggled mightily the next year (6.17). He returned to the United States and signed with the Cubs in January 2008, but was let go in March. He found work for the Woori (Seoul) Heroes in South Korea where he was excellent, posting an 0.86 ERA with 8 saves over 18 appearances (21 IP).

In June 2009, Takatsu signed with Giants and struggled to a 6.87 ERA in 14 games at Fresno (AAA) and never made it back to the majors. He pitched for the Sinon Bulls in Taiwan (Chinese Professional Baseball League) in 2010 and showed glimpses of his dominant years, posting 26 saves and a 1.88 ERA.

Takatsu returned to Japan and managed the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Eastern League farm team before agreeing to take over the Swallows in September 2019. He’s one of two 2005 White Sox players to currently hold managerial jobs in Japan, along with Chiba Lotte Marines skipper Tadahito Iguchi.

Remember Shingo Takatsu? Of course you do!