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Windy City Showdown: 1906 and 1917 White Sox

The Chicago White Sox have been a much-maligned franchise due to some of the 1919 team members supposedly being involved in a plot to fix the World Series with gambler Arnold Rothstein. What people sometimes fail to remember is that in the early days of baseball’s “Deadball Era” both the White Sox and, yes, the Cubs were pretty good baseball teams. This matchup features the first two White Sox teams to win a World Series, the 1906 White Sox, also known as the “Hitless Wonders” and the 1917 White Sox team which was almost the same team in 1919.

The lineup for the 1906 Pale Hose would be; Billy Sullivan at catcher, Jiggs Donahue at first base and Frank Isbell at second base. The left side of the White Sox infield would be George Davis in the shortstop hole and Lee Tannehill manning the “hot corner” at third base. The ’06 White Sox outfield would be Bill O’Neill, Ed Hahn and Freddy Jones. The White Sox pitching staff in 1906 consisted of Fran Owen (22-13), Nick Altrock (20-13), Ed Walsh at (17-13), Doc White (18-6) and Roy Patterson (10-7). The team’s manager in 1906 was Fielder Jones.

For the 1917 version of the White Sox, it would be Ray Schalk at the catcher’s position with Chick Gandil manning first base. Second base for the White Sox was Eddie Collins with the shortstop hole being filled by Swede Risberg. George “Buck” Weaver was the player at the hot corner for the ’17 White Sox. The outfield for Chicago in 1917 had Nemo Leibold, Happy Felsch and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson as the Pale Hose triumvirate. As for the pitchers in 1917, Eddie Cicotte would lead the way as the staff ace with a record of 28 wins and 12 losses. He would be followed by Red Faber at 16 wins 13 losses and then Claude “Lefty” Williams at 17 wins and 8 losses. The last two mounds men for Chicago would be Reb Russell at 15 wins and 5 losses and Jim Scott at 6 wins and 7 losses. The White Sox manager for the 1917 season was Clarence “Pants” Rowland.

Matching up the catchers we have Billy Sullivan of the 1906 White Sox who had a 2-home run, 33 RBI, .214 1906 season versus the catcher for the 1917 White Sox Ray Schalk who hit 2 home runs, had 50 RBIs and hit for a .226 average in 1917. Both men were scrappers and a team would be welcome to have both men on their respective clubs. Advantage here would go to Schalk and the 1917 White Sox, more for the fact that Schalk was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame than for a matchup of numbers for the season.

Moving on, the first baseman for the 1906 White Sox was Jiggs Donahue who, in 1906 had 1 home run, 57 runs batted in and a .257 batting average. The 1917 version of the White Sox would have Arnold “Chick” Gandil at first base. Gandil did not hit a home run in 1917, but had 56 runs batted while hitting for a .273 average. As a side note, Gandil was a fair to average first baseman who played with Hall of Famer Walter Johnson during some of Johnson’s best years from 1912 through 1915. On the bad side, according to legend, it was Gandil who was the player who began the “FIX” talk in 1919. Here the advantage would go to Gandil and the 1917 White Sox as in that 1917 season Gandil had a fielding percentage of .995, making just 8 errors in 1490 chances at first base while Donahue made 22 errors in 1,837 chances for a .988 fielding percentage.

Walter Johnson / Image Courtesy Getty images

Second base is the next step on this tour round the diamond and the 1906 Chicago 9 put Frank Isbell (0 home runs, 57 runs batted in and a .257 batting average) against the second baseman for the 1917 White Sox, Eddie Collins, who also did not hit a home run during the 1917 season. Collins did have 66 runs batted in and a .289 average for the White Sox during the 1917 season. Statistically both men were very close on offense, but on defense Collins held an advantage with less errors in more chances, and of course a higher fielding percentage, so therefore the advantage goes to the 1917 White Sox. Collins, a native of Millerton, New York in Dutchess County, would go on to a 25-year career in the major leagues amassing 3,315 hits (11th all-time), scoring 1,821 runs (17th all-time) and stealing 741 bases and hitting .333 for his career (27th all-time). Collins was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1939 and was a part of the initial induction class that same year.

The shortstop on the 1906 White Sox was George Davis who, while not hitting a home run, drove in 80 runs and had a batting average of .277 which was second best of the starters behind Isbell the second baseman. Swede Risberg was the shortstop on the 1917 White Sox hitting .203 for the season with 1 home run and 43 runs batted in. Defensively Davis had an advantage fielding at a .949 rate to Risberg’s .913 average. No doubt here advantage to the 1906 White Sox and Davis.

Lee Tannehill was the third baseman for the 1906 Chicago White Sox with Buck Weaver manning the “hot corner” for the White Sox in 1917. Tannehill did not hit a home run, drove in 33 runs and hit .183 during the 1906 season. Weaver hit three home runs, had 32 runs batted in and hit for a .284 average during the 1917 season. This one is not even close as Buck Weaver takes the honors in a cake walk.

For the 1906 White Sox in the outfield we have Bill O’Neill ( 1 home run-21 runs batted in- .248 batting average), Ed Hahn ( 0 home runs, 27 runs batted in and a .227 batting average) and finally player/manager Fielder Jones (2 home runs, 34 runs batted in, .230 batting average). The 1917 White Sox outfield would consist of Nemo Leibold (0 home runs, 28 runs batted in and a .230 batting average), Happy Felsch (6 home runs, 99 runs batted in and a .308 batting average) and finally “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (5 home runs, 82 runs batted in and a batting average of .301). Again, this match-up is a no brainer as well with the 1917 White Sox team taking the honors. Felsch is (because of his involvement in the “Black Sox Scandal”) an oft forgotten player who had the big star potential had he not been involved with the gamblers and the fix.

Then there is one of the greats of the game Joseph Jefferson “Shoeless Joe” Jackson. Jackson was such a good hitter that Babe Ruth patterned his swing after Jackson. Jackson had a lifetime batting average of .356 which is the third highest of all-time behind Ty Cobb at .366 and then Rogers Hornsby in second at .358. Jackson also holds the highest average for a rookie hitter as he hit .408 in 1911 to finish second to the great Ty Cobb who hit .420 in the 1911 baseball season. Jackson could do it all, hit, hit with power, run, field and throw.

Shoeless Joe Jackson / Image Courtesy of Getty Images

Nemo Leibold was a steady ballplayer, just not in the caliber of Felsch or Jackson and while he may be the weak link in the 1917 outfield, the advantage still goes to the 1917 squad.

As for pitching, the 1906 White Sox squad had Frank Owen 22-13, Nick Altrock 20-13, Ed Walsh 17-13, Doc White 18-6 and Roy Patterson 10-7. The 1917 White Sox squad consisted of Eddie Cicotte 28-12, Red Faber 16-13, Lefty Williams 17-8 and Reb Russell 15-5.

Like all of the other games in this series it would consist of one game to advance so the 1906 team would probably send either Frank Owen or Nick Altrock to the mound to face either Eddie Cicotte or Lefty Williams. Both teams would have a good bullpen to rely on as well. Owen played eight seasons in the major leagues and in the 1906 World Series it was he who relieved Doc White and pitched the final six innings of the second game of the World Series although he did not figure in the decision. Altrock was often thought of as a baseball clown after he had retired from playing but during his career he won 20 games twice in 1905 and 1906.

The 1917 White Sox nine would undoubtedly have Eddie Cicotte as a starter as he was a winner of 209 games in his career and has been acknowledged as one of the first masters of the knuckleball as well as the “shine ball”. Cicotte certainly threw away a Hall of Fame career as did the man who would have been Patsy Donovan’s choice as the alternate starter, Lefty Williams. Williams had a short seven-year career in baseball before throwing it all away in the World Series scandal. Before that, he won a total of 82 games in his career. This team would have a future Hall of Famer in the lineup in the person of Red Faber who won 254 games over the course of his 20-year major league career.

So, after looking over the statistics, advantage goes to the 1917 squad, who I think would win in a rout over the 1906 “Hitless Wonders”.  The 1917 squad was a heck of a team and was basically the same team in 1919. One can only wonder what may have happened had that infamous series been played on the up and up.

Kevin Larkin has been going to all kinds of baseball amateur and professional since 1969. When asked he says he is a baseball fan who likes the Yankees. He was a police officer for 24 years in his home town of Barrington Massachusetts and helped on investigating most major crimes including murder, plane crashes and automobile crashes. He was certified as an expert witness in accident reconstruction and investigated almost 90 fatal automobile accidents. After retiring from the police force he renewed a love for baseball and as of now has authored three books on the subject: Baseball in the Bay State, Gehrig:Game by Game and Baseball in the Berkshires. He has authored articles for SABR and helps out there with research whenever possible. He has a coloection of almost 700 baseball books and enjoys pre 1900 and post 1900 baseball as well as the Black Sox Scandal and learning about the Negro Leagues. He also writes a column for CNY Baseball and loves giving back to the sport which has given him so much.

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