With no Chicago White Sox baseball while we wait for the COVID19 situation and its effect on the 2020 season to unfold, now is as good a time as any to look back on the past. While there may only be three World Series Champions in White Sox history, there are a lot of historic teams and players, painting one hell of a story over the last 120 seasons of baseball.
With that in mind, I naturally got to thinking which team is the best – not just on paper, but on the field. While a time machine not being invented prevents us from seeing these games played, myself and my partner at the Shoeless Goat Podcast Nick Anton cooked up a way to see such a competition play out: a 32 team bracket, featuring the 16 best teams in Cubs and White Sox history.
And thus the Crosstown Centurion was born.
The tournament will consist of best of 7 matchups for each round. Each team will have its own region, with the White Sox and Cubs winners facing off for the title. Stay tuned for more details on the Selection Show episode!
— The Shoeless Goat Podcast (@ShoelessGoatPod) March 30, 2020
Those of you who prefer not to discuss the team on the North Side are in luck, as I’ll be introducing the White Sox side of the bracket here. First, for some ground rules…
Crosstown Centurion: Seeding Breakdown
While most of the seeding was explained in the last Shoeless Goat Podcast episode to launch the Crosstown Centurion, I’ll give a quick recap here. Basically there’s two main tiers, with a couple sub-tiers between them:
- Automatic Qualifiers – to put it simply, this includes teams that made the postseason, or would have made the postseason, had there been one that season. This tier made 11 of the 16 White Sox teams in the field.
- At-Large Bids – these teams make up the remaining 5 seeds in the tournament, 12-16. Basically, these are the best White Sox teams to not make the postseason.
With that criteria in mind, let’s break down the White Sox side of the field for the Crosstown Centurion: the 16 Best Chicago White Sox teams in franchise history.
The Mayor’s Choices
16. 2006 (90-72)
This is personally one of my favorite White Sox teams in my lifetime, the follow up to the 2005 World Series Champions. While they narrowly missed the playoffs, 90 wins is still a respectable season, and if the two Wild Card system was in play in 2006 this team would’ve been in. Alas.
The main reason the 2006 team was one of my selections is simple: power. If there was one thing this team could do well, it was put the ball into the seats. They put up 236 HR as a team, second only to the 2004 team. Paul Konerko hit 35, Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye both broke the 40 home run plateau to go along with OPS’s over 1.000, Joe Crede hit 30, and even Juan Uribe was able to add 21.
On the mound, most of the pitching staff from that 2005 team was still around, with a Javier Vazquez for Orlando Hernandez swap. While not as magical as in 2005, Jon Garland, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, and Jose Contreras all put up respectable years, with each starter going at least 196 innings.
15. 1977 (90-72)
While not as accomplished as some other teams on this list, the 1977 South Side Hitmen hold a historic place in franchise history, which is why they were one of my two personal selections. Another reason they were given the 15 seed is their first round matchup, which you’ll see a bit further down.
The Hitmen, as the name implied, relied heavily on power, crushing a longstanding team record of 192 home runs. Chet Lemon led the way offensively with a 5.9 bWAR season. On the other hand, the mound was the shortcoming of this team, with a 4.25 team ERA, with current broadcaster Steve Stone contributing 15 wins in his first season on the South Side.
The True Wild Cards
14. 1964 (98-64)
The 98 win 1964 White Sox were extremely close to falling into the playoff qualifier category, losing the pennant to the Yankees by one game. The pitching was the calling card of this team, with Gary Peters highlighting the staff with a 20-8 record and a 2.50 ERA. Joe Horlen also had a dominant season, posting 13 wins to go along with a 1.88 ERA and a sub 1.00 WHIP in 210.2 innings.
With the bat this team could still do a little bit of damage, with the bash brothers of the team Pete Ward and Ron Hansen posting 6+ bWAR seasons with 20+ home runs each.
13. 1954 (94-60)
The 1954 White Sox was yet another talented team that just ran into an absolute buzzsaw, finishing in 3rd place and losing the AL Pennant to the 111 win Cleveland Indians by 17 games. Minnie Minoso was a large part of that success, racking up a .320 BA with 19 HR and a 8.2 bWAR in one of his personal best seasons. Nellie Fox and Chico Carrasquel gave Minoso some back up, each posting 3+ bWAR seasons.
On the mound, Virgil Trucks was the ace of the pitching staff, going 19-12 with a 2.79 ERA. The rotation as a whole was pretty damn solid, putting up a very respectable 3.05 team ERA.
12. 1920 (96-58)
It may come as a surprise that the 1920 White Sox were still a good team, given the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, but that’s for good reason – the scandal didn’t break until near the end of the 1920 season, so no suspensions had been handed down for the team. So, Shoeless Joe, Eddie Cicotte, and the rest of the 8 Men Out got one last ride.
And that last ride was one of their best. Shoeless Joe put up a monstrous 7.5 bWAR season, on the back of 12 HR, 121 RBI, and a .382/.444/.590 slash line. Eddie Collins was able to top that, putting up a 7.9 bWAR year. On the mound, Red Faber, Lefty Williams, and Eddie Cicotte all put up 20+ wins, leading the White Sox to within 2 games of an American League pennant. Thus began a long period of down seasons on the South Side, with the Sox not finishing in the top half of the AL standings until 1936.
11. 1994 (67-46)*
The 1994 squad is where the asterisk comes into play. While they were a truly dominant team, we’ll never know the real extent of their greatness thanks to the 1994 strike and subsequent labor stoppage that ended the season on August 12, 1994, leaving the White Sox atop the AL Central by a single game. Given that situation, this team is truly one of the great unknowns in the Crosstown Centurion Tournament.
One thing that is not an unknown, however, is the 1994 performance of Frank Thomas, who won his second consecutive AL MVP. The Big Hurt went off, slashing .353/.487/.729 to go along with 38 HR and 101 RBI in just 113 games. Julio Franco was also a dominant force, putting up 20 HR and a .319/.406/.510 slash line in his age 35 season. The pitching staff was a well rounded group to pair with the offense, with McDowell, Fernandez, Alvarez, and Bere all winning at least 10 games.
10. 2008 (89-74)
The last team to grace the postseason at 35th and Shields was the 2008 team. The spectacular run the team went on to end the season was, of course, capped by the winner take all Blackout Game at (then) US Cellular Field. On that day, John Danks did what he did all season – got the job done and got himself paid for the rest of his career.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) November 15, 2017
While the Blackout Game cannot be forgotten, it is easy to forget just how good John Danks was that year. He posted a 6.4 bWAR season to go along with a 12-9 record and 3.32 ERA, easily the peak of his career. Javier Vazquez was able to add 200 strikeouts of firepower to the rotation, to go along with the always steady Mark Buehrle.
At the plate, the story of the year was Carlos Quentin, an MVP frontrunner with 36 HR and 100 RBI until a tragic bat-punching incident ended his season early. While not necessarily at their peaks, the offense also featured some all time sluggers in Jim Thome and Ken Griffey Jr., along with a nearly Rookie of the Year performance from Alexei Ramirez.
9. 1993 (94-68)
Much like the 1994 team, the 1993 White Sox features a weapon not many on this list have: peak Frank Thomas. Frank won his first of two consecutive MVP’s in 1993, putting up 41 HR and 128 RBI, adding up to a 6.2 bWAR year. Lance Johnson (6.1 bWAR) and Robin Ventura (5.3 bWAR) were able to provide enough backup to the Big Hurt in the lineup to get to 94 wins.
Of course, the pitching was a strength of this team as well, most notably Jack McDowell’s 22-10, 3.37 ERA, 158 strikeout Cy Young season. Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez had solid campaigns themselves, each throwing at least 200 IP and logging at least 150 strikeouts.
8. 2000 (95-67)
The 2000 White Sox featured one of the last truly great seasons of Frank Thomas’ career in Chicago, but what a year it was. The Big Hurt slashed .328/.436/.625, putting up 43 HR and 143 RBI in yet another otherworldly campaign. The offense also featured a young Paul Konerko hitting 21 HR, and a dominant Magglio Ordonez posting a .917 OPS and 32 HR.
Like a lot of other White Sox teams from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, pitching, again, was not the strong suit of this team. Mike Sirotka led the way with a 4 bWAR season, going 15-10 with a 3.79 ERA. Perhaps more notably, Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland both got their first taste of the majors this season.
7. 1983 (99-63)
The 1983 Winning Ugly White Sox ended another long playoff drought in franchise history, as they were the first team to make the postseason since the 1959 American League champions. This team had plenty of star power, notably led by future Hall of Famers Carlton Fisk and Harold Baines. Ron Kittle provided a much needed spark with 35 home runs in his Rookie of the Year campaign.
When it came to pitching, the 1983 team had plenty of solid starters. LaMarr Hoyt and Richard Dotson each posted 20+ win and 240+ IP seasons, and Floyd Bannister added 16 wins and a 3.35 ERA in 217 innings.
American League Champions
6. 1959 (94-64)
The 1959 White Sox were a redemption story of sorts, being the first Sox team to win the pennant since the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Although they fell to the Dodgers in 6 games in that World Series, this is still one of the all time greats in White Sox history.
The 1959 team had one hell of a resume, even just taking a quick look at the tale of the tape:
- 5 Hall of Famers: Al Lopez (Manager), Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox, Larry Doby, and Early Wynn
- 3 Gold Glove Winners: Sherm Lollar, Fox, Aparicio
- The AL MVP Nellie Fox (.306 BA, .380 OBP, 2 HR, 6.1 bWAR) and the AL MVP runner up in Luis Aparicio
- The AL Cy Young Winner Early Wynn (22-10, 3.17 ERA)
In terms of individual players, this team is hard to top in White Sox history.
5. 1901 (83-53)
The first season in Major League Baseball and the American League proved to me a historic one for the White Stockings, as they won the American League title. To get there, they used a blend of offense and pitching. Offensively, the 1901 squad led the league in runs with 819, led by the lieks of Dummy Hoy, Fred Hartman, and Fielder Jones. On the mound, the staff posted a 2.98 team ERA, headlined by Clark Griffith’s 24 wins and 5.7 bWAR.
Unfortunately, the National League Elites didn’t like competition, so this team never got to play for a World Series ring.
4. 1919 (88-52)
Perhaps the most notorious team in White Sox history, the 1919 Black Sox were also one of the most dominant. In all fairness, winning 3 games out of 8 in a World Series where 8 of your players were (allegedly) trying to lose must mean you have a pretty damn good team. If you want to learn more about the scandal, go ahead and watch 8 Men Out, this is going to be about the performance on the field.
Offensively this team led the league in runs scored, thanks in large part to Shoeless Joe Jackson (.351/.422/.506, 7 HR) and Eddie Collins (.319 BA). Eddie Cicotte, who notoriously plunked Maurice Rath to open the World Series, was the ace on the staff, putting up a 29-7 record to go along with a 1.82 ERA and a 9.6 bWAR at age 35. Lefty Williams added 23 wins to add to a strong pitching staff.
World Series Champions
3. 2005 (99-63)
Without further ado, the time to introduce my favorite White Sox team of my lifetime is here. Obviously, I know I’m not alone in that thought, as this team was able to break the 88 year title drought on the South Side.
Any White Sox fan should know how they got there, but if a quick recap is needed:
- A wire to wire season, never spending a day out of first place
- A 12 game postseason, going 11-1 to run through the Red Sox, Angels, and Astros
- A mix of small ball and power, posting 200 HR as a team with no single batter hitting over .300
- A starting pitching staff that could get though any game, including the stretch of 4 complete games in a row in the ALCS
- And of course, a dash of magic and luck:
AJ Pierzynski takes first on a phantom dropped third strike in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. The next batter drove in his pinch-runner and the White Sox won. Always sell it. (ALCS Gm 2, 2005) pic.twitter.com/0ch2C5F5JL
— Ben Porter (@Ben13Porter) March 11, 2020
— NBC Sports Chicago (@NBCSChicago) October 23, 2017
Everything the perfect championship needs to get to a title, this team had. Names like Konerko, Buehrle, Dye, Garland, Podsednik, Pierzynski, and others will never be forgotten by a generation of Sox fans, and this season is why. Nothing really else to say.
2. 1906 (93-58)
The 1906 White Sox were one of the great enigmas of early 20th century baseball. Hell, they were dubbed the “Hitless Wonders” thanks to an American League low team batting average of .230 on the year, with no starter hitting over .279. Still, this team brought home the first World Championship in White Sox history, knocking off the 116 win juggernaut Chicago Cubs in 6 games.
How’d they do it? Well, much like the team that came 99 years later, pitching and small-ball played a large role. Ed Walsh and Doc White led a dominant pitching staff the had a team ERA of 2.13 and 32 shutouts. The offense was able to make enough happen to back the pitching up (without the benefit of substantial firepower), stealing 216 bases as a team.
1. 1917 (100-54)
Finally, we come to the top dog, the most dominant team in franchise history, the 1917 White Sox. As both a World Series champion and the franchise’s only 100 game winner, this was a relatively easy pick as the number one team in team history.
On the field, this team was led by Eddie Cicotte’s monstrous 11.4 bWAR, 28-12, 1.53 ERA, which contributed to a team ERA of just 2.16. Just how absurd is that bWAR number? To put it into perspective, here are the pitchers with more bWAR in a single season since then:
- Pedro Martinez, 11.7 in 2000
- Wilbur Wood, 11.8 in 1971
- Roger Clemens, 11.9 in 1997
- Pete Alexander, 11.9 in 1920
- Steve Carlton, 12.1 in 1972
- Dwight Gooden, 12.2 in 1985
And that is it, only 6 better single season pitching performances. When there’s a monster like that in your rotation, you’re obviously going to win a ton of games.
Offensively, this team was no joke, leading the league in runs scored. Shoeless Joe Jackson put up a 5.86 bWAR campaign, to go along with 4.7+ bWAR seasons from Eddie Collins and Happy Felsch.
Well folks, with the field set the only thing left to do is play the games of the Crosstown Centurion. Until then, if you disagree with my list of the 16 best White Sox teams of all time, feel free to let me know your thoughts.
The #CrosstownCenturion bracket is now live! Nick and Pat are joined by @scn1410 to reveal the bracket and give their thoughts on the field#WhiteSox #Cubs
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— The Shoeless Goat Podcast (@ShoelessGoatPod) April 1, 2020