Deep in the Diamond Mine

November 9 – Now, then Then . . . .

The obvious headline of the November Classic is rightly, “Yanks Beat Phils, Capture 27th Title,” but the more interesting, hidden headline from future Arcane Archives is written, “Phils Beat Yanks, Giving Sox Distinction,” for with Philadelphia’s opening game victory over New York, those 2005 Sox arose once more as the Chicago gift that keeps giving! And I’m not referring to ex-Sox not-so-great Damaso Marte’s 0.00 post-season ERA, following his 9.45
regular season–an unprecedented difference.

For when at last Cliff Lee’s masterpiece was fully spun, the White Sox prevailed as the only 21st century, first decade team to have won a true traditional pennant (more victories than any team in its league) preceding a World Series sweep, a nearly invisible yet not small accomplishment.

But with the glorious opening day of the off-season giving baseball reflection the hardwon edge over baseball action, at last stilling those moveable numbers for six months, we seize the opportunity to more fully cement the past with a breaking story from the “It’s never too late to celebrate too early a diamond golden anniversary newsroom!”

Sticking with the Sox, that baseball bromide urging to wait a few years before judging a trade grants me a chance to finally analyze (a mere nearly 50 years later!) a transaction that supposedly ruined the budding dynasty the ’59 White Sox had begun. The December 1, 1959 deal that lives in franchise front office infamy featured Sox owner Bill Veeck’s sending young outfielder Johnny Callison to the Philadelphia Phillies for journeyman third baseman Gene Freese.

Callison’s play the next two years is both forgettable and forgotten. Freese’s better-than-Callison ’60 season for the third place Sox, and the abundant ’60-’61 production of outfield stars Minnie Minoso, Al Smith, Jim Landis and Floyd Robinson, made Callison’s possible impact at that time a moot (or, as a nameless Sox announcer would say, “mute”) point. Then Johnny truly blossomed: four excellent years followed, including three All Star selections, propelling the fine all-around right fielder to an outstanding 226-homer, .264 BA career that ended with the Yankees in 1973.

Gene Freese’s trade to the Redlegs before the ’61 season (where he starred for the N.L. champs) brought 10-13 veteran Cal McLish to Chicago, along with, without fanfare, the first two-headed lefthanded pitcher in baseball history, the great Wilbur Pizarro!

Somehow not even listed in the Baseball Encyclopedia, this fast-baller-turnedknuckleballer brought 238 wins and 64 saves to the Sox over a span of 18 years, with 5 All Star appearances and 4 20-game seasons from 1961 through 1978.

Of course, we could divide this hurling hydra into the more familiar names of Juan Pizarro, history’s top Puerto Rican pitching conquistador, and Wilbur Wood, that tireless, wondrous workhorse–the former obtained in the Sox-Reds Freese swap, the latter going to Chicago from Pittsburgh for Pizarro in 1966.

What winning pitching for winning (if not championship*) White Sox teams in the ‘60s and ’70s! Now looking back, it makes the Callison trade for Freese, with Gene bringing Juan who brought Wilbur, not only not one-sided but arguably beneficial for the Sox (if not quite crediting foresight over hindsight). Moral (as the Sox have just traded Chris Getz and Josh Fields for Mark Teahen): give a trade time, before you give it some more!

Barry Codell

*The most unique of these is the 1964 White Sox who won the highest percentage of games played that year of any major league team, yet missed the post-season, strongly competing now for our attention with those aforementioned, irrepressible 2005 Pale Hose and perhaps the 2009 World Champs, your (and Hideki Matsui’s) New York Yankees!

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