In chronological order:
Born: Dec. 2, 1954
Died: Feb. 22, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1983-86
I wasn’t old enough to remember the 1983 White Sox, so Julio Cruz’s impact always escaped me when I tried to make sense of their decision-making during that decade well after the fact.
The numbers alone wouldn’t suggest anything extraordinary. Roland Hemond acquired Cruz in an infield swap with the Mariners on June 15, 1983, with Tony Bernazard going to Seattle. If you only went by his Baseball-Reference.com page, you’d think that he’d peaked before the deal.
Pair the below-average bat with above-average speed and defense, and Cruz finished the year as a second-division starter (1.9 WAR). Yet at the end of the season, he earned the same amount of down-ballot MVP support as Rickey Henderson, who led the league with 108 steals,. 103 walks.
Timing had a lot to do with it. Cruz joined the Sox when they were 28-32, behind the California Angels by just 5½ games, but with four other teams in the way. They went 10-3 to close out June, and an astounding 69-30 in the 99 games Cruz played for the Sox that year. He scored the wining run on Harold Baines’ sac fly to seal the AL West title on Sept. 17, setting the stage for their first postseason appearance in 1959.
Cruz clicked on the roster, bolstering the infield defense with enough bat and legs to help turn the lineup over from the ninth spot. Jerry Reinsdorf, Tony La Russa and teammates praised “Juice” for the energy he injected into the clubhouse, and seven game-winning hits added to the lore.
That perfect fit was one of many elements that went unbelievably right during the second half of the season, and one of many things that eluded the Sox in the years that followed.
Cruz almost signed with the Angels after the year, but Hawk Harrelson — who was not yet the GM — intervened, and the White Sox retained Cruz on a six-year contract worth $4 million or so.
At a news conference Sunday, White Sox president Eddie Einhorn and board Jerry Reinsdorf credited White Sox announcer Ken Harrelson for turning the negotiations in the White Sox’ favor.
‘The turning point was when Harrelson got on the phone and asked him to stay,’ Reinsdorf said. ‘We were pretty close to losing him before that.’
But Cruz only made it to the halfway point of that contract. Turf toe sapped his specific skills, surgeries couldn’t rectify it, and and he hit just .213/.308/.268 over the first three years of the deal before Larry Himes (Cruz’s third GM in 3½ years) cut him in spring training of 1987. The White Sox delivered most of the rest of his contract through deferred payments, the last of which was issued in 2009. Putting it another way, Cruz’s impact over four months of 1983 covered him for the next 26 years.
Born: July 26, 1937
Died: March 16, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1963-69
The White Sox’s history at third base is riddled with severe injuries to players who should’ve been stars, and Pete Ward was no exception.
Ward came over to the White Sox in an incredible trade with the Orioles. Ed Short withstood the emotions of trading Luis Aparicio and Al Smith to Baltimore, acquiring Ward, Ron Hansen, Dave Nicholson and Hoyt Wilhelm. Aparicio continued to excel, but Short hit on all four of the players acquired. Wilhelm anchored the White Sox bullpen for the first six years of his 40s as he filled out his own Hall of Fame resume, Nicholson hit some impressive homers, and Hansen and Ward revamped the left side of the White Sox infield.
Ward, who had no shot of breaking through in Baltimore behind Brooks Robinson, broke out immediately for the White Sox. He hit .295/.354/.482 with 22 homers and 84 RBIs over 154 games, good for a ninth-place finish in the AL MVP voting and playing runner-up in Rookie of the Year to teammate Gary Peters. He added better defense to his arsenal in 1964, cutting his errors in half while hitting .282/.348/.473 with a team-leading 23 homers and 94 RBIs, good for sixth in the MVP race.
The son of Jimmy Ward, who played for the Montreal Maroons/Canadiens during the 1920s and 1930s, Ward was injured outside of Chicago Stadium after a Blackhawks/Canadiens Stanley Cup game when his car was rear-ended, resulting in whiplash. It’s the kind of accident that explains why every car seat has head supports now.
(That wasn’t the only jolt Ward suffered that year. He was supposed to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July of 1965 after a hot series against the Yankees helped flip the standings during the middle of the season. Then Muhammad Ali knocked out Sonny Liston, producing the photo everybody thinks of when they hear “Muhammad Ali.”)
While the injury seemed minimal at the time, its effects would become apparent. Ward never quite recaptured his peak powers. He was good for double-digit homers in a full year and graded out as an average regular after the injury, but he never again slugged .400. As the offensive environment cratered in the second half of the 1960s, the White Sox sorely could’ve used the kind of bat Ward showed in his first two years. He was traded to the Yankees after the 1969 season for financial relief, but he only played 66 games in another uniform, and hit just one homer.
After his playing days, Ward occupied a number of coaching jobs about the minor leagues before settling down in Lake Oswego, Oregon. He ran a successful travel agency and was a pillar of the community for decades. The local paper ran a charming obituary that summed it all up as an “interesting and remarkable life.”
Born: March 21, 1939
Died: April 3, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1968
A Brooklyn-born kid who surfaced with the Dodgers just after their move to Los Angeles, Davis racked up 2,121 career hits over 1,999 career games. He peaked early, leading the league with 230 hits, a .346 average and 153 RBIs for the Dodgers as a 23-year-old in 1962. After that, he was more of an ordinary contributor.
One of those ordinary years came for the White Sox in 1968, in the unfortunate deal that sent Tomy Agee and Al Weis to Queens for Davis, Buddy Booker, Jack Fisher and Billy Wynne. Davis had a down year, hitting just .268/.289/.344 for a White Sox team that went from 89 wins to 95 losses and flirted with a move to Milwaukee. Agee also had a poor 1968, but rebounded to hit 50 homers over the next two seasons for the Mets, including the 1969 team that won it all. (Weis was a forgettable bench player until he became a World Series hero; the Geoff Blum of his day).
The White Sox left Davis exposed in the expansion draft, and the Seattle Pilots drafted him. In a way, he bridged the gap between his two previous franchises. Like the Mets, the Pilots were woeful. Like the White Sox, the Pilots ended up playing games in Milwaukee. Just more of them.
Born: Aug. 14, 1937
Died: April 10, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1961-71
Speaking of Gary Peters, he’s the last of the White Sox stalwarts of their 1960s rotations remaining. Juan Pizarro died in 2021, and Horlen followed a year later. Like Ward, Horlen passed due to complications from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Horlen was the biggest victim of the White Sox’s issues with run-scoring. Over his 12-year career, Horlen posted a 3.11 ERA, good for a 110 ERA+ … and a career record one game under .500. He finished in the top 10 in ERA four times during the 1960s, but he only won more than 13 games once. That came in his career year of 1967, when he went 19-7 with a league-leading 2.06 ERA over 258 innings, but finished runner-up to Jim Lonborg, who won 22 games despite an ERA 1.1 runs higher. Hard luck even followed him during the high times.
At least Horlen was able to record a no-hitter that year, blanking the Tigers 6-0 on Sept. 10 while only yielding an HBP. He had lost a chance at one against the Washington Senators in brutal fashion back in 1962. He gave up a single with one out in the ninth inning to lose the no-hitter, followed by a walk-off two-run homer with two outs two batters later.
Horlen, who was born and raised in San Antonio and pitched for Oklahoma State University, and Ted Lyons scouted him heavily during his days with the Cowboys. He signed for $30,000 after OSU won the College World Series in 1959, and worked his way up to the White Sox with a September call-up in 1961. A torn shoulder muscle interrupted what could’ve been a successful 1962, and he bounced in and out of the rotation for a lot of 1963 before finishing the season with four consecutive victories, including two complete games.
Horlen was a fixture the rest of the way, pitching at least 210 innings with double-digit victories and 32 appearances for the next six seasons. He wasn’t particularly imposing at 6 feet and 170 pounds, but he was comfortable both sinking and cutting his fastball, with a hard curve for contrast. More than his style or his arsenal, he was defined by pitching with a wad of tissue in his cheek, because chewing tobacco made him sick.
He pitched through shoulder issues for much of his career, but it didn’t catch up to him until 1969, when so many other parts of those excellent 1960s White Sox teams came undone. He still pitched 235 innings that year, but he allowed more hits than innings pitched and set a career high in walks. He gutted his way through early-season knee surgery in 1970 that accelerated his decline, but while he was unceremoniously dumped by the White Sox at the end of spring training in 1972, it worked out in his favor. He hopped on with the Oakland A’s just in time for the first of three consecutive World Series titles.
For more about Horlen’s career, check out Mark Liptak’s interview.
Born: March 15, 1938
Died: Aug. 15, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1965-69
Horlen, Pizarro and Peters had to do some heavy lifting in the 1960s, but an excellent White Sox bullpen spared them from extreme overuse, because they had a number of trustworthy arms for late-inning leads. Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher showed the capacity for saving 20 games, and Bob Locker joined them in the middle of the decade.
He debuted at age 27 due to other priorities. He earned a degree in geology from Iowa State before turning pro, and then he served two years in the Army to fulfill an ROTC obligation. He resumed his athletic endeavors in 1964 at age 26, and after a successful season with Triple-A Indianapolis as a starter, he broke camp with the White Sox in the bullpen in 1965, where he stuck for good.
Between the deep rotation and the knuckleballers Wilhelm and Fisher throwing 300 innings between them (and saving 20-plus games apiece), Locker could ease into MLB action with low-pressure, middle-innings work. A year later,. the Sox dealt Fisher to Baltimore and Eddie Stanky took over for Al Lopez, paving the way for Locker to work the later innings.
He held up. He saved 12 games in 1966, paving the way for his career 1967. He posted a 2.09 ERA over a league-leading 77 appearances, throwing 124 innings and notching 20 saves. He succeeded with a sinker that opponents pounded into the marshy Comiskey Park infield, and despite the late start to his career, he was able to ride it to a 10-year career.
The back half of that career was spent with other teams, including a memorable turn with the Seattle Pilots. The White Sox traded him to the expansion team after an ugly start to the 1969 season, and after fixing some issues with his sinker, he turned out to be a perfect fit in the bullpen that Jim Bouton would immortalize with “Ball Four.” While Bouton produced one of the games best works and Mike Marshall had his own pitching manifestos, Locker ended up self-publishing a couple of books himself, and teaming up with Bouton to create ThanksMarvin.com, which paid tribute to the labor organizer Marvin Miller.
After two half-seasons with the Pilots/Brewers, he was traded to Oakland, where he’d reunite with Horlen for a ring on the 1972 Athletics.
Born: Jan. 19, 1948
Died: Aug. 25, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1972-73
The White Sox selected Frailing in the fifth round of the 1966 draft, which was the second-ever draft in MLB history. He hailed from Marion, Wisc.,, where he was all-conference in baseball, football and basketball. Decades after his prep career, he was named Marion High School’s Athlete of the Century.
He pitched for five seasons in the minors before getting a September call-up in 1972, where he handled low-leverage assignments reasonably well, and also notched his first victory by recording the third out in the seventh inning of a tie game. He got a few more cracks at big-league work in 1973, and the lack of steady work was due to the self-sufficiency of the pitching staff, as he pitched well in his sporadic appearances.
He needed a trade to open up a more sustained opportunity, and fortune smiled upon him after the season, when he was traded with Steve Stone and Steve Swisher in the ill-advised idea to acquire Ron Santo. The Cubs needed pitching, and Frailing provided an adequate arm, posting a 3.88 ERA over 55 games, including 16 starts. Alas, he needed surgery on a frayed bicep tendon in his left shoulder after the 1976 season, and that basically spelled the end of his career.
He ended up coaching in the minors for a few years after his career, including a brief stint with Tony La Russa in Knoxville before La Russa got his big break.
Born: March 13, 1942
Died: Sept. 30, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1964-67
The White Sox didn’t let the Oak Park High School star escape their orbit, signing him after the 1960 season. After hitting better than .300 at both Double-A Nashville and Triple-A Indianapolis, Staehle received his first exposure to the majors as a September call-up in 1964.
His career peaked immediately, more or less. He made his debut as a pinch-hitter for Jim Landis in the 10th inning of a 2-2 game against the Tigers on Sept. 15, with Al Lopez preferring Staehle’s small-ball abilities to bring home the runner on third.
The bad news: Staehle wasn’t positive that he saw a sign for a suicide squeeze, and when he conferred with third-base coach Tony Cuccinello, he was informed that they no longer could pursue that option because Staehle made it so obvious.
The good news: Staehle ended up lining a single through the drawn-in left side to put the White Sox ahead. Hoyt Wilhelm held the lead, and the White Sox advanced into second place.
Six days later, Lopez once again called upon Staehle in a similar situation, pinch-hitting for Landis with a runner on second in the sixth inning of a 3-3 game with the Washington Senators. Again. Staehle singled to left to put the Sox ahead, and the White Sox bullpen held the line the rest of the way.
Those were Staehle’s only two hits in the five chances he received that month, and he only had 11 others over the next three seasons with the Sox. Don Buford beat him out for the second-base job after the departure of Nellie Fox, and Staehle’s lack of power — he only hit 11 homers over 1,424 professional games — made it hard for him to distinguish himself as a major leaguer.
Expansion allowed Staehle to get one long look at the majors, as he played 104 games for the Montreal Expos in their second year of existence in 1970. He hit just .218/.306/.352, but he got a chance that otherwise might’ve eluded him had his career unfurled in a similar fashion five years earlier.
Born: Sept. 6, 1934
Died: Dec. 8, 2022
Played for White Sox: 1954
The White Sox wasted little time taking a look at Tom Flanigan, as he made the Opening Day roster in 1954 at the age of 19. He was one of 10 minor leaguers to spend spring training with the big-league camp, and he stayed with the Sox when they broke camp. Back then, teams were allowed to open the season with four extra players before a cutdown in mid-May, and teams often used those spots for players they wanted to evaluate in person. Flanigan, a 6-foot-3-inch lefty with a good fastball, fit that bill.
He only pitched in two games, in low-leverage situations 23 days apart. On April 14, he retired both Cleveland Indians he faced to end the eighth inning of a 6-3 loss. On May 8, he pitched around a single and a walk for a scoreless ninth in a 12-1 loss to the Tigers, after which he was sent down as part of the roster reduction.
He only pitched one more inning, surfacing for the Cardinals in 1958. St. Louis selected him from the Sox in the Rule 5 draft.
Flanigan had some success in the minors around those cups of coffee, holding his own at Double-A Memphis and Triple-A Indianapolis. The Rule 5 draft should’ve been a boon to somebody like him, but after getting lowballed by his new organization, he retired at 24 to support his family through other means
I remember most of these White Sox players. I always felt bad for Joel Horlen. In 1969-70, Comiskey Park was empty.
I also remember most of these players. I’d like to request that next year this column return to featuring players before my time.
I enjoyed the conclusion to Davis’s entry and would add one more name to the list. Mary Frances Veeck died in September, and Dave Hoekstra’s obituary includes a detail from happier times in Sox history:
Thank you for adding Mary Frances, I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago and she was friendly and very gracious
Mary Frances and Bill had a Sunday morning radio show for awhile. They were fun to listen to.
I was a regular listener, can you imagine calling Jerry on a radio show and have him actually answer your questions or address your concerns?
I remember arguing as a child with a Cub fan friend over who was better, Ron Santo or Pete Ward. At the time, Pete Ward was the Sox best hitter and putting up good numbers in pitching friendly old Comiskey Park. I can still picture him waving the bat in the lefthanded batters box.
Jim, I know you are too young to have witnessed guys like Ward, Horlen, Locker and Wilhelm, but to read your summaries, I’d swear you were there to see them play. I remember Pete Ward getting so many clutch RBI’s on teams that got on a lot but didn’t score unless he came to bat that inning.
Pete hit a home run in the first game I ever saw in person–Comiskey 1964. What a shame his career was cut short by that injury
I hadn’t realized how many ex-Sox players passed away in ’22. The only one I don’t recall is Flanigan. But 1958 was when I became a Sox fan. We moved to Chicago Heights in Oct. of ’59 and all the chatter was about the Sox. I had just turned 7. I also remember getting a little hyped with the Davis trade but it didn’t turn out. Baseball was baseball back then.
And here we are all these years later. I miss my youth and I miss good baseball.
Other than that………………Happy New Year!
OT, but if they were looking to keep his salary down this year it would have been nice if they were doing it to follow up with some other signings:
I’m remember the Cruz deal vividly. We thought – Bernazard good, we like him but Cruz is great! They were at different points in their career. And that Cruz hop on home plate will always be remembered.
I wonder if the effect of that Cruz trade shaped the rest of La Russa’s career: He saw Julio Cruz in Leury Garcia.
I was not one of those who thought Cruz was great. I liked Bernazard, but the trade turned out to be a good one and I do remember Cruz scoring that winning run
So many memories! I’ve mentioned Pete Ward and Julio Cruz. I loved Joe Horlen and watched the no-hitter on television with my brother and sister. He was magnificent. As a young kid I was certain that Staehle was going to be great. I think I’ve become a little better at player evaluation as I’ve aged.