1906 The Hitless Wonders

Despite an almost non-existent ability to make contact with the baseball, the Chicago White Sox use resourceful offensive tactics (and great pitching) to make a stunning run and become one of the game's unlikeliest champions.

Chicago player-manager Fielder Jones leads his punchless White Sox by example, laying down a bunt in an attempt to reach base safely.

It was a classic matchup of heavyweight versus featherweight.

In one corner, representing the north side of Chicago: The Cubs, masters of the National League, with dominant hitting, slugging, fielding and incredible, stifling pitching that led to 116 wins, 36 losses and an all-time best .763 winning percentage.

In the other corner, representing the city’s south side: The White Sox, who somehow, some way, managed to snag an American League title despite owning the league’s worst batting average (.230) and hitting a grand total of seven home runs on the entire season.

The 1906 World Series was built up as a laughable mismatch of Windy City rivals, but anyone who believed the White Sox could be blown away by a mere breath of Cub supremacy was in for a major surprise. The White Sox proved true the baseball adage that you can’t win without good pitching—and added to it by proving you could win without good hitting.

The White Sox had become no strangers to winning ballgames by attrition; the year before, the team’s mix of superior pitching and inferior hitting had left it only two games shy of an AL pennant. The winning knack began in 1904 when outfielder Fielder Jones took over as manager for Nixey Callahan; both were tough men who could strike fear in players operating at less than 100%, but Jones possessed a skillful modern-day discipline that Callahan, a brawling throwback to the raucous 1890s, lacked.

Whether or not by design, hitting had become a luxury for Jones and the White Sox; pitching was truly the name of their game. The team’s four main starters, all at or near their prime, had no holes to exploit. Frank Owen and lefty Nick Altrock were perennial 20-game winners. Doc White, another southpaw, was perennially robbed of winning 20 despite yearly earned run averages below 2.00. And the fourth member of the pack, the relative kid at 25, was spitballer Ed Walsh—whose emerging durability would soon make 20 wins a mere midseason milestone.

Perhaps White Sox pitching worked doubly hard to achieve such brilliance on the mound since, if they played any less, they were bound to lose. Such was the pressure to throw with little offensive backbone to lend.

For any player to hit over .250 for the 1906 White Sox was to be kissed on the feet by his pitching staff. Only three everyday starters did: Second baseman Frank Isbell (the team leader at .279), veteran switch-hitting shortstop George Davis (.277) and first baseman Jiggs Donahue (.257). Jones, playing regularly in the outfield while managing, matched the team average of .230. Third baseman Lee Tannehill hit .183. Catcher Billy Sullivan was at .214. The majority of the benchwarmers hit well below .200. Even two early-season arrivals with rich hitting pasts couldn’t budge the numbers upward: Eddie Hahn (a .319 rookie hitter with the New York Highlanders in 1905) and Patsy Dougherty (a career .301 hitter) both toed the party line and hit around .230 in Chicago.

And then there were the home runs—or the lack of them—being hit by the White Sox. The team total of seven, while not light years from what other major league teams produced in the prime of the deadball era, was still an embarrassmentThe White Sox’ slugging inertia would get worse before it got better; the team would combine to hit three home runs for all of 1908.. Jones and Sullivan represented the Sox’ boomers with two homers each.

Over the AL’s first decade of major league business, the White Sox easily hit fewer home runs than any other team—yet only the Athletics had a better overall record.

As bad as the White Sox were at poking out base hits, they were otherwise resourceful in making up for their slugging shortcomings. They were good at taking ball four, good at getting hit and good at bunting runners closer to home—as evidenced by their league-leading numbers in walks, hit batsmen and sacrifice hits. The White Sox’ accessorial ways of offense proved how, in spite of their rock-bottom numbers in batting and slugging, they managed to place third among AL teams in scoring. For this, Chicago sportswriters branded the White Sox with a nickname for the ages: The Hitless Wonders.

The White Sox struggled through the first few months of the regular season not so much for a lack of offense but an excess of pain. Injuries so badly crippled the team, owner Charles Comiskey took the then-superfluous step of bringing in a trainer from a nearby college. The Sox eventually healed up, but time was running out; by the end of the July, they were stuck in fourth place, trailing the defending AL champion Philadelphia Athletics by 7.5 games. But the three teams ahead of the Sox began to glitch over the next three weeks. The A’s were 7-14 over this stretch. The second place Highlanders, 5-12. Third place Cleveland, 8-10.

And the White Sox were 19-0.

No team in major league history had won as many games in a row, and no AL team would win more for almost 100 years. The White Sox catapulted into first place by 5.5 games at the end of the streak by virtue of sensational pitching; eight of their 19 wins were by shutout, including five from Ed WalshWalsh’s five shutouts, over a 15-day period, would help him lead the AL at year’s end with ten..

The White Sox were on top but not completely in the clear. In early September, the Highlanders came roaring back with a 15-game win streak, ten of which came from doubleheader sweeps over five consecutive days, to retake the lead. Losing three of four at New York with less than two weeks to go in the season didn’t help the White Sox’ cause, but then Chicago reeled off five straight wins of their own—while the Highlanders slumbered to the finish, handing the White Sox their first pennant since taking the flag in the AL’s inaugural 1901 campaign.

Batting warts and all, the White Sox were able to stake their claim as the best team in the AL. Now they had to convince the rest of Chicago that they were the best team in town.

Like the White Sox, the Chicago Cubs had spent the past few years playing just good enough not to win a pennant. And as with Fielder Jones with the White Sox, the Cubs had performed a recent midseason managerial switch by promoting from within. First baseman Frank Chance took over in mid-1905 after Frank SeleeSelee initially wanted third baseman Doc Casey to be his replacement, but Cub players successfully lobbied in giving the job to Chance. was forced to step down with a worsening case of tuberculosis. Like Jones, Chance—a former boxer—was a fighter on the field and with his players, but he put more faith into his teammates to improvise and play on their intuitions rather than wait for his next signal.

Given all but carte blanche under first-year owner Charles Murphy, Chance showed he was as deft at building teams as he was running them. All his moves for 1906 worked. Third baseman Harry Steinfeldt came over from Cincinnati and batted a career-high .327, leading the National League in hits (176) and runs batted in (83). Pitcher Jack Pfiester, a left-hander with two short, failed big league trials at Pittsburgh, exploded with a 20-8 record. Jimmy Sheckard, popular with Brooklyn fans, unpopular with Brooklyn management, left the Superbas and became an important piece of the Cub roster near the top of the order.

Even after the season had begun with the Cubs running neck-and-neck with the two-time defending NL champion New York Giants, Chance wasn’t done. He dealt for two pitchers, Orval Overall and Jack TaylorTaylor’s return to Chicago signaled a hint of forgiveness from a Cub team that had angrily shuffled him off after 1903, amid allegations of game-fixing., both of whom posted identical 12-3 records at Chicago with near-identical ERAs of, respectively, 1.88 and 1.83.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown used a hand (inset) mangled from a childhood farm accident to forge one of the great pitching careers in baseball history. In 1906, Brown’s ERA was 1.04—lowest in NL history.

Overall and Taylor’s sterling contributions were simply par for the course with the rest of the Cubs’ pitching staff, whose 1.73 team ERA and all-time low .207 batting average allowed suffocated the opposition. Three Chicago starters finished one-two-three in the NL ERA race: Second-year lefty Ed Reulbach (19-4) finished third at 1.65; Pfiester checked in at second with 1.51; and the man leading it all—with a NL modern-record low ERA of 1.04—was 30-year old Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown.

Brown was a right-hander missing part of his right hand. At the age of seven, Brown got his hand caught in a grain cutter; he lost his ring finger and a good chunk of his pinkie. For baseball, the expected handicap became the unanticipated advantage, as the unique shape of Brown’s hand allowed him to develop a devastating curveball. Now in his fourth major league season, Brown became the ace of aces on the Cubs with a 26-6 record that launched him on a remarkable four-year run from which he would post 102 wins, just 30 losses and a stunning 1.31 ERA.

Chance was the catalyst from the dugout and from the top of the order, leading the league in runs (103), steals (57) and on-base percentage (.419). And the first baseman made up the “3” in the team’s sharp 6-4-3 double-play combination of shortstop Johnny Evers and second baseman Joe Tinker, soon to be made legendary through poetry.

The Giants won 96 games but could only view the Cubs from afar in the standings. Injuries took their toll on the defending world champs, but even if they’d been blessed with pure wellness, they couldn’t have rattled the Cub powerhouse.

Doing absolutely no wrong, Chance’s Cubs tore apart the NL with a 116-36 record that, by percentageThe 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games, but it took them ten more games to get there., remains the greatest showing in modern major league history. The Cubs played well at home (56-21) but played even better on the road (60-15). They hit, scored, pitched and fieldedThe Cubs became to first team to make less than 200 errors, with 194. better than anyone else. They finished the regular season hotter than hot, losing just eight of their final 63 games.

People thought: Just who were the Chicago White Sox to be playing these guys in the World Series? Some in the local press had dared to give the Hitless Wonders a chance against the mighty Cubs. Hugh Fullerton, the Chicago Tribune reporter later known for exposing the Black Sox Scandal, predicted a White Sox triumph—and had to beg his disbelieving boss into printing it after it was initially edited out.

The White Sox’ demonstration of offense early on in the 1906 World Series made their hitting incompetence of the regular season look like a prodigious power display by comparison. Through the first four games, the Sox totaled six runs and 11 hits for a sub-anemic batting average of .097—yet astonishingly managed a split against the Cubs.

In Game Five, a funny thing happened to the White Sox.

They started hitting.

The White Sox would be aided at the plate for Game Five by an overflow crowd at the Cubs’ West Side Park that resulted in special ground rules, enhancing hitting conditions. As ground rule doubles were called for balls hopping into a roped-off crowd behind the outfielders, the White Sox collected. Their eight doubles—four by Frank Isbell—resulted in a breakout 8-6 win. The victory was all the more improbable, given the White Sox had to overcome six errorsThe White Sox committed 16 errors during the series; ten of the 18 runs they allowed were unearned. compared to none for the Cubs.

Over the AL’s first decade of major league business, the White Sox easily hit fewer home runs than any other team—yet only the Athletics had a better overall record.

Inspired with their sudden gluttony of offense, the White Sox banged away again in Game Six. They hammered Mordecai Brown—apparently exhausted after throwing two complete games over the previous five days—for seven runs on eight hits before the three-fingered marvel’s removal in the second inning. The Sox coasted to an 8-3 win and locked up one of the greatest upsets in World Series history.

Frank Chance gave the White Sox credit but refused to accept that the better team had won. That attitude would ultimately be the least irritating of matters for White Sox players. Charles Comiskey, showing off a duplicitous nature that would one day wreck his franchise, “rewarded” his team with a $15,000 bonus to be divvied up by the players immediately following the World Series. Little did the players realize that, for the moment, the money would amount to nothing more than an advance on their 1907 salaries.

It may have been the first time that Comiskey grandly shafted his players. It certainly wouldn’t be the last.


1907 baseball historyForward to 1907: Cultivation of a Georgia Peach Angrier than life, Ty Cobb comes of age and delivers the Detroit Tigers with their first pennant.


1905 baseball historyBack to 1905: The Zero Heroes Christy Mathewson and Joe McGinnity completely deny the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.


1900s baseball historyThe 1900s Page: The Birth of the Modern Age The established National League and upstart American League battle it out, then make peace to signal in a new and lasting era.


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Mordecai Three Finger Brown pitching footageA rare clip of Mordecai "Three Finger Brown", the Chicago Cub ace who lost two fingers in a childhood farming accident but used the handicap to his advantage by throwing one of the game's greatest curve balls.


1906 Standings

National League
Chicago Cubs
116
36
.763
---
New York Giants
96
56
.632
20
Pittsburgh Pirates
93
60
.608
23.5
Philadelphia Phillies
71
82
.484
45.5
Brooklyn Superbas
66
86
.434
50
Cincinnati Reds
64
87
.424
51.5
St. Louis Cardinals
52
98
.347
63
Boston Beaneaters
49
102
.325
66.5
American League
Chicago White Sox
93
58
.616
---
New York Highlanders
90
61
.596
3
Cleveland Naps
89
64
.582
5
Philadelphia Athletics
78
67
.538
12
St. Louis Browns
76
73
.510
16
Detroit Tigers
71
78
.477
21
Washington Senators
55
95
.367
37.5
Boston Americans
49
105
.318
45.5

1906 Postseason Results
World Series Chicago (AL) defeated Chicago (NL), 4-2.


It Happened in 1906

For Every Chicago, There’s Gotta Be a Boston
While the Cubs and White Sox are giving Chicago a double-whammy of pennant fever, the Americans and Beaneaters are providing Boston with a double-whammy of truly horrendous baseball. Both teams field the worst records of their respective leagues, each winning only 49 games while losing over 100. The Americans’ nadir comes in May when they lose an American League record 20 straight games—the last 19 of them at home (the Baltimore Orioles will eclipse the record in 1987). Not to be outdone, the Beaneaters immediately follow up the Americans’ wretched streak with one of their own—losing 19 straight into June. Offense is the main problem for the Beaneaters, the only team hitting worse (.226) than the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox. Everything is the problem with the Americans, who entered 1906 never having endured a losing season; manager
Jimmy Collins thinks the team’s been taking a mental vacation all year and decides he’ll take one himself late in the year—and gets fired for it.

Jack of All Innings
On August 13, Cub pitcher
Jack Taylor is pulled in the third inning after an ineffective start at Brooklyn. It ends an incredible string in which Taylor had completed 187 consecutive starts over five years and 1,727 innings. Despite Taylor’s early ouster, the Cubs still beat the Superbas, 11-3.

We Just Like Playing Each Other
A year earlier, the Americans and Philadelphia Athletics set a major league record by dueling for 20 innings. On September 1, they up the ante and reset the mark, battling for 24 innings before the A’s emerge as 4-1 victors at Boston. As with the 1905 game, both starters—
Joe Harris for the Americans, Jack Coombs for the A’s—go the distance. The loss for Harris is a microcosm of his entire year, one in which he’ll finish 2-21 for Boston. After a 0-7 start in 1907, Harris will exit the majors with a career mark of 3-30.

Chipping Away at the Home Field Advantage
A few rule changes help give the game more neutrality. Home teams no longer have control over game balls, relinquishing that responsibility to the umpire. Meanwhile, the National League order its teams to furnish on-site dressing rooms for visiting opponents—all in an attempt to pacify hotel owners, whose facilities were being chewed up by the cleats of visiting teams.

The John McGraw Incident of the Year
Little Napoleon strikes again, but who would have predicted otherwise? The latest incident to involve New York Giant manager
John McGraw occurs on August 7 when, a day after being infuriated by umpire Jimmy Johnstone, he bars the arbiter from the Polo Grounds for a scheduled game against the Cubs. McGraw then places one of his own players, Sammy Strang, in Johnstone’s place; when the Cubs refuse to take the field, Strang awards a forfeit to the Giants. Meanwhile, outside the gates, Johnstone orders one against the Giants. The dispute leads to the desk of NL President Henry Pulliam, who quickly rules in favor of Johnstone.

Scoreless in September
The A’s set a major league record when their offense cannot produce a single run through 48 straight innings, a streak encompassing six games over five days from September 22-26. The St. Louis Browns shut the A’s down for the first 25 innings of the streak; the Cleveland Naps hold them down for the latter 23. The 1968 Cubs will tie the A’s mark.

Oh, Brother!
Henry Mathewson, age 19, gets a chance to prove he’s the second coming of his brother, Christy Mathewson—and miserably fails the audition. In going the full nine innings against lowly Boston on October 5, Mathewson allows only five hits but walks 14—a modern NL record. He also hits a batter and strikes out two. The 7-1 loss will be the only decision for the younger Mathewson, who will appear two other times in relief through 1907 before being released.

Wild Bill’s Ride Around the Bases
Stealing second, third and home in the same inning by the same player is not entirely rare in the deadball era—except when it’s a pitcher committing the thefts.
Wild Bill Donovan of the Detroit Tigers is just that pitcher, circling the bases the hardest way possible on May 7 at Cleveland. He also knocks out a triple—his only extra-base hit of the year—and pitches his way to an 8-3 win over the Naps.

What’s With Your Brain?
Boston Beaneater third baseman
Dave Brain is apparently using anything but as he unwillingly collects a major league record five errors at the hot corner, June 11 against St. Louis. Perhaps inspired, Brain’s teammates muff six other chances, and the 11 total errors lead to an 8-1 loss to the Cardinals.

A Cover-Up For All to See
Perhaps tiring of the chronic wet conditions of its playing field at Exposition Park (which sits alongside the Allegheny River), the Pittsburgh Pirates become the first team to place a tarp over the field during rainy weather.

Johnny Come-Early
Beaneater outfielder
Johnny Bates becomes the first player in modern history to homer in his first major league at-bat. His Opening Day blast helps Boston win at Brooklyn, 2-0. Bates will lead the Beaneaters in 1906 with six home runs, and will hit 25 over a nine-year career.