The White Sox’ Ten Greatest Hitters
Frank Thomas (1990-2005)
A college football teammate of Bo Jackson at Auburn, The Big Hurt sported a monster presence (6’5”, 240 pounds), and lived up to his reputation, running full speed out of the gate and arguably becoming the preeminent slugger of the 1990s by combining power and patience through a virtuoso collection of prodigious numbers.
In his second full season, Thomas won the American League MVP—and won it again the next year, with off-the-chart production cut short by the crippling player strike; had he kept pace and a work stoppage not intervened, Thomas would have finished the 1994 campaign with 54 home runs, 145 runs batted in, 152 runs scored and 156 walks to go with a career-best .353 average. His .729 slugging percentage and .487 on-base percentage that season were the highest such marks since Ted Williams’ 1957 campaign.
For seven consecutive years, Thomas would hit over .300 and accumulate at least 20 homers, 100 runs, 100 RBIs and 100 walks; no other player has done that more than four straight times. Thomas was defensively inferior and became the prototypical designated hitter, but he is far and away the franchise leader in most major offensive categories. Despite such luminous numbers produced during the steroid era, Thomas has not been accused in any way of taking performance enhancement—in part because his massive body frame suggested that he didn’t need to. Thomas was, in fact, the only player to volunteer his time and be interviewed for the Mitchell Report that investigated steroid use in baseball.
Minnie Minoso (1951-57, 1960-61, 1964, 1976, 1980)
The Havana native who became the White Sox’ first black player in 1951 was as popular on the South Side as Ernie Banks was up north with the Cubs, but whereas Banks is remembered for saying “Let’s Play Two,” Minoso’s motto might have easily been “Let’s Keep Playing.”
Minoso was an all-around offensive force, lining extra-base hits all around the yard, looking to steal an extra 90 feet when on base, and often reached first the hard way by getting plunked over and over; he led the AL in the hit-by-pitch category ten times over an 11-year period. After seven years with the White Sox (five of which merited a spot on the All-Star Game roster), Minoso was dealt to Cleveland in a trade that sent Al Smith and Early Wynn to Chicago; while the deal strengthened the White Sox toward a date at the 1959 World Series, the team and fans dearly missed Minoso—and brought him back for 1960, where he spent two more years before his skills began to erode.
Minoso’s love for the game was such that he refused to quit playing; he performed in Mexico until age 50, and maverick White Sox owner Bill Veeck—one of Minoso’s favorite fans—brought him back as a player for promotional stunt purposes not once but twice, in 1976 and 1980; when he singled against California’s Sid Monge in his 1976 appearance, Minoso became the oldest player (at 53) to earn a base hit in a major league game. In 1990, new Chicago lord Jerry Reinsdorf invited Minoso back for another on-field cameo, but commissioner Fay Vincent said “enough” to the gimmick and vetoed the idea.
Eddie Collins (1915-26)
A star of the storied Philadelphia A’s of the early 1910s, Collins was let go as part of manager Connie Mack’s massive house-cleaning following the 1914 season and ended up in Chicago, where he helped shred the White Sox’ early reputation as “hitless wonders.” Collins also brought his reliable second baseman’s glove, continuing his stellar defensive play for the bulk of his Chicago tenure. In the 1917 World Series, Collins hit .409 and famously scored the first run in the decisive game as a result of a botched rundown by the New York Giants. Two years later, Collins—making almost twice the salary of any other White Sox player, including the great Shoeless Joe Jackson—became detested by jealous teammates, helping to stir the resentment that led to the Black Sox Scandal in which Chicago players threw the World Series for gamblers’ money.
Collins’ hitting numbers rode the wave of a second wind in the early 1920s; he set career highs in average (.372), hits (224) and doubles (38) in 1920 and, in his late 30s, led AL basestealers in back-to-back seasons (1923-24). He joined the 3,000-hit club in 1925 and, a year later—his last in Chicago—hit .344 before returning to Philadelphia, where he spent parts of the next four years splitting his time between pinch-hitting and mentoring the A’s promising roster of budding talent.
Joe Jackson (1915-20)
One of the game’s tragic figures, Jackson is forever linked to the Black Sox Scandal—despite belting the 1919 World Series’ only home run and hitting for a higher average than any other player, crooked or clean, for either team—and his banishment from the game a year later roughly deprived him of five more years of peak performance and certain enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.
“Shoeless Joe” was a genuine talent; Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson all claimed that he was the best pure hitter they’ve ever seen. Traded to the White Sox from Cleveland early in 1915 (because Indian owner Charles Somers needed the cash), Jackson continued his rage at the plate with averages well above .300 and intense line drive power that produced numerous extra base hits (he led the AL in triples three times throughout his career). The Black Sox Scandal was not Jackson’s first controversy in Chicago; he raised the ire of the Chicago press for avoiding the military draft in 1918, instead enlisting to work for a local shipyard where he could spend his leisure time playing for a “factory league” while other ballplayers—stars as well as commoners—spent time on or near the front during World War I.
Jackson’s participation in the Black Sox Scandal was pivotal in that it encouraged other White Sox players to get in on the fix; but he was hardly comfortable with the gig, even begging to Chicago manager Kid Gleason to sit out the first game of the World Series against Cincinnati. On the surface, Jackson appeared to play on the up-and-up, but when news of the fix exploded a year later, he confessed; the illiterate superstar signed his statement of admission with an “X”. He retracted his confession in trial after the papers were stolen, to be conveniently rediscovered—ironically, by an associate of Chicago owner Charles Comiskey—during a 1924 lawsuit brought on by Jackson demanding back pay. Jackson and the cabal of seven other Black Sox players emerged innocent from the trial, but commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis dealt the true crippling blow by banning all of them for life from baseball—ending Shoeless Joe’s career at 31 with a lifetime .356 batting average, which stands today as the third best of all time. Barred from organized ball, he was forced to display what he had left in ragtag semi-pro circuits.
In print and in forum, revisionists have lobbied to cast doubt on Jackson’s guilt, citing various and unproven age-old material—even insinuating that he was coerced into making his confession. Until irrefutable evidence is introduced to prove that, the standard conclusion is today as it was then: Joe Jackson helped throw the World Series.
Dick Allen (1972-74)
The controversial slugger had a brief, typically caustic yet dominant tenure in Chicago, always finishing over .300 and leading the AL in home runs during two of his three years as a White Sock; he might have made it three-for-three had a broken leg not cut his 1973 season short to just 72 games. Allen’s 1972 campaign represented the salad days of his time on the South Side, emotionally as well as statistically; he won the AL MVP by leading the league with 37 homers, 113 RBIs and 99 walks, became the only player since 1950 to hit two inside-the-park homers in one game, and created a vibe not seen for over a decade at Comiskey Park as attendance doubled to what it had been just two years earlier. Not surprisingly, by the third year Allen wore out his welcome when White Sox manager Chuck Tanner, known as a “yes man” by the local press for allowing Allen to do as he pleased, finally said no; Allen responded by bailing on the team two weeks before the end of the season, never to return.
Luke Appling (1930-43, 1945-50)
Nicknamed Old Aches and Pains because of the numerous injuries he managed to tolerate and play through, Appling was a White Sox lifer who hit .310 and won two batting titles—including a .388 mark in 1936 that still remains the highest in franchise history. Appling was proficient with his glove at shortstop, showing off great range even if he wasn’t accurate once he got to the ball, leading the league in errors at his spot numerous times.
At the plate, it was almost impossible to get a pitch past him; he once fouled off 19 pitches in a single at-bat, and another time pitcher Dizzy Trout was so frustrated at Appling’s endless fouling off that he finally threw his glove at him in anger. In a 20-year career, Appling struck out only 528 times while gathering 1,302 walks. He possessed very little power but made the most of everything else he could do; no major leaguer has knocked in as many runs in a season with as few home runs as Appling accomplished in 1936 when he collected six homers with 128 RBIs.
Appling totaled just 45 homers over his career, but his most famous blast occurred in retirement, launching a pitch nearly 300 feet away at age 75 during a 1982 old-timer’s game in Washington.
Harold Baines (1980-89, 1996-97, 2000-01)
For the White Sox of the 1980s, through thick and thin, rich and poor, ugly and cute, one could always count on Baines—a consistent force who didn’t fork out overwhelming numbers but, in the decade before performance enhancement swept the baseball world, were good enough for Sox fans to consider him the team’s money man on offense. In his prime, Baines occasionally topped .300 and was good for twentysomething home runs and 100 RBIs.
Midway in 1989, Baines was dealt to the Texas Rangers in a move that was unpopular in the short term for White Sox fans, very unpopular in the long run for Texas followers given that the Rangers gave up a young Sammy Sosa and Wilson Alvarez to get him. To honor Baines, the White Sox immediately retired his number after the deal—and unretired it when he returned to the Sox in 1996 for two years of renewed productivity. After a third (and far less successful) stint in 2000-01, Baines stepped down for good, finishing a 22-year career with 2,866 hits and 384 homers.
Nellie Fox (1950-63)
It’s safe to say that two was the lucky number for Fox. He wore it on the back of his White Sox uniform; routinely batted second in the order, spraying hit after hit (often with the hit-and-run play on) and almost never struck out; and on defense—playing, yes, second base—he was sensational, constantly topping the charts in putouts, assists and fielding percentage.
A career .291 hitter with Chicago, Fox led the AL four times in hits, and in 1959 was honored with the AL MVP for being the center of the White Sox’ successful surge to win the AL pennant for the first time in 40 years; in the ensuing World Series against Los Angeles, he hit .375 with three doubles. Fox was far tougher to strike out than even Appling; in 19 big league years, he was rung up just 216 times—maxing out in 1953 at 18 (in 624 at-bats). Twelve times, Fox was named to the All-Star roster, and after just missing out on the Hall of Fame in the general vote (he fell just 0.3% short of the required 75% needed for enshrinement in his last year of eligibility), he was brought in by the Veterans Committee in 1997.
Paul Konerko (1999-2014)
After several unsuccessful auditions in the National League—first with Los Angeles, then Cincinnati—Konerko finally found a home with the White Sox, making an immediate impact and becoming a reliable (if unheralded) slugger during the 2000s while other sluggers (Magglio Ordonez, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye) grabbed bigger headlines as they came and went through Chicago. Even as Konerko emerged as the team’s primary power source for its 2005 World Series run, he was generally buried in the press recaps as the impressive workhorse efforts of the starting rotation took center stage—all while Konerko blasted five homers with 15 RBIs in 12 playoff games, including a game-changing grand slam against Houston in Game Two of the Fall Classic.
A six-time All-Star, Konerko twice hit over 40 homers and six times knocked in over 100 runs, finishing a close second to Frank Thomas on the franchise list for both home runs (432) and RBIs (1,383).
Konerko was popular among fans and teammates, and the love was mutual; he remained loyal to the South Side through the end of his career, twice spurning bigger offers and applying the home discount to remain with the organization. As a retirement gift, Konerko won the Roberto Clemente Award (sharing the honor with Philadelphia’ Jimmy Rollins) for his contribution to his team and community during his final season. Many strongly believe that Konerko, often praised for his baseball intelligence, has a future as a major league manager—but for now, he is stiff-arming that thought.
Zeke Bonura (1934-37, 1940)
The New Orleans native enjoyed an early and productive stay with the White Sox, hitting .317 and averaging 20 homers and 110 RBIs over four years before being moved onto Washington in a trade for Joe Kuhel. Why? Because he was said to be eyeing Chicago owner Lou Comiskey’s daughter. Not helping was his defense at first base, which has been described as lazy and indifferent, despite the fact that he led the AL in fielding percentage three times. Nonetheless, he was pivotal in a White Sox lineup otherwise devoid of power offense. He returned for a final, lackluster hurrah in 1940 that would signal the end of his major league playing days.
Chicago White Sox Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the White Sox, decade by decade.
The White Sox' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The White Sox' Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the White Sox' history.
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