A man in Chicago, call him Max, keeps writing letters to Al Lopez, manager of the White Sox. Here is part of one:
"Taking in consideration the White Sox is the fastest club in baseball, don't you think it would help the sox improve it offense and increase it run production if the Hit and run was use. It also would help when fast runners are on 1st and 3rd, the runner on 1st break for 2nd base if there is no outs."
Max writes to Lopez just about every day. Sometimes he writes to Don Gutteridge, the first-base coach, or to Billy Goodman, the utility infielder. Just about everybody on the Sox has received a letter from Max.
Few of Max's suggestions are sound and some are ludicrous. He once advised that when the slow-moving Walt Dropo and Sherm Lollar got on first and second base, they should attempt a double steal as a surprise. It would have been a surprise all right. The catcher would have rolled on the ground in laughter. Then he would have gotten up and thrown Lollar out at third and might have doubled up Dropo at second. All the White Sox hooted at that idea.
The fact is, however, that Max should not be taken too lightly. After all, he is an interested fan, and no team, especially the White Sox, can afford to laugh at an interested fan. There just aren't that many.
The White Sox, you see, have not won a pennant in 40 years. No other major league team can make that statement. It has been very hard on Max and the other White Sox fans. In fact, the devil himself couldn't have arranged a more exquisite torture than the one these people have had to endure since 1951. In that year the team won 14 straight games and led the league for over a month. Just when fans were beginning to figure out who could get them an extra pair of World Series tickets, the collapse came and the Sox finished fourth.
The years that followed were much the same, except that Chicago was able to finish third, or second. But never first. Always the fast start, bringing fresh hope, and then the inevitable slump, and despair. Last year it was different and it hurt worst of all. Before the season began, the Sox got Early Wynn and Ray Moore in trades. Now, the fans were told, Chicago had the best pitching staff in baseball. Now they had a good chance to win the pennant. The season started, and two weeks later it was over. The White Sox were in last place and it took them the rest of the season to fight their way up to second. But not first. That slow start ended it for many Sox fans. Attendance was off 330,000.
CIRCUS EVERY DAY
This season Bill Veeck, the genial circus man who bought the Chicago White Sox during the winter, has done much to revive the town's interest in the White Sox. By driving herds of elephants around the field or flying in midget spacemen, Veeck has made Comiskey Park an enjoyable place to visit. Attendance is up over last year and Veeck expects interest in the team to snowball over the next few years. However, fans can take only so many elephants and spacemen. What Chicago needs is a winner, and nobody realizes this more than Veeck.
Veeck, when he took over the White Sox, wanted to get Al Lopez some new players. Lopez thought the men he had could win the pennant.
"We outplayed the Yankees over the last half of the season," Lopez told Veeck.
"They were coasting," countered Veeck. "I saw Casey leave in pitchers when he wouldn't have if the race had been close."
But Al insisted the Yankees were doing all they could to win. Now, with the 1959 season half over and the Yankees barely playing .500 ball, Lopez feels he has been proved correct. The only problem is that the White Sox, too, are finding it difficult to get much above .500. Other teams have risen as contenders, so that Chicago finds itself battling Cleveland, Detroit and Baltimore, as well as the Yankees, in the most exciting American League pennant race in years.
The White Sox do not have a great deal to recommend them in this five-team race. Most of what is good about the team can be found several steps to either side of second base. To the left, at shortstop, is Luis Aparicio, a slim, 25-year-old boy from Venezuela. He has dark hair and tan skin. He speaks faltering English. He is married and has two children, a son and daughter. During the winter he plays baseball in Venezuela and he never gets tired of it.
Men who have watched shortstops for 30 years say they have never seen a better one than little Luis. Minnie Minoso hits the ball hard just to the left of the third baseman. Aparicio darts over, backhands the ball in his glove and throws it. Minoso is out by three steps. Harvey Kuenn bounces one over the pitcher's head for a single. As the ball takes a big hop past second base, Aparicio appears, racing toward right field. He spears the ball in the webbing of his glove, twists and throws to first. Suddenly Kuenn does not have a single. He is out and he shakes his head in disbelief.
To the right of second base stands Nellie Fox, the captain of the White Sox in spirit if not name. Fox is 31. He is short and tough, but well-spoken and polite. Before every game he deposits a fistful of chewing tobacco in his cheek, a declaration of war against the opposition. Fox, while not to be compared with Aparicio as a fielder, is as good a defensive second baseman as there is.
Aparicio and Fox bat one-two in the Chicago lineup. No one in baseball is faster than Aparicio. He has led the American League in stolen bases all three years he has played. Recently the White Sox won a game when Aparicio walked, stole second, went to third on a bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly.
"That was certainly an Aparicio run," was the comment.
"A lot of our runs are Aparicio runs," said Dick Dozer, a Chicago sportswriter.
There are also a lot of Nellie Fox runs. He is always on base. Five times Fox has hit .300 or over and three times he has led the league in hits. Nellie doesn't slug home runs, but his line drives can separate a pitcher from his glove.
The rest of the team falls loosely into two groups, the veterans and the younger set. Older fellows like Earl Torgeson, who wears hornrimmed glasses and cardigan sweaters and who played first base for the Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series, and Early Wynn, who has won more games than any active pitcher, give the team a professional look. Harry Simpson, the lanky outfielder, talks softly and seldom. He says his grand slam home run which beat the Yankees was just another hit, and prefers to moan over the fly balls he misplayed to send the Sox to a defeat. Billy Goodman, the frail North Carolinian, longs for his next lobster, a craving he developed during his nine years with the Boston Red Sox ("Who wants to eat those big spidery things?" he asked when he first saw them). Dick Donovan relaxes with the financial page before a game. Billy Pierce shouts a lot. Both are fine pitchers. Jim Rivera wears flashy clothes and hopes he can play in the majors another year.
The younger White Sox include Bubba Phillips from Mississippi, accent and all, and John Romano from Hoboken, accent and all. Phillips plays third, Romano catches. They room together and can usually be found in the movies. Jim Landis, the fleet center fielder, Bob Shaw, a pitcher with blond wavy hair, a dislike of neckties and a penchant for calling the girls "honey," along with fellow pitchers Barry Latman and Rodolpho Arias, and the incomparable Aparicio, spend their off hours on the road being young, healthy and attractive.
These personalities, and others, form a good defensive ball club. They have been playing well all year and are very close to first place. White Sox fans watch in morbid fascination, waiting for the inevitable act of cruelty. Another second-place finish, say to Baltimore, might be enough to dissolve the team-fans relationship. Max might even stop writing letters to Al Lopez.