The Go-Go White Sox—Fox, Aparicio and friends—are gone, but they have left behind a legacy of small hit, big defense that the 1964 team will do nothing to disturb.
It has become a White Sox tradition to scratch for runs, and this year's team has its nails sharpened. The sharpest of all belong to little Floyd Robinson, a left-handed line-drive hitter who in three full seasons has a .301 batting average. At 27, he should be ready for a really big year. Joe Cunningham is another .301 hitter. Early last year Cunningham tripped over first base and broke his collarbone, disabling him for half the season. This spring he was swinging well, and teammates have assured him they will do what they can to make the first-base bag smaller. As a rookie last year, Pete Ward led the team in hitting (.295) with 84 RBIs and 22 home runs. But during the winter Ward married and when he reported to spring training he was 20 pounds overweight. Almost immediately he injured his back bending over for a ground ball, and he recovered slowly. The White Sox are worried that Ward might already be on his way toward the kind of disastrous season that so often follows a bright rookie year. The only other White Sox player to hit more than 20 home runs last year was Dave Nicholson, the big, strong, Baltimore bonus baby. If Chicago is to improve as a hitting team—they were tied for fifth in batting average and eighth in home runs—the improvement must come from Nicholson. Last year, while hitting his 22 home runs, Nicholson fanned 175 times, smashing all records with strikeouts to spare. But Al Lopez is a manager of infinite patience. He and his coaches worked long hours this spring trying to correct Nicholson's swing. Too often he is ahead of the ball. They told him to use a heavier bat and to hit the ball back through the middle. Nicholson is a conscientious youngster and tries to do what he is told. He also tries to take comfort in the fact that 20 other hitters struck out more than 100 times last year. He complains that umpires give a known nonstrikeout man like Nellie Fox a good call on a close pitch. Last year, Nicholson insists, he was called out on a Steve Barber pitch that hit the ground. The White Sox try to buoy his confidence with contrived statistical items. Example: if you do not count his strikeouts, Nicholson hit .376 last year. But the record book carries the unmistakable figure .229 beside his name. The rest of the White Sox lineup, generally, comprises singles hitters. Some hit enough singles to be dangerous. Mike Hershberger batted .279 last year, and at 24 is on the way up. Camilo Carreon, playing only half the time, hit .274. Rookie Don Bu-ford hit .336 at Indianapolis. He also stole 42 bases, giving the White Sox an Aparicio type. Ron Hansen batted a disappointing .226, but his 67 RBIs put him first among American League shortstops. When the White Sox need a pinch hitter, they will call on old traveler Charley Maxwell, Deacon Jones, J. C. Martin, Jim Landis or Tom McCraw. It is not a terrifying group.
Manager Lopez has what any manager likes—a long, solid line of pitchers. It was the best staff in the league last year (2.97 ERA) and should be again. In spring training a year ago, Gary Peters was a minor league name, a commuter between San Diego and Indianapolis with an occasional side trip to Chicago. Then, at 26, Peters stopped aiming the ball and threw hard—fast ball, slider, fast ball. He won 19 games and had the lowest ERA in the league, 2.33. Another tough left-hander is Juan Pizarro, 16-8 last year with a 2.39 ERA, second only to Peters. Pizarro hurt his shoulder late last August and pitched no more, but in the Puerto Rican League this winter he threw without pain and his fast ball was as mean as ever. To balance the lefthanders, Lopez has Ray Herbert and John Buzhardt. Herbert is one of those pitchers who is better in his 30s than he was in his 20s. For a month last year he was baseball's best, throwing four shutouts in a row, and he finished the season at 13-10. Buzhardt was cruising along with a 9-4 record and a 2.43 ERA when his shoulder started hurting. He missed half the season, and the White Sox certainly missed him. Behind these four is a small army of pitchers, good ones. Eddie Fisher, Joe Horlen and Dave DeBusschere will start and relieve. Fritz Ackley, 18-5 at Indianapolis last year, should make the team. Like Peters, Ackley is an old rookie, 27, and the White Sox are hoping he will follow the Peters example. The White Sox bullpen is thin. When Jim Brosnan refused to sign unless he was allowed to write, General Manager Ed Short released him. It may prove expensive. The White Sox subsequently bought the Tigers' Don Mossi for $20,000, but Mossi has a sore arm. That leaves Knuckle-bailer Hoyt Wilhelm, soon to be 41, and left-hander Frank Baumann. They may not be enough.
The Chicago outfield is superb defensively. Nicholson will be in left, Hershberger in center, Robinson in right. When Lopez wants to use his strongest defense, Landis will play center, with Hershberger moving to right. Despite Hansen, a very good shortstop with wide range and a strong arm, the infield is less than superb. At third, Ward is second-rank, and Cunningham, at first, is something below that. Buford will play second, how well the White Sox wish they knew. At Indianapolis he was a third baseman, so they had him play second in Puerto Rico this winter. He is unsure making the pivot on double plays but should improve as the season progresses. Carreon and Martin will share the catching, depending on the opposing pitcher (Martin bats left, Carreon right) and which, if either, is hitting well. Carreon is the surer receiver; Martin, a converted infielder, is still converting.
If Nicholson strikes out only 100 times and hits 38 home runs, if Buford learns to make the pivot, if Ward and Peters do not have second-season troubles, if the shoulders of Pizarro and Buzhardt ache no more—the White Sox could give the Yankees, or anybody else, a spirited battle for the pennant. That's about three ifs too many.