For four days Donald Duck did not quack. Normally Donald will take a whack at a quack every chance he gets, but from Monday through early Friday evening of last week he merely sat and worried. Donald is Eddie Fisher, the 28-year-old relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, and ever since he was in junior high school back in Altus, Okla. 16 years ago he has been entertaining people with his imitation of Walt Disney's movie cartoon character. But not last week. "This is no time for Donald," he said Friday at 5 p.m. after the White Sox, who were facing a three-game series with the Yankees, had lost six of seven games to fall out of the American League lead.
But by Saturday, Eddie Fisher was Donald Duck again, quacking happily away in the White Sox clubhouse in Comiskey Park. The White Sox had won two straight games from the Yankees and regained first place. From the very beginning of the season Fisher has quacked a magic number at his teammates after each of their victories. "I decided at the start that it would take 100 games to win the pennant," he says. "Now we only need 74 more."
Last year no one really believed in the Chicago White Sox, even though they lost the pennant by only one game. Joe Horlen, the tough-luck pitcher last year, said, "I thought the whole 1964 season over during the winter. I tried to figure out how it might have been won for us. I played games over and over in my mind." The Sox were long on pitching but woefully short of hitting. This season they are once again long on pitching and long on spirit and long on managing, but now they are also long on good, solid hitting, which has almost never been a White Sox characteristic. "Last season," says Manager Al Lopez, "we had to scrounge around for runs, and too often we didn't get the one run we needed to win. Now we have power and we can play for a big inning."
"I remember when we went into Los Angeles for a series last year," says Pete Ward, the Chicago third baseman, "a columnist wrote that the White Sox were in town and that no one knew we were there but that by the time we left we would have won three games. Well, that's the type of club we were. But now we have some guys who can make some noise with the bat and get us some runs, and we have excellent pitching. That's two big pluses."
Last year it seemed that almost all Chicago's games were close and the White Sox had to scratch to win but, even so, the 1964 team was not an exciting one. This year, however, there seems to be an entirely different attitude about the White Sox in Chicago. Right now the city feels that the White Sox are the logical, odds-on favorites to win in the American League. It is a sound feeling.
Frustrated by their offensive shortcomings in 1964, the White Sox went out and traded for the hitters they needed for 1965. They got Bill Skowron in July last year and in the off season obtained John Romano from Cleveland and Danny Cater from Philadelphia. Too, the younger White Sox players—like Don Buford, Tom McCraw, Ken Berry—seem ready now. Shortstop Ron Hansen has always been a valuable man in the clutch, and Ward and Robinson are among the most respected hitters in the league.
The series with the Yankees last weekend was a major one for the White Sox, because, like every other team in the league, Chicago could not quite believe that the slumping New Yorkers were truly an eighth-place team. They are right, of course. The Yankees are not an eighth-place team, but neither are they a first-place team.
When the Yankees came into Chicago last week a clipping was hung on the White Sox bulletin board. It said, "Mantle says Yankees will win by 10 games." The word "win" was scratched out and the word "lose" put in its place. The White Sox would not admit that the series with the Yankees was of particular significance, but their actions said it for them. Donald Duck had requests from friends and relations for 40 tickets. "They beat us the first 10 last year," Joe Horlen said. "That won't happen again." Lopez said, "Those were all good ball games we played the Yanks, but we lost 10 in a row to them. This team knows who it is playing."
Romano the hero
So, the White Sox beat the Yankees 2-0 last Friday in the first game between the clubs this year. Horlen pitched well, and John Romano broke an 0-0 tie when he scored from second base on an infield hit. Romano banged past Yankee Catcher Doc Edwards, knocking the ball away, injuring his own foot and missing the plate. Although in great pain, he strained back full length to touch home with his hand for what proved to be the winning run. The White Sox won again Saturday 6-3 on a succession of Yankee mistakes, and though New York came back on Sunday to win the final game of the series 3-2 in 12 innings, the New Yorkers were still seven games below .500 and nine full games behind the White Sox. Obviously, it was a different year.
In Chicago last year some sportswriters referred to the White Sox as a team of "invisible men." No more. Pitcher Gary Peters, who won 19 games in 1963 and 20 last year, is a superb athlete who is used as a pinch hitter. Second baseman Don Buford was an outstanding halfback at the University of Southern California; his replacement, Al Weis, was second in the American League last year with 22 stolen bases. Catcher Smokey Burgess, who made his 100th pinch hit on Sunday, needs only seven more to break the alltime record. Third Baseman Pete Ward hit three grand-slam home runs last season. Only Mickey Mantle, Al Kaline and Tony Oliva, among active American Leaguers, have better lifetime batting averages than Floyd Robinson.
"Most of our club," says General Manager Ed Short, "can be traced to our minor league system. Only two players on the team did not come from the minors or in a trade involving one of our minor league players. We are proud of our farm system. Right now four of the five teams we have working agreements with are either in first or second place. It costs us $1 million a year to have these farm clubs, and we don't get any money back from them because the teams are owned by local people in those towns. You could say that the three youngsters we brought up this year—Pitcher Bruce Howard, Center Fielder Ken Berry and Pitcher Bob Locker—cost us $300,000 apiece. We have more good prospects down there and plenty of good pitchers [18 with earned run averages of 3.00 or lower]."
The White Sox organization has been criticized for moves which were not very popular at the time. Many people were incensed in 1964 when they read that the White Sox offered Pitcher-Writer Jim Brosnan a contract which prohibited him from writing. Brosnan quit, but Chicago got along fairly well without his pitching. When the White Sox told Charles O. Finley of Kansas City that he could not bring his well-publicized Missouri mule into Comiskey Park a few weeks ago, Chicago was burned again. "We believe," says Short, "that promotion is up to the home team, and we think that a mule is fine at the Army-Navy game. We told Finley in March that he could not bring his mule in. We had a gymnastic show and $500 worth of fireworks planned for between games of a doubleheader, and we do not announce our extras to the public. We give them away. We think our fans are with us. We fought the sale of the Yankees to CBS, and we believe that the public backed us. We lost in a vote to the rest of the league." The American Broadcasting Company has been annoyed with the White Sox since early spring because the club said that no television cameras could be put on the field for the network's Game of the Week. The White Sox position was that the cameras would hinder the vision of box-seat patrons.
But the team is the main preoccupation of the front office. It has been rebuilt carefully over the past few seasons, with only a handful of players remaining of those who comprised the White Sox three years ago. The backbone of the squad, despite the newfound hitting strength, is pitching. Lopez and Ray Berres, his pitching coach, keep a close eye on the staff. Tommy John, who was 2-9 with Cleveland last year, won his fourth game of the current season when he beat the Yankees on Saturday. John says, "I didn't know what pitching was all about until I came to see the White Sox. They see everything and they remind you of it." Joe Horlen had a 6-2 lead after three innings in a game against Los Angeles when Lopez took him out of the game. Angry and upset, Horlen sounded off but later said he was wrong, that he knew he was pitching badly. Berres worked with Horlen to correct his timing and in his next start he shut out the Yankees, something he had never been able to do previously. The big Comiskey Park held helps, too. Its wind, which seems to come in from center field, bounce off the stands and go out again, is perfect for Chicago's knuckleballers, Fisher and Hoyt Wilhelm, who are the top relief men. Wilhelm was in 47 winning games last year, and this season Fisher has won three games and saved 11.
There were frustrations for the White Sox in 1964, but those frustrations seem over now. "This thing we went through when we lost six out of seven," Lopez said at the end of last week, "was a pitching slump, and I don't think we'll have too many of those. Our hitting was good, and our hitting will be good. It might get sporadic, but we can go for a big inning now and make it more than we could last year. The talk is beginning that it will be bad for the American League if the Yankees lose. I have words for that theory, but I wouldn't use them. Baseball can't rely on one team like the Yankees, and the American League certainly shouldn't. I like this team of ours. I think we are going to win it because now we have guys who can pop a ball. This is a good ball club."
There are still four months of the season to go, but don't take your eyes off Chicago. Nor your ears. Listen for that quack.