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August 4, 2009

You Could Look It Up

A Whiter Shade of Pale Hose

by Steven Goldman

With all quiet after the trading deadline, a grab-bag o'thoughts. I didn't intend for this to be the case, but somehow things keep circling back to the White Sox:

  • First up, the Jake Peavy trade got me thinking about Shoeless Joe Jackson, not because Peavy has thrown a World Series (he did throw in an National League Division Series), but because even if Peavy does come off of the disabled list and propel the Pale Hose into the postseason and beyond (as Clay Davenport pointed out yesterday, the latter is more likely than the former), the deal will still have to get in line to rank among the best in Chicago Americans history. Three that may never be topped:

    1. August 21, 1915: Shoeless Joe Jackson is acquired from Cleveland for 22-year-old outfielder/third baseman Braggo Roth, 27-year-old right-hander Ed Klepfer, 25-year-old outfielder Larry Chappell, and $31,500. The Indians got good players in Roth and Klepfer, but they were short-lived as pros, whereas the Tribe had given up an established star in Joe Jackson. In their defense, they knew what they were doing-the deal was a salary dump. Jackson batted .339/.407/.498 in 649 games for Chicago, then got thrown out of baseball. Other than that small detail, it was a swell trade.

    2. November 10, 1948: A deal that should be more celebrated was the theft of 22-year-old lefty Billy Pierce and $10,000 from the Tigers for platoon catcher Aaron Robinson, who was 34 years old. Robinson was a left-handed Mike Napoli type, a backstop who could hit with power and patience, and he gave the Tigers a year of that before age caught up with him. Pierce pitched for the Sox from 1949 through 1961, putting up a 3.19 ERA in 2,931 innings, a very good mark for the era. He went 186-152, led the AL in strikeouts (186) in 1953, ERA in 1955 with 1.97, and wins (20) in 1957.

    3. October 19, 1949: One of the most one-sided deals in history brought 22-year-old second baseman Nellie Fox to the White Sox from the A's for 28-year-old platoon catcher Joe Tipton. Tipton went on being an unremarkable backup through 1954, while Fox played 14 seasons in Chicago, batting .291/.349/.367. He also won three Gold Gloves (the awards began in 1957; Fox was the first Gold Glove second baseman), went to 12 All-Star Games (counting years with two games only once), and won the 1959 AL MVP Award.

    I would guess that more one-sided trades have been made involving second basemen than any other position.

  • Speaking of White Sox trades, one player on the long list is Tony Bernazard, who was acquired from the Expos in December, 1980 for pitcher Rick Wortham. With the New York Daily News reporting more Bernazard-related weirdness, the now-unemployed exec remains a fascinating study in self-destruction. One wonders where his sense of entitlement comes from, given what a mediocre major leaguer he was. Bernazard could hit-sometimes. He had a couple of low-key offensive seasons where he drew a few walks and got into double figures in home runs, but he was a miserable second baseman with a propensity for making errors. After two years, the 1983 White Sox traded him for Julio Cruz, a lesser hitter who was a bit more reliable on defense, and jumped from fifth place to the postseason. Bernazard's career highlight was batting .301/.362/.456 for the surprising 1986 Indians. The production was well out of line with the rest of his career, and he still couldn't catch the ball. By the following July, he had been dealt away again. He never sniffed an award or an All-Star team.

  • Continuing the White Sox theme, I'm happy that Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame because now we can spend the next several years comparing him to Tim Raines, not to mention Barry Larkin and Edgar Martinez, both eligible next year. Usually it's not a good thing when the voters debase the Hall's standards, but if it's in the service of robbing them of their own arguments against deserving players, then the greater good has been served.

  • I recently spoke with Bullet Bob Turley, who was telling me a bit about his first full major league season with the 1954 Baltimore Orioles, a team that went 54-100. I asked if his manager there was Paul Richards. "No," he said. "He traded me." The trade in question came that winter. It involved, depending on how you count things, 17 players, although it should really be 18, as the Yankees still haven't sent over one player to be named later mentioned in the deal (the O's should go to the Commissioner's Office and demand Jesus Montero). Richards, acting as both manager and general manager, made the deal, having just come over from, you guessed it, the Chicago White Sox.

    Richards replaced the man who actually did manage Turley, Jimmie Dykes, who had managed the White Sox for 13 years, finishing up five years before Richards took over. Dykes managed in all or part of 21 seasons, posting a .477 record in nearly 3,000 games and never winning a pennant, or even 90 games. Turley described Dykes as a knowledgeable baseball man, which seems reasonable given that he had played 15 years under Connie Mack spread between every position but catcher, but it is clear from the record that Dykes managed in four different decades without ever constructing an offense that you didn't have to stretch to call average. His best teams, a couple of .550 White Sox clubs, were carried by their pitching, and couldn't get past third place. Yet Dykes went on and on as sort of an amiable caretaker. The A's used him to skipper for three seasons after Mack's senility could no longer be hidden, and then the Orioles, newly arrived from St. Louis, used him to babysit a certain loser. After that, he had three stints as the Jim Riggleman of the Eisenhower years, stepping in to manage a loser for half-seasons when the original manager had fallen out of favor.

    My favorite Jimmy Dykes story is from a point in time after the 1932 season. Mack was conducting his last great purge, and he sold Dykes, Al Simmons, and Mule Haas to the White Sox for $100,000. The first time Chicago played Philadelphia in 1933, Dykes was playing third base. The A's got a runner on, and Dykes, having been a Mack-man since 1918, knows the signs. Peeking over the dugout, he caught Mack flashing the bunt sign and charged the plate. The batter swung away, pulling a screaming liner that undressed Dykes like Charlie Brown and nearly carried his head down the right field line. Dykes was perplexed, but Mack told him there was a simple answer. "After you left," he said, "we changed our signs."

  • To bring things full circle to White Sox trades, one of the reasons that Dykes never won anything is that he wrecked his own team with trades. His good 1937 (86-68) team had the second-best pitching staff in the league, but it craved offense. Dykes, however, thought it needed defense. That winter, he traded 28-year-old first baseman Zeke Bonura, who had just hit .345/.412/.573 in what had been, to that point, the sixth-best offensive season in club history, and the third-best by someone not named Shoeless Joe. Bonura's lack of defensive ability was legendary at the time, but his bat more than made up for his shortcomings. Nonetheless, he was swapped straight up for the Washington Senators' Joe Kuhel, 32, a Mark Grace type. Dykes also made scarce another of his top offensive players, 26-year-old right fielder Dixie Wallker, who had batted .302/.383/.449 and led the league in triples. Walker was included in a package that brought the White Sox a trio of Tigers veterans headed by the speedy outfielder Gee Walker. The result was that whereas the 1937 team had averaged scoring 5.1 runs per game against a league average of 5.2, the 1938 club dropped to 4.8 against 5.4. They also dropped by 21 wins.

This is, perhaps, reminiscent of acquiring an injured Jake Peavy when a healthy bat of some kind would seem more of a priority, but we all do the best we can, according to his own lights.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

Related Content:  Shoeless Joe Jackson,  The Who

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