Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where we review one of the 30 current MLB franchises every other week to determine the best players by position in franchise history. This week, it’s the Chicago White Sox’s turn. If you missed any of our prior installments, check them out here.
The Ground Rules
- Each player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. Two WAR calculations were used, one from Fangraphs and the other from Baseball-Reference. When the WAR between two players was similar, we considered other factors such as stats and awards to break the tie.
- Only statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player were used. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period with the team.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
The Chicago White Sox formed in 1901 and were initially called the “White Stockings.” However, that was too long for the newspapers, so before long, “Stockings” had been shortened to “Sox.” The White Sox won their first World Series championship in their sixth season, followed by a second in 1917. The World Series they lost in 1919 would be the one that left its mark on the franchise, however.
The heavily favored Sox lost the 1919 series in eight games, and rumors spread that eight team members conspired with gamblers to throw the series. Eventually, all eight players were banned for life, including their best pitcher, Eddie Cicotte, and best position player, Joe Jackson. The suspensions set the franchise back, and they would not return to the Fall Classic until 1959 (losing 4-2 to the Dodgers).
The Chisox made only three more trips to the playoffs over the next four decades but finally broke through with their third championship in 2005. In total, the White Sox have a winning percentage slightly above .500, along with 11 playoff appearances, six pennants, and three world championships.
Catcher: Carlton Fisk
In terms of WAR, it was a close call between Sherm Lollar and Carlton Fisk at catcher. Ultimately, we opted for the Hall of Famer and Top Ten Catcher of All-Time, though Lollar deserves mention as a nine-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner.
Fisk spent the first half of his career with the Red Sox and didn’t join Chicago until 1981, when he was 33. Few imagined he would remain with the club for 13 more seasons, retiring at 45 in 1993. Though many of his best years were in Boston, Fisk was still highly productive with the Sox, making four All-Star appearances and winning three Silver Sluggers during his tenure. Despite not joining the club until his 12th season, Fisk ranks second in franchise history in games played among catchers. He also leads Chisox catchers in home runs, runs, and RBI. Fisk joined the Hall of Fame in 2000, three years after his number 72 was retired by the club.
First Base: Jose Abreu
The choice for first base was intertwined with DH as Frank Thomas was an obvious choice for one of the spots. The other selection was not easy, as there were several qualified candidates, most notably Paul Konerko, Harold Baines, and Jose Abreu. The WARs for all three were similar, but we went with Abreu as he has achieved his WAR in eight-plus seasons versus 16 for Konerko and parts of 14 for Baines.
Abreu signed as an amateur free agent out of Cuba before the 2014 season when he was already 27 years old. In his first season, he was an All-Star, won Rookie of the Year and a Silver Slugger, and finished fourth in the AL MVP vote. His .581 SLG and 173 OPS+ led the league that year. Since then, he has been an All-Star twice more and brought home two more Silver Slugger awards. His best year was the shortened 2020 season when he was AL MVP after batting .317 with 19 HRs and 60 RBI and led the AL in hits, RBI, and SLG.
Abreu is far from done and is still putting up big numbers in 2022. Should he stay with the club and continue to produce, his number will likely join Konerko’s and Baines’s in the rafters.
Second Base: Eddie Collins
Collins was a slam-dunk for second base, but Nellie Fox deserves mention as one of the best White Sox not to make the roster. Fox’s WAR is fourth in White Sox history among hitters; however, he’s behind Collins and didn’t provide enough offense to be a logical DH. This is nothing to be ashamed of, as we ranked Collins our second-best second baseman of all time.
Like Fisk and Abreu, Collins didn’t join the Sox until later in his career. Specifically, he was purchased from the Philadelphia Athletics after the 1914 season, in which he was the MVP. Collins spent the next 12 seasons in Chicago and remained one of MLB’s premier small-ball hitters. During that span, he led the league in stolen bases three times and BBs once.
Collins was on two World Series clubs with Chicago: the 1917 world champion and the 1919 “Black Sox” team. He was not implicated in the controversy, and though the scandal gutted the team, Collins continued to produce. He returned to the A’s for his final four seasons and retired in 1930 at the age of 43. In 1939, Collins was elected to the Hall of Fame, as part of its fourth class of illustrious entrants.
Shortstop: Luke Appling
The easiest positional selection had to be Luke Appling at shortstop. Appling has the highest WAR among all White Sox ever at any position – and it’s not particularly close. He also made our list of the Top Ten Shortstops of All-Time, ranking sixth.
Appling debuted with the White Sox in September 1930 and remained with the club for his entire 20-year career, retiring after the 1950 season. Despite his nickname, “Old Aches and Pains,” Appling was a durable player who rarely missed time outside of a broken leg in 1938 and his final season. His 2,218 games at short rank him eighth among shortstops all-time, and he’d be even higher had he not missed almost two seasons due to World War II.
Appling’s career began to blossom in 1933 when he hit over .300 for the first of nine consecutive seasons. He would hit over .300 15 times in total, and twice did he win the batting title (1936 and 1943). He also had a great eye, evidenced by his career .399 OBP and his nine seasons over .400. Appling never won MVP but was runner-up twice, including 1936 when he hit .388 and drove in 128 runs despite only six homers. He played in seven All-Star games and was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1964. In 1975 the White Sox retired his number 4.
Third Base: Robin Ventura
Robin Ventura leads historical Chisox third basemen in plate appearances, home runs, runs, RBI, and WAR. As a mainstay of the 1990s White Sox, he was an excellent defender at the hot corner. Ventura debuted in September 1989 and broke camp the following season as the starter. He won the first of his six gold gloves in his second season, though the sixth was as a member of the Mets in 1999. In addition, he was an All-Star for Chicago in 1992.
Ventura is best known for his defense. While with the White Sox, he led third basemen in double plays four times, putouts three times, and assists twice. After the 1998 season, Ventura left Chicago, signing a free agent deal with the Mets. He played six more years for the Mets, Yankees, and Dodgers but is best known for his time with Chicago.
Left Field: Minnie Minoso
Minnie Minoso is known by many as the only player to have a professional at-bat in six different decades (his last in the independent league). However, he was much more than a publicity stunt; he was a great baseball player. Minoso began his career in the Negro Leagues and signed with the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent in 1948. He broke camp with the team in 1949 but was back in Triple-A for most of the year and 1950. In 1951 he again began the season in the majors, but there was no regular spot for him on the roster. As such, Cleveland traded him to Chicago on April 30, and his MLB career really began.
Minoso did three stints with the White Sox, from 1951 to 1957, 1960-61, and 1964. He also returned for plate appearances in 1976, at the age of 52, and in 1980. With Chicago, he made six All-Star teams and won two Gold Gloves. The speedy Minoso also led the league in stolen bases and triples twice and has the highest WAR among outfielders in Chisox history. In his nine seasons as a regular with the Sox, Minoso hit over .300 six times, including a .320 average in 1954 when he led the league in total bases.
The White Sox retired Minoso’s number 9 in 1983 and erected a statue of him outside US Cellular Field. However, getting into the Hall of Fame took him a while longer. He was just elected this year by the Veteran’s Committee, sadly, seven years after his death in 2015.
Center Field: Fielder Jones
To find our center fielder, we had to go way back to the franchise’s beginning, when Fielder Jones jumped to the American League to join the new club. Jones began his career with Brooklyn but was recruited by Clark Griffith to make the switch. The following season, the legendary George Davis made the leap, too, and the AL was starting to legitimize itself.
Jones had already established himself as a great defensive player in Brooklyn, and how could he not be with a name like “Fielder” (Yes, his real name)? His defense became extremely valuable to the White Sox as he played during the “dead-ball” era when scoring runs was at a premium. Jones led all CFs in putouts three times, assists twice, and double plays twice during his tenure with the team. He was also excellent on offense. Among Chicago’s all-time center fielders, Jones ranks first in games, plate appearances, and runs and second in stolen bases.
Despite not being particularly happy with the White Sox, Jones became their manager in 1904 and began to turn the franchise around. The 1906 team won the world championship with Jones as a key player and their manager. Despite his success, Jones called it quits after the 1908 season. The stress and battles with White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had taken their toll. Fielder Jones is not a household name, but he is considered one of the most influential players and managers of the early 20th century.
Right Field: “Shoeless” Joe Jackson
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson was one of the greatest hitters in the game’s history. He is also one of the most controversial figures. Depending on your point of view, Jackson was either a cheater or a victim for his role in the Black Sox scandal of 1919. Supporters of Jackson will point out that he hit .375 with a HR and six RBI in the series – hardly the numbers of someone on the take. Yet it was Jackson’s own testimony that did him in – one that he would later retract. Whatever the case, no one can doubt his production on the field and wonder what he might have accomplished had his career not been cut short.
Jackson did not join the White Sox until 1915 when he was traded mid-season by the Cleveland Indians. He was already incredibly accomplished, having led the league in hits twice and doubles/triples/OBP/SLG/OPS once. Shoeless Joe’s tenure with the team was not long as he played only 648 games with the club. Yet his production was so great that he still ranks third in WAR among Chisox all-time outfielders – despite being below average defensively.
Jackson was only 33 when he was banned from the game. His ban also eliminated him from Hall of Fame consideration. The best you’ll get from him if you visit Cooperstown are a few photographs and a pair of his cleats.
Designated Hitter: Frank Thomas
As mentioned earlier, there was no doubt that Frank Thomas would be on the roster. The only question was whether it will be at first base or DH. After selecting Abreu, we opted to put Thomas at DH as he wasn’t quite as good defensively. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, as long as he’s on the team. His WAR is second only to Luke Appling among position players, and he was number four on our list of the Top Ten First Basemen of All-Time.
“The Big Hurt” made his MLB debut with the White Sox in August 1990, and from 1991 to 1997, he was a superstar. This seven-year period was one of the greatest by a hitter in MLB history, as Thomas slugged 20+ HRs, had 100+ RBI, drew 100+ walks, and hit over .300 each year. He also went to five All-Star games, won three Silver Sluggers, two MVPs, and a batting title. His 1994 season, in which he won his second MVP, was one for the ages: Thomas hit for a .353 average and led the league in runs, walks, OBP, SLG, and OPS while slugging 38 HRs and driving in 101 runs.
Thomas remained with the White Sox through the 2005 season, the year they finally broke through with another championship. However, Thomas didn’t play a part in the postseason, as he missed most of the year due to injuries. The Chisox bought him out after the season, and he joined the Oakland A’s as a free agent. He retired a few years later after the 2008 season at the age of 40. Two years later, in 2010, the Big Hurt’s number 35 was retired by the team. In 2014 he was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first attempt by 84% of the voters.
Right-Handed Starter: Ted Lyons
There were several excellent options for the right-handed starter. Red Faber and Ed Walsh had WARs in the same ballpark as that of Ted Lyons. All three are in the Hall of Fame, won ERA titles, and played nearly their entire careers with the White Sox (Walsh threw three innings for Boston his last season). You can’t go wrong with any of the three, but we chose Lyons for a few reasons. First, he had the highest WAR on Baseball-Reference by a fair margin. Second, he lost three years to World War II, meaning his WAR would likely have been even higher. Third, he managed the team for three seasons after his career and is the only one of the three whose number was retired by the club.
Lyons first saw action during the 1923 season but didn’t stick with the club until 1924. He was a workhorse for Chicago, throwing over 200 innings for the first 11 seasons of his career. He led the league in innings pitched and complete games in 1927 and 1930 with 307/30 and 297/29, respectively. In 1942, which was Lyons’s last season before enlisting, he won the ERA title with a 2.10 mark. That season he also completed all 20 games he started.
1939 was also a great season for Lyons, as he had a league-leading FIP of 2.84 and WHIP of 1.09. His control was so good that year that he went 42 consecutive innings without issuing a walk. It took a few tries, but the Hall of Fame admitted Lyons in 1955. One year after he passed away in 1986, Chicago honored him further by retiring his number 16.
Left-Handed Starter: Billy Pierce
The choice for our lefty was just as difficult as Billy Pierce, Mark Buehrle, and Wilbur Wood all have similar WARs on Baseball-Reference. On the other hand, Fangraphs calculation has Pierce considerably higher than the other two. Once again, all three are deserving, but we could only pick one. We went with Pierce as he was the only one of the three to win an ERA title and had the most All-Star appearances (seven).
Pierce got a taste of the majors when he was only 18 with Detroit but didn’t stick at the major-league level until he was traded to the White Sox after the 1948 season. For the next 14 seasons, Pierce averaged 30 starts and 231 innings for Chicago. During that run, he led the league in complete games three times and strikeouts/wins/FIP/WHIP/ERA once. His best season came in 1955, leading the league with his 1.97 ERA, 2.83 FIP, and 1.099 WHIP (all career-bests).
Pierce was on the 1959 Sox team that got to the World Series but did not start in the series. The Sox had other great starters that year, so they opted for a three-man rotation, and Pierce only managed four scoreless innings in relief. After the 1964 season, Pierce was traded to the San Francisco Giants, ending his long tenure with the franchise. In 1987, his number 19 was retired by the club.
Reliever: Hoyt Wilhelm
Once again, there were several solid options for the White Sox relief pitcher. Matt Thornton, Keith Foulke, and Terry Forster all had strong cases based on WAR, but we went with the knuckle-balling Hoyt Wilhelm. Wilhelm had the lowest ERA and FIP of the four, the most innings pitched, and perhaps also the most fascinating career.
In Wilhelm’s era, relievers were used differently from today, as evidenced by his average of 113 innings pitched during his six seasons with the club. His career was a most unconventional one as World War II delayed his MLB debut until he was 29 years old. He was injured during the war (earning him a Purple Heart) and pitched his entire career with shrapnel in his back. Wilhelm was one tough cookie.
Wilhelm didn’t join the Sox until he was 40 years old when he was traded there by the Orioles. But this was only the mid-point of his career as he would pitch until he was 49 – you gotta love the knuckler! He played four more seasons after leaving the White Sox after the 1968 season but will always be a big part of the club’s history. In 1985, the BBWAA elected Wilhelm to the Hall of Fame, making him the first reliever to be honored in Cooperstown.