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1972 Sox Year Remembered

From Outhouse to Penthouse (almost)

By Mark Liptak

With the recent 40th anniversary celebration by the White Sox and the Chicago Baseball Museum for the 1972 White Sox, Dick Allen and Roland Hemond, it’s appropriate to look back at one of the signature seasons in franchise history…a season that literally “saved” the White Sox for Chicago.

The White Sox opened the 1972 season after a labor impasse delayed the start of the year, in Kansas City. It was the first time in big league history regular season games were cancelled. They were never made up and that caused issues in deciding the pennant races because clubs played an unequal number of games. Detroit would win the Eastern Division because they played one more game than Boston. The White Sox would lose as it turned out, an important series at home with Oakland. In 1972 the Sox and A’s would play 15 times—nine of them would be held in the Coliseum.  

Newly acquired Allen’s long blast in the 9th inning on opening day gave the Sox a 1-0 lead but they couldn’t hold it and lost 2-1 in 11 innings. In fact the Sox lost the entire three game series, all by one run and two in extra innings. Sox closer Bart Johnson suffered two of the losses and was ineffective because of a knee injury. “I hurt my right knee the off season playing basketball. I immediately told the Sox about it and they examined me and said the knee was basically OK but I did tear some cartilage. When I went out to pitch I just couldn’t push off it. They wound up operating on my knee that September.”  Two kids, Terry Forster and Rich Gossage would have to step up to fill the void in the late innings.

The Sox home opener wasn’t played until April 18th against the new Texas Rangers who had just moved from Washington D.C. It was also the first night home opener in franchise history. Allen received a warm welcome which turned into a standing ovation after going 2 for 3 with three runs scored and two RBI’s in the Sox 14-0 win. Allen said after the game, “I think I’m going to like it here.” Carlos May had quite a night as well with six RBI’s. It was the start of a seven game winning streak.

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By May 21st the Sox were fighting for first place and capped off a double header sweep of the Angels 9-8 thanks to a two out, three run, 9th inning home run from May off Alan Foster. It pushed the Sox to an 18-10 record and they were 16-2 at Comiskey Park. The home run was sweet for May because of something that happened a few years before. ”I knew Foster from spring training because he was with the Dodgers for a few years. One time in the spring he jammed me with a pitch and broke my bat. Then he said to me ‘did you get all of that?’ I didn’t say anything to him but swore that I’d get him some day.” Courtesy: WTAQ/WEAW radio. Announcer: Harry Caray.

June 4th was one of the most memorable days in franchise history. The Sox had already won the first game against the Yankees behind Tom Bradley 6-1 and were going for the sweep in the second game. Allen, who had played every inning of every previous game, was held out by manager Chuck Tanner to give him a rest. Tanner joked to the media between games that Allen would come off the bench to win the game with a home run. With two out and two on in the 9th inning, and the Sox trailing 4-2, Tanner called on Allen to pinch hit. Of course Dick had to finish his snack first; he was eating a chili dog at the time, get into his uniform and grab a bat. A bat day crowd of over 51-thousand waited.  

The Yankees brought in “Sparky” Lyle, the top relief pitcher in the American League, to face the top hitter in Allen.  As Lyle walked to the mound he crossed the first base area where Sox second baseman Mike Andrews was standing. Andrews had gotten a single a few minutes before.  Lyle and Andrews were roommates when both were with Boston. As Lyle went to the mound Andrews looked at him and said, “Sparky, you’re in deep shit now.”  On the third pitch from Lyle, Allen hammered a drive into the lower deck in left field winning the game 5-4 and sending the crowd into a frenzy. Tanner later remarked, “after the game, after the home run, the fans were so loud, so excited, that you could feel the locker room shake from the vibrations. I’ve never seen that before in my life. When I was in the locker room I looked at Dick and got chills, I still do thinking about it.”  Courtesy: WMCA radio. Announcers: Phil Rizzuto, Frank Messer. 

All was not right with the Sox however. 1971 American League home run king Bill Melton was struggling due to a lower back injury suffered the previous off season at his home. The Sox tried everything to remedy the situation including injections made from the extract of papayas in an effort to relieve the pain he was suffering to no avail. He was put on the disabled list in late June. Roland Hemond, the Sox director of player personnel, reached out and got Joliet native Ed Spiezio from the Padres to try to fill Melton’s shoes. Spiezio proved to be a most capable replacement.

On July 23rd right before the All Star Break and the Sox trailing the red hot A’s by over six games, May struck again. This time he blasted a 9th inning game winning home run off future Sox pitcher and broadcaster Ed Farmer, then with Cleveland. The Sox won the nightcap 4-3 after winning the opening game 2-1. They were still in the race.  Courtesy: WTAQ/WEAW radio. Announcer: Harry Caray.

Allen received the most votes from the fans and started at 1st base in the All Star Game in Atlanta, won by the National League 4-3 in 10 innings. He was joined on the team by pitcher Wilbur Wood and outfielder May. 

After the break the Sox resumed their chase of Oakland. On July 31st at Minnesota, Allen did something that had only been done by a handful of players before that in all the history of the game. Off future Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven, Allen hit not one, but two… inside the park home runs in the same game. The first went to right center, the second to left center… he raced around the bases both times driving in five runs in the Sox 8-1 win. Allen’s speed was something many fans forgot about when talking about him. That season he stole 19 bases. That game propelled the Sox to a stretch where they won eight of nine before heading into a showdown series in Oakland for the Western Division lead. Courtesy: WSNS-TV. Announcer: Jack Drees.

That four game series may have been the single greatest series played between two clubs in the entire decade. It featured everything you could want in baseball… tight games, great pitching, timely hitting, extra innings and unexpected heroes.

The series began on a Thursday night with a game that wound up being suspended due to curfew tied at three after 17 innings. It was picked up on Friday and would go 19 innings before the Sox lost 5-3 on a two run home run from Joe Rudi. In the regularly scheduled game, Cub castoff Dave Lemonds and Cy Acosta would out duel "Catfish" Hunter tossing a two hit shutout and winning 1-0.

The Saturday game saw Wilbur Wood take a one hit shutout into the last of the 9th inning. With two outs Brant Alyea would hit a home run tying the game at one. The Sox would win the game in extra innings 3-1 on a dramatic two run home run by Melton’s replacement, Spiezio off Rollie Fingers, putting them into first place. On the radio Harry Caray started singing, “the White Sox are coming tra-la-la-la...” It hadn’t happened since 1967 that the Sox were in the top spot this late in the season. Wood would get his 20th win of the season going all 11 innings that afternoon. The Sunday game then saw Vida Blue shut out the Sox 3-0 for a series split.

“After that suspended Friday game I met an old friend of mine, Dave Duncan, who was a catcher with the A’s. I’d known him since high school,” remembered Sox catcher Ed Herrmann. “We were talking and I still remember him saying ‘the winner of this series is going to win the league.’ He was right; the A’s had the lead and hung on to it. What we really needed was a sweep or to take three of four. We expended a lot of emotion just to get a split. That really drained us. We battled them. We didn’t have the talent that they did but we played hard and Chuck Tanner was right there with us."

The Sox still had a few final tricks up their sleeves though. On August 20th in the first game of a twin bill with Boston, they’d score four times in the 9th to come from behind and win 9-7. Pat Kelly’s two out, three run home run won it off Marty Pattin.

Then Allen laid claim to one, final thrilling moment in a memorable season. On August 23rd in the 7th inning of a game against the Yankees, Dick hammered a ball into the original bleachers at Comiskey Park, becoming the first Sox player to ever reach the seats below the scoreboard. History shows only two Sox players ever would do this before the park was closed, Richie Zisk being the other, in another memorable season, 1977.  The Sox would win the game 5-2.
Allen’s blast fell about five yards short from being caught by announcer Harry Caray in his net in the center field bleacher seats. Every Wednesday afternoon of a home stand Caray would broadcast from the bleachers and he’d often joke about someday grabbing a ball in the net from that location. Little did he dream he’d almost really do it.  Courtesy: WTAQ/WEAW radio. Announcer: Harry Caray. 

Pitcher Stan Bahnsen, stolen by Hemond from the Yankees an hour after he acquired Allen, would win his 20th game of the season, beating Texas on September 22nd and the Sox closed the year winning 87 games, one more than Eastern Division champion Detroit, but the A’s would finish with 93 wins and the Sox would have to settle for second place. The Sox had the second best record in the league and the third best in baseball in a shortened season. They were also almost unbeatable at home going 55-23.

In the postseason the Sox cleaned up on individual awards.

Tanner was named the American League Manager of the Year by every major organization. The Sporting News named Allen and Wood to their All Star Team comprised of the best players from either league and gave Wood their Pitcher of the Year honor for his 24 wins which led all of baseball. Hemond garnered the Executive of the Year Award and finally Allen was named the American League Most Valuable Player on November 16th. After accomplishing one of the greatest individual seasons in franchise history and barely missing the Triple Crown, the Baseball Writers Association of America had to give him the award.

Allen led the league with 37 home runs, 113 RBI’s, a .603 slugging percentage and 99 walks. He led the Sox with a .308 batting average, drove in 19 game winning runs, stole 19 bases, scored 90 runs and was only .0005 points shy of leading all A.L. first basemen in fielding. Allen claimed 21 of 24 first place votes for 321 points. Joe Rudi was second with 164 points.  

The 1972 season saved the franchise because the team drew 1,186,018 fans and became financially solvent again. The success also led to a new radio deal with WMAQ for the 1973 season which provided addition money. After the disasters of 1968, 1969 and 1970 when the Sox AM radio deal expired, no station in Chicago wanted anything to do with them. In 1971 and 1972 Sox games were broadcast on two low powered stations out of Evanston and LaGrange, Illinois.  

The money earned from the fans and WMAQ enabled new Sox owner John Allyn to survive when his outside business investments went bust and he almost went bankrupt. That money let him hang on and eventually sell the team to Bill Veeck instead of moving it to Seattle as other A.L. owners wanted. 

The catchphrase for 1972 was coined by Sox outfielder Rick Reichardt when he asked, “are we going to the outhouse or the penthouse?” Well the Sox never got to the top floor but they came damn close… a lot closer to the top floor than the bottom and they saved the franchise in the process.

1972… oh what a season it was!

Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho). Now he is the play by play voice for all Idaho State women's basketball games home and away, he's the studio host on the Idaho State football radio network and covers ISU for the Twin Falls (Idaho) Times-News. "Lip", his wife, and cats live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Snake River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population. You can contact Mark with questions and comments at:   

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