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1967 
The Improbable Nightmare

by
Dan Helpingstine

Author of the new book "Through Hope & Despair", written from a Sox Fan's perspective about our Chicago White Sox.  Learn more here!

Part One
Forgotten Glory
Part Two
Crosstown Eclipse
Part Three
End of an Era

The Closest They've Come

Chapter One from "Through Hope & Despair"

1967 should be one of the most memorable seasons in Chicago baseball history.  That year baseball still had two one-division 10-team leagues, and the American League sported one of the greatest pennant races of all time.  Going into the last weekend of the season, Boston, Minnesota, Detroit and the White Sox all were fighting for first place.  The race was so tight, there was even a strong possibility of a four-way tie for first.  In the end, only three games separated them, and the eventual winner, Boston, didn't clinch until the last day.  There has not been a more competitive pennant or division race since.

For some reason, the '67 Sox, who weren't eliminated from contention until the 160th game of the season, are rarely talked about by Chicago sports fans.  There is an obsession about the 1969 Cubs, who finished eight games behind a New York Mets team that never had had winning season since their 1962 founding year.  The '67 Sox seem to be lost in a vacuum.

In reality, 1967 was not a major disappointment for the Sox.  There is no denying that they could have gone to the World Series but squandered the chance by losing to two bad teams during the last days of the season.  But the Sox were a one-dimensional team.  With little hitting and a so-so defense, it was a minor miracle they got has far as they did.

Back in the '60s, the million mark in attendance was the goal of most major league franchises.  The Sox drew over 1.6 million in 1960, a team record that stood until 1977.  But in 1967, when the Sox were in first place for a good part of the year, and when they stayed in contention until almost the very end, the team drew just under one million.     While this lack of interest doesn't seem to make sense, the White Sox never had a history of having really exciting teams.  Baseball purists say there is nothing like a  3-2 or 2-1 game.  Great pitching and defense is the real mark of good baseball, they will argue.  The purists may be right, but most fans like offense and action.  The 1967 Sox, contending team that they were, didn't provide much of that excitement.  During a great deal of their entire history, the Sox were rarely known as a team that could score runs in bunches.

 In 1967, the Sox had four players on the all-star team, and their representatives on that squad illustrate what kind of team they had that year.  Tommie Agee, winner of Rookie of the Year honors in 1966, was the most talented position player the Sox had.  Agee was blessed with good speed and power.  However, his numbers were dropping off significantly in '67 as he hit only four homers after the break.  Agee just wasn't performing like the impact player Sox fans hoped he would be.  The other position player was Ken Berry.  Berry played center field with abandon.  On one occasion, he made a running leap and threw his whole body over the center field fence while chasing of a home run hit by Twins outfielder Tony Oliva.  But Berry never hit more than 12 homers in a year and never hit much for an average either.

The other two all-stars were pitchers Gary Peters and Joel Horlen.  Horlen and Peters were as effective 1-2 punch in the starting rotation as any in the league in 1967. Peters actually was one of the best hitters in the lineup when he was pitching and was often used as a pinch hitter when not pitching.  It said a lot about the Sox offense that they needed a pitcher to come off the bench to deliver a key hit late in the game.

The chronic problem of little or no offense didn't help to stimulate fan interest in the contending year of 1967.  On August 24, Sox manager Eddie Stanky ripped into the local and national media, accusing the press of having little respect for his team.  Despite being tied with Boston for first, the Sox were labeled as "dull."

"We're last in homers, we're last in hitting, and we're last in war and peace," said an angry Stanky.  "But we're first in guts and determination."  Stanky also felt that the-not-getting respect routine was hurting the Sox at their home gate.

"All I know is, on the road, we're 350,000 ahead (of home attendance)," Stanky said.  "We must have something."

But the plain fact remained that the Sox won games in unexciting ways.  Up until '67 and for two more seasons, they never had a player hit 30 home runs in a season.  Batting and RBI champions were seldom Sox players.  And the day Stanky popped off, the Sox were shut out by the Yankees' Bill Monbouquette, a constant thorn in the side to the team, but a sub-.500 pitcher from 1964-66.  Monbouquette limited the Sox to five singles, four of them in the infield.  The last hit was a grounder that Pete Ward dribbled through the middle.  Ever hear of a major league pop-up?  The Sox had plenty of pop-ups that day, but none were major league.  Yankee infielders had to run their butts off to come in and get under the ball.  The Sox didn't look like contenders that day. 

Getting shut out by a major league pitcher isn't a disgrace.  Monbouquette had won 20 in 1963, and he had no-hit the Sox the previous year.  But the Chicago White Sox were not a good hitting team on most days.  They had to manufacture runs, and that can be good, sound, fundamental baseball.  It just doesn't generate a whole lot of excitement.  In fact, it can be pretty dull if a team doesn't hit a home run once in a while.

Compounding these problems in 1967 was the revival of the Cubs.  Since 1951, the Cubs not only didn't contend in the National League, they had only one .500 plus season.  Once one of the more successful franchises in their league, the Cubs had not been to the World Series since 1945.  Despite having power hitters in a small ballpark, the Cubs were doormats of the National League in the 1950s and 1960s.  The expansion Mets kept the Cubs out of last most years until 1966 when Chicago bottomed out and lost 103 games, duplicating the awful record the Cubbies had in 1962.   That year only the Mets, with their record-setting 120 losses, were worse.

Had the perennial success of the Sox made Chicago's fans jaded?  What other factors contributed to the 1967 team's eclipse from glory? 

 Continue to Part Two:  Crosstown Eclipse.

Part One
Forgotten Glory
Part Two
Crosstown Eclipse
Part Three
End of an Era


 

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