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The Improbable Nightmare

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

Part Two:  Crosstown Eclipse

When 1967 began, there were no high expectations for the Cubs.  But on July 3 after a 4-1 Sunday win, the North Siders were perched on top of the National League.  In Wrigley Field, flags with National League team names are flown over the center field scoreboard and are arranged according to current standings.  Toward the end of that 4-1 win, the Cubs flag was raised to the top. The Cubs had moved into first when St. Louis lost the first game of a doubleheader against the Mets.  The fans roared with approval, and the town was giddy with excitement about the Cubs.  The Cubs slipped into a first place tie when the Cardinals split their doubleheader.  Still, first place was first place.

On the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times the next day was a story about the dual success of the Chicago baseball teams as both were in first place.  Most of the article was about the Cubs and their surprise season.  The story was fairly blasé about the Sox, a team that had nothing but winning seasons since 1951.  This was the exact same time period the Cubs were putting together one losing season after another.

The Cubs had a good season in '67 but didn't seriously threaten the St. Louis Cardinals who won one of their three pennants of the 1960s that year.  But the Cubs began to take over the number one spot in Chicago baseball in 1967.  Though the Cubs' success has been only sporadic since then, the Sox have had a harder and harder time competing with the North Side team, Wrigley Field and a franchise that has a nationwide following.

Also, the Cubs had three additional reasons why they were beginning to take Chicago over from the Sox.  Their names were Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.  These three hit a combined 1,280 homers in their careers, almost all of them with the Cubs.  Even when the team was losing, fans recognized what a potent 3-4-5 combination these three great players were.  Sox fans would have a hard time remembering a 3-4-5 combination for their team during the '60s.  It was becoming increasingly difficult for the Sox to compete with these Hall of Fame statistics.

In July, the Sox did pick up two big-name players in trades.  From Cleveland, they acquired Rocky Colavito who was one of the best right-handed home run hitters in the American League during the '60s.  They also picked up Ken Boyer, a hard hitting third baseman and the National League MVP on the 1964 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.  Unfortunately, both players were at the end of their careers.  They hit a combined seven homers between them for the remainder of '67.  They just didn't provide the offense the Sox desperately needed to become bonafide contender.

On September 10, the Sox played the contending Detroit Tigers in a doubleheader, which concluded a four-game series at Comiskey.  The Tigers won game one 4-1.  Then, in game two, a nationally televised Saturday afternoon contest, the Tigers had erased a ninth inning 3-0 deficit to win 7-3.  Critics were ready to pronounce the Sox dead. 

Manager Stanky lashed out at writers again saying they would have to eat their words because "they discount the guts of this ballclub.  All year long this team has had guts."

That September 10 doubleheader proved Stanky to be right, at least in the short run.

In game one, Joel Horlen won his 16th game with a no-hitter.  On only two occasions did Detroit come close to getting a hit: In the fourth, second baseman Wayne Causey timed his leap perfectly to snare a soft line drive off the bat of Al Kaline.  In the ninth, Causey made another nice play by backhanding a grounder heading for right center and making an off-balance throw to just get the slow-running Jerry Lumpe on a disputed out call.  On the strength of five first inning runs, the Sox won 6-0.

1967 was Horlen's career year.  Though he had pitched well in previous years with ERAs under 3.00, he didn't have impressive won-loss records, having never won more than 13.  In fact detractors tagged Horlen as a "loser" for all the heart-breaking setbacks he had suffered.  In '67, Horlen was no loser.  He won 19, lost only seven and led the league with a 2.06 ERA.  The Cy Young Award that year went to Jim Lonborg of Boston even though Lonborg had an ERA over 3.00 and won only three more games for a much better hitting team.  Boston winning the pennant helped Lonborg.  The Sox would not get another Cy Young Award winner until 1983.

Horlen's no-hitter helped make up for a no-hit miss he had in 1963 against the Washington Senators.  Pitching at Washington, Horlen led 1-0 with one out in the ninth.  A guy named Chuck Hinton broke through with a ground single right past Horlen's feet and right up the middle into center.  One out later, Don Lock hit a two-run homer over the leaping left fielder Dave Nicholson.  A dejected Horlen walked off the mound a 2-1 loser.  The Senators also ended up playing an important part of Sox history in 1967.

Game two of the September 10 doubleheader was a 4-0 win for the Sox behind rookie pitcher Cisco Carlos.  The Tigers, with hitters like Al Kaline, Willie Horton and Norm Cash, managed only five hits all day, three of those coming from one player, outfielder Jim Northrup.  This was the boring way the Sox won.  They had pitching and more pitching. On September 13, they beat Cleveland 1-0 in 17 innings.  Gary Peters pitched the first 11 innings of that win and gave up but one hit.  The next night the Sox again were shut out in the first nine innings but won on a Don Buford grand slam in the bottom of the 10th. The team ERA for the Sox in '67 was 2.45.  The Sox, with a nonexistent offense, were resurrecting memories of the hitless wonders of 1906.  The trouble was, few fans were turned on with this type of winning.  Another problem: it's extremely hard to win pennants this way.

In August, Al Hirsh of the Boston Traveler American wrote one of many articles during the past 30 years about the possibility of the Sox leaving Chicago.  He wrote that a move to Milwaukee was being negotiated.  This was only one of several stories speculating about a Sox move to Milwaukee during the late '60s.

Were the seeds of the team's demise planted even before that fateful last weekend in Kansas City?  What was the fate of the franchise in subsequent years?  

Continue to Part Three:  End of an Era

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


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