The Chicago White Sox of 1900

This article was written by Art Ahrens

This article was published in 1978 Baseball Research Journal

Although few of their fans realize it, the Chicago White Sox were once a minor league club. In fact, they had one of the finest lower echelon teams ever put together in their fledgling year of 1900, possibly the best assembled up to that time.

The team that evolved into the White Sox got its start in the autumn of 1894 when Charles Comiskey became manager of the Sioux City, Iowa, Western League club. At the same time Ban Johnson, a former sportswriter, assumed the league presidency, largely through Comiskey’s influence with the club owners. Comiskey bought out the Sioux City franchise, moving it to St. Paul in 1895, while Johnson began running the league with an iron hand. He severely disciplined players for rowdiness and even enforced the decisions of his umpires- a real novelty in those days of unbridled hooliganism.

By the end of the decade, the Western League was the most respected minor league in baseball. In 1899 the annual Spalding Guide, never too lavish on compliments except for its publisher’s sporting goods, praised the circuit in these terms:

  … it is safe to say that at least four of the Western League teams were not only better handled but were stronger than at least four of the twelve clubs in the National League; and the promise for 1899 is that the Western League will close its season of 1899 as the strongest of the existing minor leagues.

It was no idle boast. Among the Western League’s graduates in that era were such luminaries as Sam Crawford, Rube Waddell, Deacon Phillippe, Ginger Beaumont, Jimmy Slagle, Jack Taylor, Sam Mertes, Jimmy Williams, Noodles Hahn, and Kid Elberfeld. All of them made significant marks in the majors.

In October 1899 Comiskey received permission from James Hart, president of the Chicago National League club, to relocate his St. Paul franchise to Chicago’s south side. Hart had gladly given his consent, certain that fans would never put up with the odors of the nearby stockyards in order to see a ballgame. Meanwhile, Ban Johnson had replaced the Grand Rapids club with a team in Cleveland, where the National League had abandoned its holdings after a disastrous season.  Since these were signal steps toward giving the league a major character, it was rechristened the American League. At this point, however, it was still by its own admission a minor circuit, with all its clubs located in the Midwest except Buffalo.

This much accomplished during the off-season, the American League was set for 1900 with teams in Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, Buffalo, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. With the exception of Minneapolis, all of these cities had National League clubs at one time or another during the 19th century, but only Chicago’s had survived.

The National League had cut back its number of clubs from 12 to 8, throwing dozens of fringe players into the breadlines, and some regulars as well. Most of them sought and received employment in Johnson’s new organization. Of the 200 players who saw action in the American League of 1900, 102 had previously been in the senior circuit for varying lengths of time.

Comiskey’s Chicago squad took the nickname White Stockings, a time-honored moniker which the Chicago Nationals had discarded a decade earlier in favor of Colts. The following year, the press began shortening it to White Sox, and the name has stuck with the team ever since. Of the 28 players who appeared with the 1900 White Sox in the course of the season, only four had never played in the majors. It was no team of greenhorns, to be sure.

However, the degree and the productivity of the players’ experience varied greatly. First baseman Frank Isbell had played with the Cubs (Colts) in 1898 as a utility pitcher-infielder, but had shown little promise and spent the following season with St. Paul. Dick Padden, second baseman and team captain, had spent four years with Pittsburgh and Washington, batting .282 for the Pirates in 1897. At shortstop was veteran Frank Shugart, a native Chicagoan who had been in and out of the big time since 1890 with several clubs, reaching a high of .292 in 1894 for St. Louis. Third sacker Fred Hartman had four years of big league experience behind him, hitting .306 for the St. Louis Nationals in 1897. Most of the catching was done by Joe Sugden, a long-time NL receiver who had generally been a second-stringer.

In the outfield were Hermus McFarland in left, William “Dummy” Hoy in center, and Steve Brodie and John Shearon alternating in right. Hoy, a longtime National League flychaser and deaf mute, was an outstanding base stealer and a competent batter who had crossed the .300 mark several times during the `90s. A first class fielder with a wicked throwing arm, he had once thrown out three runners at the plate, after they’d tried to score from second on base hits! Although deaf and dumb, Hoy had developed a system of handsignals which cued in his outfield partners without a flaw.

Steve Brodie, a tough-guy competitor who would just as soon punch out an enemy player as look at him, was a ten-year big league veteran before coming to the White Sox. One of the fabled Baltimore Orioles of the mid-1890s, Brodie was a .300 plus lifetime batter and an aggressive base runner. Shearon and McFarland had only brief big league experience in back of them. In fact, during the early part of the season, veteran Tommy Dowd generally appeared in leftfield rather than McFarland. Although a respected .275 hitter with nine major league seasons, Dowd was a disappointment with the Sox and was sold to Milwaukee after only 36 games.

Pitching-wise, Chicago’s “big four” were John Katoll, Roger Denzer, Chauncey Fisher and Roy Patterson. The last named had no previous experience in the majors, while Denzer and Katoll each had only a cup of coffee with the Colts in the late `90’s. Fisher had been in the NL for four years, posting a mediocre record. Later in the season, they were joined by Cy Seymour and Frank Killen. Seymour, an effective fast-baller when his control was with him, had won 25 games for the Giants in 1898 while fanning 249 batters, to lead the league. Killen, a lefty, had won 163 games in his major league career, including 35 for the Pirates in 1893 and 30 in `96. His arm had since burned out, however, and he was well over the hill by the time the Sox signed him.

Others who drifted in and out of the lineup at various times were catchers Dick Buckley and Bob Wood, infielders Frank Martin, Phil Geier, Frank Motz, David Brain, Charley O’Leary and Jimmy Burke, outfielders Pat Dillard, Bud Lally and G.E. Clayton, and pitcher Bill Hill. Except for Brain, O’Leary and Clayton, all had big league experience ranging from a handful to several hundred games.

Comiskey, the owner and manager, was no stranger to the big leagues either. An excellent first baseman in his playing days, “Commy” had been player-manager of the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, leading them to four straight flags from 1885 through `88. Born and reared in Chicago, he had briefly returned to his hometown in 1890, when he played for and managed the Chicago Onions of the Players League. Now, as owner of the White Sox, he was to enjoy his brightest accomplishments and, eventually, his bitterest sorrows.

Chicago’s new team began operations April 21, 1900 at a small, wooden enclosure located at 39th Street and Wentworth Avenue, handily accessible by both the streetcar and the elevated train. The grandstand had a seating capacity of 5,000 while the bleachers held an additional 2,500, and both were enlarged in the ensuing years. Surroundings included a factory, an Irish youth club, a German-speaking Catholic parish, and saloons frequented by both ethnic groups.

Under a dark sky and a threat of rain, an assemblage of 5,000 attended the opener. Chicago’s foes were the Milwaukee Brewers of Connie Mack, an experienced mentor even in 1900. The Chicago Tribune commented that “Both the Milwaukee and the White Stocking teams are made up of good players, many of them tried by several seasons in the National League…”

Chicago’s mayor, Carter Harrison H, could not attend so Mayor Rose of Milwaukee threw out the first ball. Perhaps it was a bad omen for the home team since the Brewers won in ten innings, 5-4. Painters were still touching up the outfield fences while play was going on.

The White Sox evened things the following day with a 5-3 snatch before an overflow crowd of 12,000. On April 24 they belted their first home runs as McFarland and Shugart connected for one apiece. Frank Isbell was the game’s winning pitcher.

Nevertheless, Chicago’s start was inauspicious. By the morning of June 1 they were sitting in fifth place with a 17-18 log. Indianapolis led with 20 wins against only 8 defeats.

But that month the White Sox came into their own during a long home stand, posting 20 wins against 6 losses. They pulled into the lead June 25 by edging Minneapolis, 4-3. The July 1 standings showed Chicago number one with a 3 7-24 mark and Indianapolis second with 33-24. Cy Seymour had joined the team June 18, the Tribune commenting that he “brought most of his wildness to Chicago.”

From late June on, Chicago set the pace, although Indianapolis and especially Milwaukee proved to be tough competitors. The White Sox clinched the flag September 12 with a double win from Cleveland at Chicago (12-4 and 9-1). They ended the season six days later with a loss to Indianapolis, but by then they were just going through the motions. Their final record was 82 wins and 53 losses for a .607 percentage and a 4½ game lead over the second place Brewers.

In winning their first pennant, the White Sox established a club tradition, the antics of Chicago’s 1977 cannons not withstanding. It was a weak-hitting team that won its games with pitching and glovework.  On September 12, Cleveland manager Jimmy McAleer commented on the Chicago victory:

It’s the strangest thing that ever happened. A club with no good batsman to win a flag! Why, such a thing was never heard of before. Padden has done most of it. He has been the whole works, and has shown himself a born general. The pitchers did the rest, with special credit to that lad Patterson.

When the team had its victory celebration at South Side park on September 15, Charles Comiskey was awarded a five foot red bat, decked with red, white and blue ribbons. The Tribune remarked:

It was the gift of a sporting goods firm, and while intended to be an emblem of championship prowess, there may have been just the least bit of delicate satire, considering the fact that the White Stockings are admittedly the poorest batting team in the league . .

The figures bear this out. Joe Sugden, their leading hitter, collected 133 hits in 121 games for a .290 average. Following him were Shearon .285, Padden .284, and Hartman .275. Dummy Hoy, playing all 135 games, batted only .254 but scored 115 times and stole 32 bases. A one-man outfield when he had to be, the silent star topped the league’s flychasers in putouts (337), assists (45), and fielding average (.977). In the 77-year history of the American League that followed, no one outfielder ever led in all three categories.

On the mound, Denzer led with a 20-10 mark, followed by Fisher (19-9), Patterson (17-8), and Katoll (16-14). The others were used only sparingly, Killen and Seymour included. If the bunt, the stolen base, and the wild pitch won the pennant for the Sox in 1959, the same was true nearly 60 years before.

Whether or not the American League of 1900 should be accorded major league status is something that historians will probably argue for decades to come. It is safe to say that the infant American League was no ordinary minor league, nor were the White Sox just another bush league pennant winner. Although only ten of them were back on the team in  1901-Isbell, Shugart, Hartman, Hoy, McFarland, Sugden, Brain, Patterson, Burke, and Katoll-it is significant that seven were still regulars and most had good years. By then Comiskey had added such NL stars as Clark Griffith, Jimmy Callahan, Sam Mertes, and Fielder Jones, as the Sox repeated as champions-this time against full-fledged big league competition. Their record of 83-53 was almost identical to their 1900 mark.

Opinions of 1900 generally rated the new organization fairly high alongside the established National League. Before the season had even begun, the Chicago Tribune said that “the American League is not, after all, much behind the old, cumbersome National League.” The Sporting News asserted that while its playing quality was not as high as the National League’s, it attracted fans because of the absence of rowdyism then so prevalent in the elder circuit. As for the White Sox, Comiskey’s biographer G. W. Axelson said that “Although of a minor league caliber, it was as game a bunch as ever stepped on the ballfield and the rapidly increasing throng in the stands found it more and more to their interest to stick until the end of the ninth inning.”

Another gauge by which to measure their ability is how they fared in the majors after 1900. The only big names on the team were Brodie, Hoy, and Killen, all of whom had their best years behind them. Killen never pitched in the big time again, while Hoy and Brodie hung on for two more years. The former upped his average to .293 for the `01 White Sox in a full year, while Brodie batted .311 in 309 at bats for the AL Baltimore Orioles. Upon returning to the NL in 1902, both slipped and called it quits after that season.

Among the younger players, many had fine careers ahead of them while others drifted into obscurity. Cy Seymour gave up the mound in favor of the bat to become one of the most feared hitters in the National League. In 1905, he hit a league leading .377 for the Cincinnati Reds. Frank Isbell spent the rest of his career with the Sox as a smooth fielder and able base runner, albeit a light hitter. His 52 steals in 1901 were high in the American League and he “led” the Hitless Wonder White Sox of 1906 with a .279 average. Fred Hartman batted .309 and swiped 33 bases for the 1901 White Sox but slumped with the Cardinals the following year, after which he dropped out of the majors. Charley O’Leary became a stereotype “good field, no hit” shortstop for the Tigers between 1904 and 1912, appearing in three World Series. As a Boston Beaneater, Dave Brain topped the 1907 NL with ten home runs, but his career was otherwise undistinguished. Pitcher Roy Patterson proved himself of solid major league ability with 20 wins in 1901, 19 in `02, and 16 in `03. Spending his entire career with the Sox, he was called “the Boy Wonder” long before anyone ever heard of Batman and Robin. The others had no further accomplishments to speak of, although some hung on in the majors for several years.

Man for man, the 1900 White Sox were an outstanding team by minor league standards and might have made a good showing against some of the NL clubs. However, any of the top three NL teams-Brooklyn, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia-probably would have mauled them in an extended series. While the Sox had some fine players, they had no Keelers, Wagners, Burketts, Delahantys or Lajoies. Patterson was no Young, nor Katoll a McGinnity. But they had brought championship baseball back to Chicago for the first time since Cap Anson’s Nationals turned the trick 14 years earlier.