The 1921 Chicago White Sox

This article was written by Stephen D. Boren

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2021 as part of the SABR Century 1921 Project.

Eddie Collins, left, and manager Kid Gleason were left to pick up the pieces after the Chicago White Sox lost most of their championship core following the Black Sox Scandal (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)

Eddie Collins, left, and manager Kid Gleason were left to pick up the pieces after the Chicago White Sox lost most of their championship core following the Black Sox Scandal. (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)

 

The 1921 Chicago White Sox’ baseball season officially started on April 14, 1921. and ended on October 2.1 Actually, it was supposed to start on April 13 in Detroit but that game was postponed because of rain.2 And it really ended on August 4, 1921. A Chicago jury quickly and unanimously had acquitted Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Oscar “Happy” Felsch, Fred McMullin, George “Buck Weaver, Charles “Swede” Risberg, Claude “Lefty” Williams, and Arnold “Chick Gandil of taking bribes from gamblers to purposely lose the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds.3

The players, outside of Gandil, who had left Organized Baseball after the 1919 season, expected that the quick and unanimous not-guilty verdict would result in their returning to the South Siders. However, new baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis did not care about the jury’s decision. He felt that this would send a message to gamblers and the American public that major-league games had, nonetheless, been fixed. Thus, he ruled that these eight “Black Sox” players were permanently barred from Organized Baseball.4

On August 5, J.H. Farrell, chairman of the board of the National Association, said, “The jury tells us that crookedness is sports is not a crime in Cook county, Ill., in spite of confessions of guilt. The jury should now be placed on trial for libeling the moral atmosphere of people of Cook county, Ill. The players will not be permitted to join minor league clubs.”5

That day the White Sox were tied with the Boston Red Sox for sixth place with a 44-55 record, but they were only four games in the loss column behind the fifth-place St. Louis Browns (47-51) and only two games in the loss column behind the fourth-place Detroit Tigers (49-53). Catching the third-place Washington Senators, who at 57-48 were only seven games ahead of Chicago in the loss column, was a quite reasonable prospect. Making that even more realistic, the great Walter Johnson had arm trouble and finished the season 17-14. With Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch back in the outfield, Buck Weaver at third base rather than light-hitting Eddie Mulligan, and Swede Risberg at shortstop rather than the weak-hitting Ernie Johnson, their batting lineup would be much more powerful. In addition , Eddie Cicotte and Lefty Williams would be huge improvements over pitchers Roy Wilkinson, Shovel Hodge, Doug McWeeny, or Dominic Mulrenan, who currently were in their starting rotation. Also, 31 of the White Sox’ next 55 games were against teams with a losing record. While they had 10 games left with the first-place New York Yankees, the White Sox were already 8-4 against them.

Actually, Charles Comiskey did try to obtain better players. First baseman Earl Sheely had been purchased from Salt Lake City of the Pacific Coast League on November 30, 1920, for light-hitting backup catcher Byrd Lynn, first baseman Ted Jourdan, and cash. In 1921 Sheely hit .304 for Chicago with 95 RBIs.6 He later had two seasons of over 100 RBIs. However, he did lead the league in errors by a first baseman and was typically high in errors. He unfortunately lost his batting eye in 1927 and was back in the minors the next year.

On March 4, 1921, John “Shano” Collins, a light-hitting outfielder who had hit a career high of .303 in 1920, and Harry “Nemo” Leibold, a first baseman who had hit .220 in 1920, were traded by the White Sox to the Boston Red Sox for future Hall of Fame outfielder but holdout Harry Hooper. This made the trade for Sheely inevitable and allowed Bibb Falk and Johnny Mostil to give the White Sox an excellent outfield for a number of years.

Clarence “Yam”Yaryan was Ray Schalk’s backup catcher after Lynn’s trade. But while a home run hitter in the minors, he was a weak hitter in the majors and was back in the minor leagues during the 1922 season and remained a career minor leaguer.

Unfortunately for the 1921 White Sox, they started the season with a 5-6 loss to the Detroit Tigers in Navin Field. Behind Dickey Kerr’s pitching, they actually were winning 4-0 after 4½ innings, but the Tigers tied it up in the bottom of the seventh inning. Three walks in the bottom of the ninth followed by Harry Heilmann’s single were an ominous start. A 3-2 win the next day in Detroit behind Urban “Red” Faber put them in a four-way tie for third place, only a half-game out of first place. This was as close to first place as the White Sox would get all season. They lost the next two games in St. Louis against the Browns. Winning against the Tigers 8-3 on April 21 (their home opener) and 3-2 in 11 innings on April 23, Chicago was 3-3 and in fourth place. That day was their zenith. They never reached .500 or the first division again.

Pitcher Dominic Mulrenan was an itinerant minor-league pitcher who lasted 1⅔ innings in his April 24, 1921, debut against the Detroit Tigers. After his August 5 game he was back in the minors.7 Pitcher Douglas Lawrence McWeeny similarly debuted on April 24, 1921, when he relieved Mulrenan. Obtained from Milwaukee, he was 3-6 for the White Sox in 1921 and later became a journeyman pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

On April 26, although the White Sox lost to the Browns 3-1 when Dickey Kerr walked one batter and hit another with the bases loaded, he had 10 assists. The record for a pitcher is still 11.8 The White Sox lost six of their next seven games. Only a pair of two-hitters by Red Faber leading to victories over the Cleveland Indians on April 29 on May 5 (one home and one away) prevented an 11-game losing streak. The two-hitters constituted the lowest hit total allowed by a White Sox pitcher in 1921. Faber also won the next two games he pitched, against the Boston Red Sox on May 10 and the Athletics on the 14th. Had Faber not won those four games, the White Sox would have lost 14 in a row. April ended with the White Sox in sixth place with a 4-6 record, although only five games in the loss column separated the first-place Washington Senators from the last-place Philadelphia Athletics.

The next month was somewhat worse for the White Sox. They were 13-17 in May. They started out losing six out of seven games, including a 1-13 shellacking by Detroit, and consecutive 8-0 losses in Cleveland, followed by a 17-3 loss on May 8 with the Indians making 20 hits. This last game probably was the low point of Chicago’s season. They were down only 2-0 after three innings, but a nine-run fourth inning put the game out of reach. Not only was Kerr knocked out after giving up a walk, three hits, and four runs, but Joubert “Lum” Davenport gave up two hits, three walks, and five runs without retiring a batter. This was his second major-league game, after he debuted on May 3 against the Tigers and gave up one hit and three walks. In his first two major-league games, he had faced nine batters and given up three hits and six walks without retiring a batter. Roy Wilkinson was the most effective pitcher of them all, giving up 10 hits, no walks, and six runs in 4⅔ innings. George Burns went 5-for-6 for the Indians, but the most damage was done by pitcher George Uhle, who went 3-for-5 with 4 RBIs. It was 17-1 until the ninth inning, when a two run “rally” dropped the score out of official blowout range.

Rookie Russell “Rusty” Pence joined the White Sox directly from playing semipro baseball in tiny Marine, Illinois, and had no minor-league experience. On May 13 he was the fourth pitcher used in a 16-8 loss to the Red Sox. He entered in the seventh and allowed only a harmless single by Shano Collins in the eighth. In the ninth inning, a walk followed by a sacrifice and a single resulted in one more Red Sox run. Pence’s next outing was against Washington on May 23, when he pitched a scoreless ninth. Against the Senators two days later, he pitched the eighth inning without allowing a hit. But he gave up six walks and allowed three runs. On May 30 against the Browns, Pence replaced Dickey Kerr with Chicago down 6-0. He gave up four hits and three runs while retiring only one batter. On June 2 the Chicago Tribune reported, “Pence, the husky young right-handed recruit, quit the club Tuesday and took French leave for his home at Marine, Ill. Before departing Pence told Davenport he was going where he would not be required to know so much when asked to pitch.”9

On May 14, behind Red Faber’s six-hit pitching and a run-scoring single, the White Sox beat the Athletics, 3-1, in Comiskey Park. The next day Mulrenan earned his first major-league victory with a complete-game 7-3 victory. On the 16th, Red Faber relieved Dickey Kerr in the seventh inning and earned his fifth victory of the season. Finally, on May 17 Doug McWeeny earned his first major-league victory, 10-4 over the Athletics. By beating the New York Yankees 12-2 the next day with another complete game by Faber, the White Sox were only three games below .500 (11-14). This five-game win streak was their longest of the season. But they were in seventh place. Worse, they went 6-9 for the rest of May and ended the month 17-23.

June was not better. The White Sox had one three-game win streak and took three out of four from the Yankees at the Polo Grounds. Roy “Red” Ostergard, a star college infielder with Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, debuted on June 14, arriving in the majors without any minor-league experience. Ostergard got in 12 games with 4 hits in 11 at-bats (.364). All his services were either as a pinch-runner or a pinch-hitter. His last major-league appearance was on August 17; he was then sent to Sioux City.10

On June 15 Kerr had a complete-game 7-2 win. After Bob Shawkey’s 7-3 complete-game victory the next day, Faber earned another complete-game victory on the 18th. On the 19th Kerr had another complete-game victory.

The White Sox lost a 1-0 game on June 30 to the St. Louis Browns on a strange and disputed play. The sole run was a home run by Ken Williams in the second inning. With two outs in the third inning of the second game, the White Sox had Yam Yaryan on third and Roy Wilkinson on second when Eddie Mulligan grounded to Frank Ellerbe. All the third baseman had to do was throw to first. Instead, he tried to run Wilkinson back to second as Yaryan scored. Home-plate umpire George Hildebrand allowed the run to count but the Browns appealed to first-base umpire Frank Wilson, who reversed his chief. The run was disallowed; Wilkinson was declared out for running out of the line to avoid being tagged and that occurred before Yaryan scored.11

Chicago closed out the month losing eight out of nine games for a 26-38 record. The club only made one player transaction in June: On the 1st they released seldom-used outfielder Eddie Murphy (six games, 1-for-5 batting) to Cleveland on waivers. He never played for the Indians but was reassigned to the Columbus Senators of the American Association.12

 

The 1921 Reach Guide did not included any of the banished Black Sox players in its team portraits of the 1920 Chicago White Sox. (INTERNET ARCHIVE)

The 1921 Reach Guide did not include any of the banished Black Sox players in its team portraits of the 1920 Chicago White Sox. (INTERNET ARCHIVE)

 

July was a good month by 1921 White Sox standards. The low point was a doubleheader loss to the Cleveland Indians on the Fourth of July when they blew a 10-1 lead. On the positive side, the high point of the month was their 10-9, 16-inning victory at Comiskey Park over the Yankees on July 9 after being down 8-0 after six innings. The month had actually started off badly. On July 1 in St. Louis during the first inning, Harry Hooper’s left hand was fractured by a pitch from Emilio Palmero.13 He was not able to play again until August 18. Of note, The Sporting News wrote that it was the right hand.14 On the positive side of that game, rookie pitcher Edwin “Cy” Twombly made his first major-league start and won his first (and only) game, 4-3. After walking five and giving up two runs in the first two innings, he pitched decently except for a two-out Ken Williams home run in the eighth. A ninth-inning two-run single by Johnson drove in two runs. Kerr relieved and saved the game. John “Jack” Wieneke joined the team, having been signed in June from the Illinois Sangamon ball team.15 After pitching in 10 games (0-1) and having an 8.17 ERA, he was released to Minneapolis on August 29.

On July 11 in Comiskey Park with Dickey Kerr pitching, Babe Ruth hit his 32nd home run of the season in the sixth inning with Roger Peckinpaugh on base, as the White Sox lost 4-0. Ruth ended up with a record-setting 59 home runs in 1921. On July 15 the White Sox beat the Washington Senators, 3-2, in 11 innings behind Kerr. Although he gave up 11 hits to the five allowed by Eric Erickson, a bunt single by Johnson followed by Mulligan’s run-scoring double won the game. A great play by Mostil and Schalk on Edmund “Bing” Miller trying to score in that inning on Erickson’s single had kept the score tied. The real noteworthy event occurred in the seventh. The Senators’ Howard Shanks had a scratch double and went to third on a scratch infield hit by Edward “Patsy” Gharrity. Frank O’Rourke singled Shanks home. Pitcher Erickson twice tried to bunt and then hit a low liner to Earl Sheely at first base. Sheely managed to catch it just above the ground for the first out, and then tagged the base to double off O’Rourke for the second out. He quickly threw to shortstop Ernie Johnson, who tripled up Gharrity at second to complete the triple play.16

On July 21 Bibb Falk hit a 14th-inning home run to win 2-1 over Philadelphia. That was Faber’s 20th win (against 6 losses).

Sometime in this period, the White Sox made a strange purchase of a pair of Kalamazoo Celery Picker (Class-B Central League) players. The Sporting News stated that they had purchased shortstop Ted Julian and pitcher Phede Lampke, noting, “For what purpose is not stated.”17 This was a very strange procurement: Julian was tied for the league lead in shortstop errors, had only a .918 fielding average, and hit only .201 with no home runs; and Lampke was 7-9 in 140⅓ innings, with 59 walks and with 56 strikeouts.18 Neither ever made the majors.

Elmer Leifer was a Moose Jaw Millers (Class-B Western Canada League) third baseman-outfielder who was purchased by the White Sox on July 22 for $1,200, but he stayed in Moose Jaw until the team disbanded in early August and debuted on September 7. He appeared in nine games (with 10 at-bats), his entire major-league career.19

The Black Sox trial directly affected the White Sox on July 28. After the Washington game on July 27 (which the White Sox lost 5-4), manager Kid Gleason, Eddie Collins, Ray Schalk, Red Faber, Hervey McClellan, Dickey Kerr, Roy Wilkinson, and even their trainer H.W. Stevenson took a train to Chicago to testify in the trial.20 Charles Comiskey tried to have the scheduled games for July 28 and 29 postponed. Since no one heard directly from league President Ban Johnson, on the 27th, Washington owner Clark Griffith decided to play both games.21 The decision to play these games was not popular in Chicago.22

Thus, on July 28, Johnny Mostil, usually the White Sox center fielder, played second base, rather than Collins. Amos Strunk was in center field, which he occasionally played. Rookie George Lees made his first major-league start as catcher. Rookie Fred Bratschi played right field. Rookie pitcher Clarence “Shovel” Hodge started since Faber, Kerr, and Wilkinson were in Chicago. He gave up five runs in the first inning and retired only one batter before Jack Wieneke relieved him and pitched the rest of the game. The 7⅔ innings constituted the longest pitching performance of Wieneke’s short career. Although the White Sox outhit the Senators 13 to 11, Washington won 8-5.23

In the July 29 game, first-inning singles by Joe Judge, Clyde Milan, and Sam Rice and sacrifices by Bing Miller, Stanley “Bucky” Harris, and Patsy Gharrity, and a triple by Howie Shanks resulted in five runs off Douglas McWeeny in the first inning. The White Sox scored one run on Bratschi’s triple and a sacrifice fly for their efforts against Al Schacht. The game was rained out after two innings and rescheduled.

July ended on the 30th with the White Sox taking a doubleheader in Philadelphia, 9-7 and 9-1. In the second game, Faber won his 21st game. A ninth-inning home run by Clarence “Tillie” Walker deprived him of a shutout. The White Sox ended the month 42-54, having gone 16-16. Since they had not played .500 ball in any other month, it was an overall positive.

In August, the White Sox bats were not very hot. Except for a 13-9 victory over the Yankees on August 19 (Chicago made 20 hits and New York had 15) and a 13-6 victory over the Athletics on August 25, they only once scored eight runs (on August 10 in a 14-8 loss to the Yankees) and only twice scored seven runs.

During the first game of an August 8 doubleheader played at the Polo Grounds, Ruth hit his 40th home run, again off Wieneke, in the third inning after Peckinpaugh had walked. When Frank “Home Run” Baker followed with a solo shot, Shovel Hodge replaced Wieneke and the White Sox lost 7-0. In the second game, Ruth’s first-inning 41st home run, off Kerr, did not matter as the White Sox won 5-4. However, Ruth hit his 42nd off Hodge (in the third inning with Elmer Miller on base) on August 10 during a 14-8 Sox loss, his 45th off Jack Wieneke on August 17 in the sixth inning after Roger Peckinpaugh had walked, and his 46th (with two on board) off Red Faber on August 18. However, in this case, Faber won his 23rd game.

Chicago lost seven one-run games in August, including a pair of 5-6 losses on August 27 and 28 to the Red Sox. By losing five out of their last six games, they were 11-18 for the month.

September was worse. The White Sox won only seven games and lost 20. However, there were a few positive events in the month. On September 9 the White Sox beat the Tigers 20-15 in a slugfest that tied the American League record for total runs in a game.24 And on September 24 they beat the Philadelphia Athletics 18-1.

On September 3 John Russell, who had pitched in five games for the 1917 Brooklyn Dodgers and one game for them in 1918, and had been out of the majors until August 20, when the White Sox rescued him from Sioux City of the Class-A Western League, pitched the White Sox to a 12-1 victory over the third-place St. Louis Browns.

On the negative side, they lost a September 23 doubleheader to the lowly Philadelphia Athletics. The first game was a 4-0 shutout by Fred Heimach. He had pitched only one major-league game (and lost) in 1920 before this victory. Wilkinson was the losing pitcher, and his record dropped to 3-20. This was Philadelphia’s 146th game of the season, but their first shutout. No team has ever gone an entire season without pitching a shutout.25 In the second game the Athletics beat the White Sox, 9-1, and only a triple by George “Sarge” Connally, a rookie who made his first major-league appearance on September 10, kept them from being shut out in both games. On September 26, the Athletics’ Roy Moore and William “Slim” Harriss combined to shut out the White Sox again, 3-0.

September ended with the White Sox being 60-92. They beat the Cleveland Indians 8-5 on October 1 and 7-4 on October 2 to finish off 62-92. After Judge Landis’s decision in August 4, it quickly became apparent that since Faber (25-15 with a league-leading 2.48 ERA) and Kerr (19-17 with a 4.72 ERA) could not start every game, the only question was whether or not the White Sox would finish higher than the Philadelphia Athletics. Actually, the Chicago White Sox finished seventh as did the Chicago Cubs; the Philadelphia Athletics finished eighth, as did the Philadelphia Phillies; the New York Yankees finished first, as did the New York Giants; and the St. Louis Browns finished third as did the St. Louis Cardinals. The Boston Red Sox ruined the “symmetry” by finishing fifth while the Boston Braves finished fourth.

Postscript

While there were 17 players on the 1921 White Sox who made their major-league debuts in 1921, the most unusual one was Francis Bruce “Frank” Pratt, who was the star shortstop for the University of Alabama baseball team and had been Joe Sewell’s college replacement. Pratt left Alabama on April 20 and reported several days later to the White Sox.26 On May 13 he pinch-hit for Hodge and grounded out to third. That was his only appearance with Chicago and on June 2, The Sporting News reported that he had been sent to the minors.27 Then, on June 18, Commissioner Landis disclosed an impersonation by Francis B. Pratt, alias William Francis Pratt and his brother William Luther Pratt.28 Frank Pratt apparently had previously played in 1920 with Carrollton of the Class-D Georgia State league, which opened May 20 and closed September 6 and had about a 94-game schedule.29 This was during his summer break from the University of Alabama, and he was drafted by Greenville. Individual playing records are not available, but the 1921 Reach Guide shows that Carrollton of the Georgia State league did have an “F.M. Pratt” in its reserve list.30 It also shows that during the National Association’s annual meeting held November 9 to 12, 1920, Greenville drafted a player named Pratt from Carrollton, Georgia.31

Commissioner Landis said that Frank Pratt “changed” his name from Francis B. to William Francis, representing that he was a free agent and that his brother, William Luther Pratt, impersonated him and reported to the Greenville club (Class-C South Atlantic League) in his place. Judge Landis ordered that he be placed on the ineligible list. Of note, Baseball-Reference.com does list a minor-league player named W.L. Pratt who played from 1924-1927 (but has no demographic information on him) but no listing of F.M. Pratt.32 The Sporting News Digital Card Collection has a card for W. Luther Pratt from 1923-1928,33 a card for Francis Pratt from 1923-1925,34 and one for Francis Bruce Pratt,35 who played for the 1921 White Sox, but no card for “F.M. Pratt.”

 

Sources

The author also consulted Retrosheet.org and acknowledges its help.

 

Notes

1 Francis C. Richter, ed., Reach Baseball Guide 1921 Official American League (Philadelphia: A.J. Reach, 1921), 391.

2 Irving Vaughan, “Leaking Skies Kill Opener of Sox and Tigers,” Chicago Tribune, April 14, 1921: 17.

3 “When the Black Sox Jury Came In,” Chicago Tribune, August 3, 1921: 2.

4 “Baseball Leaders Won’t Let White Sox Return to the Game,” New York Times August 4 1921: 1.

5 “Minors Bar Black Sox,” Washington Evening Star, August 5, 1921: 13.

6 I.E. Sanborn, “Sox Trade Lynn and Jourdan for a First Baseman,” Chicago Tribune, December 1, 1920: 22.

7 “Sox Release Mulrenan, Wieneke to Minneapolis,” Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1921: 12.

8 https://www.baseball-almanac.com/rb_pias.shtml accessed September 7, 2020.

9 Chicago Tribune, June 2, 1921: 12.

10 “Sox Will Try College Pair,” Chicago Tribune, May 18, 1921: 16.

11 I.E. Sanborn, “Browns’ Hitting, Jangle of Umps, Trim Sox Twice,” Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1921: 19.

12 John Heeg, “Eddie Murphy,” SABR Baseball Biography Project, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/eddie-murphy/, accessed September 7, 2020.

13 I.E. Sanborn, “Hooper Maimed as Sox Recruit Tames Brownies by 4 to 3,” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1921: 14.

14 The Sporting News, July 14, 1921: 5.

15 “Wieneke, Southpaw from Downstate, to Join Sox,” Chicago Tribune, June 15, 1921: 20.

16 I.E Sanborn, “Star Stops Keep Sox Going Until They Win in 11th, ” Chicago Tribune, July 16, 1921: 8.

17 “The Chicago White Sox announced a purchase from Kalamazoo of a shortstop named Julian and a pitcher named Lambke. For what purpose is not stated,” The Sporting News, July 28, 1921: 5.

18 John B. Foster, ed., Spalding’s Official Base Ball Record 1922 (New York: American Sports Publishing Company 1922), 204-208.

19 Terry Bohn, “Elmer Leifer,” SABR BioProject, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/elmer-leifer/ accessed September 7, 2020. See also “White Sox Purchase Fielder,” New York Times, July 24, 1921: 80.

20 “Notes Washington DC,” Chicago Tribune July 28, 1921: 12.

21 Denman Thompson, “Chicago Weakened by loss of Six Players: Attack Resumed on Evidence Against Black Sox,” Washington Evening Star, July 28, 1921: 24.

22 The Sporting News, August 4, 1921: 5.

23 Denman Thompson, “Nationals After Fifth Straight Win Today: State Offers Rebuttal in Trial of White Sox,” Washington Evening Star, July 29, 1921: 12.

24 John B. Foster, ed., Spalding’s Official Base Ball Record 1921 (New York: American Sports Publishing Company 1921), 262.

25 https://www.baseball-almanac.com/recbooks/rb_shut1.shtml. Accessed September 7, 2020.

26 “Sox Get Player from Alabama,” Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1921: 13; “Notes,” Chicago Tribune April 24, 1921: A1.

27 The Sporting News, June 2, 1921: 3.

28 Chicago Tribune, June 19, 1921: A2.

29 Francis C. Richter, 337.

30 Francis C. Richter, 218.

31 Francis C. Richter, 201.

32 https://www.baseball-reference.com/register/player.fcgi?initial=pr, accessed September 7, 2020.

33 https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/100362/rec/79, accessed September 7, 2020.

34 https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/82322/rec/42, accessed September 7, 2020.

35 https://digital.la84.org/digital/collection/p17103coll3/id/85683/rec/43, accessed September 7, 2020.

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