White Sox By The Number: Is 44 cursed?

In baseball, the number 44 is a great one for power hitters. Hank Aaron wore it, and so did Reggie Jackson and Willie McCovey.

The White Sox never had those guys. For a history that's been rich in pitching while often omitting offense, No. 44 has had little sex appeal. It treads periously close to the territory of fungible relief pitchers and September call-ups.

But once upon a time, No. 44 at least symbolized stability at Comiskey Park. Chet Lemon wore it proudly while making two All-Star games as the South Side's center fielder from 1976 to 1981. Another 44er, Tom Paciorek, hit .307 for the Winning Ugly team, a highlight of his successful four years on the team before becoming their beloved broadcaster.

Dan Pasqua owned No. 44 longer than anybody. In fact, he was able to carry it from one era to another. When came into town in 1988, he was the closest thing the Sox had to a thumper. After relinquishing it in 1994, the Sox have rarely wanted for homers.

But the surge in offense came at a cost. White Sox No. 44 has never been the same, changing hands 14 times in the last 16 seasons, and its story gets crueler by the year.

Jake Peavy found it out for himself in on July 6, 2010. Just when the turbulence in his season seemed to have subsided, latissimus dorsi detached from the bone like the meat off a slab of Twin Anchors ribs. He's only the most recent of a string of victims undone by the number this century.

White Sox No. 44: An unofficial list*
Year Player
2009-11 Jake Peavy
2009 Corky Miller
2007-08 Toby Hall
2005-06 Brian Anderson
2003-04 Billy Koch
2001-02 Aaron Rowand
2000 Chad Bradford / Ken Hill
1999 Bradford
1998 Bradford / Ruben Sierra
1997 Tony Castillo / Danny Darwin / Keith Foulke
1996 Castillo
1988-94 Dan Pasqua
1986 John Cangelosi
1985 Tom Paciorek / Mark Gilbert
1982-84 Paciorek
1976-81 Chet Lemon
1975 Rich Hinton
1974 Wayne Granger
1972 Moe Drabowsky
1971 Pat Jacquez / Stan Perzanowski
1970 Jerry Crider
1969 Bart Johnson
1967-68 Don McMahon
1964-66 Jim Hicks
1962 Russ Kemmerer / Dean Stone
1960-61 Kemmerer
1959 Cam Carreon
1957 Bill Fischer
1956 Connie Johnson
1955 Johnson / Phil Cavarretta
1954 Cavarretta
1937 Merv Connors
*Source: Baseball-Reference.com

In reverse chronological order:

*Toby Hall: The White Sox thought Hall would be the solution to their backup catcher problems when they signed him to a two-year contract prior to the 2007 season - so much so, that A.J. Pierzynski was just a little bit threatened by the acquisition.

Seeking a way to get Hall involved without cutting into Pierzynski's PT, Ozzie Guillen tried playing Hall at first. Bad idea -- he tore his labrum diving for a grounder on March 26, 2007 (happy birthday to me). For the first two months, the only PT Hall received was physical therapy, and he never fully recovered.

*Brian Anderson (updated): Anderson only wore No. 44 for the first one and a half years of his career. His career peaked on Aug. 26, 2005, when he hit two homers off Seattle's Felix Hernandez, giving him a line of .294/.294/.705 on the young season.

Anderson finished the season with just one hit in his last 17 plate appearances (he grounded into two double plays over that same stretch). He had and lost the starting center field job in 2006, and then changed his number to 32 after the season, trying to tap into the same luck Aaron Rowand found when he ditched No. 44 for No. 33 and stopped struggling. As we all know, that didn't work.

*Billy Koch: Like Rowand, Keith Foulke was another guy who wore No. 44 for his first season and lived to tell the tale. But Jerry Manuel tired of his slumps and booted him out of the closer role. That forced Kenny Williams to seek to stablize the back end of the bullpen, and so he ended up trading Foulke for Koch. From his fastball to his facial hair, everything about Koch screamed "closer."

But when his heat dropped from 99 to 93, he was just an ordinary pitcher. Manuel would realize how good he had it with Foulke. Koch lost the job by blowing four of 15 save opportunities and posting a 5.77 ERA, and the Sox had to ditch him for nothing before he could complete his second season.

After his career ended, Koch made it public that he and his wife were afflicted with a skin disease that might be more mental than physical.

*Ken Hill: Hill only wore No. 44 for two whole games in 2000, as the Sox desperately searched for a starter to replace Cal Eldred after his elbow blew up. He started one game, pitched in two, and ended his Sox career with an ERA of 24.00.

Somehow, he found a way to top the performance of the previous No. 44, Chad Bradford, who had an ERA of 19.64 over three relief appearances in 1999.

In fact, since Pasqua retired, no White Sox player has worn No. 44 and had a fine full season. Knowing that to be the case, I would normally ask Peavy to try a different number as he tries recovering from the lat injury ...

... except if Peavy didn't wear No. 44, Adam Dunn would. Those were Dunn's old digits in Washington, and he had to settle for No. 32 after signing with the Sox. It might be the best thing that could happen to him.

Merv Connors: 44's founding father

You could be dramatic and say only one player wore No. 44 over the first 52 years of the franchise, but that would be a little misleading, as the Sox only started wearing numbers in 1931.

Still, during the White Sox's first 22 seasons with numbers, only Merv Connors dared to wear No. 44. As it so happens, the number was unusually stunted from the start.

Connors hit .279/.367/.485 over parts of two seasons with the Sox in 1937 and 1938, and that was his whole major-league career. That's a little strange for a couple reasons.

For one, he hit .355/.437/.710 in his second stint, with six homers in 72 plate appearances. Three of them came in one game - in fact, he has the fewest career homers of anybody with a three-homer game. Better yet, he barely missed a fourth. He finished the year tied for third on the team's home run list (Gee Walker led the team with a whopping 16).

He was all of 24 years old -- and he never played in the majors again. Trying to come up with a recent example, imagine if Joe Crede never surfaced again after posting an .826 OPS in 209 PAs at third in 2002. It'd be a story if that's all Crede wrote, so I had to find out what was up with Connors.

Extensive Googling led me to this great bio, which says he wasn't that great defensively, and when the Sox sent him back to the minors, an arm injury led to a down season. One more slow start sent him down the Texas League, and he stayed in the southern minors for the rest of his career, where he became one of three players to hit 400 minor-league homers. His baseball career was interrupted by military service. He saw lots of action in World War II, receiving several medals for battles in the European Theater of Operations.

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