Those of you who grew up watching White Sox baseball in the 1990's were very lucky. Not only because it was one of the best era's of White Sox baseball and because Frank Thomas was in his prime, but you were blessed enough to see a guy in Robin Ventura perform consistently well year in and year out at the hot corner. Before Ventura, and to a certain extent after him, the White Sox third base situation could be described as "patchwork" at best and abysmal at worst. Occasionally you will find a good season by a 3rd baseman, but the turnover the position has had in the last 60 years is quite remarkable.
Lets start with the 1950's. Taking a look at the baseball reference pages for the team, the only player to have the lions share of the third base work in the decade more than one time was Bubba Phillips who did so in 1957 and 1959. You had Billy Goodman ('58), Fred Hatfield ('56), George Kell ('55), Cass Michaels ('54), Bob Elliot ('53), Hector Rodriguez ('52), Bob Dillinger ('51) and Hank Majeski ('50).
The clear best season of the group came in 1955 from George Kell, who was at the very end of a Hall of Fame career. Kell did most of his career damage during the late '40s and early '50s with the Tigers. He hit .312/.389/.429 for an OPS of .818 with 8 home runs and 81 RBIs in '55 for the Sox. He is the only person in the group to knock in more than 46 runs, OPS higher than .800 and also led the decade of third basemen with his 8 dingers. After playing 21 games for the Sox in 1956 however, he was shipped off to Baltimore to finish his career.
Four seasons saw the teams third baseman OPS'ing under .700. Dillinger (.684), Rodriguez (.653) and Phillips twice (.693 and .699).
The 1960's treated White Sox Third Basemen a little bit better. This time there was only five men who got the most time at third. Gene Freese (1960), Al Smith ('61 and '62), Pete Ward ('63-'65 and '68), Don Buford ('66-'67) and Bill Melton ('69). Fans saw four seasons in the decade where the third baseman hit at least 20 home runs. Four seasons of OPS of .800 were also enjoyed.
Freese was coming off of a big 1959 with Philadelphia and with the White Sox black hole at third base, they thought a move should be made and Freese was acquired. He had a decent year, hitting .273 with 17 homers and 73 RBI's. It came at a severe expense however, as the Sox traded a young outfielder by the name of Johnny Callison to acquire him. Callison went on to have some big years for the Phillies and Freese was traded after the '60 season to the Reds in exchange for Cal McLish and Juan Pizzaro.
You might remember Al Smith from the 1959 World Series highlights as the player who got the beer dumped on his head when a fan knocked over his libation going for a home run ball. Smith, who played left field in '59, was moved to right field in '60 after the Sox re-aquired Minnie Minoso from Cleveland- where they traded him after the 1957 season. In '61, Smith changed positions again, this time to third base to make room for a young outfielder by the name of Floyd Robinson. Smith put up big numbers for the Sox in '61 and '62, OPS'ing .854 and .825 respectively, while hitting 44 homers over the two seasons. Smith was then shipped to the Orioles with Luis Aparicio for a package including Ron Hansen, Hoyt Wilhelm, Dave Nicholson and our next third baseman, Pete Ward.
Ward started out huge for the Sox in '63 and '64. He OPS'd .835 and .821, and hit 55 home runs in those two seasons. Finally our long term third baseman was found! Until he got in a car accident in 1965 and never regained the promising play he showed during the first 2 campaigns. In '65, Ward OPS'd .694 with 10 home runs. He took to left field in '67 before returning to third in '68 where he hit .216 with a .720 OPS.
Don Buford took over in '66 and '67 after playing mostly Second Base the previous seasons. Buford would hit in the .240s each season OPS'ing .672 and .638. He did steal 85 bases over those two years, but was also caught 43 times. Buford would then be traded to Baltimore, where he would have four straight seasons of OPS'ing over .800 including .890 in 1971.
In 1969, we got our first full time glimpse of Beltin' Bill Melton. Melton had a strong rookie campaign with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. In 1970 and '71, Melton hit 33 homers each year, even capturing the home run crown in '71. Again it had looked like we found a stud who could be an all star for years to come. Unfortunately, the injury bug struck again for the Sox, and Melton only played in 57 games in 1972. If Melton would have been healthy during the '72 season, the Sox, who won 87 games behind Dick Allen's MVP season, may have not had to wait until 1983 to finally get back in the playoffs. Instead we got a season of Ed Spiezio who OPS'd .580 with 2 home runs. Melton was back at the hot corner for '73-'75, but his power had dipped to 20, 21 and 15 homers, his average fell to .240 by '75 and then it was on to California and Cleveland before his career ended after 1977.
Kevin Bell was very underwhelming in his 2 seasons as the regular Third Baseman ('76 and '79), hitting in the .240's with a combined 9 homers. In between, however, the Sox struck lightning in a bottle with Eric Soderholm. Soderholm had been pretty successful with the Twins in the early- mid '70s before injuring his knee and missing the entire 1976 season. Bill Veeck gambled on him for the 1977 season, and Soderholm became a big piece of the South Side Hitmen hitting .280/.350/.500 with 25 homers. Soderholm won the A.L. Comeback Player of the Year that season and followed it up with another 20 homer season in '78 before being dealt to Texas for Ed Farmer. Soderholm then went on to start up one of the first ticket agencies and fought to legalize scalping. His Front Row tickets is still going today.
Bell was back as he most regular starter for the 1980 season, and he was worse than before. He put up a .178/.284/.241 line with 1 homer and 11 RBI's over 224 plate appearances. In '81, Jim Morrison (no not that Jim Morrison) became the regular Third Baseman. Morrison had a successful '80 as the Sox Second Baseman, but in '81 he managed a .234/.261/.372 with 10 homers. In '82 it was veteran Aurelio Rodriguez turn. He produced a .241/.275/.342 line with 3 homers.
Vance Law is the first Third Baseman I remember for the Sox as he was the regular in '83 and '84. In '83, Law hit .243/.325/.348 with 4 homers. In '84 he muscled up for a .252/.309/.403 with 17 homers and 59 RBI's but was sent packing because we had our next hot prospect coming along the bend.
From '85-'87 the hot corner belonged to Tim Hulett. Hulettt was highly touted and hit .268/.324/.375 in his rookie year. In '86 he ended up hitting 17 homers to go along with his .231 average and .639 OPS. In '87 his average dropped to .217 and he was out the door. Somehow he managed to still play major league baseball into 1995, but only received 200 at bats twice in those years.
In 1988 it was Psycho Steve Lyons turn. He was unimpressive with a .269/.313/.373 line with 5 homers. The late Carlos Martinez ended up with the highest OPS for a 3rd Baseman in the decade at .746 in 1989. The 80's were another very ugly decade for the Sox at the hot corner.
At the tail end of 1989, we got our first glimpse of Robin Ventura and he hit .178 over 16 games. He was another hyped up prospect that had his first full season in 1990 and hit .249/.324/.318. You couldn't help to think it was Hulett version 2.0. Fortunately for all involved Ventura OPS'd at least .800 for the next 6 years before an ankle injury cost him most of '97. He rebounded to hit .263/.349/.436 with 21 homers in his final season with the White Sox in '98. All of this was done as he was playing gold glove caliber defense (he won 5 during that span) and becoming the greatest 3rd Baseman in team history.
After Ventura, we got a helping of Greg Norton, Herb Perry and a displaced Jose Valentin. Perry had a very good 2000, hitting .308/.356/.483 with 12 homers and 61 RBI's for the A.L. Central Champs. In 2001, however, he became Herbert Perry again and the numbers dropped across the board. Valentin was switched over to the hot corner in 2002 and hit his usual 25 homers, but was moved back to Shortstop for 2003 and Joe Crede took over regular duties.
Crede provided some power from the position while playing good defense in '03 and '04. After returning from injury midway through 2005, however, something seemed to finally click. Crede became a legitimate hitter and was a huge piece in leading the White Sox to their first Championship in 88 years. Crede had a monster 2006, hitting 30 homers with 94 RBI's and OPS'ing .828. In 2007 though, the back acted up just like Pete Ward's and Bill Melton's before him. He only played in 47 games in '07 and 97 in '08, although we did see a glimpse of Crede at his best that year as he did make the All Star team. In 2009, he signed with the hated Twins and in 2010 he was out of baseball.
While Crede was down in '07, Josh Fields manned third. He ended up hitting 23 homers that year, but then struggled and was dealt to Kansas City after 2009. Gordon Beckham had an excellent rookie year at third in 2009, but was then moved to Second Base for 2010 to make room for Mark Teahen (whom they acquired from Fields). Teahen was unimpressive and then injured allowing 43 year old Omar Vizquel to be the regular at 3rd. While Vizquel played well, a 43 year old isn't the answer for any team and we saw two young third basemen come up during the season- Dayan Viciedo and Brent Morel. Viciedo hit well, but struggled defensively and is moving to the outfield. Morel impressed with the glove in his first 21 games.
So here we are. Brent Morel is slated to become the regular 3rd Baseman. He showed he can play defense well and showed a little bit of pop in a very small sample size. Will he go on to be one of the better 3rd Basemen in team history with Ventura? Will he fizzle out quickly a la Tim Hulett? Will he start out strong and then suffer an injury like Ward, Melton and Crede? I sure hope he ends up being pretty good, but history suggests otherwise.