The greatest hitter in White Sox history got his statue this year. But what about the guy behind him?
Frank Thomas and Luke Appling are the two greatest White Sox players of all time on any list, and they achieved that status first and foremost on the strength of their batting eyes. They both won a batting title, they both led the league in on-base percentage, and, most notably, they're the only two White Sox to ever draw 100 walks in multiple seasons.
Appling last achieved the feat in 1949, when he drew 121 walks to just 24 strikeouts -- AT THE AGE OF 42! How is that not worthy of a statue?
(Fun fact: With Appling in 1942 and Carlton Fisk in 1990, the White Sox own the two greatest old-guy seasons in baseball history.)
In between Old Aches and Pains and The Big Hurt, though, were some distressing years for the fan of the free pass. Between Appling's last season and Thomas' first, only four White Sox were able to crack the 100-walk mark. The Sox are better known for run prevention than run creation.
Fortunately, the four guys to walk their way to the century mark were all kinds of interesting (with assistance from Richard Lindberg's Total White Sox and other sources).
Michaels, born Casmir Eugene Kwietniewski, was supposed to be Appling's heir apparent, but damn it if Appling didn't keep playing. That actually benefited Michaels, because Appling was considered a great influence. It shows in the walk totals -- in the same year that Appling drew 121 walks, Michaels, playing second base, worked 101 of his own. Throw in Floyd Baker's uncharacteristic 84 walks (he never drew more than 32 afterward), and it was a wackadoo year for the White Sox walk column.
The next season, Frank Lane traded him to Washington in order to make room for Nellie Fox. That could be considered an upgrade.
Big things were expected of Fain when Lane acquired him from the Philadelphia A'sfor Joe DeMaestri, Ed McGhee and Eddie Robinson. Fain came to the Sox as the winner of back-to-back batting titles and an OBP of .444 over those two years. He brought his batting eye to Chicago, drawing 108 walks. He also brought an incredible drinking problem, as Lindberg says he was accused of shoving a row of lockers on top of Fox while Fox was getting dressed. He hit just .256 in his first year with the Sox, and he was traded to Detroit after the 1954 season.
He's only the first black player in the American League. While he's a Cleveland Indian in everybody's mind, he gave the White Sox a couple of good years, hitting .277/.384/.465 over his two full seasons in the uniform, including his career-high 102 walks in 1956.
Cunningham was buried behind Stan Musial on the St. Louis Cardinals' depth chart, but when he finally got a chance in the late '50s, he became known as a high-average hitter with an outstanding eye. He peaked from 1957-59, hitting .328/.448/.484 over those three years. He tailed off over the following two years, but when Ed Short acquired him after the 1961 season, Cunningham experienced a revival.
He hit .295/.410/.428 with 101 walks for the 1962 Sox, which was good enough for an 18th-place finish in the league's MVP voting after the season.
Cunningham had his work cut out for him, too. He came to Chicago as the key player in the unpopular Minnie Minoso trade, and Ed Short had carved out a spot for him by trading away the productive Roy Sievers. Cunningham was better than either player that year, as both players -- especially Minoso -- started steep declines with their new teams.
While Cunningham cost the Sox a popular figure when they traded for him, they at least got one in return when they traded him away in 1964. If Cunningham never played for the Sox, would we get to know Moose Skowron as well as we do now?