Ever since the Black Sox scandal wiped a perennial contender from the American League, the Chicago White Sox were plagued by their inability to develop power hitters. It sank them into irrelevance as Babe Ruth and the Yankees turned the game upside-down, and it cursed them to runner-up status for most of the 1950s and 1960s.
For the first six decades, the Sox could not develop a slugger, and they couldn't even sign one to stick. Bill Melton was their best chance at the former -- he posted the White Sox' first 30-homer season ever (it was only the 177th in AL history), then followed it up with another 33-homer season that was good enough for the Sox' first-ever home run crown. Then he injured his back, giving way to Dick Allen, who cranked the record mark up to 37 homers with his 1972 AL MVP season. Two years later, he rebounded from a knee injury for another incredible season, which he marred by his early exit.
Though both of their stars flamed out for different reasons, five good seasons by Melton and 2½ from Allen was good enough to place in the top five on the franchise's home run leaderboard.
White Sox Home Run Leaders Through 1979
The 1980s finally produced a couple of steady home-run threats, although neither was the prototypical slugger. Harold Baines became the first White Sox player to hit double-digits in 10 seasons, which he did every year from 1980 to 1989. Carlton Fisk wasn't nearly as steady, but he had some big bopper years, including an explosion in 1987 that tied Allen's single-season mark with 37 homers.
As the decade came to a close, the Sox had a new top-two on their all-time home run leaderboard:
White Sox Home Run Leaders Through 1989
Yet this was still incredibly sad, although you couldn't blame Baines and Fisk. Baines' professional-hitter approach wasn't conducive to massive outbursts, and Old Comiskey didn't provide help (he topped out at 29 homers). Fisk's first nine years on the South Side took him through his age-41 season. They both accomplished what they were supposed to, but they're just not the types that's supposed to stand astride a home run leaderboard, or they would need more than 10 years to do so.
Nevertheless, even though neither player challenged the 200-homer mark by the end of the Sox's eighth decade, they still led all White Sox players in this category by a comfortable margin.
That's not good. Of the 26 MLB teams at the time, 22 of them had a 200-homer player, including a majority of expansion teams. The Sox were among four stragglers, with just the Blue Jays (181 homers, George Bell), Padres (163, Nate Colbert) and Mariners (131, Alvin Davis). The Padres didn't exist until 1969, and the Blue Jays and Mariners joined the league eight years later.
And Old Comiskey Park couldn't be blamed entirely, either, because look at the Houston Astros. Jimmy Wynn somehow hit 223 homers for the Colt 45's and Astros while playing his home games in the Astrodome, and having the prime of his career in the pitcher-friendly late ‘60s. He just made up the difference on the road (126 homers).
Moreover, the Toy Cannon hit those 223 homers over the first 10 years of the Astros' existence. The White Sox had 89 years to find a 200-homer guy, and they couldn't quite get there. Comiskey Park made lucky homers (or lucky home-run hitters) tough to find, and the perennially tight budgets prevented them from finding sluggers elsewhere. Throw in some bad luck, especially with injuries, and that's how a franchise can remained power-starved outside of the occasional blip for nine-tenths of a century.
Nowadays, it's tough for a White Sox fan under 25 to comprehend such a power drought, and Frank Thomas is a big reason why. He made it look easy, and his climb up the White Sox home run leaderboard was nearly frictionless. The biggest obstacle was the strike year, which limited him to 38 homers over 113 games, or a 55-homer pace.
The one thing the strike year allows is easy accounting. He played the last two months of the 1990 season, and missed the last two months of the 1994 season, which gives him four full seasons. That's all it took to put him within striking distance:
White Sox Home Run Leaders Through 1994
It took him a shade under two more seasons to set the record for himself, hitting his 215th homer at Fenway Park on Sept. 15, 1996. The Big Hurt relegated the milestone blast to a subhead, because that was the first of three homers he hit on the night, and all of them came off Tim Wakefield. From the Chicago Sun-Times' recap the next day:
Thomas ' homers, which give him 35 on the season, came against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. The first came after Thomas had nubbed an awkward foul to the right side. He stepped out, lectured himself, took a practice swing and launched his towering homer to break Carlton Fisk's club record with 215.
The next homer went even farther over the Green Monster wall in left field and the third one found the net in left-center.
A few paragraphs down, the franchise home-run record looked even less significant:
The homer binge came one day after Thomas had scored his 100th run to become the only man in history to hit .300 (he's .344 with 13 games to go) with at least 30 home runs, 100 runs, 100 RBI and 100 walks for six consecutive seasons.
By the end of Thomas' sixth bulletproof season in a row, he had the record for himself:
White Sox Home Run Leaders Through 1996
And he still had one more legendary year in him before mortality started to show. Even though injuries and conflict made the second act of his Sox career far more tumultuous, he still persevered well enough to double his output. In the process, he ended up lapping the rest of the field, with more than twice as many homers as the runner-up.
White Sox Home Run Leaders Through 2005
The White Sox finally produced a slugger that could stand tall other team's all-time icons. Singlehandedly, Frank Thomas made the White Sox' sad lack of power a thing of the past.