Mark Buehrle vs. the White Sox: An event of the century

Chicago Daily News / Library of Congress

For the first time in 102 years, a pitcher will start against the White Sox after winning 100 games for them

When Mark Buehrle takes the mound for Toronto tonight, he'll be the first pitcher in 102 years to start against the White Sox after winning 100 games for them.

Buehrle's predecessor is difficult to find, because it predates Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet's play-by-play and day-to-day accounts. But thanks to the power of old newspapers, we can nail down a name and date: Frank Smith on Aug. 31, 1910. And it's great that Smith is the guy, because he's Buehrle's polar opposite.

The Sox have nothing but kind words for Buehrle. Various former teammates like Paul Konerko, Matt Thornton and Alex Rios complimented Buehrle for his achievements, his reliability, and the way he brought the clubhouse together.

Smith, on the other hand, was pretty much a complete jackass.

Star-divide

Euphemistically, you could call Smith a "character." Nicknamed "The Piano Mover" for his offseason job (as well as another nickname for his dark complexion), Smith was a spitballer who at times was incredibly effective. That, along with his loose-cannon ways, won fans over.

Off the field, Smith was a heavy drinker who had a habit of missing morning meetings. His insolence irked hardline manager Fielder Jones and Charles Comiskey. The three often clashed, with Smith feeling so disrespected that he often threatened to leave the team. He finally made good on his word for more than a month in 1908, even though the Sox were in first place. He eventually returned to the team, but if you remember my Hall of Fame Library post about Jones, you may remember that Jones refused to start the deserter in the last big game, which might have cost the Sox a second World Series appearance.

Anyway, that era of the Sox closed at the start of the new decade, and as they fell well out of contention in 1910, they finally decided to rid themselves of Smith. On Aug. 9, 1910, they traded him to Boston with Billy Purtell for Harry Lord and Amby McConnell.

In the story reporting the trade, the Chicago Tribune's account of Smith's foibles were coded. It called him the "unconscious comedian of the club," and after a fair amount of praise, added:

The Sox catchers will not weep a great deal over his departure, as he has "crossed" them so many times this year that they were in constant terror of having their hands knocked off.

The White Sox got a chance to face Smith at the end of the month, throwing Ed Walsh against him in Boston on Aug. 30. The result was an easy 8-0 victory, and Ring Lardner dropped all pretenses in recapping it. Forget a newspaper -- he would be unusually biased for South Side Sox.

Here's his lede:

Let us forget all about the past wretchedness and remember only the joys of today. The big fight between Smith and Walsh came off the Huntington avenue grounds this very afternoon. And how did it come out? Just the way the wise ones had it doped, 8 to 0 in favor of Walsh.

Why, honestly, we hated to leave Boston. We thought [Red Sox owner] Mr. [John I] Taylor might have another trade in his bonnet and wanted to stick around and take a mean advantage of it. If a pitcher, a catcher, and a ball club got a showing up the Speed Boys got it on this last day of August, 1910. If the Sox would only go out and hustle that way every afternoon our friends in Philadelphia wouldn't be so darn set up over themselves.

It's easy to understand why Lardner would think the Sox put together a special effort against Smith. The Sox had only scored eight runs in two of their first 119 games of the season, averaging just 2.6 runs per game over that time. That's the main reason why they were 45-71 and trading guys like Smith.

Walsh and Smith posed for photographers for the game, but it wasn't much of a fight. As Lardner wrote, "The hope of the 'White race' was shaky from the start."

(Holy crap.)

They were able to explode because they knew Smith's tendencies, especially when it came to the running game. The Sox greeted him with three first-inning runs. The play-by-play data is unofficial, but from Lardner's account, it looks like they stole three bases, and took two more on a passed ball and subsequent throwing error.

Overall, they purloined six bases ...

Poor Bill Carrigan never had caught anything like Smith before. Bill's exhibition showed how valuable a real catcher to a real party like Frank could be. The Sox stole every time they thought about it. They got starts on Smith that were a shame.

... including a one by Walsh, for perhaps the last of his 14 steals:

Eddie surely insulted the whole city of Boston in the seventh. He walked and stole -- actually stole. Then McConnell sacrificed and Lord sent a short fly to [Tris] Speaker. Regardless of that gentleman's reputation Ed started home after the catch and didn't have to slide.

That was all the offense Walsh needed, but the Sox added on, scoring one apiece in the second, fifth and seventh inning, and two more in the eighth. Walsh, meanwhile, threw a five-hit shutout, striking out 10. The Tribune's box score has no official pitching line, but from what I can piece together, it looks something like this:


IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP
F. Smith 9 8 8 6 4 3 0 1

I'm guessing Lardner was editorializing here on the lopsided victory when he wrote:

When it was all over Walsh's countenance was shadowed by pain. He was thinking it would be a long time before he could get another chance at F. Smith and Boston.

Walsh and the Sox did get to face Smith once more, and the result was yet another Walsh-fueled shutout over the Red Sox on Sept. 18. However, Smith didn't start this one. It was supposed to be a rematch, but Red Sox manager Patsy Donovan wanted to start Benjamin Franklin Hunt, because he thought the White Sox couldn't hit a lefty. Hugh Duffy's crew proved Donovan wrong, and Smith entered in the fifth inning of what turned out to be a 6-0 White Sox winner.

Smith returned to the Red Sox in 1911, but only for one start. His act wore thin there, too, forcing the Red Sox to deal him to Cincinnati.

Star-divide

While Smith is one of a dozen 100-game winners in White Sox history, there just haven't been many chances for return engagements before or after.

Out of the 12 pitchers to reach that milestone, six finished their careers with the Sox. Three others -- Walsh, Thornton Lee and Billy Pierce -- went to the National League.

Besides Smith and Buehrle, the only other one of this group to get a crack at the Sox was Joe Horlen. Horlen, who won 113 games for the Sox from 1961 to 1971, pitched for Oakland in his final season in 1972. He did face the Sox five times for the World Series-winning A's, but all were in relief.

So now we turn to Buehrle, and when he toes the rubber, we'll be witnesses to an event that hasn't taken place in a century. It might be an obscure, arcane, esoteric form of history, but that's right in my wheelhouse, anyway. An 8-0 shutout would be nice, but chances are they'll have to figure out how to do it without a running game.

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