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White Sox also had a December to remember 100 years ago

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Charles Comiskey made a pair of headlines by buying Eddie Collins and hiring Pants Rowland

Eddie Collins in 1913
Eddie Collins in 1913
Library of Congress / Bain News Service

Last winter, we traveled back in time 100 years to follow the White Sox in a baseball diplomacy trip around the world.

The following offseason didn't feature any kind of epic journey, but it turned out to be even more revitalizing for the franchise.

The impact of the world tour was muted by a couple significant developments. In the baseball world, the Federal League emerged as a real threat to the American and National leagues. The rest of the globe had to deal with the outbreak of World War I.

But baseball only had to deal with the first issue for the time being, and Charles Comiskey took advantage of the turbulence by keeping an eye on situation brewing with the Philadelphia Athletics and their star second baseman Eddie Collins.

While Collins had been one of baseball's best players for the Philadelphia Athletics, he had a natural tendency to annoy his teammates. The combination of his talent and college education created a supreme self-confidence that rubbed teammates the wrong way. Jealousy played a part in it, but Collins also stepped in it on occasion. For instance, in 1912, he wrote a series of 10 inside-baseball articles for American Magazine that spilled secrets about opponent weaknesses.

Familiarity bred contempt, creating a Collins faction and an anti-Collins faction in the clubhouse even while the A's won four pennants in five years. The first three pennants turned into World Series titles, but the fourth (and final) bid was spoiled by the "Miracle Braves" of 1914. A stressed organization cracked further from Federal League overtures, and Connie Mack decided to break up the club.

According to The Sporting News, the Yankees were the team most connected to Collins. But on Dec. 8, 1914, Charles Comiskey shocked baseball by ponying up to pry Collins away from Philadelphia. The negotiations had started three days before, and it ended up costing Comiskey a princely sum:

The deal by which the Chicago White Sox got Collins from the Athletics fixes a high-water mark on the value of ball players. It is understood to have been a cash transaction. Comiskey is reported to have paid $50,000 to the Athletics for the claim on Collins, then to have given Collins a bonus of $10,000 and a contract for five years at $12,000 a year. If these figures be correct, then the acquisition of Collins by the White Sox involves an expenditure of $120,000. [...]

It was at one time thought Collins would go to the Yankees but it is certain that club never would have paid the price that the White Sox put up for the star second baseman.

While Sox fans have dealt with attendance-shaming from the media in recent years, the Chicago Tribune of 100 years ago put the onus of increased revenues on Collins. A slice of a large infographic cartoon from the Dec. 20, 1914 edition:

Eddie Collins cartoon

While Comiskey named Collins the team's captain, a player-manager role was a possibility, too. Jimmy Callahan had managed the Sox the previous three years to a record of 228-234, but according to the Tribune on Dec. 9, 1914, Callahan never had a contract with the Sox as a manager. Rather, he had a recurring verbal agreement with Comiskey, but he told the Tribune that a change of some sort had been floated this time around.

Callahan ended up losing his job, but not to Collins. Nine days after Comiskey signed the second baseman, he plucked a new manager from minor-league obscurity -- the 33-year-old Clarence "Pants" Rowland.

Rowland was never more than an ordinary minor leaguer, but he rose through the ranks as a manager at that level, starting in Dubuque, Iowa, before taking over the club in Peoria, Ill., and winning three consecutive Three-I league pennants. During that time, according to The Sporting News, Comiskey saw Rowland recommend a number of players who went on to experience big-league success, including Larry Doyle, Bobby Veach and Red Faber.

While Comiskey had been keeping an eye on Rowland's prospects, the hiring stunned the Chicago and national media. From the Tribune on Dec. 18, 1914:

Despairing of developing a winning team with recruits from the minor leagues under major league management, Comiskey apparently has reversed his method by going after seasoned major league players and recruiting a manager from the minors.

And from The Sporting News on Dec. 24, 1914:

The appointment of Rowland came as a big surprise to the fans of Chicago. It shattered all precedents and brought to light a new figure in the major leagues. Even yet it is difficult for the fans here to realize the significance of the unexpected move by the master of the Sox. Every person who ventured a prediction as to the next manager of the team went wrong. The Sox owner fooled a lot of the wise ones who were sure Eddie Collins would be the next manager of the club.

With a new manager and a new captain, the White Sox embarked on a new era that simultaneously turned out to be the most successful and most tragic period in franchise history. They weren't yet a finished product, but a couple of big moves over the next calendar year solidified their status as an annual contender.