On the day I originally planned to finish this post, Doug Atkins, the Chicago Bear great and Pro Football Hall of Famer, died at age 85. His passing capped off disheartening year for Chicago sports legends -- Doug Buffone preceded him in April, the Cubs lost Ernie Banks in January, and while Stan Mikita is still with us, his dementia is so advanced that his wife said, "The Stan we know is gone."
The White Sox were hit the hardest. Not only did they lose a couple of their most productive players, but they also lost a couple neighbors, as Minnie Miñoso and Billy Pierce were still highly active and visible in the Chicagoland area.
Given the general misfortune, I figured I'd wait until after the new year before remembering those who died, just to make sure 2015 didn't claim anybody else.
In chronological order:
Died: Feb. 10, 2015 at age 88
Played for White Sox: 1954
Johnson only spent one of his seven MLB seasons in Chicago, but it featured his best work. He went 8-7 with a 3.13 ERA as a true swingman -- 46 games, 16 starts, three shutouts, seven saves. The Sox acquired the lefty, then 26, from Toronto of the International League after a wide variety of maladies (arm, eczema, hamstring) cost him shots with three other organizations. The first of those clubs was the Yankees, with whom he was a highly touted pitching prospect.
As was the case with many 1950s White Sox, he didn't hang around long. Frank Lane traded him to Baltimore in one of his standard seven-player deals (the headliner in return was Clint Courtney). According to his SABR bio, Johnson was not happy about the trade, maybe because Chicago was the one place where his problems didn't follow him. From his New York Times obituary:
Along the way, he pawned his World Series ring when his car broke down in Wyoming; was thrown in jail in Tijuana, Mexico, after a brawl; and was consigned to six days on a Florida chain gang after a drunken auto accident. The owner of the Maple Leafs, Jack Kent Cooke, bailed him out.
Died: Feb. 19, 2015 at age 60
Scouted for White Sox: 2008-2015
Woods, an outfielder, played in the majors from 1976 through 1985 for the Athletics, Blue Jays, Astros and Cubs. He spent most of his nine seasons as a reserve, hitting .243/.302/.337 over 525 games. He joined the White Sox as a scout in 2008, where he covered Southern California. He scouted college games right up to his passing, and the news stunned the White Sox as spring training opened.
Died: Feb. 23, 2015 at age 82
Played for White Sox: 1967
King was a regular for the Washington Senators from 1961 through 1966, averaging 15 homers a year -- not a bad number considering it was the 1960s. But he declined sharply in 1967, managing just a .210 average and one homer of his first 47 games, and the Senators traded him to the White Sox for Ed Stroud.
King couldn't find a second wind the White Sox. They gave him a look for 23 games, and, after he hit .120/.185/.140, they traded him to Cleveland with a player to be named later for Rocky Colavito, who was past his prime himself.
Died: March 1, 2015 at the age of 89(?)
Played for White Sox: 1951-57, 1960-61, 1964, 1976, 1980
As the player who shattered Chicago baseball's color barrier in 1951, Saturnino Orestes Armas (Arrieta) Miñoso would've been memorable by default. At the end of a 64-year association with the White Sox, that's just one of numerous identifiers. His ability to crowd the plate, drive the ball to the opposite field and run like hell made him one of the most potent offensive forces in the American League during the 1950s, and his range and arm in left field made him one of the game's most complete players.
He hit .298/.389/.459 over 1,835 MLB games, and he did his best work with the White Sox. At the time of his original retirement after the 1964 season, Miñoso was the franchise's all-time leader in home runs (135), slugging percentage (.469), HBP (145), and second to only Luke Appling in RBIs (808).
The word "original" is key with Miñoso, both relating to his retirement and otherwise. Bill Veeck brought him back for a couple games in 1976 at the age of 54, then for one more in 1980 to make him baseball's first five-decade player. Jerry Reinsdorf tried to make it a sixth in 1993, but some playoff-bound players didn't care for it, and the commissioner's office ultimately denied the move.
While those late-late-career appearances give Miñoso one of Baseball-Reference.com's most unique pages, it may have cost him some Hall of Fame support. That's stupid, since they were merely an expression of his love for the game. Alas, he came a few votes short of reaching Cooperstown a handful of times through both the Negro Leagues and Veterans Committee ballots. He deserves to be a Hall of Famer, yet it'd almost be a tragedy if he made it the next time he's eligible, since it'd be a couple years too late.
Despite the adversity he faced at the beginning and end of the time we knew him, Miñoso was a relentlessly prominent and positive force around the White Sox. He still maintains a presence at the park in the form of his retired number (No. 9) and a statue on the U.S. Cellular Field concourse.
Died: May 13, 2015 at age 83
Played for White Sox: 1960
The son of the Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer by the same name, the younger Averill couldn't fill his dad's shoes. He did cobble together a seven-year career, including 10 games with the White Sox at the end of the 1960 season. His time on the South Side ended when the Los Angeles Angels selected him with the 45th pick of the 1960 expansion draft.
Based on how he played with the Angels in their inaugural season -- .266/.384/.489 with 21 homers over 115 games -- the Sox might've wanted to keep him, at least for one more year.
Died: July 31, 2015 at the age of 88
Played for White Sox: 1949-61
Before Mark Buehrle emerged, Billy Pierce was the best left-handed pitcher in White Sox history. After Buehrle, it's still a toss-up.
Pierce joined the White Sox via Lane's first trade as a general manger, coming over from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for veteran catcher Aaron Robinson. The Tigers won the first year of the trade handily, but Pierce and the Sox won the war. The little lefty headlined the stout White Sox rotations of the 1950s, going 186-152 with a 3.19 ERA over 13 seasons on the South Side.
Along the way, Pierce made seven All-Star Games and earned MVP votes in five seasons. He peaked in 1955, leading all of baseball with a 1.97 ERA. The Cy Young Award didn't exist at the time, but he might not have won it regardless, as Whitey Ford took The Sporting News' equivalent award that year. That happened to be a theme of his career -- overshadowed by the Yankees, even though he had a tendency to beat Ford in head-to-head matchups.
He was Al Lopez's choice against the American League's best teams throughout the decade. He made 88 starts apiece against the Yankees and Indians, or 22 more than he made against any other team, and it wasn't unusual for him to appear from the bullpen in big games he didn't start. That's why it was curious that Lopez moved Pierce to the bullpen for the World Series after the Sox finally found a way to climb over New York and Cleveland, and that's really the only regret of his South Side career.
The Sox traded him to San Francisco after the 1961 season, and they missed out on Pierce's last good year. Pierce went 16-6 with a 3.49 ERA for the Giants, and he started two World Series games, splitting the decisions. That said, the trade worked out well enough for the Sox, as Eddie Fisher emerged as a big-time bullpen piece.
Like Minoso, Pierce has a compelling Cooperstown case, just without the pioneer edge. The White Sox benefited from Lopez's unusual deployment of Pierce, but it might've hurt some of his key career numbers, like wins (211) and innings (seldom near the top of the leaderboard). He requires close study, and while it's small consolation, he does have a place in Baseball Think Factory's Hall of Merit.
And like Minoso, Pierce spent his civilian days around Chicago, working for Continental Envelope and living an average suburban life. When the White Sox had big moments, he was there for them. His statue and retired number (No. 19) will hang around for a while.
Died: Sept. 12, 2015 at age 98
Coached for White Sox: 1971-75
Monchak played in just 19 MLB games, all for the Phillies in 1940 as a 23-year-old. His MLB career was interrupted by World War II, in which he served under Gen. George Patton and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He returned to baseball in 1946, but he couldn't get back to the majors as a player. He did, however, spend a lot of time in the big leagues as a coach for Chuck Tanner, which included Tanner's years with the White Sox during the 1970s.
Died: Sept. 15, 2015 at age 64
Played for White Sox: 1977
Wiles accumulated all of his big-league experience with the White Sox. It was contained to 1977, and it wasn't good. He was called up to give Bob Lemon another lefty in the bullpen, but after five games, 2⅔ innings and a 10.13 ERA, he was sent back to the minors, never to return. He's more notable for the way he arrived in Chicago -- via a trade with St. Louis for Tony La Russa. The White Sox found a way to get La Russa back, at least for a little while.
Died: Sept. 17, 2015 at age 88
Broadcasted for White Sox: 1962-65
Hamilton's career as a broadcaster was immortalized as "The Voice of the Astros" after winning the Ford Frick Award in 1992, but he could've easily been a mainstay for the White Sox if the timing were just a little different. He replaced Ralph Kiner in the White Sox radio booth after Kiner left for the New York Mets, working alongside Bob Elson for four seasons. He goes into great detail about his Chicago days in this in-depth White Sox Interactive interview, including the reason why he left for Atlanta after the 1965 season:
"I wanted to stay and I was being told that Bob was going to retire soon and that I was going to replace him. Bob decided to keep working however and the Braves came after me hard. They wanted me in the catbird seat. What if I had stayed with the Sox in the second chair? I would never have had the chance to do some of the things that I did, never had the chance to call Henry Aaron’s home run for example. #1 jobs in the announcers booth in major league baseball don’t grow on trees. I had to take the opportunity." (Author’s Note: Bob Elson would go on announcing White Sox games through the 1970 season.)
Died: Dec. 26, 2015 at age 78
Played for White Sox: 1967
O'Toole was a native of Chicago's South Side and a graduate of Leo High School, but he didn't get to pitch for his hometown team until the very end of his career. The lefty spent his first nine seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, who signed him out of the University of Wisconsin in 1957. He found his groove by 1960, winning 12 games or more in five straight seasons. He slid out of the Reds' plans over his last two years in Cincinnati, and the White Sox picked him up in exchange for their own fading fixture, Floyd Robinson.
The trade seemed to pump some life into O'Toole. Typically a slow starter, O'Toole only pitched in three games during April. He broke out with a 10-inning, 11-strikeout shutout of the Angels on May 13, starting an effective run as a swingman. However, a sore shoulder in July abruptly ended his season, and ultimately his career.
That wasn't the last the Sox saw of the O'Toole clan, though. His brother Denny pitched sparingly for the Sox in five straight seasons starting in 1969.