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In memoriam: The White Sox’ other losses in 2016

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Reviewing the careers of former South Siders who died in the past year

Tony Philips
Tony Phillips

In chronological order:

Walt Williams

Died: Jan. 23 at age 72
Played for White Sox: 1967-72

Nicknamed “No Neck” for his unusual build — he was a muscular 5’6” — Williams became a fan (and manager) favorite shortly after arriving in Chicago via a trade with St. Louis due to his all-out style of play. He had his best season in 1969, hitting .304/.343/.373 over 507 plate appearances, which was good for the first .300 season by a White Sox hitter in five years.

Williams never cracked 400 plate appearances in any other season. He didn’t possess much power for a corner outfielder, and so he seemed to be the front office’s second choice for a starting job. Yet the attempts to upgrade over him often fell through, so he averaged better than 100 games over his six seasons in Chicago. He ended up playing on the South Side for a rather unique six-year period, with enthralling pennant races sandwiching some of the White Sox franchise’s darkest days. Williams’ White Sox career — over which he hit .271/.314/.363 -- was similarly up-and-down. That being the case, his interview with Mark Liptak on White Sox Interactive is worth your time.

Not-so-fun fact learned from his New York Times obituary: His wife said Williams’ short neck was due to a bungled vaccination. He didn’t particularly care for the nickname, but he dealt with it.

Tony Phillips

Died: Feb. 17 at age 56
Played for White Sox: 1996-97

A vastly underrated player, Phillips spent his 1½ years with the White Sox doing what he did over his entire MLB career -- playing multiple positions and getting on base. He played almost all of 1996 in left field, but he split his time between right field, second base and third base before a midseason trade in 1997 sent him to Anaheim.

He was a monster at the top of the order in his only full season on the South Side. he hit .277/.404/.399 with 125 walks and 119 runs scored over 153 games. His following season was even better, as he hit .310/.440/.403 — and this was supposedly in the twilight of his career, as he had turned 38 years old. After 36 games in his second season with the Sox, though, Phillips was traded to Anaheim for Jorge Fabregas and Chuck McElroy.

Phillips had a hand in being underappreciated. In good times, he was “fiery.” In bad times, he was “volatile.” The White Sox saw plenty of both, and this Sports Illustrated profile from 1997 sums up his story:

His one-plus season in Chicago was stormy, even by his standards. Last year he averaged almost a flare-up a month. During 1996 spring training he announced his retirement, then returned to the Sox 48 hours later and refused to discuss why he had left. In May, during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers,he changed into street clothes after being removed in the sixth inning. Then he left the clubhouse and got into a fistfight behind the outfield grandstand with a 23-year-old spectator who had been riding him. In June he was tossed from back-to-back games in Seattle for arguing a called third strike.

In his worst moment this season he was tossed out by home plate umpire John Shulock just three pitches into an April 21 game against the New York Yankees after Shulock warned him not to step out of the batter's box. Following the ejection, Phillips charged Shulock, but he was restrained by three members of the White Sox. American League president Gene Budig suspended Phillips for two games. Phillips went ballistic, telling reporters that Budig, a former University of Kansas president, was "a bookworm" who didn't understand the game the way a former player would. Then Phillips, who is African-American, suggested that Budig, who is white, was racist; he pointed out that Budigalso had suspended him for three games in 1995 for fighting with Kansas City Royals catcher Mike McFarlane but did not suspend McFarlane, who is white.

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (page 76) called Phillips's racism charges "out of line," and 13 days later Phillips was traded.

The White Sox denied saying Phillips’ behavior was a driving factor. General manager Ron Schueler and manager Terry Bevington said the Sox needed to improve their catching depth and improve their bullpen. But Phillips said that there was a mutual antipathy between player and manager, and that Bevington was “in way over his head.” He wasn’t wrong.

The numbers suggest that the trade didn’t work out for the Sox. McElroy was a nonfactor for his half-season, and Fabregas merely kept catcher from being an organizational abyss. But Phillips was arrested in August for cocaine possession, so any outcome might’ve been a rough one.

Despite the numerous blemishes on his record, he was popular with teammates and fans just about everywhere he went due to his dedication. He was still in game shape — getting in baseball fights as recently as 2011 — so his death from a heart attack shocked everybody.

Eddie Einhorn

Died: Feb. 24 at age 80
Team president of White Sox: 1981-1990

In January of 1981, Bill Veeck sold the White Sox to a new ownership group. Jerry Reinsdorf led it, but Eddie Einhorn was the face of it. The former head of CBS Sports turned college basketball into a TV colossus, and he came aboard with the goal of pushing the struggling Sox into the modern era in a similar fashion. His fingerprints are all over the franchise, for better or for worse.

He helped give the Sox newfound financial stability, but not without a backhanded slap to Bill Veeck and his blue-collar fans about wanting to run a “class operation.” He and Reinsdorf ultimately got a new stadium to keep the Sox in Chicago, but not without putting fans through the wringer with a Florida flirtation so strong they earned the nickname “The Sunshine Boys.” He was ahead of the game on putting the Sox on cable — but in the way that loses money and requires a retreat, and not the one that earns millions before others do.

Einhorn was a complicated figure in franchise history, and Rob Hart has written extensively here about his legacy.

Sammy Ellis

Died: May 13 at age 75
Played for White Sox: 1969

Just looking at Ellis’ Baseball-Reference.com page, you can tell where he developed the sore arm. It’s somewhere in this area during the Cincinnati portion of his career:

  • 1965: 22-10, 3.79 ERA, 44 G, 39 GS, 263 IP
  • 1966: 12-19, 5.29 ERA, 41 G, 36 GS, 221 IP

A trade to California couldn’t right his career, and he spent his last days in the majors as a player going 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA over 10 games with the 1969 White Sox. He later resurfaced in the majors as a pitching coach for the Yankees in the 1980s, and then as the White Sox’ pitching coach from 1989 to 1991.

Turk Lown

Died: July 8 at age 92
Played for White Sox: 1958-62

One of two go-to relievers on the 1959 American League champs, Omar “Turk” Lown went 9-2 with a 2.89 ERA over 60 games (9313 innings) to help the Sox get to their first World Series since 1919. He and teammate Gerry Staley each saved 15 games, which was good enough to share the league lead, too. It was his second-best year in terms of stats (he was better in 1961), but his most important in terms of team impact.

He had some down years too, but even factoring them in, his five-year stay exceeded expectations. By the time he came to the White Sox in 1958, he was joining his third team of the season. The Cubs traded him to Cincinnati in a reliever swap, and control problems undermined Lown’s brief stay with the Reds.

At 34 years old, Lown’s career could have been approaching its end (see Ellis, for example). But the White Sox claimed him off waivers to give him a shot, and while Lown wasn’t much better out of the gate, the White Sox allowed him to find his footing.

A three-inning save against the Yankees helped him get his ERA under control and set the course for the rest of his White Sox career. He came into that one with the bases loaded, nobody out and Moose Skowron representing the tying run at the plate. Lown escaped with minimal damage — a Skowron double play and an Elston Howard strikeout -- then finished the game for good measure. This deck on the story is a good way to win favor:

Hal Hudson

Died: July 8 at age 89
Played for White Sox: 1952-53

Hudson, a lefty out of Grosse Point, Mich., only appeared in six MLB games. Three came with the White Sox after they claimed him off waivers from the St. Louis Browns. All of them were adequate performances in September mop-up work. He allowed two runs (one earned) over those 423 innings. Those were the last three appearances of his career, as a few years of minor-league toil didn’t yield another call-up.

Alan Brice

Died: July 30 at age 78
Played for White Sox: 1961

Unlike Hudson, Brice was a righty, and a big one at that (6’5”). Like Hudson, his career consists of three September appearances. He was called up late in 1961 to get some run with a team 20 games out. Two of his appearances were scoreless, but he took a loss to Boston in the other.

Neil Berry

Died: Aug. 24 at age 94
Played for White Sox: 1953

Berry was a utility infielder who broke into the big leagues with Detroit in 1948 after serving in the U.S. Army. Despite the late start (26) and a lack of pop (zero homers over 1,230 plate appearances), he managed to stick with the Tigers for five seasons, after which they traded him to the Browns at the end of the 1952 season.

At the end of the 1953 season, he was on the White Sox, who claimed him off waivers. He appeared in five games, going 1-for-8 with a walk. After the season, the Sox dealt him to the Orioles in a four-player deal, although Sam Mele and Johnny Groth were the headliners on both sides.

Joe DeMaestri

Died: Aug. 26 at age 87
Played for White Sox: 1951

DeMaestri was a glove-first shortstop who broke into the big leagues with the White Sox in 1951 at the age of 22. One problem: He was stuck behind another glove-first shortstop in Chico Carrasquel. Frank Lane had no problem dealing from depth, and so he included DeMaestri in one of his classic eight-player trades, with Sherm Lollar the big piece coming the other way from St. Louis.

DeMaestri eventually found a home as a second-division starter for the Kansas City Athletics, with whom he once collected six hits in a game.

Joe Kirrene

Died: Oct. 19 at age 85
Played for White Sox: 1950, 1954

Kirrene, a third baseman, was three days shy of his 19th birthday when he made his MLB debut for the White Sox in 1950. He went 1-for-4 with a strikeout against the St. Louis Browns. Shortly after he turned 19, he enlisted in the Coast Guard for the Korean War.

He returned to baseball in 1954, getting back to the majors for the White Sox that September. He played well, hitting .304/.448/.348 as a 22-year-old, but he didn’t appear in another game afterward. In fact, he only played two more seasons in the minor leagues, calling it a career at 24 years old. His obituary doesn’t give a reason, but it paints a picture of a life after baseball well lived.

Eddie Carnett

Died: Dec. 4 at age 100
Played for White Sox: 1944

The first time Carnett reached the big leagues, it was as a left-handed pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He pitched in just two April games, and was sent down after struggling in both of them.

The second time Carnett reached the big leagues, it was as a left-handed outfielder and first baseman for the White Sox. A sore shoulder forced him to change occupations, and the wartime talent dilution gave him a second chance. He fared well enough for a White Sox bench player during his only full season in the majors, hitting .276/.322/.357 while making 61 appearances in left field, 25 in center, and 25 at first base. He also returned to the mound for a couple of one-inning appearances.

The White Sox traded him to Cleveland after the season, and his second — and ultimately -- final season ended when he was drafted into the Navy. He lived two weeks past his 100th birthday, which was long enough to hold the title of oldest living big leaguer.