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100 years ago: 1917 White Sox approach Opening Day

Team makes it through spring training largely healthy and without excuses

The sports page from teh Chicago Tribune on April 8, 1917.

When we last left the 1917 White Sox, they were getting into the swing of a spring training with a rhythm that is familiar to baseball fans a century later. Well, besides the part about a drill sergeant preparing the able-bodied men for potential entry into World War I.

The rest of spring training followed a similar course. Gearing up for the season in Mineral Wells, Texas, and not an organized system like the Cactus or Grapefruit leagues, the White Sox spent the first half of the spring playing amongst themselves before taking their A-team to Houston in order to play some professional Texas League teams. As Opening Day on April 11 in St. Louis drew nearer, the White Sox made a circuitous route from Texas with a barnstorming tune-up around the Midwest.

Some notable developments during this period, as relayed from the Chicago Tribune and reporter I.E. Sanborn:

March 13: Swede Risberg appears set for a spot on the roster of some sort after Al von Kolnitz informed Charles Comiskey that he was quitting baseball, having been appointed manager of his father’s potash company in Virginia. Donny Lucy had a predecessor.

March 18: While the papers were generally bullish about the 1917 White Sox given their steady improvement on field and on paper, some hedged their bets:

President Comiskey was presented a silver bat and baseball for his trophy room at the Sox park. The bat is engraved with the prophetic inscription, “World’s Champions of 1918.” The donor was Jack Art, a Woodland bard.”

March 20: Pants Rowland named the team he was taking to Houston to play against Texas League opponents:

  • Catchers: Ray Schalk, Byrd Lynn and Joe Jenkins
  • Infielders: Chick Gandil, Ted Jourdan, Eddie Collins, Buck Weaver and Swede Risberg.
  • Outfielders: Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch, Nemo Leibold and Eldred.
  • Pitchers: Red Faber, Reb Russell, Eddie Cicotte, Mellie Wolfgang and Lefty Williams.

March 22: With the shortstop battle largely settling on Risberg, right field is the only real mystery. Shano Collins had the inside track based on his previous work, along with Nemo Leibold. Rookie Ross Eldred was making inroads with his work at the plate, but hadn’t shown as much in the field:

At first it was supposed Eldred was saving his arm, as all wise players do at the start of training, but up to date he has not cut loose a speedy peg. What throws he makes are accurate and to the right base, showing that he knows the game, but they lack the steam of a Jackson, Felsch or John Collins peg. Possibly the youngster is still saving his wing.

That said, he generated plenty of excitement on offense, including one play against a Houston team that doesn’t make sense if taken literally:

Eldred stole home from third base cleanly in the seventh, but was robbed of it by a technicality because Leibold, who was at bat, hit the ball for a single. Eldred was finishing his slide when the ball was hit.

March 26: A smooth spring training finally encounters some genuine matters of concern:

Two invalids and a mean looking bogey man appeared in the camp of the White Sox today. The invalids are Joe Jackson, who is nursing a strained tendon, and Eddie Cicotte, who flooded the carburetor of his stomach with too rich a mixture of food after the lean rations to which the players were restricted by the Mineral Wells menu.

The bogey man appeared via the sleeve of Tex Russell’s coat. There is a kink in some of the cords or muscles of the big southpaw’s salary wing, and the White Sox are banking a lot on said wing for the coming campaign.

Jackson’s injury was to his ankle, related to a spiking. Cicotte was back to work the next day, performing “pretty fairly for a man who was too sick to hold up his head yesterday.” Sanborn used the “flooded carburetor” line again.

An x-ray showed two “fibrous growths” on Russell’s arm just above the elbow. “Lots of work has been prescribed as the remedy ... so as to overcome the tendency of the growths to put a permanent crook in his elbow.”

April 1: The Tribune described the preseason's final week:

They are booked for eight more games in eight different cities before landing in St. Louis a week from Tuesday, and all they ask is a chance to keep in form.

The stops included:

  • Norman: Played and defeated the University of Oklahoma team.
  • Wichita: A sandstorm forced game’s cancellation.
  • Horton, Kansas: Cold and rain cancelled the game, and the hotel didn’t provide the team food.
  • St. Joseph, Mo.: The White Sox beat the local Drummers 7-3; Eldred appears out of the running at the major-league level due to the aforementioned inability to throw.
  • Ottumwa, Iowa: The White Sox win on a frigid day, and Eddie Collins survives a beaning.

(Also, back to the military subplot: A couple days after the United States entered World War I, American League president Ban Johnson says military drills will be part of the junior circuit’s pregame workouts during the regular season.)

  • Minneapolis: The White Sox beat the Millers on a frosty day, 9-1. Collins showed no ill effects from the pitch to the head, ducking a couple more up-and-in pitches.
  • St. Paul, Minn: The White Sox topped the Saints, 7-4.
  • Des Moines: They beat the local Western Leaguers 8-1.

Collins made it to Opening Day despite another HBP in the last exhibition, and Sanborn showed no reluctance to traffic in war imagery (Collins “rapped out two hits in spite of it, indicating that he is getting used to being peppers by the enemy’s gunners”).

Despite that and the Russell scare, the White Sox arrived in St. Louis for Opening Day largely healthy. The only player with questionable status was Risberg, who suffered a “slider” on one of his hips (the context makes it unclear; perhaps a strawberry?). At least at the onset of the season, there was finally no reason why the White Sox couldn't reclaim their first pennant since 1906, and nobody would probably accept an excuse if one were given.