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Sox Century: Sept. 19, 1917

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The White Sox lose to Philadelphia and still gain a half-game on Boston

Jing Johnson’s holdout as described in The Sporting News on March 4, 1920.

The White Sox dropped a pitchers’ duel with the Philadelphia Athletics on this day, but here’s a measure of the good fortune Pants Rowland’s crew experienced on a daily basis:

On the rare day the White Sox lost a game, the Red Sox lost two.

Boston dropped both games of a doubleheader against the Tigers, and at Fenway Park to boot. So while Philadelphia’s Jing Johnson outdueled Eddie Cicotte, the Pale Hose still gained a half-game on the other Sox, stretching their lead to 8½ games while reducing their magic number to four.

Nemo Leibold gave the Sox a shot in this game, but he also took it away. He led off the eighth with a single — just the third hit off Johnson -- then took second on Fred McMullin’s bunt and scored with an Eddie Collins single that tied the game at 1.

An inning later, Leibold untied it in the wrong direction. With two outs and a runner on first, Amos Strunk lined a single to right. The Chicago Tribune summed up what happened next with a little understatement:

Amos Strunk poled a line single to right field, and [Eddie] Palmer tried to leg it for third. Leibold scooped the ball and let fly. Had his aim been about twelve feet lower he would have nailed Mr. Palmer at third by a couple of lengths, but the ball sailed away over the heads of the Sox players, hit the ground near the stand, and bounded in.

Palmer trotted home to score the winning run to hand Cicotte his 12th loss of the season via unearned run. Then again, the Sox could only hope for a weird bounce of their own the way Johnson was dealing. He held the Sox to just four hits, two walks and an HBP while striking out five.

Johnson — referred to as Yingling Johnson in both the Tribune and Chicago Examiner -- had his unusual career shaped by the economic leverage owners wielded. Then 22 years old, Johnson had the first of a couple hard-working seasons for lousy Philadelphia teams in 1917, but Connie Mack wouldn’t give him a raise when the 1920 season rolled around.

Unlike other players, though, Johnson had a decent bargaining position of his own with the help of a chemistry degree. When Mack didn’t cave in to Johnson’s holdout, Johnson chose his other path. From his SABR bio:

As the team's top pitcher, Johnson expected a salary increase for 1920. He failed to reckon with the tight-fisted Mack, who reasoned he could and would finish last with or without Johnson. The young pitcher held out for a higher salary, failed to join the team for spring training in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and threatened to quit if the Athletics did not meet his salary demand. Mack declared, "I don't blame him for quitting professional baseball if he can make more money in other ways." In fact, Johnson found he could make more money as a research chemist at the Bethlehem Steel Company. Johnson proved as stubborn as Mr. Mack. From 1920 through the spring of 1927, Johnson returned the contracts Mack sent him. That made him a seven-year holdout.

Johnson won the battle of wills. When Mack finally built a winner in 1927, he finally was able to justify paying Johnson the raise he sought. Johnson returned to the majors after eight seasons away, pitching in 17 games for a 91-win Philly team.

Record: 95-49 | Box score