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Advocating for retired non-numbers

Honoring the White Sox’s earliest greats

Eddie Collins Full Swing
Eddie Collins, one of the best there ever was
Photo Reproduction by Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

The White Sox’s retired number list reads as a kind of introduction to the history of the team. When I walked into U.S. Cellular Field for the first time in 2005, I didn’t know who Nellie Fox and Luke Appling were, but I did know that these must be some of the greatest of greats in franchise history. It got me curious about the history of the White Sox, and I learned about that pesky little second baseman who struck out 216 times in his career, and Old Aches and Pains, who hit .388 in 1936.

I imagine that the retired numbers serve the same purpose for many young fans. Maybe it’s the impetus for internet research. Maybe it’s a daughter going to a game with her father and asking, “Who’s Miñoso?” It’s a simple way to connect fans to the players of the past, and you can learn a lot about a team from which players it chooses to honor.

The Sox have been possibly the most aggressive team in baseball in retiring numbers. They’re tied with the Cardinals for the second-most, and only the Yankees have retired more, and it’s hard to blame those teams when they have a combined 38 championships. For the White Sox, a team that’s been to the postseason 9 times in 113 tries, it’s a bit harder to understand from the outside.

Even with all of those retired numbers, there is still a significant gap in the historical reference because the White Sox didn’t wear numbers at all before 1931. As a result, some of the best players from the team’s first 30 years are excluded from this tradition. The general sense that I get is that many fans don’t know much about the earliest White Sox greats, and while that’s in part because very few people alive today saw them play, I think it’s time we memorialize their excellence too.

A few of baseball’s Original Sixteen teams have already taken this measure, and they’ve handled it in a couple different ways. The Tigers put the names of a host of early players next to their retired numbers on the outfield wall:

Arizona Diamondbacks v Detroit Tigers Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Giants have “retired” the letters “NY” for Christy Mathewson and John McGraw from the team’s time in New York. The Cardinals have an old logo alongside their numbers for Rogers Hornsby, plus a microphone for broadcaster Jack Buck.

The White Sox retired numbers list is already a little crowded, but these pre-numbering guys are at least as deserving as the players whose numbers have already been retired. Based on the team’s current standards for retiring numbers, I count three, maybe four, players that the White Sox should retire logos for or otherwise honor. They are listed below, in order of priority.

Eddie Collins (2B, 1915-26; Manager, 1924-26)

Collins is an inner-circle Hall of Famer, and it’s a shame we don’t talk about that more. Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs both put his career WAR north of 120, which obviously means nothing to 1920’s baseball fans, but his greatness is hard to deny. His time and production were split pretty evenly between the Sox and the Philadelphia Athletics; in 12 seasons in Chicago, he hit .331/.426/.424 with 31 home runs (classic deadball hitter), and spent his last 3 years with the Sox as a player-manager. He was the number 3 hitter on the 1917 World Series Champs, and he came out of the Black Sox Scandal squeaky clean.

Ed Walsh (P, 1904-16; Manager, 1924)

Among pitchers with at least 1,000 IP, Walsh stands alone with the lowest ERA in baseball history (1.82). He won two games in the 1906 Crosstown World Series, and he surpassed 10 rWAR three times, but first and foremost he was a workhorse. In fact, to call him a workhorse is a severe understatement; he pitched 2,248 innings between 1907 and 1912, the most in baseball by more than 300 innings. Unfortunately, that meant his dominance was short-lived, as his arm gave out shortly thereafter.

Red Faber (P, 1914-33)

Like Collins, Faber was a member of the White Sox in both 1917 and 1919. Also like Collins, he survived the Black Sox fallout, in his case because he was injured during the World Series. However, he was probably the unofficial MVP of the 1917 Series, going 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA in 27 innings. Yes, he started four games in a six-game series and won three of them. Faber pitched for 20 years, all with the White Sox, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1964.

Faber did actually stick around long enough to get a uniform number; he wore number 18 in 1931 and 1933, and number 19 in 1932. The Sox could technically retire 18 for him, but it doesn’t make much sense when he spent 17 years without a number.

Ray Schalk (C, 1912-28; Manager, 1927-28)

Schalk is probably a slightly more controversial choice, but much like the three players above, he is representing the White Sox in the Hall of Fame. Many fans today look at Schalk’s stats (.253 batting average, 28.5 career WAR) and wonder how he made the Hall in the first place, but if sabermetrics struggle to capture catcher defense now, imagine how poorly they capture defense from 100 years ago. Even his HOF plaque does a poor job accounting for his defensive legacy. Jim did a great piece in 2011 summarizing Schalk’s reputation while he was playing; in short, he revolutionized catcher defense and was an excellent game-caller. If Carlton Fisk’s 72 is on the wall, there’s little reason Schalk can’t be up there too.

Retired numbers are a quick and easy way to identify the most important White Sox players, and the Sox would do a great service to their early history if they put these four players on the same pedestal. All four played integral roles on the championship teams of 1906 (Walsh) and 1917 (Collins, Faber, Schalk), and their excellence and longevity should put them among the franchise’s legends. Sure, if you walk around the concourse at Guaranteed Rate Field for long enough you’ll see something about each of them in the timeline mural, but these players deserve much better.