The Chicago White Sox have played 117 seasons, and sit 123 games above .500 in all that time (9,149 wins, 9,026 losses). Four of the team’s six pennants came in its first 19 seasons, so it is unsurprising that many of the all-time great White Sox seasons came more than a century ago.
More than a fair share of White Sox have graced the field en route to those 9,149 wins. But interestingly, for a team with 117 seasons under its belt, relatively few Hall-of-Famers have called the South Side their exclusive home. While almost three dozen honorees claim some sort of connection to the team, just 10 White Sox in the Hall of Fame were primarily White Sox, and that includes Hoyt Wilhelm, who played just six years on the South Side. Of those 10, just two players, Carlton Fisk and Frank Thomas, retired after baseball’s first expansion in 1961.
Now, this is not a subjective ranking of top 10 White Sox seasons.
This list is based strictly on WAR per season. Now, heh, WAR itself is slightly subjective, as Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus all have different WAR formulas. Thus, all three WAR totals are averaged for seasons after 1948 (as BP doesn’t generate WAR before 1949, in earlier seasons just B-R and Fangraphs are averaged). WAR statistics cited in copy are Baseball-Reference WAR, as a default.
So now, from the home office in Plains, Pa., here are the top 10 WAR seasons for the Chicago White Sox from 1901-2017, leading off with a tie for the 10-spot:
9. Minnie Miñoso
Baseball-Reference: 8.2 WAR
Fangraphs: 7.8 WAR
Baseball Prospectus: 8.8 WAR
Let’s get this out of the way right off: Minnie Miñoso should be in the goddam Hall of Fame. Baseball has a lot of shame in its history, and yes, the Baseball Hall is a dog and pony show, but anyone voting in 1969, when Miñoso garnered six votes (1.8%) and fell off of the ballot until 1986 — yes, 33 players received more votes for the Hall of Fame than Miñoso in 1969 — should have had their BBWAA cards shredded, burned and buried.
So then, what about Miñoso’s greatest season in the majors, 1954? It was his fifth MLB season and clearly established him as one of baseball’s greatest talents. He played in his fourth All-Star Game, and led the league in WAR (8.2), triples (18), total bases (304), times on base (275) and hit by pitch (16). He had 77 walks against just 46 strikeouts, and clocked in with a .946 OPS. Miñoso finished fourth in MVP voting, garnering two of 24 votes; MVP Yogi Berra had a 5.4 B-R WAR, but blew Miñoso away when it came to native English malaprops. Miñoso played in right field, center and third base, but was stellar in left field, finishing fourth in the AL in putouts (340) and leading all left fielders in total zone runs (16) and range factor (2.51).
9. Dick Allen
Baseball-Reference: 8.6 WAR
Fangraphs: 8.0 WAR
Baseball Prospectus: 8.2 WAR
What are the odds of the first two players on this list being Hall of Fame worthy? Pretty great, it turns out. Yeah, Dick Allen being left out in the cold is another grave injustice wreaked by the BBWAA cabal.
The 1972 season was Allen’s first in Chicago, and his addition thrust the White Sox into a bit of a surprise pennant race. In fact, the fan interest that race garnered has led to the not-altogether fantastic notion that Allen saved the White Sox in Chicago (Seattle, among other suitors, were attempting to lure the Sox hither). Allen won the MVP in resounding fashion, garnering 21 of 24 first-place votes, despite not having the highest AL WAR (teammate Wilbur Wood, for one, had a better season per WAR).
But the colorful first sacker led the AL in offensive WAR (8.6), home runs (37), RBI (113), walks (99), extra-base hits (70), times on base (256) and slugging (.603), while tying for the lead in on-base (.420), OPS (1.023) and OPS+ (199). Here’s something you may not know about the slugger’s titanic ’72 — he tallied 19 stolen bases!
Part of the reason Allen may be short-changed by history is that his demise came quick. He played just two more seasons in Chicago, and at 32, just two years after this extraordinary campaign, his career was effectively over.
8. Ed Walsh
Baseball-Reference: 9.2 WAR
Fangraphs: 7.6 WAR
Ed Walsh was a bad, bad man.
In five seasons from 1908 to 1912, the spitballer compiled 50.2 B-R WAR, and if you’re a “big Hall” guy like me, that alone earns him induction.
But in 1911, Big Ed was, pfft, mediocre, putting up just 8.4 WAR. What a slacker. He finished second in MVP voting behind unanimous winner Ty Cobb (presumably, Walsh would have won the Cy Young Award, but seeing as how Young was pitching his last season in 1911, well, there was no most valuable pitcher award).
Walsh was 27-18 with a 2.22 ERA (2.17 FIP) and led the AL in pitching WAR (9.2), games (56), games finished (19), saves (four), innings pitched (368 2⁄3 ), strikeouts (255) and K/BB (3.54). Yeah, that’s right, the preeminent starter in the game not only started 37 contests and completed 33, he was the top “fireman” as well.
7. Wilbur Wood
Baseball-Reference: 10.3 WAR
Fangraphs: 5.7 WAR
Baseball Prospectus: 9.5 WAR
Having Wilbur Wood and Allen on the same 1972 White Sox must have made them a pretty badass team, yeah? Well, here’s the funny thing about that: Allen and Wood combined for 16.8 WAR, and the White Sox team total was less than 36.
In 1972, Wood was in the second year of a two-year run that was downright miraculous. It’s appropriate he fits on this list right next to Walsh, because early-1970s Wood was nothing if not a throwback to the 1910s.
Wood finished as the runner-up for the 1972 AL Cy Young, losing to Gaylord Perry by six points after garnering seven of 24 first-place votes. Wood led the league with 24 wins, 49 starts and 376 2⁄3 innings pitched. He also had a 2.51 ERA, 20 complete games and eight shutouts. Wood also made his second All-Star Game and finished seventh in AL MVP voting.
6. Eddie Cicotte
Baseball-Reference: 11.6 WAR
Fangraphs: 6.8 WAR
Sorta needless to get into the tragedy of Eddie Cicotte, who basically had already achieved Hall of Fame WAR status when he was kicked out of baseball for his role in the Black Sox. A purported $5,000 (and presumed promise of more), equivalent to around $100,000 today, got the knuckleballer banned for life.
In 1917, however, Knuckles was a hero, leading the American League in overall WAR (11.6), pitching WAR (11.5), wins (28), ERA (1.53), innings (346 2⁄3 ), ERA+ (174) and WHIP (0.912). His salary for 1917, by the way? Also the equivalent of $100,000 today.
5. Eddie Collins
Baseball-Reference: 9.4 WAR
Fangraphs: 9.3 WAR
OK, first, with more than half of this list eventually revealed as Eds or Eddies, can I start an official petition to get the White Sox to draft far more Eds and Eddies?
Unlike Cicotte above, B-R and Fangraphs pretty much agree on how great Eddie Collins was in 1915, his first year on the South Side. But the numbers don’t exactly jump out at you.
Everybody else listed here so far was a leaderboard fixture, but Collins in 1915 was not. He was sold to the White Sox in a pennypinching move by the Philadelphia A’s, and upon acquiring the second sacker White Sox owner Charles Comiskey immediately doubled Collins’ salary, to about $375,000 in today’s money.
Collins led the AL in walks with 119 (against 27 strikeouts!), and shined defensively as well, with a league-best 487 assists and .974 fielding percentage. He slashed .332/.460/.436 but was a pretty inefficient base-stealer: 46 steals, 30 times caught. He also finished ninth in the AL in homers — with four.
The previous year in Philadelphia, Collins won the MVP with a 9.1 WAR. In 1915 in Chicago, Collins’ WAR went up to 9.4, but his MVP votes went down — to zero.
4. Wilbur Wood
Baseball-Reference: 11.0 WAR
Fangraphs: 7.9 WAR
Baseball Prospectus: 9.3 WAR
The only thing better than 1972 Wilbur Wood was 1971 Wilbur Wood.
In 1971, Wood pitched in 44 games, starting 42, and went 22-13 with 22 complete games, seven shutouts — and a save. He led the AL in pitching WAR (11.8) and ERA+ (189), and finished second in ERA (1.91). Wood made his first All-Star team, and finished third in Cy Young voting (despite well out-WARing Vida Blue and Mickey Lolich, who finished 1-2 in Cy Young balloting) and ninth in the MVP race.
3. Ed Walsh
Baseball-Reference: 12.2 WAR
Fangraphs: 7.5 WAR
So, the third-greatest season in White Sox history is also the third-greatest in Ed Walsh history. In 1912, Walsh went 27-17 with a 2.15 ERA, and led the league with 62 games, 41 starts, 10 saves and 393 Ks. He finished second in MVP voting for the second straight year, this time losing out to Tris Speaker, in another race that wasn’t very close.
The 1912 season not only was Walsh’s last immortal one, but his last truly effective one. At 31, his arm gave out from overuse. He would pitch just 31 major league games and earn 2.8 pitching WAR in seasons to come.
2. Ed Walsh
Baseball-Reference: 10.4 WAR
Fangraphs: 9.6 WAR
I promise, maybe, I’ll get off the Hall’s hiney at some point, but Ed Walsh was not elected to the Hall of Fame by voters. His “final ballot” in 1946 garnered him just 40.3% of the vote; instead, it was a precursor to the Veterans Committee that forced him in, in 1946 (failing in the vote but being elected in the same year by a vet’s committee, I can’t figure it out, either).
OK, so 1908 was Walsh’s fifth season overall, and third full season. His first, in 1906, established him as a star (4.5 WAR), and his second, in 1907 (8.2 WAR), established him as one of the very best players in the game. In 1908, Walsh became an immortal.
Walsh became baseball’s last-ever 40-game winner, going 40-15, with his 40 wins and .727 winning percentage leading the league. (In games in which Walsh didn’t get a decision or save, the White Sox were 42-49.) His 10.0 pitching WAR, 66 games, 49 starts, 42 complete games, 11 shutouts, six saves, 464 innings pitched (73 innings more than any other pitcher in 1908), 269 strikeouts, 1.42 FIP and 4.80 K/BB all led the American League.
1. Ed Walsh
Baseball-Reference: 11.7 WAR
Fangraphs: 8.7 WAR
OK, here it is, telegraphed just a bit, I know, but yes, Walsh’s 1910 is the best season in White Sox history. While Walsh doesn’t have the highest career WAR in White Sox history, he is the most meteoric player in White Sox history. While most of the other all-time White Sox had 15-plus seasons to accumulate their greatness, Walsh pitched full-time in just seven (13 seasons overall):
White Sox All-Time Baseball-Reference WAR
Luke Appling 74.4 (20 White Sox seasons)
Red Faber: 68.5 (20 seasons)
Frank Thomas: 67.7 (16 seasons)
Ted Lyons: 67.6 (21 seasons)
Eddie Collins: 66.7 (12 seasons)
Ed Walsh: 64 (13 seasons, seven full-time)
The 1910 season was simply insane for Walsh. He led the American League in losses with 20, finishing 18-20 on the season but also leading the league in ERA (1.27), ERA+ (187) games (45), saves (5), WHIP (0.820), BB/9 (1.5), K/BB (4.23). Walsh averaged a 77 game score and 9.5 innings per start (yeah, you’re right, that’s like Wilt Chamberlain averaging 48.5 mpg in his otherworldly 1961-62 season).
Why, with such a run of numbers, did Walsh finish 1910 two games below .500? His teammates provided just 2.3 runs of support per game, the lowest of his career.
The Next 10
11. Red Faber (1921) 8.2 WAR
12T. Red Faber (1922) 8.1 WAR
12T. Eddie Collins (1920) 8.1 WAR
14. Eddie Cicotte (1919) 7.8 WAR
15. Luke Appling (1943) 7.7 WAR
16. Joe Jackson (1920) 7.65 WAR
17. Frank Thomas (1997) 7.3 WAR
18. Ron Hansen (1964) 7.2 WAR
19. George Davis (1905) 7.1 WAR
20. Nellie Fox (1957) 7.0 WAR