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Flashback: September 12, 1900

The ‘forgotten’ champs are celebrated in the return of our history series

U.S. Cellular Field
Door prize: Charles Comiskey’s gift from his team to celebrate their 1900 pennant? A five-foot, red bat.

It’s sort of hard to recognize, because in 1900 the American League was not viewed as a “major league” and there was no World Series yet, but the Chicago White Sox hold a unique distinction: The first AL pennant winners. (To their credit, the White Sox themselves recognize it, with a pennant flying at Sox Park, alongside the 1906 World Series champions.) And that pennant was earned 119 years ago today.

It wasn’t exactly fair that the AL was considered a bush league; the AL’s precursor, the Western League, was said to boast some stronger teams than those found in the mighty National League. And once Charles Comiskey moved his St. Paul team to the South Side and Grand Rapids relocated to Cleveland, the Western rechristened itself the American League and was ready to take on the “major” NL.

At the same time, the NL contracted from 12 teams to eight, putting more than 100 players out of work, all of whom would end up in the AL, which made the leagues close to equal both in number of teams, and talent.

The White Sox, an established and skilled club that already was one of the best minor league teams in history, took on just four former NL players of their 28 on the roster. (Crazier still is the fact that only two of these inaugural White Sox would last long enough to raise that first World Series crown in 1906: second baseman Frank Isabell and pitcher Roy Patterson.

Opening Day for the White Sox was on April 21, 1900, the team playing in a 7,500-capacity park at 39th Street and Wentworth Avenue. Connie Mack (yes, that Connie Mack) and his Milwaukee Brewers were the first White Sox opponent, defeating the Good Guys 5-4 in 10 innings.

True to that debut, the White Sox were slow to get rolling, below .500 for the first five weeks of the season. But in June, Chicago ripped off wins in 20 or 26, storming into first place and never looking back. While the club fended off runs from the Indianapolis Hoosiers (who the White Sox overtook for first place) and the eventual second-place Brewers, on Sept. 12, 1900 the pennant was clinched after a doubleheader sweep over the Cleveland Blues. There were six games in the season to spare.

The White Sox finished 82-53, a .607 winning percentage that stood as the franchise record until ... 1901, when the White Sox ended at 83-53-1. Patterson was credited as one of three White Sox aces, but by and large, like their Hitless Wonders counterparts some six years hence, the 1900 White Sox won the pennant on pitching and defense.

Although the White Sox would win back-to-back pennants in 1901 (with the AL now accorded “major league” status), just 10 players survived from the inaugural season, as owner Charles Comiskey raided big-name talent like Clark Griffith and Fielder Jones off of NL teams.

Isbell did survive on the White Sox, albeit as a speedy infielder and not a pitcher, as he was in 1900; Isbell led the AL with 52 steals in 1901 and was the biggest hitter on the Hitless Wonders in 1906 (.279). Patterson would play his entire career on the South Side, winning 20 games in 1901 and earning 82 wins with a 2.75 ERA over seven seasons.

The 1900 title was the first Chicago pennant in Chicago since 1886. While the White Sox repeated the feat in 1901 and took their first World Series title five years after that (over the crosstown Cubs, of course), 1900 — and 119 years ago today — is where White Sox greatness began.

Thanks for the Chicago Tribune and SABR for additional research on the 1900 White Sox.