It’s the time of year where, as we look ahead with hopeful eyes to the 2022 Chicago White Sox and a full baseball season, we look back at those South Siders we lost in 2021. Included among them are a Cy Young winner, couple of one-game wonders, southpaw ace, and all-time great exec.
Please, feel free to use the comments to honor any White Sox close to you who we lost in 2021.
White Sox career: 1961-66
Died: February 18, 2021
Long-coveted by the White Sox, this “mean” southpaw put up 12.9 WAR over just more than 1,000 innings on the South Side in the first half of the 1960s. It is estimated that among MLB, MiLB and international play, Juan Pizarro won more than 400 career games.
Interestingly, the fourth most-comparable pitcher to Pizarro (93.0% similarity) was fellow South Side rotation member Gary Peters.
After hurting his arm, Pizarro segued from power pitcher to finesse, employing a killer screwball that gave his career’s second chapter some bite. Pizarro saw some time with the Cubs around that time, and BCB’s obituary had some nice quotes from peers.
Mark Liptak covered the loss for South Side Sox back in February, and his terrific tribute covers Pizarro’s White Sox years in great detail.
White Sox career: 1962-64
Died: March 25, 2021
Discovered by Hall of Fame hoopster-turned-Cardinals baseball scout Benny Borgmann, Joe Cunningham had a meteoric rise through the St. Louis system and made his MLB debut at 22, in 1954. And his debut was a loud one — a three-run homer in his first at-bat, and four hits, three homers and nine RBIs in his first two games (including two round-trippers off of Warren Spahn).
“The man of a thousand stances” employed eight different batting stances, depending on the pitcher and situation. To good measure, as Cunningham finished as a runner-up to Henry Aaron for the batting title in 1959, at .345, and led the NL in on-base percentage (.463).
“Jersey Joe” was traded to the White Sox for Minnie Miñoso in 1961, famously learning of the deal at a speaking engagement also featuring ... Miñoso. He put up 4.3 WAR and finished 18th in MVP voting for the South Siders in 1962, but broke his collarbone in a freak collision at first base in early June of the next season, and the White Sox shipped him out in 1964 as part of a deal that netted Moose Skowron.
In retirement, Cunningham worked in public relations for the Cardinals, and was such a good-natured man and fan favorite that he served as a goodwill ambassador for the club despite not being a “name” player.
Cunningham died in hospice care at his home in Chesterfield, Mo.
White Sox career: 1983
Died: July 10, 2021
Dick Tidrow effectively ended his playing career with a single season on the South Side, during the triumphant, 99-win season of 1983. But the tempestuous reliever made his most lasting impact on the game as a three-decade player personnel executive with the San Francisco Giants, where he oversaw eight playoff appearances and four World Series wins.
Tidrow was a prep phenom, throwing a no-hitter on his 18th birthday and getting drafted four times, by four different teams, before Cleveland met his financial terms and netted his services. Tidrow made the majors in 1972, and as a starter went 14-15 and was named the Sporting News AL Rookie of the Year.
Tidrow came to the White Sox as part of the infamous Roland Hemond hostage deal, when a threat of drafting away Cubs icon Fergie Jenkins prompted a one-sided trade that included the reliever, by then a north sider. Tidrow posted seven saves in 50 games with the Winning Ugly White Sox, good for -0.1 WAR but nonetheless a key veteran in Tony La Russa’s mix-and-match bullpen that season.
Tidrow never left baseball, beginning to scout for the Yankees and others right after retirement, and later inking much of San Francisco’s incredible pitching talent this century.
Mark Liptak and I penned the SSS Tidrow obituary back in July.
White Sox career: 1954
Died: August 5, 2021
Vito Valentinetti had a brief major league debut — and White Sox career.
He was signed by the White Sox in 1950 and pitched only a season and a half before military service called him away from baseball. He was discharged at the end of 1953 and reported to spring training for the White Sox the next year. On June 20, he was called up to Comiskey Park (he just missed facing high school teammate Whitey Ford, as Ford was summoned by the Yankees on on July 1) for his MLB debut.
Valentinetti was called in for mop-up duty in the ninth inning of a 10-6 game, and after getting his first batter, Johnny Sain, on a pop-up, the Yankees stung him for six runs, batting around. The pitcher was demoted after the game, and never pitched again for the White Sox.
After a year in the minors, Valentinetti returned to the majors, seeing action for the Cubs, Cleveland, the Tigers and Senators before his career ended, after the 1959 season.
After his retirement, Valentinetti was a batting practice pitcher for the Mets and Yankees for more than two decades.
White Sox career: 1954-55
Died: August 7, 2021
Briefly playing with Valentinetti on the 1954 White Sox, Johnny Groth died just two days after his teammate.
Groth was a local prep star, excelling in football and baseball for Chicago’s Latin High. He was a Detroit Tigers phenom, making his debut in the majors at 20 and putting up 6.7 WAR for the club over his first seasons. White Sox GM Frank Lane acquired him for his wheels in 1954, boasting that acquiring the center fielder made the White Sox outfield the fastest in the majors (still, Groth was caught 9-of-12 in steal attempts after his acquisition in midseason ’54).
Groth’s closest player comp during his two White Sox seasons, interestingly, was Jimmy Piersall. While he never really fulfilled his promise as a dominating prep athlete, Groth did play for 15 seasons in the majors, mostly as a spot starter and defensive replacement. He ended his career with 1,064 hits and a lifetime .987 fielding percentage.
For three decades after his playing career, Groth managed in the Detroit system, and also served as a scout, boasting Mickey Rivers as his greatest find.
Groth and his wife, Betty, were married for 72 years.
White Sox career: 1958
Died: September 29, 2021
If there was ever a Moonlight Graham — or, perhaps, a John Paciorek — for the White Sox, Charlie Lindstrom would qualify. He played in just one career game, at the end of the 1958 season.
Lindstrom was a local find, the son of eventual Hall-of-Famer Freddie Lindstrom, and a product of New Trier High School. His courtesy cup of coffee came at age 22, subbed into a game with a lot of early scoring, subbing in as backstop after starter John Romano and Earl Battey already got their last bats of the year. Lindstrom walked and scored in his first plate appearance, then had an RBI triple in his second.
One of the relievers late in the game was Hal Trosky Jr., son of a former White Sox player. Thus it is possible that this game featured the first battery of second-generation players in baseball history.
Lindstrom never made it back to the majors, in part due to performance but also because he was blocked by the deep talent on the South Side at the time. A superstar prep pitcher, the White Sox even briefly tried to convert him back to the mound in 1960 — but when that failed, Lindstrom retired.
His career line is the ultimate small sample size, but it’s a doozy: 1.000/3.000/4.000 slash, 1.000 fielding percentage, and a 962 OPS+.
After that, Lindstrom followed in his father’s footsteps as a successful college baseball coach. He also founded some innovative sports companies: Diamond Dry (for rain delays) and Universal Sports Lighting, which won the contract to replace the lights at Sox Park; in fact, the White Sox played the 2005 World Series under Lindstrom’s lights.
White Sox career: 1950-52
Died: October 4, 2021
Eddie Robinson died nearing his 101st birthday, as the Oldest Living Ballplayer, after a career in baseball that spanned seven decades.
Robinson also started podcasting — at age 100, recording almost three dozen episodes — and wrote an autobiography at age 95.
His brief time with the White Sox also represented his best years in the majors, totaling 9.2 of his career 14.9 WAR. Two of his three All-Star seasons, and two of his three seasons with MVP votes, came on the South Side.
Robinson generated a modest WAR, but his career slash is nonetheless impressive: .268/.353/.440 with a 113 OPS+.
The slugger coached briefly after his career ended, and later served as GM in Houston, Atlanta and Texas. After he was fired by the Rangers, George Steinbrenner offered him the Yankees GM job, but Robinson wisely sidestepped that train wreck, opting for scouting instead.
Robinson attended a major league game as recently as this past June, in Texas, as one of the 20 or so major leaguers to have ever reached age 100.
White Sox career: 1979-84
Died: November 29, 2021
Whether out of the pen or in the starting rotation, LaMarr Hoyt was a workhorse for the White Sox. And his .602 winning percentage proves he often bulled his way to wins, and not always while backed with winning teams as good as the 99-win 1983 Chisox.
White Sox manager Tony La Russa called Hoyt a “great competitor,” adding that “he had average stuff but amazing command and tremendous confidence, and he never showed fear.”
Hoyt, who succumbed after a long battle with cancer, also had his demons: Substance abuse that ultimately saw his career end prematurely at age 31.
The White Sox always kept the door open for Hoyt — even giving him a final tryout after his release by the San Diego Padres in 1987. The former Cy Young winner attended team functions and Sox Fest in retirement, as well.
“He genuinely loved being a part of the White Sox organization, and I can say without a doubt those were the best years of his life,” said Matthew Hoyt, LaMarr’s oldest son. “All he talked about in his final days was baseball, the White Sox and all of his former teammates.”
Mark Liptak penned our SSS obituary for Hoyt a month ago.
White Sox career: 1973-85
Died: December 12, 2021
Mark Liptak’s lengthy tribute to his friend Roland ran on our pages just two weeks ago, so that’s where to go to read about his great White Sox career. I’ll just add to his great work with my own story.
I had written a White Sox book after the World Series, and was selling it at a booth at Sox Fest a year later. My wife had created all of these terrific signs, and it was great fun meeting everyone and talking White Sox.
Then, Roland Hemond stopped by. Little did I know he had a habit of doing this with “everyone” (including, apparently, my future colleague at SSS, Zach Hayes, then an eight- or 10-year-old fan), but he stopped by the booth and shot the breeze with us for 10 minutes or so. He delightfully feigned interest in my silly little book, talked about fandom, surely complimented my lovely wife on her bull rush to augment sales.
I did know enough about Roland beyond his White Sox stewardship to appreciate his French heritage, something I recalled him being very proud of. So when we parted, I let him know, in surely broken francais (I can barely muster Spanish, so French is just out of the question):
Tu es une personne merveilleuse.
(You are a wonderful person.)
Roland almost fell over in appreciation, and starting speaking French I could not understand.
“That’s all I got, Roland.”
We all laughed.
What a wonderful person.
Research assistance by Sam Gazdziak at the fabulous tribute site RIP Baseball.