The White Sox have 122 years of history, but they have not been a team of extremes. Sure, there have been just three World Series titles — and one World Series loss! Likewise, just 12 first place finishes (9.8% of the time) — and eight last-place endings (6.6%).
So it’s tempting to think of this year’s fall from a 93-win division winner to the current pace of 81-81 — a drop of 12 wins — as being both devastating and unprecedented in franchise annals.
But no, in fact, it is not so. There have been more crushing seasons, including one this century.
Let’s get the good news out of the way: In order for the 2022 White Sox to crack the Top 10 Most Disappointing White Sox Clubs of All Time and These Are the Raw Unfeeling Numbers Here Not Your Tears Dripping Into a Nacho Helmet or Running Over Your Luis-Eloy Bobblehead, the White Sox will have to lose three-quarters of their games (finish 7-21). As angry as we all might be at this summer’s careening clown car, it is extremely unlikely that such a September surprise awaits.
What were the 10 biggest soul-crushing White Sox clubs of all time? Glad you’re here. Dry your eyes, and let’s take a look.
1903 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 114 points
Wins Drop 14
Standings Drop 4th to 7th
The White Sox franchise started out gangbusters, winning the AL pennant in 1900 (pre-majors) and again in 1901 (no World Series). In 1902, the club fell to fourth place, but at just eight games back, the race was tight. In 1903, Clark Griffith exited as pitcher-manager and Jimmy Callahan took over a younger club. A healthy run differential in 1902 gave way to a -97. This was a White Sox team in transition; and it wouldn’t be this bad again (AL placing or winning percentage) for almost two decades.
1978 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 115 points
Wins Drop 19
Standings Drop 3rd to 5th
Betcha didn’t see this one coming. Bill Veeck’s 1977 Rent-a-Player success ran out of gas in September, and because it gave way to three following years of shoestring budget slapdashery in 16´´softballing duds it’s easy to forget how far off the cliff the White Sox fell pre-Jerry Reinsdorf. With the South Side Hit Men, Veeck and GM Roland Hemond could almost do no wrong; Oscar Gamble, Steve Stone, Richie Zisk, the front office sneezed and a curtain-call worthy player popped out of the dugout. Even a marquee trade, Bucky Dent to the Bronx, yielded a big prize years later in LaMarr Hoyt. In 1978, the same plan was rolled out, but Ron Blomberg, Bobby Bonds and Claudell Washington just didn’t have the same ring to them. Even Stone, who had come back to the Sox and Veeck out of appreciation for the gamble taken on him, had similar peripherals but saw his WAR cut in half.
1938 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 119 points
Wins Drop 21
Standings Drop 3rd to 6th
Though tied with 1948, the 1937 White Sox actually being a decent team (81-70-2) climbing the ladder over three seasons from fifth to fourth to third, qualifies it as more devastating, especially given that it had been 16 seasons since the White Sox had finished as high as third place. This bottoming-out in 1938 also signaled terrible times to come, as the White Sox would finish as high as third just one time in the next 14 seasons and in the first division (1st-4th) of the AL only five times in 14 years. We might think 2013-19 was agony, but the true dark ages in White Sox history stretch for virtually all of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Cap-tip your pops, or your grandpappy, or great-grandpa for sticking it out; or question their intelligence, your choice.
1948 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 119 points
Wins Drop 19
Standings Drop 6th to 8th
One one hand, the 1948 White Sox represent a low ebb after nearly three decades of drowning, as just the fourth White Sox team in 49 years of existence to finish dead last. But it also represents the final super-low for the franchise for more than 20 years to come. It took a few more years, but a streak of 17 straight winning seasons was on the horizon.
But now that a few have already popped up, let’s talk for a second about the ugliness of 8s for the White Sox. In only three seasons ending in 8 — 1908, 1958, and 2008 —have the White Sox owned a winning record. And five of the biggest dream-crushers in team history have come in “8” years.
1995 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 121 points
Wins Drop 20 (based on 162-game seasons in 1994 and 1995)
Standings Drop 4th to 8th
The 1995 campaign, as you’ll see also in 1918, is bastardized by a lack of a full season. However, unlike 1918 being truncated by World War, the mid-90s void was forced by greedy ownership colluding and otherwise unwilling to share the wealth of the game with players. That said, the fall from “World Series favorite” (um, the White Sox weren’t even the best team in the AL when play stopped in 1994, 3 1⁄2 games behind the Yankees, and tied for third-best in baseball with Atlanta) to Bevington’s Bumblers was exceedingly ugly. The presumed dominance of the 1990s “window of contention” was killed by labor strife, which is even grosser than what is happening here in the 2020s (with just “mini” labor strife).
1968 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 135 points
Wins Drop 22
Standings Drop 4th to 8th
My gut might have picked this drop as the worst-ever, because it just seemed so devastating. The White Sox hadn’t had a losing season since 1950, and what’s more, they didn’t really come CLOSE to a losing season in that 17-year span (OK, one season just four games better than .500, we’d kill for that these days). So the fall from 89-73 last-second pennant heartbreakers in 1967 to 67-95 — at the time, the fifth-most losses in franchise history — was absolutely bonkers. The magic of GM Ed Short (demonstrated by retooling the franchise on the fly in the early 1960s) had worn off completely, and the White Sox were heading into the darkest seasons in their history. Thankfully, the darkness was brief.
2013 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 136 points
Wins Drop 22
Standings Drop 2nd to 5th
This one snuck right up on me, because it’s so easy to forget that the 2012 Shadow Ball Ventura charges were so good and dominant all season. In all but one week’s worth of 2012 games from May 29 to September 25 the White Sox were in first place, only to collapse by losing 11 of their last 15. The next year, the team’s offense went completely flat, and the White Sox spent all year in free-fall, eventually inviting the misery that became the 2010s rebuild.
1984 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 154 points
Wins Drop 25
Standings Drop 1st to 5th
My vote for most crushing season, as you would need to be about 105 years old to have experienced a worse one. The Winning Ugly White Sox had won 99 games and, more than that, CRUSHED AL West competition by 20 games. Twenty games! How does a team that has a 1983 like it did turn around and just drop 25 games, with largely the same personnel? The pitching staff stayed just as productive, but the hitting was only half as good, with special citations issued for Carlton Fisk (dropped 2.8 WAR), Rudy Law (-3.1), Greg Luzinski (-2.6) and Tom Paciorek (-1.3). And even still, the 1984 team did make a valiant charge to first place, holding it for two days in early July before finishing the season 30-48 and collapsing to fifth place, 10 games out.
1918 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 189 points
Wins Drop 28 (projecting to a 156-game season in 1918)
Standings Drop 1st to 6th
There was a lot going on in the late teens, even as the White Sox were ascending to best in the majors. The 1917 team, winning 100 games and by a full five games better than any White Sox team ever, was always going to be a hard act to follow. But a championship season hangover plus a season interrupted by war service and illness (Joe Jackson, one of many, missed essentially the whole season in the service and was harangued for taking a shipbuilding job Stateside vs. soldiering) resulted in a catastrophic drop in the standings. Worse, the truncated season (ending in early September) saw the World Series played at Comiskey Park — with the Cubs as host!
1921 White Sox
Winning Percentage Drop 219 points
Wins Drop 34
Standings Drop 2nd to 7th
Well, this fortune turn was the worst of all time, but is the only one that can be easily explained. The 1920 White Sox were a terrific team (third-best in White Sox history, and the only one of the seven-best South Side clubs to not see the postseason) that only lost a second straight AL pennant in the season’s final days. With just three games left, the White Sox were within a half-game of the pennant, but the South Siders dropped two of three at the mediocre St. Louis Browns, and ended up two games short. However, that collapse was for a reason: Very late in the year, Kenesaw Landis had banned the core of the club from ever playing in the majors again. Not only did the gutted club in 1921 pave the way for the Yankees to begin romping all over the AL, it was the start of three decades of futility on the South Side. (One odd note, while the 1921 White Sox were the 11th-worst club in team history, they did not finish in last place in the AL; the woebegone Philadelphia A’s, who did not have the excuse of their core banished from the game, finished 8 1⁄2 games worse than the White Sox!)