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White Sox Fri Aug 16 2013
I'm reading a book on White Sox history (it'll be a future blog post so I won't spoil anything) and I've been reminded of one of the more interesting aspects of baseball history. Before 1969, there were no playoffs. The best team from the American League faced the best team from the National League in the World Series.
I liked how simple and fair the process was. Each team had the same strength of schedule and played each team in their league the same number of times. In the golden days of baseball, the pennant meant something because the regular season meant something. The best team was determined solely by 154, and later 162, games.
When the second wave of expansion was conducted in 1969, divisions took shape, schedules became unbalanced (teams played same division teams 18 times and non-division teams 12 times), and there needed to be some sort of playoff to determine the best team. In 1995, and then in 2012, the playoffs expanded even more, and regular season records meant less and less. Teams get hot at the right moment, sneak in, and make the World Series (I'm looking at you, 2011 Cardinals and 2007 Rockies). Add in interleague play, and the AL and NL look like arbitrary groups that house teams for organization's sake.
But what if baseball didn't expand the postseason?
What if the teams with the best records won the pennant automatically, like old days? Ignoring all the logistics of such a scenario, baseball history looks much different. As you can see, only a handful of World Series matchups are still the same.
The White Sox also won three pennants.
They had the best record in the AL three times. So in my hypothetical, they never lost to Baltimore in the 1983 ALCS. They never floundered to Seattle in the 2000 ALDS. And instead of facing Houston in the 2005 World Series, they faced a stronger St. Louis team.
(Side note: the Cubs reached the World Series three times as well, so alternate history has been great for Chicago).
But what happened once the Sox reached the Fall Classic? Is there any way we could figure out how many titles the Sox could have won?
Of course! WhatIfSports.com has a free simulation machine, and we could use that to determine a winner of the 1983, 2000 and 2005 World Series. I plugged in the teams' most common postseason lineup and pitching rotation (based on what happened in reality in the playoffs), and conducted simulations for each game, complete with play-by-play and box score.
What actually happened: The Sox went 99-63 and held off the Orioles by one game. A 22-4 stretch to end the season propelled them to their first pennant since 1959. Chicago was paced on offense by Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk (4.3 WAR), slugging DH Greg Luzinski (.854 OPS) and super rookie Ron Kittle (35 homers and 100 RBIs). As for pitching, LaMarr Hoyt won the Cy Young after going 24-10 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.02 WHIP, and Richard Dotson went 22-7 with a 3.23 ERA.
The Dodgers didn't have a great offense outside of Pedro Guerrero's 32 homers and Steve Sax's 56 steals, but they did have a killer rotation. Three regular starters, Jerry Reuss, Bob Welch and Alejandro Pena had ERAs under 3.00, and two pitchers from the bullpen, Tom Niedenfuer and Steve Howe, had WHIPs under 1.00.
Hypothetical build-up: As you probably noticed, this is a rematch of the 1959 World Series. Undoubtedly, Billy Pierce, Luis Aparicio and Big Ted Kluszewski made the media rounds in the days before the series. Al Smith was probably asked roughly 10,000 questions about his famous photo.
Alternate World Series: The Sox took Game 1 in thrilling fashion, with a Carlton Fisk RBI single winning the contest in the bottom of the ninth. Chicago trailed 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh, but a rally that inning plated three and a Luzinski home run in the eighth tied the game.
Kittle smacked a home run and closer Dennis Lamp worked out of a tough jam to win Game 2. The Sox led 4-0 in the ninth, but Los Angeles closed the gap to one run, and had runners on the corners when Bill Russell grounded out to end the game. Even with the series headed to LA for Game 3, the Sox won again to take a 3-0 lead. A 3-2 victory, with Dotson going eight innings and allowing the two runs. Lamp again eked out of a jam, getting the final two outs with the bases loaded.
The Dodgers went back to Reuss, who started the opener, for Game 4 and staved off a sweep. The Sox opted for their ace in Game 5, and though Hoyt went eight innings and allowed three runs, Fernando Valenzuela no-hit the Sox (please suspend your disbelief!).
The Sox, however, didn't fold after the Valenzuela gem: they took Game 6 in Chicago by the score of 8-5, and won their first title since 1917. The Dodgers scored the first four runs, but a Luzinski three-run blast tied the score in the fifth, and four runs in the sixth gave Chicago all the cushion they needed.
This title goes down as Chicago's first since 1963, when the Bears won the championship, and by beating another legendary Bears team by two years, the 1983 Sox became the most famous team in Chicago. Kittle, Fisk and Harold Baines never had to buy a drink in the city ever again.
White Sox defeat Dodgers 4-2, MVP Greg Luzinski
What actually happened: A mediocre team in the years prior to 2000, the Sox put everything together for 95 wins in the first year of the new millennium. It helped that the competition wasn't as strong as it could have been: the Yankees won only 87 games, the Mariners were in between Griffey and Ichiro eras (though they did have A-Rod) and the A's weren't quite the Moneyball A's yet. Chicago's pitching staff kind of stunk (remember Mike Sirotka and Jim Parque?), but their lineup was stacked. Magglio Ordonez, Frank Thomas (second in MVP voting), Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko, Herbert Perry, Jose Valentin and Ray Durham all had OPSs above .800.
The Giants had the best record in the NL, and they were led by two superduperstars. Jeff Kent won the MVP and had 33 home runs and 125 RBIs, while Barry Bonds slugged 49 homers. The pitching was just OK. Livan Hernandez was their ace, and that says it all.
Hypothetical build-up: This was the first pennant for the Sox since 1983, though they just missed making it in 1993, when they lost to the Blue Jays by one game in the regular season standings. The Giants were making their first World Series appearance since 1962. In fact, this was the first time since 1991 that the Braves didn't make the World Series.
Alternate World Series: The Giants opened the series with a bang, beating the Sox 10-4 in Game 1. Game 2 was a shootout, as both Sirotka and Shawn Estes couldn't go three innings. The Giants won 12-9 after Keith Foulke blew a save in the ninth. The Sox led by one, but the heart of the Giants order scored four runs in that frame, highlighted by homers by Ellis Burks and Rich Aurilia.
After blowing the first two at home, the Sox won Game 3 in San Francisco. James Baldwin pitched seven shutout innings and Thomas and Ordonez went deep in an 8-0 victory. Rich Aurilia played the hero in a pivotal Game 4. Despite a 4-0 lead to start the game and a 8-6 lead in the eighth, the Sox couldn't close out the Giants. Aurilia hit the game-tying two RBI single, and then hit the walk-off solo shot in the 10th for a 9-8 victory.
Yet the Sox didn't give up so easily. Facing elimination in Game 5, and facing a 1-0 deficit in the ninth, the Sox scored two runs after two critical Aurilia errors. They held on to win 2-1. The Sox also won Game 6 to force a Game 7 at home.
Chicago completed the comeback in the final game. Trailing by two in the eighth, the Sox scored three runs to take a 6-5 lead. After Foulke blew the save, Chris Singleton entered Chicago lore by hitting a walk-off, bases-loaded single to right field to score Ordonez and win the series.
The White Sox were extremely close to elimination, but stormed back to win the title in one of the most unbelievable ways possible. If this series actually happened, it would go down as one of the best ever. I'm sure Singleton wishes this was so.
White Sox defeat Giants 4-3, MVP Ray Durham
What actually happened: This was the famous wire-to-wire year for the White Sox. They won 99 games and spent every day of the season in first place. The team used a balanced attack of small ball mixed with slugging for solid offensive output, and the pitching handled the rest. Four starters (Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras) had ERAs under four and pitched over 200 innings.
The St. Louis Cardinals were a game better, winning 100 games. Albert Pujols won his first MVP award and hit 41 home runs with a slash line of .330/.430/.609. Jim Edmonds, Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker all had fine years as well. Chris Carpenter won the Cy Young with a 2.83 ERA in 241 innings.
Hypothetical build-up: Looking at the alternate pennant list, the Cardinals made the World Series in 2004 against the Yankees. Let's say... [flips coin]... they won. St. Louis was looking for their second title in as many years, and the Sox wanted their first since 2000, when they had an almost entirely different roster.
Alternate World Series: Game 1 is a classic. Jermaine Dye smacked a three-run homer in the third for a 4-0 lead, but the Cardinals clawed their way back and force extras. In the 14th, Pujols hit a homer that barely cleared the right field wall, and the Cards go on to win 5-4. In Game 2, Chicago jumped up 6-1, with thanks to a double by Dye and a homer by Carl Everett. Mark Buehrle pitched all nine innings and the Sox win 6-5 to even the series.
St. Louis took Game 3 4-1 in an unremarkable contest. The lowlight came in the eighth when the Sox, down three, loaded the bases with no outs, but can't drive anyone in. The Sox evened up the series in Game 4. Paul Konerko hit a three-run shot and the bullpen closed out a 4-3 victory. The Cardinals answered back in Game 5, as Carpenter pitched eight great innings (one run, four hits, 11 strikeouts) and Pujols hit a killer three-run double in the eighth for a 5-1 win. Unfazed, the Sox get 15 hits and score seven runs to win Game 6 and force a seventh game.
Game 7 turned out to be a good one... if you were a fan of the home team. The Sox won the game and the series in convincing fashion. Jon Garland pitched the game of his life, hurling a complete game, three-hit, 10K shutout. Chicago scored six runs, and that was more than enough.
The White Sox were champions again, in yet another classic Fall Classic. They had just won their third title in 22 years, quietly becoming one of the most successful franchises in baseball.
White Sox defeat Cardinals 4-3, MVP Jon Garland
• The White Sox won it all in 1983 and 2000, and still won in 2005 (though in a more thrilling way).
• Countless older Sox fans got to see their team win a title once in their lifetimes.
• The Sox went 66 years in between titles, instead of 88.
• Fernando Valenzuela pitched the second-most impressive World Series game ever.
• Rich Aurilia's two errors in the ninth inning of a closeout Game 5 in 2000 make him the biggest goat in the game's history. Bill Buckner quietly pops champagne.
• Chris Singleton is a World Series hero.
• So is Jon Garland.
• Losing seasons after 2005 are a little more tolerable.
Obviously, this isn't a perfect re-conceptualization. But it's still fun to think of the Sox as three-time champions. Sometimes it's just fun to daydream.