On October 8, 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Chicago White Sox 9-3 to win the World Series 4 games to 2. This completed a remarkable turnaround season for the Dodgers who the previous year, their first in LA, had finished next to last the National League.
I’ve written about the 1959 Dodgers in previous posts chronicling the amazing 1959 NL pennant race, but I haven’t discussed the 59 White Sox. Yet they have a place in baseball history for two reasons. First, they were the only AL team other than the New Yankees to win a pennant during the ten-year stretch from 1955 through 1964. Second, they accomplished this despite having an anemic offense as compared to other pennant winners.
The 1959 White Sox scored only 669 runs and hit just 97 home runs. The home run total was the fewest by a pennant winner since the 1948 Boston Braves. But that team scored 70 more runs than the 1959 version of the Pale Hose. Excluding the World War II years, you had to go back to the 1933 New York Giants to find a pennant winner that scored fewer runs. Thus, although the club was known as the go-go Sox, and did indeed lead the majors in stolen bases, its speed hardly compensated for its lack of power (nor, as folks like Bill James have since shown, could it have been expected to).
The White Sox won, instead, because of their pitching. Early Wynn (a Hall of Famer) and Bob Shaw were the best starting duo in the league and Billy Pierce, an ace until 1959, was a strong third starter. Meanwhile, retreads Jerry Staley and Turk Lown became (if I’m not mistaken) the first Major League bullpen combo ever in which both members reached double digits in saves and had ERAs of under 3.00.
The go-go Sox, and in particular their middle infield duo of Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio, quickly captured the imagination of sports writers (and a certain 10 year old) who hated the Yankees and thought power was overrated. The team was slower to win over its astute owner, Bill Veeck. In his book Veeck As In Wreck, the colorful owner confessed that he had been skeptical about his club’s prospects for 1959. A very intelligent man who had been brought up in the game (his father once owned the Cubs), Veeck believed that baseball was about “pitching and power,” a view that has been shown to be essentially correct. But eventually Veeck’s manager, Al Lopez, convinced him that the 59 Sox were an exception, and so they proved to be.
The White Sox went into the World Series as favorites, I’m pretty sure. The Dodgers had won fewer games (only 86, not counting the two playoff wins, compared to 94) and had a worse run differential (only 35 compared to 81). It looked as if the White Sox had caught a break by facing LA instead of Milwaukee, whose run differential was 101. (You could argue that the Dodgers also caught a break by getting Chicago instead of the Cleveland Indians, whose differential of 99 was better than Chicago’s, but not statistically significantly so).
The Chicago pitching staff also seemed ideal for the post-season, especially a post-season that consisted of only the World Series. The top three Dodgers starters (Drysdale, Podres, and Craig) were nowhere near the quality of Wynn, Shaw, and Pierce, while their top reliever, Clem Labine, had pitched to an ERA of nearly 4.00.
If the Dodgers had any advantage in the pitching department it consisted of three quality arms among its secondary pitchers — Sandy Koufax, Larry Sherry, and Stan Williams — plus a manager in Walter Alston who was a master at plugging them in as the situation dictated. That, in fact, proved to be the key to victory in a rather intriguing World Series about which, more later.
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