South Side Hitmen: The Story of the 1977 Chicago White SoxDan Helpingstine (Author), Leo Bauby (Photographer)
By self-admission, the 1977 Chicago White Sox couldn’t catch, run, or throw; and only on occasion could they pitch (no starter had an ERA under 4.00). Some felt unwanted and unloved by past teams. Two were told by skeptics that they didn’t even belong on the field. Yet it was these qualities that made them one of the most entertaining teams in franchise history. They didn’t bunt to move runners along, steal bases to distract the opposing defense, or turn the double play. They just hit and hit until demoralized opponents cried uncle. They didn’t win the World Series or even a division title. They couldn’t be called champions, but they lived up to another title. They were the South Side Hitmen. Team owner Bill Veeck transformed a hapless 1976 ball club into contenders and big-time draws at the ticket box. New acquisitions Oscar Gamble, Richie Zisk, and Eric Soderholm led the team to a franchise record 192 home runs, while legendary broadcaster Harry Caray led Comskey Park fans through the seventh-inning stretch. The White Sox won 90 games (lost 72) that season (including 22 in an amazing month of July) and finished first in the hearts of baseball fans across the city’s South Side.
An awesome book chronicling a surprising yet memorable season of baseball on Chicago's South Side, full of Falstaff beer, softball-type uniforms with big wide collars, more Bill Veeck fan promotions than you could shake a stick at, astounding home runs from "rent-a-players" Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble, not to mention exciting play from favorites Jim Spencer, Steve Stone, Lamar Johnson, Wilbur Wood, Chet Lemon and Eric Soderholm ("the Poet Laureate of the White Sox"), and the beginnings of Comiskey Park organist Nancy Faust leading the "Na-Na Hey-Hey Goodbye" chant that Sox fans partake in to this day. Helpingstine provides a very informative narrative here, and this book contains one of the most bountiful collections of photographs you'll find from the mid-70s White Sox (most of which were generously provided by Leo Bauby). My favorites among these are a rare photograph of broadcaster Harry Caray with colleague Mary Shane (the first female play-by-play announcer in Major League history... her time in the White Sox booth was limited to the '77 season only), a photo of a Kansas City Royals player confiscating a fan's banner reading "WELCOME ANNUAL PENNANT CHOKERS", a picture of pitcher Terry Forster in the infamous shorts the Sox wore in an August, 1976 game (yes it was from the previous season but the photo still fits here), and a VERY rare photograph of Harry Caray with the Falstaff Beer mascot "Holy Cow". Unfortunately a division championship wasn't meant to be, and one by one the Hitmen moved on (the book closes with a list chronicling "the dismantling of the South Side Hitmen" and all the trades and losses to free agency). Despite that, the magic of the South Side Hitmen lives on with White Sox fans everywhere and this book captures everything we cherish from that one wild, wacky summer.
In total I had to create 26 Custom Cards to finish off the team set thanks to all of the trades and signings that Bill Veeck made !
Squires played for the Chicago White Sox primarily as a first baseman from 1975 and 1977 to 1985. Squires was best known as a defensive player, often coming on in late inning situations when the White Sox had a slim lead. He did not have the typical power associated with a corner infielder, never hitting more than two home runs in a season. Nonetheless, he was a valuable member of the White Sox of the early Tony LaRussa era, particularly in their 1983 AL West championship run. He is best known as the guy who caught and played third base as a fill in even though he threw lefty. He won a gold glove in 1981. In '77 he saw action in 3 games and went hitless in 3 AB's This card was created by using a photo from an 8x10 glossy that I found while doing a Google search.
"Naha" was a phenom who flew through the Phillies system until he hit a bottleneck at AAA thanks to the fact that the Phightins had an All-Star starter in Bob Boone and a former All-Star as a backup (Tim McCarver). Bill Veeck had a keen eye for hidden talent and drafted "Naha" off of waivers from the Phillies. In '77 he would get into 7 games and hit .261 with a homer and four RBI's. In '78, his only full season as a starter behind the plate, he would hit .236 with 8 homers in 108 games. The rest of his career he would bounce around with 4 other franchises and finish with a .241 lifetime average. This updated card was originally going to be created using his 1979 Topps card photo, but at the last minute I found a signed 8x10 while Google searching another player. Go figure...
After 2 full seasons as a starter for the Brewers Coluccio was dealt to the Chisox for Bill Sharp in May of 1975. Never more than a .225 hitter, Collucio dipped to .205 with just 4 homers in 161 AB's before being sent back down to the farm where he didn't exactly tear it up either. He spent the whole '76 season in AAA and only spent 20 games in '77 with the big club hitting a robust .270 in 37 AB's. He was released by the Chisox at the end of spring training in '78, but never played a game for the 'Stros. He was dealt to the Cardinals where he got into 5 games then never played again in the majors. This card was created using an unsigned photo being hawked on Yahoo auctions.
Molinaro's career spanned 18 years, 13 teams and 7 different leagues. He would definitely fit into that class of players that could be defined as a AAAA type. Molinaro made his major league debut for the Detroit Tigers on September the 18th of 1975. Molinaro went to play five more games for the Tigers that season. A return the Majors came a year later in 1977 with the Detroit Tigers for one game. Later, on September 22 of that year, Bob Molinaro was selected off waivers by the Chicago White Sox from the Detroit Tigers. After getting picked up by Chicago, Bob Molinaro would see action in four games for the White Sox in 1977. He returned to the majors for a full season with the White Sox in 1978, before heading back to the minor leagues for the 1979 season, which saw him play for the American Association's Iowa Oaks. Molinaro did have another brief stay in the major leagues in 1979 when he played eight games for the Baltimore Orioles. Once again, he was back in a White Sox uniform, and playing full-time for them in 1980 and in 81. After two years with the Chicago White Sox, he was dealt to the crosstown Cubs. He would finish out his career in 1983 with an 8 game stint back in Detroit. This card was created by using a spring training photo posted on a White Sox fan's website.
1977 marked Dal Canton's final season in a major league uniform. He would go 0-2 with a respectable 3.75 ERA in 8 game (24 IP). His best years were spent in the early 70's as the "long man" in the Royals pen. He also spent time with the Pirates in the late 60's and early 70's. His 11 year career record was 51-49, 3.67. His path to the majors came via an open tryout with the Bucs while he was a 25 year old high school teach in PA. Sadly he would pass away due to Esophageal Cancer in 2008. He was only 66 at the time. This card was created by using an autographed photo on ebay. At the time I didn't understand why it was going for $35. Since learning of his passing I now understand why the value was so high.
When I first saw the name David Frost listed on the Chisox roster I thought, "Isn't that the British dude who interviewed Nixon ?". I immediately realized how stupid a thought that was and realized that this was the journeyman righthander who pitched in 4 games for the Pale Hose during the '77 season. Frost made his major league debut on September 11, 1977 against the California Angels at Anaheim Stadium. He turned in a quality start, pitching 6.1 innings and giving up just two earned runs. He struck out three, walked none, and received a no decision in the 5-4 White Sox loss. His first big league win came a week later in another great start against the Angels, this time at Comiskey Park. He went 7.2 innings, gave up three runs, and won 7-3. He was traded to the Angels on December 5, 1977 in a six-player deal. I searched high and low for a photo of him playing for Chicago and had to settle on his 1981 Topps card photo while with the Angels. A little log airbrushing on the cap would do the trick.
A 2 time gold glover and 6 time All-Star for the crosstown Cubs during the late 60's and early 70's, Kessinger was a late season (Aug 20) acquisition from the Cardinals. For a little more than a suspect minor leaguer the Chisox got a man who could play both middle infield positions. Kessinger, who I did not confuse with Nixon's Secretary of state Kissinger (I'm on a Nixon theme here for some reason), played in 39 games down the stretch and batted .235. In '78 he would play 131 games at short and second and hit .255, which was 3 points over his career average. 1979 would be his final season. Playing in just 56 games and hitting an even .200 Kessinger decided to hang it up after 16 solid big league seasons. He played 12 seasons with the Cubbies and 2 and a half with the Pale Hose. To make this card I took the photo from his 1978 Topps card, which was shot @Comiskey.
Acquired from California at the June 15th trade deadline along with John Verhoeven and John Flannery in exchange for Ken Brett. In 16 games, all out of the pen, Kirkwood posted a 1-1 record with a 5.18 ERA. He logged 40 innings over that stretch. His contract would be sold to the Blue Jays during Spring Training of 1978. This means that he would have a 1978 Topps card with a Chisox uni on. I used that card's photo to create his updated 1977 Topps Card. As you can see the good folks at Topps couldn't scratch themselves out of their NY offices to shoot a new photo. Instead they did do a creditable job on the airbrush, but you can still see that it was touched up.
On September 2, 1977 Veeck snatched Cruz via waivers from the talent deep Dodgers. He would hit .286 in 16 games for Chicago during the month of September, while playing all 3 outfield positions. Given a chance to play more in '78 (53 games), Cruz flopped miserably hitting just .221. He returned to Iowa (AAA affiliate of Chicago) and never returned to the majors. After his final season in the minors (1981) he would play 4 more years in the Mexican league. This card was created using his 1978 Topps card photo, which featured a decent airbrush job.
Hairston spent 14 seasons at Comiskey during two tours of duty. A the height of his powers he was a part time oufielder and DH. For most of his career he was a pinch hitter, due to the fact that he was a clutch hitter who's lack of power kept him out of the everyday line up. He started the '77 season by playing 13 games with the Chisox and hitting .308, before being sold to Pittsburgh. After the season concluded he headed south of the border to Durango, Mexico to play in the Mexican league for 3 years. Hairston would return to the Chisox from Mexico in 1981 and play on the south side for parts of the next 9 seasons. He batted .265 as a pinch hitter during his 14 year MLB career. Known today as the dad of major leaguers Scott and Jerry. This card was created with an autographed 8x10 glossy that I found on ebay that was clearly taken during the '77 season.
A career minor leaguer who's full major league resume consisted of 7 games with the Chisox during the '77 season. Flannery was 0 for 2 with a walk in 3 plate appearances. His .228 career average in the minors is further evidence as to why he never cut it as a major leaguer. This card was created by using a minor league card of his that I found on ebay. I was not shocked at all that I wasn't able to find any pictures of him in a White Sox uni, since he only had a 7 game MLB career.
After arriving on June 15th as a part of the Ken Brett trade, Verhoeben appeared in 6 games (10 innings) and had a 2.61 ERA. He would spend the next 2 seasons on the farm before moving over to Minnesota where he pitched in almost 70 games in relief during the 1980 and 1981 seasons. This airbrush picture comes from his 1978 Topps card.
Not to be confused with Larry Andersen, the slider specialist. This Larry Anderson appeared in a grand total of 16 major league games over the course of 3 seasons. After spending parts of two non-descript seasons in Milwaukee he was taken by the Blue Jays in the '77 expansion draft. He never pitched for Toronto and was sent to the Chisox in January for catcher Phil Roof. He would appear in 6 games, all in relief, for Chicago and post a 1-3 record with a huge 9.35 ERA. He would not make another major league appearance after 1977. Topps created 2 rookie panel cards for him (77 and 78). This photo, however, was taken from one of the many teams he appeared on. He was dealt in August to the crosstown Cubs in exchange for Steve Renko.
Lead the Chisox in ERA (2.46) and saves (25) on the heels of 66 appearances (98 innings). LaGrow enjoyed his finest season in baseball in 1977. He started '78 as the White Sox closer only to falter and lose his job. 11 games into the '79 season he was sold to the Dodgers, who were hoping to catch lighting in a bottle. LaGrow performed admirably (5-1, 3.41), but was not resigned. He would join the Phillies during their 1980 championship season, but was released on July 17th. This photo comes from his 1979 Topps card.
Nyman had his big chance on the South Side of Chicago in 1975. Playing in 106 games he hit just .226 with only 2 homers, while playing all 3 outfield positions. He hit only .133 in '76, in just 8 games with the parent club, which would explain why Topps didn't even bother to issue him a card in the '77 set. Speaking of '77 he played in just 1 game and had just 1 hitless at bat during that season and never again returned to the majors. I took his 1976 Topps card and changed the color of the Sox uni and cap from Red to dark blue. I didn't redo the logo, basically because it wasn't worth working on due to his lack of activity.
The prototypical "South Side Hitman", Gamble came over to the Chisox in a deal that sent Bucky Dent to the Yankees in exchange for him and LaMarr Hoyt. Talk about a deal where both teams benefited. Gamble became expendible in New York when Reggie signed his big free agent contract. In 137 games as a DH/Outfielder Gamble hit .297 with 31 homers and 83 RBI's. In his 17 year big league career he would hit 200 homers and hit a solid .265. He is best know for having the the coolest afro ever sported by a major leaguer. Oscar's 'fro was so big his cap looked like a little beanie place on top of it. His original '77 card came with him pictured in a Yankee uniform. This card was created with a signed 8x10 photo found while doing a Google search. On a side note, the Chisox originally didn't want Hoyt in the deal. They were holding out for a skinny lefty named Guidry instead. When the Yanks wouldn't budge Veeck did the deal anyway.
Zisk sent all of 1 season playing in the South Side of Chicago, but that season was arguably the best of his career. Being part of the fabled "South Side Hitmen" afforded Zisk the ability to see good pitches all year. In 141 games he hit 30 homers and led the team with 101 RBI's to go along with an above average .290 season average. Zisk would be elected to teh All-Star team for the first of 2 consecutive seasons. He would sign in '78 with Texas as a free agent. He would hit 207 homers and bat .287 in his 13 year career, which saw him collect 1,477 hits. His final 3 seasons would be spent solely as a DH in Seattle. This card is a scanned copy of his 1977 Topps "Cloth Sticker" card. It is quite blurry due to the cloth it was printed on. It is a zoomed in version of his original Pirates card + the horrible Topps airbrushing.
This card was created using Zisk's 1977 Hostess card. It was obviously taken in the same photo shoot as his regular card. This is a better air brush version than Topps' cloth issue. The White cap looks a bit more realistic airbrushed than the blue one from the cloth offering. For the record, Zisk arrived in Chicago as part of an off season trade where the Chisox sent relievers Goose Gossage and Terry Forster to the Pirates of him and up and coming pitcher Silvio Martinez.
Not wanting to see Zisk's '77 card be an airbrush I finally found an actual picture of him at Comiskey in a Sox uniform. Zisk is definitely wearing Chicago's home "whites" along with those horrible colors. Still it is cool to finally give this "South Side Hitman" a '77 card with a clean photo. Richie Zisk hit two of the most memorable Comiskey Park blasts among his 30 on the season. The first was the fifth all-time shot to the center field bleachers, on May 22 vs. the Detroit Tigers, and the second was the seventh all-time roof shot by a White Sox player, on June 4 vs. the Yankees.
Stillman was a utility player that the Chisox signed as a free agent during the off season. After playing parts of 2 seasons in Baltimore (23 games) and not distinguishing himself, he was let go uncermoniously. In 56 games for the Chisox during the '77 season he hit .210 while playing right, left and some first base. H had 3 homers and 13 RBI's. He was released at the end of spring training during the following season (1978). He was a career .303 hitter in 11 seasons in the minors, but just couldn't make the step up to the majors. The photo used here comes from his 1978 Topps card taken at Yankee Stadium.
21 year old Silvio Martinez just wasn't ready for the Big Show in 1977. After arriving with Zisk from Pittsburgh he say action in 10 games out of the pen and finished up with an 0-1 record with a 5.57 ERA. At the end of the season he was sent to St. Louis as the player to be named later to complete the Clay Carroll deal. Martinez would find his stride in St. Louis and have two rock solid season in 1978 (9-8, 3.64) and 1979 (15-8, 3.27). Arm troubles would catch up to him in 1980 and after the 1981 season his career was over, before he hit his 26th birthday. I took his 1979 Topps Card and airbrushed out the Cardinal cap and changed the colors on the piping of his jersey from Red to Dark Blue. I cut and pasted a new cap on top of his awesome 'fro.
Desperate for any sort of stating pitching the Chisox dealt seldom used Larry Anderson and cash to the crosstown Cubbies for 9 year veteran Steve Renko. In 8 starts down the stretch Renko was 5-0 with a 3.54 ERA, which easily was the best set of numbers for a White Sox starter. His say in Chicago would be short lived. He was dealt after the season to Oakland. His best seasons were with the expansion Expos form 1969-1976, where he had a sub .500 record, but he did win 15 games twice. This photo comes from his '78 Topps card.
A career utility infielder, who played for 5 franchises, Nordbrook played in just 15 games for the White Sox in 1977. Hitting just .250 and not being a regular, Nordbook was expendable and his contract was sold to the Blue Jays in late August. In 169 career at bats he recorded just 2 extra base hits (double & triple). His .238 career minor league average was not much better than his numbers in the majors. The photo used for this card was shockingly found on ebay.
The least famous of he 3 Cruz brothers (Jose, Hector & Tommy), he only appeared in 4 games for the Chisox during the '77 season. He was traded to the Yankees at the end of the season and never again made a Major League appearance. His career stat line reads 7 games played 2 AB's, 2 runs and no hits. He hit an even .300 with 55 homers on the triple A level in 7 seasons for 4 different chains. It was almost impossible to find a picture to use. I had to search high and low until I found this black and white closely cropped head shot. It was taken with him wearing a Cardinal cap. I airbrushed out the STL logo and pasted the "SOX" logo instead. I colorized his face, but didn't bother to work on anything else due to his lack of playing time.
Nordahagen was originally drafted by the Yankees in 1968 then proceeded to spend the next 8 years burried in the minors in 5 organizations (NYY, ATL, STL, PHI & CHW). Finally in 1976 at the advanced age of 27 he got his first "cup of Joe" with the big club, but did not impress anyone with his .189 average in 61 plate appearances. He would be called up in '77 for an encore and became a key member or Chicago's bench hitting .315 in 124 AB's. His flexibility in the field (all 3 OF positions & catcher) made him a valuable commodity. He followed that up by hitting .301 the following season in 206 AB's. He would hit .287 with 37 homers in 6 years of part time work in Chicago as as a "super sub". Curiously he was traded in 1982 for the same player (Dick Davis) twice. He is also the uncle of former Red Sox star Kevin Millar. I used his 1979 Topps card to create this updated 1977 card.
Future White Sox manager Tony La Russa was traded to the Cardinals for pitcher Randy Wiles, who appeared in five games for the White Sox and never again played in the Majors. On August 23, 1977 the Cardinals claimed him back from Chicago on waivers. Wiles 1977 and for that matter career record was 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. He gave up 5 hits and 3 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings of forgetable work. The photo used here was taken while he was at AAA, while in the Cardinal system. It was originally black and white, so I colorized it and then pasted on a new cap that looked like it matched up well.
...Next up, the 1977 Baltimore Orioles.