Saturday, October 6, 2018

The '83 Sox: When Winning Ugly Was All The Rage

THEY WERE FUN and then they were done. Nowadays they're remembered mostly for what they wore.

But if you woke up in Chicago on this day in 1983 and picked up a copy of the Sun-Times or Tribune, you might have had the sense the hometown White Sox were on the cusp of something rarely seen in the Windy City, a championship.

A day earlier the White Sox had beaten the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, in game one of the best-of-five American League playoffs. On the way, they'd rolled up the best record in baseball, 99-63, largely after being dismissively insulted by Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader.

Champagne days on Chicago's South Side
At the time of his fateful utterance, Rader's Rangers were atop the AL West though the trailing Sox had mounted a modest hot streak. "They're not playing that well," he'd said of his squad's pursuers. "They're winning ugly."

Well.

Well. Well. Well.

On July 6, the White Sox hosted Major League Baseball's All-Star game. Marking the event's 50th anniversary, it had returned to its point of origin on the city's south side, Comiskey Park. The home team's sole delegate was their slugging rookie Ron Kittle.

At 40-37, Chicago occupied third place in the West, 3 1/2 games behind Texas, but in 1983 baseball had no fury like the White Sox scorned.  They went on a 59-26 tear -- a near .700 clip -- leaving the Texans in the dust, 22 games back and in third place behind the Kansas City Royals.

Clad in bold futuristic uniforms later likened to beach blankets, the '83 Sox bashed 157 homers and led the league with 800 runs scored, tallying 4.94 per game. They also topped the AL by striking out 888 times. Kittle slammed 35 homer and drove in 100 runs to lead the charge. The Bull -- Greg Luzinski -- pounded 32 round trippers, knocking in 95. Hall of Fame-bound catcher Carlton Fisk went 26/86/.289, while Sox legend Harold Baines went 20/99/.280.

A 1983 Topps power trio: combining for 78 homers and 280 runs batted in.

They also had one of the best pitching staffs in the game, one that allowed just 650 runs (589 of them earned) while fanning nearly 900 hitters. Their staff ERA of 3.67 was third best in the league.

Their ace was LaMarr Hoyt, whose 24 wins were the most by any starter in the bigs. Right behind him, Sox starter Richard Dotson won 22, while Floyd Bannister won 16 and struck out 193 batters. Rounding out the rotation, lefty Britt Burns, whose career was later cut short by a degenerative hip condition.

The hurlers

Their manager: Tony LaRussa. A year earlier, he'd led them to an 87-75 record, good for third in the competitive AL West, parked behind the division-winning California Angels and the 1980 AL champ Kansas City Royals. It looked like 1983 would be the White Sox year.

And but for Baltimore, it might have been.

The Orioles had had the majors' second best record, just a game worse than the Sox. They also had Most Valuable Player Cal Ripken Jr. and a cadre of talented starting pitchers, Scott McGregor, Storm Davis, Mike Boddicker and Mike Flanagan.

Their good pitching stifled the White Sox hitters. Chicago's 2-1 victory in game one of the ALCS was their high point. Over the ensuing three games, they added just one more run as the Orioles claimed the pennant.

Baltimore went on to defeat the Philadephia Phillies in the World Series, their last championship to date. Hoyt's 24-10 record won him the Cy Young Award. Kittle garnered Rookie of the Year honors. LaRussa was voted AL Manager of the Year. As a group though, these South Siders would never ride as high again.

From the Sox ALCS program: the skipper
LaRussa had two more winning seasons before a tailspin and friction with then-General Manager Ken Harrelson cost him his job midway through 1986. His interim replacement: Doug Rader.

LaRussa was quickly hired by the Oakland Athletics, whom he led to AL pennants in 1988 and '90 with a World Series victory in '89. After winning three more flags and two titles with the St. Louis Cardinals, he was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame.

Hoyt faltered in 1984, falling to 13-18, losing the most games in the league. After that he was dealt to the San Diego Padres for a package of players including future White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, He'd lead them to a Series title as manager in 2005.

While they didn't win it all, the Sox distinctive uniforms and typeface from that era have been part of their lore ever since. Winning ugly never looked so good.

-- Follow me on Twitter @papaerboyarchive

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