Archive for the ‘Bill Melton’ Category

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Bill Melton

September 1, 2010

My grandma came to this country from central Europe as a young mother in 1920. She raised four children (a fifth child died as an infant) and lived to see those four children have eleven children of their own. I was the last of that latter group, and I didn’t get to know her very well before she passed away, but I certainly felt her love, which was so fierce that it scared me. I preferred as a child to relate to inanimate mass-produced Americana, such as this 1975 Bill Melton card, rather than to a stooped old woman with a thick accent who was always trying to get me to eat her frightening Old World food.

That fierce love allowed her to shepherd her family along through the First World War and the death of a child and immigration to America and her husband’s early passing and the Great Depression and another world war that pulled all three of her sons into the service and virtually emptied the continent she came from of her people. After that war, her children began raising children of their own. I recently saw a picture of my grandma at the bar mitzvah of one of the first grandchildren, my cousin Lewie, and the pride emanating from her, even through all these years, was palpable. She stood near the center of the picture, her chin upraised, Lewie beside her, flanked also by her three sons: my father, my uncle Joe, and my uncle Dave.

Joe lived well into his nineties before passing away a few years ago. In the last two weeks, both my uncle Dave and the bar mitzvah boy, Joe’s son Lewie, passed away, too. Dave’s health had been in decline for a while. He was 87. I hope to find the words to talk some more about him, but I don’t really have them now. Lewie’s death was unexpected. He was 59.

Lewie grew up on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. I only got to know him in the past few years, after moving from the east coast to Chicago. He was a big White Sox fan. He was eight when the White Sox won the pennant in 1959—the perfect age to fall forever in love with a team. He had to wait almost a half a century for his team to get back to the World Series. But the waiting was worth it. He lived to see them win it all.

On Sunday, two days after Lewie’s memorial and the same day as Dave’s memorial back east, I went to see Lewie’s team play. The man who holds the team record for career home runs that Bill Melton held for many years, Frank Thomas, was getting his number retired. Thomas cried when he was given the microphone to speak. He seemed to be overwhelmed with gratitude. I found myself thinking about Lou Gehrig’s famous speech from many years ago, when he uttered perhaps the most famous expression of that feeling we all have at least once in a while, when we are seeing clearly: we’re lucky to be alive.

I learned two days earlier that Lewie had had some serious health problems a few years ago, and when he got through them he was so grateful to be alive and healthy that he began devoting his life to volunteer service. He eventually became the President of the Board of Directors of the Service League at Lutheran General Hospital. The memorial service for him was packed with people who felt lucky to have known him.

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Bill Melton in . . . the All-Time Franchise All-Stars

September 4, 2009

Bill Melton 76

I’m going to see Bill Melton’s old team play tonight, a game I’ve had tickets to for months since it’s against my team, the Red Sox. It’ll be my third White Sox game of the summer and eighth or ninth overall. I’m starting to get familiar with the stadium (which is a nice place to see a game so long as you aren’t directly below one of the speakers that boom clips of inane music and ads and electronic clapping sounds every two seconds) and with the White Sox, a team I was and for the most part still am neutral about (and that tonight and for the rest of the weekend I will be virulently against) but that is growing on me in certain ways.

I like the team’s history, specifically the persisting workmanlike quality that seems to have been passed down from generation to generation. They are in that regard the opposite of the other Sox franchise, which except for a dismal lull in the 1920s and early 1930s has sported glittering superstars with gaudy eye-catching numbers, batting titles, Triple Crowns, Cy Young trophies, and even Cy Young himself.

The White Sox, on the other hand, have Beltin’ Bill Melton. As the back of this suitably subdued card points out, “Bill is the all-time leading Homer hitter in White Sox history.” He has since been surpassed by a few others, but for a considerable time Bill Melton was by one significant measure the greatest slugger in franchise history, and he only made the All-Star team once and because of injuries only played for ten years.

The White Sox have, but for one notable exception, always been either just plain bad or, in their sporadic happy moments, a collection of good but not great players. When they won the World Series in 1906, they were known as the Hitless Wonders (team slugging average: .286); when they won the pennant in 1959 they were the Go Go White Sox, a nickname that illustrated their scrappy, slap-hitting, team-oriented style of play; and when they won the World Series in 2005 they did so with a roster devoid, so it seems to me, of a single future Hall of Famer. The only time the franchise departed from script and put together an assemblage of superstars, it backfired horribly, despite the two pennants and a World Series won by the star-studded conglomerate that came to be known as the Black Sox. After that team, which featured All-Time greats such as Joe Jackson and Eddie Collins along with several other well-known premier players (Eddie Cicotte, Happy Felsch, Ray Schalk, and Buck Weaver), was destroyed by a lifetime ban to eight of its members, the White Sox slunk into the shadows for decades, solidifying their persisting identity as a team that does not like to have anyone stand out above the crowd.

It makes picking an All-Time Franchise All-Star team a little different than it would be for a team with a history of boasting marquee stars at each position. We’re not, for example, deciding between Mickey Mantle and Joe Dimaggio when trying to decide on the best centerfielder in White Sox history. But I like that about the White Sox. There’s something populist and human scale about being a franchise that’s been around since the horse and buggy era but that still hasn’t come up with a centerfielder more accomplished than Jim Landis, an outstanding glove man with a cannon arm but hitting stats that are only decent.

Third base has had particularly long periods of complete indistinctness in White Sox history (as pointed out by Bill James in his Historical Abstract in his note about Robin Ventura). From stellar fielder Willie Kamm in the 1920s until the coming of Bill Melton in the late 1960s, they had no one of note. Melton nailed down the all-time franchise spot at third when he became the all-time home run leader (and here’s a trivia question for you, and no peeking: whose team record did Bill Melton break?), but I think I’ve got to go with Robin Ventura as the third baseman on my All-Time White Sox roster, which leaves the team devoid of a representative from the Cardboard God era. This seems wrong, as one thing I’ve always liked about the White Sox is the way they comported themselves during the decade of my childhood, what with their ridiculous huge-collared shirts, and their willingness, for one game at least, to take the field wearing shorts, and their shower in the bleachers for hot games, and above all for Disco Demolition Night. But the White Sox players from the 1970s either didn’t amount to that much or, like Richie Zisk or Oscar Gamble or Chet Lemon, among others, didn’t stick around quite long enough to merit plaques or statues. The White Sox of the 1970s, with Bill Veeck at the controls, were a staggering rabble. The White Sox have always been a rabble.

Anyway, let me know your own choices and/or disagreements over my ballot . . .

C: Carlton Fisk
1B: Paul Konerko
2B: Eddie Collins
SS: Luke Appling
3B: Robin Ventura
LF: Minnie Minoso
CF: Jim Landis
RF: Harold Baines
DH: Frank Thomas
Wild card: (tie) Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio
RSP: Ted Lyons
LSP: Billy Pierce
RP: Bobby Jenks

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