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


  1. Man, you’re even banning Shoeless Joe from this? Harsh. Though to be fair, I was surprised to discover that he played longer–and better–in Cleveland.

    As far as the pre-Melton donger king…well, I’m going with Minnie Minoso. Partly that’s because he played so long (an incredible four different tours with the Sox!), partly because, as you say, it’s difficult to think of any serious home run threats before Fisk, and partly because I really want the answer to be Minoso.

    Though Dick Allen played for a few years towards the end of his career, and won an MVP. So it’s probably him.

  2. Bill James has Joe Jackson as the 6th best left-fielder of all-time, but Minoso isn’t far behind at 10th, and he was a (really long) lifelong member of the team while Jackson, as you point out, was really more of a Cleveland Indian.

    It seems somehow fitting, given the unassuming nature of the team, that arguably the three greatest players in their history, Eddie Collins, Jackson, and Fisk, are all also strongly associated with other teams.

    And yes, Minoso had the meager all-time homer record before Melton. (Dick Allen was Melton’s contemporary.)

  3. I kind of forgot that the White Sox primary color for about 5 years in 70’s was Red. Also what was with that huge shoulder number the White Sox used to wear? That always seemed to belong on a football jersey not a baseball jersey.

    The White Sox were actually one of the better teams during the first two decades of the 20th century. The Black sox “banishment” really killed that franchise for about 35 years.

    The early 90’s White Sox are kind of forgotten but they were a very good team with Thomas, Ventura, Raines, Mcdowell, and an aging Carlton Fisk.

    Ventura was a very underrated player during his career. He’s one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball history plus he was a good hitter. He literally should have won 10 gold gloves. He should be considered a borderline HOFer.

  4. I’m tempted to edit my ballot and insert Hoyt Wilhelm for Bobby Jenks. I was giving Jenks credit for being the closer during the World Series run, but if memory serves the amazing thing about that run was all the complete games by the starters. Also, the well-traveled Wilhelm was in his weird late prime with the White Sox, I think.

  5. Frank Thomas was healthy for about a month in 2005, but he didn’t play in the postseason. Other than him, Buehrle is probably the closest thing to a Hall of Famer that team had.

    Another member of your team, Harold Baines, is also somewhat strongly associated with another team. He was inducted into the Orioles hall of fame last weekend.

  6. There was a book about White Sox history written in the early 1980’s that was entitled “Who’s on Third?” to underline how bad their 3B history was.

  7. I know how crazy this may sound, but Buehrle is a future Hall of Famer.

  8. ““Bill is the all-time leading Homer hitter in White Sox history.””– Gosh, that’s depressing.
    It’s funny how the White Sox had basically no superstars since Joe Jackson (sorry, Luke Appling) up until Frank Thomas did his Ted Williams impersonation. Then they kind of went back to no superstars. Mark Buehrle might be the ultimate good-but-not-quite-great White Sox.

    I remember looking at the White Sox in my APBA “All Time Franchise” cards and saying, “That’s IT??” It makes me respect the White Sox’s fans, though. To be a White Sox fan, you have to really want it.

    Speaking of Hoyt Wilhelm, I recently looked him up, and oddly, he had one great year as a starter (lead the league in ERA in 1959), then started about 11 games the next season and was back to the bullpen. Imagine that happening now?? Never.

    I love those ’76 cards (I remember reading it was considered one of the best sets Topps ever did) but I can’t used to seeing the White Sox in red.

    And Josh…you’re not really going to put Harold Baines in right, are you?

  9. ys0023:
    You could be right about Buehrle, but he’d have to stick around for a while longer, and I think I’ve heard he’s already eyeing early retirement (so as to spend more time with the family, etc.).

    About Baines: He actually played a lot of games in right before settling in as the DH. He had a pretty good arm, at least.

  10. Imagine my shock to see Harold Baines actually started 23 games IN CENTER! Yikes! I have utterly no memory of him as anything but a DH.

  11. White Sox fan for 30-plus years. It was always strange to see those old Baseball Digest franchise top 10 lists every winter. The leaders in home runs were guys like Foxx, Ruth, Greenberg … Melton. I think Pete Ward was in the top five or six for a while and he didn’t crack the 100 mark.

    Bill was the first White Sox player to hit 30 homers in a season, and that happened in 1970. He did it again the next year and led the league, the first time a Sox player led in the “modern” era. I made a Little League all-star team that same year, and Melton, picked for the ’71 AL team, said it was the first time he’d ever made an All-Star team. Neither of us ever made another.

    Baines was a fine all-around player until his knees went in the late ’80s. He was no slowpoke DH. He could run, handle the field pretty well and as Josh pointed out could definitely throw.

    Yes, it’s an embarrassing list, but I agree with Josh’s choices with the Wilhelm revision save one. Big Ed Walsh should be in there ahead of Lyons. In the mythical league of All-Time Franchise All-Stars I’d put the White Sox pitching against almost anyone’s. Of course they’d have to win most of their games 1-0 or 2-1 in cavernous Comiskey.

  12. With all the talk about 3rd base, no one’s pointed out the lackluster history of White Sox centerfielders. I’ll grant that Jim Landis won a lot of gold gloves, but with a Sox career batting average of .250, you’d think the franchise could do better. I spent some time on retrosheet.org (where I spend too much time), and came up with the definitive list of guys who’ve been the regular White Sox centerfielder in at least five seasons. In reverse chronological order, they are
    Lance Johnson, 945 games
    Jim Landis, 1063
    Johnny Mostil, 972
    Happy Felsch, 749
    Fielder Jones, 1153.
    None of these guys is ever going to come near Cooperstown (most would be stopped at the Pa.-N.Y. border), but I think you have to make the case for Johnny Mostil ahead of Landis. .301 batting average as a White Sox (White Sock?) with higher on-base and slugging percentages too.
    Felsch would have had a shot too, if he had kept playing a few more years instead of being involved in the 1919 scandal.

  13. jt60:
    I almost put Ed Walsh on my ballot, too, since he’s got better numbers than Lyons, but I ultimately deferred to Lyons because of his more prominent status with the team (mainly, he’s got his number retired). But if a White Sox fan has Walsh ahead of Lyons, I’m on board with that.

    Good call on Mostil. It’s pretty close, and Bill James has Landis ranked a little higher on his list of centerfielders, but apparently Mostil was, like Landis, an excellent fielder, and he seems to have been a little better as a hitter. James explains that his promising career took a precipitous dive after he attempted suicide.

    As for “White Sox (White Sock?)”: I think the The Boston Globe uses the style of using “Red Sox” (and White Sox) as both plural and singular (like “deer”).

  14. Wow, did not know about Mostil’s suicide attempt. And it came after his best season. A little research courtesy of Google indicates there are several theories, some saying that he was in a great deal of physical pain from various ailments, others suggesting a romantic triangle. In any event, he missed most of the 1927 season due to his wounds, but was a regular again in 1928. Then broke his ankle in 1929 and never played in the big leagues again. He managed in the minors for a while, and lived on into his 70’s. He never married. Once you’ve run through your collection of cardboard, maybe you should use subjects like him.

  15. “Wow, did not know about Mostil’s suicide attempt. ”

    I remember Bill James (I think it was in his Historical Abstract) had a list of players who committed suicide from 1900 to 1920 and the list was stunningly long, about twenty, if I recall correctly. Combine that with the alcohol abuse (the appalling stories of which I think most of us are familiar, most strikingly Rube Waddell) and you can’t help but realize those guys lived in a vastly different, worse, world 100 years ago. I’ll take the steroid stories any day.

  16. I had a gut reaction to that last about omission of a certain SS-2B tandem that…. played for the Tigers! Ooops. Yes, well, the Sox changed their colors too many times and I had the black and white uniforms in mind when I munged, momentarily, the image of Trammel and Whittaker and which team they played for. What’s funny is that I have a Sox cap that I used to wear as a kid, and it was in the red-white-blue era of their uniforms.

    I think that mistake in my mind has something to do with the Sox, and something to do with the American League (which I just never followed very closely).

  17. I can’t really argue about selecting Bobby Jenks as the closer, but for sentimental reasons…I think I’d take the original Bobby. Bobby Thigpen. While he only had 5 really solid years…the 57 saves in 1990 always seemed like one of those magical numbers. Kinda like George Fosters 52 HR’s in 1977 and Willie Wilson’s 705 AB’s in 1980.

  18. Well at one point in 1975 it looked like Nyls Nyman was going to be the CF of the future : )

    Just one of my favorite cards from the era….
    Probably the only player to have the first 2 letters of first and last name start with Ny. (come on, im trying to something positive about the guy : )

  19. To follow up on Bill Melton. The Indians tried a big experiment that was quite scandalous at the time in 1977 in Cleveland. They brought in Bill Melton to play third base and then sent Buddy Bell to left field!!

    The experiment failed miserably and Bill played only 50 games. He was CS more than he HR that year.

  20. I will take Bill Melton shoved full of steroids over Robin Ventura on steroids.
    Sadly Bill didn’t take them and career tailed off.
    I did find a pic of him where his doppleganger is Thorny , ozzie nelsons neighbor.

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