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Braves' bats stir memories of '67 White Sox
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Forsyth County News

 

Thank you, Braves.

Your utter lack of offensive prowess over the past week evoked memories of one of my all-time favorite teams: the 1967 Chicago White Sox.

The Braves scored a measly 2.5 runs per game over their past eight games. They did erupt for five once. Sadly, that game was played so late on Saturday night that few diehards were afforded the opportunity to witness the explosion.

Through their first 49 games, the Braves actually stood fifth in the National League in runs scored, leading to the defensible conclusion that the last week has been a mere aberration.

They rank third in the league in homers and eighth in doubles, so the power is there. They rank 15th in triples and 16th in stolen bases, so the speed is not. And only four teams have struck out more often than the Braves; coupled with their dearth of speed, that’s a sure-fire rally killer.

At least the Braves have 113 games left in which to dial up enough offense to support their excellent pitching and defense.

The ’67 White Sox have no such opportunity. Their offensive numbers are forever etched among the feeblest ever posted by a team that stayed locked in a pennant race.

The Sox hit .225 as a team. They blasted 89 home runs. Total. They scored 531 runs, an average of 3.28 per game.

This is a team whose leading hitters, Don Buford and Ken Berry, each hit .241. Pete Ward supplied what little power existed. He led the club with 18 homers and 62 runs batted in.

Think it’s been frustrating watching the Braves try to muster runs over the past week? Imagine watching that for an entire season.

But, like the Braves, the ’67 Sox had great pitching, and plenty of it. Joel Horlen led the league with an earned run average of just 2.06, and posted a 19-7 record. Imagine. An ERA of two, and he couldn’t win 20 games!

Gary Peters had an ERA of 2.28, and he went 16-11. Tommy John, before his famous surgery, posted a 10-13 record, but had an era of 2.47. The Big Three started 100 games for the Sox.

The bullpen offered no relief to opposing hitters. Bob Locker appeared in 77 games, saved 20, and pitched a staggering 125 innings. His ERA was 2.09.

They also had a 44-year-old knuckleballer by the name of Hoyt Wilhelm. He threw 89 innings in 49 games, with a miniscule ERA of 1.31. Gee, he could probably pitch another five years.

The bullpen also featured another knuckleballer in Wilbur Wood (95 innings, 2.45 ERA) and another veteran in 37-year-old Don McMahon (92 innings, 1.67 ERA.)

The staff threw 24 shutouts and allowed only 491 runs, an average of 3.03 per game.

“What fans don’t realize,” Berry told Mark Liptak of Baseball Almanac in 2005, “is that with the pitching staff we had, the park was tailored towards them. The infield grass was so high that our infielders could get to balls; our pitchers were basically ground ball type guys.

“And the area around home plate was always a swamp. When you stepped in, you could see the water seep up around your spikes. We weren’t that bad of hitters. It’s just that it was very difficult to get ground balls through our infield.

“I remember one day I hit three curve balls hard off Gary Bell, and every single one of them hit that area around home plate and died. I don’t think I could hit a ball any harder, yet I had nothing to show for it. That was frustrating. Bell made all three plays, and he was laughing as I ran down the line!”

A 10-game winning streak at the beginning of May propelled the Sox into first place. Over the summer they would spend 71 days there, battling the Red Sox, Twins, and Tigers in one of the great pennant races of all time.

With a week to play, the White Sox were a half game behind the Twins, due to face the last place A’s and seventh place Senators. They managed to lose five straight and finish in fourth place, three games behind.

The end came in fitting fashion. In the first inning of the final Friday of the season, the Senators’ Fred Valentine lofted a pop foul over by first base. The Sox’ Tommy McCraw couldn’t reach the ball; it fell into a photographer’s bay. Given new life, Valentine knocked in the only run of the game.

The photographer’s bay had just been installed, in order to accommodate NBC cameras in the event that the White Sox hosted the World Series.

Without the bay, and with a little more hitting, the Sox just might have.