Retired numbers: Chicago White Sox

11 former stars have been honored; who will make it an even dozen?

A few of America’s old-line ballclubs are relatively stingy when it comes to honoring their past heroes.

The Oakland Athletics, Chicago Cubs, and Baltimore Orioles come immediately to mind. All three franchises are at least 121 years old — the Cubs are senior in the group at 146 — yet each has retired the numbers of only six former stars. All three teams have ignored several obvious (and deserving) candidates.

The Chicago White Sox have no such problem. The Sox, who just finished their 121st season, have saluted 11 of their greatest players and managers by pulling their jerseys from circulation. Only nine of the 30 big-league clubs have reached double digits in this category, and the White Sox are among them.

The pool of candidates for future honors on the South Side of Chicago is consequently small, as we’ll see in this, the 29th biweekly installment of my team-by-team review of retired numbers. We’ll ponder a few relevant names below.

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White Sox’ numbers already retired

Here, in numerical order, are the 11 former White Sox whose numbers have been retired:

No. 2 Nellie Fox (1950-1963) is the team’s career leader for triples (104), and he ranks second for plate appearances (9,493) and hits (2,470). The second baseman topped the American League in hits four times, and he was named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1959, the year the White Sox won their first pennant in 40 years.

No. 3 Harold Baines was a right fielder and designated hitter during three stints in Chicago (1980-1989, 1996-1997, 2000-2001). He holds sixth place on the franchise’s all-time list for hits (1,773) and eighth for runs scored (786). Baines qualified for four All-Star teams with Chicago, and he wears a White Sox cap on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Nobody played more frequently for the White Sox than No. 4 Luke Appling (1930-1943, 1945-1950), who appeared in a total of 2,422 games. The shortstop won a pair of AL batting titles, hitting .388 in 1936 and .328 in 1943. He remains the club’s overall leader for wins above replacement (WAR) at 77.6 and hits at 2,749.

No. 9 Minnie Minoso wore a White Sox uniform in 12 different seasons spanning four decades (1951-1957, 1960-1961, 1964, 1976, 1980), primarily as a left fielder. His on-base percentage of .397 is the fifth-highest in club history, and his speed has been virtually unmatched. Minoso led the league in triples and stolen bases three times apiece.

No. 11 Luis Aparicio spent 10 seasons with the White Sox (1956-1962, 1968-1970), sandwiched around five years in Baltimore. The shortstop ranks among the Sox’ top 10 players in several categories, including second for stolen bases (318), seventh for runs (791), and eighth for hits (1,576). He won nine Gold Gloves in all, seven in a Chicago uniform.

No. 14 Paul Konerko started his career with Dodgers and Reds, but found a home in Chicago (1999-2014). The first baseman blasted more than 30 home runs in seven seasons and reached triple digits in RBIs six times. He played 2,268 games for the Sox, topping everybody but Appling. His 2,292 hits are third in club history, trailing only Appling and Fox.

No. 16 Ted Lyons (1923-1942, 1946) won 260 games, the most by any pitcher in White Sox history. He’s also the team’s all-time leader in games started (484), innings (4,161), and complete games (356). Lyons ran up 70.5 WAR, putting him second only to Appling in that rating of overall quality.

No. 19 Billy Pierce struck out 1,796 batters in 13 seasons in Chicago (1949-1961), a total unsurpassed by any other White Sox pitcher. Pierce’s 186 wins and 2,931 innings put him fourth in those respective categories. He led the American League in earned run average (1.97) in 1955 and in wins (20) in 1957.

No. 35 Frank Thomas was a feared slugger during his 16 years (1990-2005) as a first baseman and designated hitter for the Sox. He topped 30 home runs eight times in Chicago, peaking at 43 in 2000. He ranks third on the team’s all-time list for WAR (68.3), and he’s the overall leader for home runs (448), extra-base hits (906), and slugging average (.568).

Only six pitchers have started more than 300 games for the White Sox, and No. 56 Mark Buehrle (2000-2011) is among them. Buehrle ranks fourth in franchise history for starts (365) and fourth as well for strikeouts (1,396). The workhorse led the American League in innings pitched in 2004 and 2005. He also won three Gold Gloves while in Chicago.

No. 72 Carlton Fisk will forever be linked to the Red Sox in the public mind, based on his heroics for Boston in the 1975 World Series. Yet Fisk played a majority of his 2,499 games not for the Red Sox, but during his 13 years with the White Sox (1981-1993). The catcher ranks fifth on Chicago’s all-time list for homers (214).

White Sox’ candidates for retired numbers

Who remains to be honored? The Sox, to be fair, have done a very good job of saluting their heroes, though a few possible candidates can still be found. Here are six:

No. 13 Ozzie Guillen (1985-1997) was a feisty shortstop who won the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1985, played 1,743 games for Chicago (sixth on the franchise’s list), and finished with the best defensive WAR (21.3) in club history. But his primary claim to fame is his eight seasons as manager of the Sox (2004-2011), capped by a world championship in 2005, the team’s first since 1917.

No. 22 Tony La Russa began his Hall of Fame managerial career as the field boss for the White Sox (1979-1986) before moving on to the Athletics and Cardinals. He won World Series trophies for each of the latter, though not for Chicago. Yet there’s still time. La Russa returned to the Sox’ dugout this year, and he guided the club to the current playoffs. His overall record in Chicago is 36 games above .500.

No. 28 Wilbur Wood (1967-1978) is somewhat of a forgotten figure today, though he was Chicago’s ace pitcher at his peak. Wood led the American League with 24 wins in 1972, then repeated that feat a year later. He won 90 games from 1971 to 1974, the highest total in the major leagues during that span. His 51.7 WAR is the fourth-highest for any White Sox pitcher, surpassed only by three Hall of Famers.

No. 79 Jose Abreu has played only eight years for the White Sox (2014-2021), yet the first baseman is already climbing up the charts. Abreu ranks third in team history in home runs (228), sixth in slugging average (.515), and seventh in runs batted in (788). He was the American League’s Rookie of the Year in 2014 and its MVP in 2020.

Eddie Collins ran up 67.0 wins above replacement in his 12-year stretch with the White Sox (1915-1926). That’s the fourth-highest WAR in club history and the highest for anybody whose number hasn’t been retired. (It’s true that Collins played before numerals were affixed to uniforms, but several clubs have retired numberless jerseys to honor players from that era.) The second baseman’s batting average of .331 outpaces everybody but Shoeless Joe Jackson of Black Sox infamy, and his 368 stolen bases are the most in team history.

Ed Walsh (1904-1916) posted superhuman numbers in 1908, his greatest season on the mound for the White Sox. Walsh went 40-15 with a 1.42 ERA that year, starting 49 games and going the distance in 42 of them. He won 195 games in all, the third-highest total for any White Sox pitcher, and his career ERA of 1.81 is the best of the lot.

The outlook

We can dispatch the oldest contenders first. The White Sox released Walsh 105 years ago, and they did the same with Collins a decade after that. Both are Hall of Famers, both are solidly established in Sox history, and both are deserving candidates. But if they haven’t been honored over an entire century, what would inspire a change at this late date?

So let’s strike them from the list. Abreu, of course, has to be eliminated for the opposite reason. He’s still active and presumably won’t be eligible for a retirement ceremony for at least a decade.

That leaves a pitcher and two managers. Other franchises have honored players with statistics of Wood’s caliber, but he’s hampered by the period in which he played. The White Sox of the late 1960s and early 1970s usually found themselves on the wrong side of .500 and never qualified for the postseason. Wood has no connection with moments of glory.

Guillen and La Russa, however, are both associated with sunny moments in White Sox history. The former broke the club’s 88-year World Series drought, and the latter has a decent shot at winning his own title this year.

La Russa’s chances of number retirement may depend on what happens in the next few weeks (or perhaps the next couple of years), but Guillen’s record is already set in concrete. And it’s interesting — isn’t it? — that nobody on the White Sox roster has been issued No. 13 since Ozzie left the dugout a decade ago.

Another retirement ceremony could be coming on the South Side fairly soon.

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