White Sox

‘War on the Diamond’ a gateway to baseball’s crucial year: 1920

War on the Diamond book cover.

By George Castle, CBM Historian
April 23, 2021

Here’s a nugget you likely don’t know. I surely didn’t. The White Sox wanted to trade for young shortstop Ray Chapman from the Cleveland Indians in 1915 before settling for hard-hitting outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Maybe this fact won’t make it into Andy Billman’s upcoming documentary, “War On the Diamond,” about the tragic death of shortstop Chapman after a beaning from the Yankees’ Carl Mays on Aug. 16, 1920 in New York. With a pedigreed ESPN background, Billman displays his Cleveland roots by detailing the hot rivalry between the Indians and Yankees over the next century. You’ll be able to watch his finished product on several platforms, probably including streaming, later in 2021.

But the remembrance of Chapman, only major leaguer to die of an injury on the diamond, opens the door to an even wider look at the world of 1920, perhaps the most impactful season in baseball history this side of 1947.

Just in the “baseballscape,” the relationships include the White Sox, whose roster was stocked with the under-suspicion Black Sox players from the previous year’s World Series. Seven of the eventual Eight Men Out – ringleader Chick Gandil had moved on after 1919 — were suspended by Sox owner Charles Comiskey with three games to go. The Sox, having been locked in a tight race with the Chapman-mourning, yet inspired Indians, for weeks, still had a shot at the American League pennant.

The suspensions collapsed the franchise and consigned the Sox to second fiddle in the Chicago market to the Cubs, a status that was maintained despite the Sox’s revival in their “Go-Go” years in 195 — thanks to superior TV exposure on WGN.

The Chapman tragedy would not have the legs it should have possessed. On the New York end, one outsized personality would instantly transform both baseball into its present long-ball-happy form and the concept of celebrity. Babe Ruth, Boston owner Harry Frazee’s all-time gift to the Yankees, slugged 54 homers, more than any other AL team. No longer would baseball be a pitch-and-putt, low-scoring, below-the-fences sport, with an underpinning of gambling and attempts to fix games.

Ruth immediately paved the way for the Yankees to become baseball’s dynastic franchise. At their performance peaks over the decades, both the Sox and the Indians just were a little short of the Yankees and could count AL pennants on one hand total through 1995.

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Rosey saved his best for last with his support of Swedish Hospital’s women’s center

By George Castle, CBM Historian
December 29, 2020

Jack Rosenberg with a typical pose in the old WGN-TV broadcast booth, ready to work with his trusty manual typewriter.

Jack Rosenberg with a typical pose in the old WGN-TV broadcast booth, ready to work with his trusty manual typewriter.

Jack Rosenberg had to be the ultimate people person with the persuasive touch to book sitting presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan for WGN-TV baseball broadcasts.

But as adept as “Rosey” was for the station for whom he served as the “glue” for sports programming for more than three decades, he was even better when it came to dedicating his good works in memory of beloved wife Mayora Rosenberg.

Rather than simply mourning his beloved Mayora through his 80s, Rosey ensured her social-work career in tough inner-city circumstances would be remembered. Using the phone and pressing the flesh, two of his sublime attributes, the gravel-voiced native of downstate Pekin, Ill. helped spearhead a multi-millions fund-raising campaign for a women’s center at Swedish Hospital (formerly Swedish Covenant) in Chicago.

The value of a women’s center was not taken lightly. For religious or other reasons, many women felt uncomfortable seeing a male physician. At the new center, they could visit a female doctor in welcoming surroundings. Rosey’s involvement and work ethic ensured the project would get done.

Unfortunately, the next time Rosenberg’s name came up in connection with Swedish Hospital was the kind of bad news that 2020 — rivaling 1932 and 1861 as the worst years in U.S. history — has trademarked. Media accounts on Monday, Dec. 28, reported Rosey had died at 94 at the hospital.

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One-time White Sox ‘Mr. Smoke’ Bart Johnson dies at 70 after long career as scout

By  Dr. David J. Fletcher, CBM President

Bart Johnson as a teen-age hard thrower who soon got his "Mr. Smoke" nickname.

Bart Johnson as a teen-age hard thrower who soon got his “Mr. Smoke” nickname.

Bart Johnson, the free-spirited White Sox right-hander from Torrance, Calif. nicknamed “Mr. Smoke” for his 95 mph fastball, died April 22 in Palos Hills, Ill.  He suffered from complications from Parkinson’s disease, with which he was afflicted for a number of years.

The Sox’s No. 1 draft pick in 1968, Johnson, 70, spent 30 years with the organization – 12 as a player and 18 as a scout. He became a lifelong Chicago-area resident, making his home in southwest suburban Oak Lawn with his wife Nora.

The 6-foot-5 Johnson, whose birth name was Clair Barth Johnson, played his entire eight-year MLB career (1969-74, 1976-77) as a Sox, then scouted from 1980 to 1997, discovering future White Sox GM Kenny Williams, among others. He flirted briefly with coming out of retirement in 1985 at age 35 at the urging of Roland Hemond, then Sox GM.

For Sox fans, who had seen the franchise go from narrowly missing the pennant in 1967 to utter free-fall  in 1969-70 with talk of a franchise relocation,  the arrival of Johnson on the scene in late’69 as a 19 year-old provided hope. Johnson was followed to the majors by fellow home-grown  hard throwers in future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage and Terry Forester.

Johnson was touted as a future Nolan Ryan. For two seasons, (1971 and 1974) he was a budding star, but injuries shortened his promising career.

Before he had signed with the Sox after being scouted by George Norga and Doc Bennet, Johnson had considered a career in basketball as he was named to several high school All-America teams.

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Tributes pour in after White Sox play-by-play man Ed Farmer’s death

Tributes are pouring in after White Sox play-by-play man Farmer’s death the other day at 70, having fought the good fight against kidney disease for decades.

Ed Farmer

By George Castle, CBM Historian, April 3, 2020

You always treasure a native Chicagoan rising high in media as sometimes such a status seems a detriment to hiring in a “destination market” like the Second City.

Non-natives hiring non-natives gets expressed in the TV newsperson pronouncing Devon Avenue as “DEE-VON” or the baseball beat writer from Seattle having to spend his entire first season on the job educating himself about Cubs 101.

No worries about Ed Farmer, though. Tributes are pouring in after White Sox play-by-play man Farmer’s death the other day at 70, having fought the good fight against kidney disease for decades.

WGN may brand itself “Chicago’s Very Own” (“Chicago’s Own Television Station” back in the 1960s), but Farmio surely was our “Very Own.” I’d rather have someone not a classic, dulcet-toned announcer work at the top of the food chain if he can talk the city’s language, customs and history.

Farmio may have received brickbats from baseball-broadcast purists for a near-laconic, conversational on-air style, yet status as an authentic Chicagoan overrides these picky details. More specifically, a St. Rita man. The Southwest Side Catholic high school, home to so much athletic success this past century, is such a quintessential representation of the city, an amalgamation of neighborhoods and parishes from which residents drew their identities.

In remembering Farmio, Cubs color analyst Ron Coomer provided a glimpse into the academic and athletic culture of St. Rita that helped shape the former. Coomer, whose early years were spent living near Midway Airport, attended St. Rita his first two years before the family moved to southwest suburban Lockport.

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