The 1977 White Sox -- punting defense


In 1976, the Mariners didn't yet exist.  Neither did the Chicago White Sox: in 1976 the Sox lost 97 games, scored 586 runs (sound familiar?) and allowed 745, and hadn't done anything but lose since the days of Denny McLain and his 30 wins.

So why do Lonnie and I remember a 1977 White Sox team destroying the Mariners, game-in and game-out, and taking two or three curtain calls a game against us?  (Yes, really.  You could look up the curtain call thing.)


=== Rolling Box Cars, Dept. ===

Tired of losing, Bill Veeck decided before the 1977 season that he was going to rent four or five one-year DH's.

He traded Goose Gossage for Richie Zisk, who he installed as left fielder.  This would be exactly like the 2012 Seattle Mariners buying Mark Reynolds and putting him in LF.  Zisk slugged .514 that year with 30 homers and 100 RBI.  Remember, this is the 1970's American League, not the post-1987 era.

He signed Oscar "Dr. Strangeglove" Gamble on a 1-year deal, to play DH and the outfield.  Gamble, coming off a 117 OPS+ for the Yankees, proceeded to slug .588 (!!) for the 1977 Sox.

Veeck did other things.  He signed Eric Soderholm, coming after an INJURED-DNP 1976 season, who OPS+ed 129 at third base.  Veeck installed Lamar Johnson, a good-hit no-field commodity, in a jobshare at first base, telling his coaches to stop whining about Johnson's defense.  And Johnson slugged .500 for them in 400 PA's.

Brian Downing, that era's version of Mike Napoli, played 70 games at catcher and posted a .402 OBP.


=== Punting Defense ===

At BJOL, Bill devised a way to identify the 20th-century teams that won far more games on the field than they did on paper.  The 1977 Sox were one of his 10 biggest overachievers of the century.

How did they do it?  They said, "Well, we can't play defense, so we're not going to worry about it.  We'll give you six and we'll score eight."


It worked, spectacularly.  The White Sox became known as "the South Side Hit Men" and took to jumping out of the dugout for curtain calls.  This led to wonderful relationships with the other AL teams, as you might imagine...

Here is the White Sox offense.  Don't forget Lamar Johnson and Brian Downing, below the gray benchie bar.  You think the unies have anything at all to do with the way Lonnie, MoeDog and I remember the beatings?


=== Said All That to Say This, Dept. ===

If the M's don't sign Prince Fielder, that doesn't mean they have to have a lousy offense.

They can put Casper Wells in center field.  They can put Mike Carp in left field.  

They can acquire Mark Reynolds, or somebody, to play DH.  They can go get a lefty platoon catcher ... oh, wait.  They can put Alex Liddi at third base.  They can sign a second Reynolds type to hit as 10th man, the way Lamar Johnson did for the 1977 Sox.

Granted, we have no idea what that would mean on defense.  We're just pointing out:  you can score runs if you want to.  You'd have to shake off your paradigm paralysis, to do so.


Dr D



Taro's picture

Don't know if its possible to punt defense efficiently anymore. Pure offense is now more valued on the market than defense or all-around play.
But if you're talking about in-house candidates.. Maybe. Not high on Carp myself as a regular so I wouldn't do it, but can understand the argument.
Personally think you're best off putting guys at their best defensive positions unless you have excess.


Loved Veeck.  Hated those unis!
Gamble had bigger hair than Billy Preston, but the guy could flat out hit.  Zisk was one of my favorite players of the era.  Couldn't catch a cold but rattled shots around major league parks with regularity.  Man, Joge Orta was that team's 2B.  He was a bat first/ glove third type of guy, too. He led the league in 2B errors 4 times!  Not many guys remember Downing, but he was a terrific offensive catcher at times.  Ralph Garr played OF like he was on roller skates......on ice.....on drugs.  He could hit, though. That team was lots of fun to watch.
But Veeck blew it when he didn't have Disco Demolition night with that team and THOSE unis.  What a combo that would have been. 
Great thread.
Minus Prince, this team can still ramp up the offensive game.  Reynolds is a relatively cheap bonker ($7M & $11M).  We talked about him last off-season.  I wanted him then.  He's in the Kingman, Balboni, Gorman Thomas, Lance Parrish template.  Those guys were pretty good. Looks like we can get him and not give up much.  If we're out of the Prince game, make it so.  35 homers a year looks pretty nice in the lineup.
Didn't Earl used to talk about "Dr. Longball" and that there wasn't much that a three-run homer didn't cure?
We have three MLB guys right now that fit that bat first template.  Play Wells in CF, or Seager at SS or Liddi at 3B.  Live with the defensive liability (I think they can all play that position) and count the runs they generate. 
I could live with any of those guys playing those positions.  Heck, I've advocated for Wells and Seager to just get the positions for quite a while.  But I could certainly live with Liddi (VERY similar to Reynolds) at 3B and Wells in CF.  How many teams are going to bunt us to death, for goodness sake?
I'm assuming that Carp is a 140 starts guy in LF or DH or 1B or a combo.
I've been revisiting the Seth Smith idea, too, over the last couple of days.  But he probably isn't something you do if Reynolds is coming.  But Smith is a heck of a bat vs. RHP.  Might be expensive, but Z might finesse that, too.
Hadn't thought about it, but I wonder of signing the Japanese SS means that Ryan is tradeable.  Seager as the bat-first SS and the new guy to flash the leather?
Veeck was bold.  He foresaw that Eddie Gaedel would have a a heck of an OBP, despite not having a glove worth a hoot.
Let's hope some of that boldness comes this way, even if Prince doesn't.
If we do get Prince, though.  Let's make sure Z doesn't dip into Veeck's bag of tricks and resurrect the unis.  That might be too wild.


"Punting" defense -
If the M's put Wells in CF and Carp in LF, they would still have Gold Glovers up the middle, at SS and C, as well as in RF.  They would probably have solid defenders at 2B, 1B, and perhaps 3B.  Their DH would play as good a defense as anybody.
We used "punting" a little facetiously.  This plan would involve playing two guys, Wells and Carp, at positions they've played competently.
I agree that there is a lot of impetus towards finding good defensive players.  The idea here was to think for a brief moment about --- > alternatives to the most-common paradigm.  ;- )


Bat first, glove 3rd :- )
Seager at SS would be a radical idea, but it's hard to see where Carp LF or Wells CF is radical.  A bat in CF would be completely within the mainstream, and a bat in LF is what is typical in 21st-century baseball.
Lonnie pointed out that Liddi played 20-some games at SS last year.  A manager doesn't move a 3B to SS unless that guy has realllllly been picking it out there.
What don't you like about Prince Fielder in shorts and a white polo shirt?

Taro's picture

Its possible either could stick. I just think that LF and CF are the worst positions to punt defense in Safeco.
Much better strategy in the infield.


I believe Jack discussed 3b options (including bat-first ones) on the Drayer podcast, and the name he threw into the ring was:
I think he ends up in left, but Z is the one who brought him up for 3b, not the radio folks.

Anonymous's picture

Prince could wear an Indian loincloth for all I care. Might want to offer free shaded glasses to the kids as they come in, though.
But after the Pujols/Wilson signing by the Angels, I wouldn't want to be marketing season tickets for the Mariners if they whiff on Fielder and then are perceived to be doing what they always do, settle for second or third or fourth best. The Indians in Seattle might get a tad restless.
I just hope the M's don't get half pregnant, settling for half-measures that block significant PT for kids that are ready to show what they can do. Sign Fielder and Wright, you go in win now mode and if Carp or Liddie or Smoak are affected it's no big deal. Fail to sign Fielder, you're probably best going into spring training to see what you have with as many kids as possible. If you're not pleased with the kiddie corps before the season starts, you find a trading partner whose spring revealed a surplus.
If the rumor is true (and it may not be) that the M's have outlined an offer of 8 years $220 million including incentives with a full no-trade clause, with a club option on a 9th year, and backloading that would make Fielder higher paid than Pujols in the latter years of the contract, I think most people would agree that this time the Mariners really tried. If that offer won't get it done, you can go back to the fans with head held high and market Felix plus a dynamic set of young players that are ready to start building something special and hope they can win 80 games and flash the potential for more.
Also, you never know what trade opportunities might develop during or after spring training that you can jump on. Some other team might find itself willing to trade a vet with value because one of their kids made a giant leap forward.


Doc, the unindicted co-conspirator in the BALCO scandal, talks about firing up the Bash-O-Tron.

While defense is important, Some days, Eric Wedge may want to fire up the Bash-O-Tron dial to 7 or 8 and deploy Wells and Carp in the outfield.  
What happens when you dial it up to a 10?  Is it safe? surely not.  Is something going to happen?  Good or bad, definitely.  On 10, the ozone of bad defense scorches the green grass of Safeco.  Old ladies walk out, babies cry, and the fans are filled with excitement and dread.  Security moves fans three rows back to the cheaper seats, so that no innocent bystanders are maimed or killed.
The Bash-O-Tron, when turned  to full blast, sends Seager to Shortsop, Liddi to third, and calls Jay Buhner out of retirement to DH.  In addition, Ichiro is instructed to take no swing but Ichi-Bash, which he usually reserves only for batting practice, and is fined for any single or infield grounder.  On a second offense, Ichiro is to forefeit his beloved bat humidor.
On ten, the glove guys are remanded to the clubhouse so that they do not taint the dugout with talk of "contact" or the "hit and run" ore some other like play.
Wedge, if he chooses, can turn on the Bash-O-Tron whenever he wants.  All he has to do is remember to turn it back off when he has a five spot on the board.
The glove guys, once reinstated, can rally behind the nasty bullpen until victory is achieved.


I didn't mean to suggest that Wells in CF and Carp in LF were radical moves.  I see those moves as totally mainstream.  Have advocated such, as you know.
I like Liddi.  I think he has the inside track at 3B.  He's a Reynolds type player, at worst. It isn't really a radical move.  It is, however, the opposite of the typical (lately) M's Endy Chavez, Chone, Wilson X 2, Ryan, Langerhans, glove first or non-bonking move.
He made one error in 110 MLB innings at 3B.  His Fld % was above the league average and his range seemed to be, too.
He's going to K.  But he will dial long-distance 30+ times, too.
Pencil him in.  Bat him 6th or 7th.  Watch him dent the cheap seats.
Seager at SS would be a bit/more/quite radical, I admit.  It would take some cognitive investment for a season, until a GM grew use to him there.  He might not ever grow into even a Jeter with the glove, but he would grow.
Barring a Prince signing, what would a line-up like this do? I would like to watch.
Ichiro RF
Jaso C
Ackley 2B
Carp LF
Smoak 1B
Reynolds DH
Liddi 3B
Wells CF
Ryan SS


Prior to last year, I had him in the Jorge Cantu/Garrett Atkins class of 1B/3B (who could play the outfield, I suppose, but are better off not).  Decent hitter at 3B, not so great elsewhere, but his D makes him a part-timer.
But his year last year is nearly impossible to gauge.  He's hit for a good average with moderate walks and perfectly reasonable Ks in the minors.  But last year his power and average spiked to great heights.  He was tattooing every ball that came near the plate.  
He had a Prime Melvin Mora sort of year.
Is that who he is, or just the year he had?
Jeff Cirillo had the skillset that Catricala has, and Safeco destroyed him.
David Wright has it too, and he survived Shea just fine. 
Catricala is one of the most fascinating players to see this season.  If his D improves like Liddi's did...
Isn't it Spring Training yet?


Certainly if you can consider the lineup with Carp and Wells in the OF, you can consider deploying it in situations... 
Have mentioned before:  Earl would dial the Bash-O-Tron to 10 precisely to snap his ballclub out of a hitting slump -- once out of the slump, he would dry dock it again...
Weird guy, that Earl, factoring confidence and chemistry into his managing...


Great post amigo ... 
BTW, is there any specific place you heard that 8/220 figure? ... if they had put that on the table, and Prince had stiff-armed them, that would be quite a poke in the eye ...

Anonymous's picture

frankly it looks to me like the outline of the kind of offer the M's might have to make if they are all in on Fielder. I only mentioned it as an example of how this time, if the M's whiff on Fielder after making an offer like that, or anything near that, I for one will not in this instance engage in my favorite sport of bashing the Mariners organization for their beancounting ways. They will truly have gone the extra mile to make it happen. It wouldn't be their fault, given that they don't hold Boras' pen.
It is a rumor of a rumor that supposedly has its source from inside the Mariners' organization, but I find it hard to believe that during such a high stakes poker game as the M's are playing that anyone would risk their career with such a leak. And if by some chance Jack were to see a purpose in leaking out just how serious the M's offer has been right before he tells Boras to fish or cut bait, you'd think he'd find a more credible channel for the leak.

Taro's picture

There are situations when it could make sense. Rebuilding and you want to see if either guy can hit and/or stick at the position, slumping offense on occassion, etc.


If Boras refused that number, or even blinked, he's REALLY badly played this hand.
Still think 6 years will be it.


I'm on board with this idea, especially if there's no big bat acquisitions. The M's, as they stand today, are in line for one of the two worst offenses in the AL. Yes, the games haven't been played yet, but you still don't want to head into the season based solely on the premise of "a miracle is possible."
The M's have one of the best ballparks and pitching staffs for preventing runs in the league. They can afford to compromise on defense, and I even believe some of the 'compromises' might not even end up that bad.
If I'm building a lineup entirely in-house, it'd look something like....
C Jaso \ Olivo1B Smoak2B AckleySS Seager3B LiddiLF WellsCF RobinsonRF IchiroDH Carp
Out of Seager, Liddi, Wells, Robinson, and Carp, you probably are going to end up with at least one dud. But all five of those hitters have significant offensive potential, and some breakthroughs in that area is really the M's only chance for this season. We need to get all five into the lineup and hope some of them stick, we know what we're getting from Ryan, Figgins, and company and we already know that will not be enough.


Jaso and Carp having to be included in the category of "let's find out what we've really got here."  It's 7/9 if you include Smoak, 8/9 if you include Ackley.
If the M's are going to play a team full of rookies, I'd much prefer they put the bats in there and see who can hit.
In this case it would not be a guaranteed failure, because there are lots of players to shuffle in and out.
What would you do with Gutierrez there, Justin?

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