The Greatest White Sox Players Of My Lifetime: Position Players Edition
As with any franchise, there are a lot of great players in White Sox history. Many of their numbers adorn the press box at US Cellular Field right now, but let's be honest with ourselves.
While there have been plenty of White Sox greats, the ones that played before you were born don't mean nearly as much to you as the ones you saw with your own eyes.
Yeah, Luis Aparicio was fantastic. His numbers, as well as the words of others, tell me that. But since I never saw him play, he'll never hold a place in my heart like Ozzie Guillen or Alexei Ramirez did. In my mind, those latter two will always be more important shortstops than Aparicio was.
And with Alexei signing with the Padres earlier this week, it got me to thinking about the greatest players the White Sox have had in my lifetime, because I had to believe Ramirez was one of them.
But where did he rank?
Well, that question is what led to this post. I'm ranking the top 10 White Sox position players of my lifetime, using bWAR as my reference point. The reason I chose bWAR over fWAR is because Baseball Reference has the play index tool I used to figure this all out!
As for what constitutes my lifetime, well, I was born in 1980, but I wasn't born until October of 1980. So for this exercise, instead of starting with the 1980 season, I started with 1981 because the 1980 season was basically done the day I was born.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 greatest White Sox position players from 1981 to 2015. We'll start at No. 10.
10. Ozzie Guillen, SS (1985-1997), 19.4 WAR
Clearly, most of Ozzie's value to the White Sox came with his defense. Even when he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1985 he did so with a slash line of .273/.291/.358 with an OPS+ of 74. Of course, had you mentioned Guillen's OBP or OPS to a voter back in 1985 they'd have looked at you like you were out of your fucking mind.
Still, while he was never much more than a slap hitter, at the very least he rarely struck out, and could put down a sacrifice when needed. As for his defense, I look at his career and I'm somewhat flabbergasted he only won the Gold Glove once. Of course, then I remember Cal Ripken existed at the same time as Ozzie did. Not coincidentally, during Ozzie's tenure with the White Sox, the only American League shortstop to accumulate more defensive WAR than Guillen's 20.8 was Ripken. He had 26.5.
If only the bastard would have taken a day off once in a while.
9. Lance Johnson, OF (1988-1995), 21.2 WAR
The One Dog. One of the more fun White Sox players to watch, both for his defense, and what he could do on the basepaths. Like Guillen, he didn't have much power to speak of. His OPS+ with the White Sox was only 92, but unlike Guillen, he was able to get on base with more regularity, sporting an OBP of .325 on the South Side.
And when he got on base, well, there's a reason Hawk Harrelson has been talking about those "Lance Johnson Jumps" for 20 damn years now. He was just a stolen base waiting to happen, swiping 226 bases during his Sox career, with a success rate of 76.1%. No player in a White Sox uniform has stolen more bases during my lifetime than Lance Johnson did.
Odds are none will before it comes to an end, either.
8. Ray Durham, 2B (1995-2002), 21.3 WAR
In his eight seasons with the Sox, Ray had an OBP of .352, and it came with some pop, as his OPS+ was 102. That's pretty damn good for a second baseman!
As for how underappreciated he was, do you know who Durham's closest player comp by age (according to BRef's similarity scores) was during his final three years with the White Sox? Joe Morgan. Terrible broadcaster, Hall of Fame second baseman.
Then after the White Sox traded Durham to Oakland in 2002 for Jon Fucking Adkins, breaking my damn heart in the process, do you know who Durham's closest player comp by age was over the next four years? Craig Biggio. Another Hall of Famer.
And the Sox traded him for Jon Fucking Adkins.
I'm still kinda bitter about it if you can't tell.
7. Alexei Ramirez, SS (2008-2015), 22.6 WAR
Oh Alexei. It's hard to truly eulogize you here since your career is still so fresh in my mind, and unlike everybody else on this list (SPOILER ALERT), you're still playing. You are the player that inspired this post, though, and you were the best shortstop the White Sox have had during my lifetime.
You were also incredibly frustrating, because you had a tendency to either exceed expectations or miss them by a mile. It seemed like there was no mean with you, just highs and lows. In the field you'd make plays you had no business making, and then you'd screw up easy grounders right to you.
But between those frustrating moments was a very good baseball player. You should have had at least one Gold Glove (the voters straight robbed him of one to reward Derek "Past A Diving" Jeter because he was Derek Jeter), and you won two Silver Sluggers, because you were a complete player.
As long as the temperature was over 50 degrees, anyway.
t-5. Harold Baines, OF/DH (1981-1989, 1996-1997, 2000-2001), 25.2 WAR
Harold Baines had three separate stints with the White Sox, and unfortunately for me, the only ones I was really old enough to truly appreciate were later in his career, when he wasn't really Harold Baines anymore.
I don't really remember the Harold Baines that played right field, or the one that garnered AL MVP votes each season from 1982 to 1985. What I do have, though, is my dad, whose favorite player when I was that young was Harold Baines, and therefore Harold Baines was my favorite player at the time.
I do remember trying to mimic Harold's leg kick in Little League at the time, and my dad telling me to cut that shit out because I was late on everything. It worked so well for Harold, though!
The one season of Harold's that really stands out to me, though, is when he returned in 1996. That season, at the age of 37, Baines hit 22 homers, drove in 95, and had an OBP of .399! Sure, it was the steroid era, but still, that's insane.
t-5. Magglio Ordonez, OF (1997-2004), 25.2 WAR
Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura as The Next Great White Sox, and he was on his way to doing just that before a knee injury. Then, because of that knee injury, the White Sox didn't want to sign him following the 2004 season, and let him walk as a free agent.
It hurt a lot at the time. Yes, the hurt quickly faded when Jermaine Dye came in and that 2005 team went on to have some success, but still, I loved Magglio.
And then watching him have more good season -- especially 2007 -- with the Detroit Tigers just hurt a little more.
Still, the time the Sox had him was great. He was an All Star four times in his six full seasons, and oddly enough, in 2002 when he didn't make the All Star team, he finished eighth in the AL MVP race.
t-3. Carlton Fisk, C (1981-1993), 28.8 WAR
Like Harold Baines, most of Carlton Fisk's career came before I was old enough to really appreciate it. I still remember him, though. That giant man standing behind home plate, with his mask pulled up off his face, giving signs to the infield before crouching down to deal with the pitcher.
Honestly, he scared the shit out of me. He was just so damned imposing back there.
And then there was the hitter. He wasn't quite the same overall hitter with the White Sox that he was with Boston, but he made up for it with power. His 214 home runs with the White Sox are more than all but two other Sox batters in my lifetime. Both of them are on this list, and ironically, one of them is tied with Carlton for third.
t-3. Paul Konerko, 1B (1999-2014), 28.8 WAR
Paulie's career is still kind of fresh, but I feel like the fact that he wasn't very good in 2013 and 2014 help put some more "space" between now and then. I prefer to remember the guy before that. The Konerko that not only took over at first base from Frank Thomas, but damn near replicated his production in the process.
I mean, think about it. For all the shit luck the White Sox have had at certain positions, and at producing position players of their own lately, how lucky were we as a fan base to go from Frank Thomas to Paul Konerko and now to Jose Abreu at first base? Since I was nine years old there hasn't really been a question mark at first base for the White Sox.
It's nice to have something to depend on.
And we could depend on Paulie. 16 years, 432 homers, 1,383 RBI, one awesome grand slam during the World Series, and 271 double plays grounded into. You were awesome, Paulie.
2. Robin Ventura, 3B (1989-1998), 39.3 WAR
Robin was the White Sox third baseman of my youth, and I played third base. I used his batting stance, but as a right-handed hitter. Had my Little League teams had jerseys with numbers that went high enough, I'd have worn 23 (instead I wore 13 cuz the higher the number, the bigger the jersey, and I was always the biggest kid on the team).
He was a great hitter, and not to go Hawk here, but one of the most "clutch" hitters I can remember in a White Sox uniform. I mean, I'm pretty sure he hit like 45 grand slams (ok he hit 18 in his career, and 10 with the Sox), and he was also a fantastic third baseman, winning five Gold Gloves while in Chicago.
When he signed with the Mets after the 1998 season I legitimately cried. I was 18 years old.
1. Frank Thomas, 1B/DH (1990-2005), 68.2 WAR
Who else could have been in this spot? There are a lot of good players on this list, but The Big Hurt is one of only two in the Hall of Fame, and half of Carlton Fisk's career happened before he got to Chicago. Sure, Frank had some years left after Chicago, and I hate that he hit his 500th career homer in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, but I still had the pleasure of watching his entire career, and for that I'll always be grateful.
I could go over Frank's stats, but they've been mentioned a billion times before.
He's not just one of the greatest Sox players of my lifetime, he's probably the greatest White Sox hitter ever. He's one of the best hitters in baseball history, not just White Sox history, and I had the pleasure of watching it all unfold in front of my very eyes.
He was just the best, and nobody was a close second.