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Saturday, March 14, 2015

10 Years Later: A Look Back On The 2005 Chicago White Sox, The Greatest Team No One Remembers

I was raised a White Sox fan. My father was born and raised in Boston so he's always been a fan of the Red Sox. However, after spending his college years in the Boston area, he came to The University of Chicago for graduate school. After living in Chicago's South Side and always being a fan on the American League, the Chicago White Sox became his second team. He eventually moved back to Massachusetts, met my mother, had me, then my brother while living blissfully in New England. When I was three, he moved my family to the Northern Suburbs of Chicago. Cubs territory. But through and through, he remained loyal to the White Sox and my brother and I grew up White Sox fans. We would spend our summers going to Comiskey Pahk (I refuse to call it U.S. Cellular Field) and Frank Thomas was our childhood hero.

The Chicago White Sox had been competitive every now and then throughout my lifetime, but they never seemed to be able to take the next step, While all of my friends would bemoan the losing streak of the Chicago Cubs, the White Sox as a franchise were not all that far behind them. But then something magical happened. In 2005, the Chicago White Sox took a team full of scrubs to not only become one of the best teams in baseball that year, but rode a dominant post-season performance to eventually claim the title of World Champs. I was a freshman in college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and myself and the rest of the student body could not have been more excited to root for a team to bring the championship back home to Illinois.

This blog post is a dedication to that 2005 White Sox team. It's been a decade since that glorious season, and it seems as if the 2005 White Sox have been lost to history. This is both a combination of my own oral history of their 2005 season combined with historical data to help bring back the glory years of not only one of the greatest baseball teams I was fortunate enough to root for, but also one of the best major league baseball teams in our life time. This is a look back on the 2005 Chicago White Sox, the greatest team no one remembers.


The 2004 Chicago White Sox was a re-building year for the franchise. They had just hired their former SS and AL ROY winner Ozzie Guillen to be their manager and were looking to do a thing here and a thing there. This was not a competitive team, but a team that had a few players here and there. They had a decent outfield of the scrappy Aaron Roward in center,  Oh-We-Oh Magglio Ordonez in right, and El Caballo Carlos Lee in left. They had The Big Hurt Frank Thomas at DH and eventual White Sox superstar Paul Konerko at first. Carlos Lee had a great year in ’04 batting .305 with 31 homers to go along with his 103 runs and 99 RBIs. Unfortunately, El Caballo would be one of the lone bright spots for the club. Konerko was fine but not spectacular and Thomas and Ordonez spent much of the season on the DL. While the team did ultimately win more games than they lost (83-79), they were nothing great. They ended up trading former Cy Young candidate Esteban Loaiza to the Yankees for Jose Contreras  and traded their back up catcher Miguel Olivo to the Mariners for SP Freddy Garcia.

The 2004 White Sox ended up finishing in 2nd place in the AL Central and 9 games behind the absolutely dominant Minnesota Twins. The Twins were amazing around this time. They had an up-and-comer catcher names Joe Mauer, a slugging first baseman named Justin Morneau, and a defensive stud in center named Torii Hunter. They also had this kid named Johan Santana at the front of their rotation who ended up winning 2 AL Cy Young Awards. That Twins teams was tough to be beat and would go on dominating the division until 2011 when the Detroit Tigers and Miguel Cabrera started to take it over.


Former White Sox GM Kenny Williams (pictured above) deserved a lot of the negative praise over the years, but the off-season between the ’04 and ’05 season was not only a series of just incredible moves, but easily the best thing he’s ever done within the MLB and the sport of baseball. Guillen asked for a complete overhaul of this team, and that’s exactly what Williams delivered. While these moves do not seem as flashy as the moves current GM Rick Hahn and the 2015 White Sox made, these were moves that would pay dividends upon dividends.

Kenny Williams' biggest move was to trade his stud right fielder Carlos Lee in exchange for Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Scott Podsednik. Scotty Pods had just come off of a season where he stole 43 bases while batting .314. It was a move that was justified by claiming the White Sox needed to play “Small Ball” and that they were relying on too much on home runs to their detriment. This was a time where Sabermetrics was just starting to rear its beautiful head into the mainstream, so the White Sox fans and the baseball community at large were dumb enough to accept this as an excuse. My former college roommate use to tell me that despite the success the White Sox ended up having, they would have won even more games had they not made the move. If Kenny Williams were to make that same exact move to today, he would have had his head on a spit.

The other biggest splash Williams did that offseason was acquired catcher A.J. Pierzynski . One year after trading what would become a King’s Ransom for A.J. (eventual stud closer Joe Nathan, eventual stud SP Francisco Liriano, and solid back end SP Boof Bonser), the San Francisco Giants let A.J. become a free agent. He was soon picked up by Kenny.

Williams ended up picking up a lot of starters and major contributors that offseason including free 2B Tadahito Iguchi from Japan, former A’s and Royals RF Jermaine Dye, SP El Duque (Orlando Hernandez), and RP Dustin Hermanson and Bobby Jenks.

By keeping 3B Joe Crede, CF Aaron Rowand, SP Mark Buerhle and Jon Garland, and SS Juan Uribe fromthe year before, the 2005 Chicago White Sox roster was set. They had A.J. Pierzynski at catcher, Paul Konerko at first, Iguchi and second, Uribe at short, Crede at third, Rowand at center, Dye in right, Scotty Pods in left, and The Big Hurt at DH. The rotation would consist of Mark Buerhle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contrearas, and El Duque with Dustin Hermanson as the closer.


April 4, 2005 was Opening Day for the 2005 Major League Baseball season. The Chicago White Sox ended up defeating the Cleveland Indians on Opening Day by a score of 1-0. LHP Mark Buehrle threw 8 shut out innings while striking out 5 and walking one. Aaron Rowand stole a base and ended up hitting in Paul Konerko for the only run of the game.

At the time, this seems like just another win, but as it turns out, it was indicative of the 2005 season as whole. The White Sox won games based upon pitching, defense, and situational hitting,- with Paul Konerko becoming one of the major reasons any runs were being scored at all. The 2005 White Sox were not a team that scared you, and looking at this roster 10 years later, the same still holds true. But it was a team that just kept winning and winning and winning…….


The All-Star break comes a little bit past the hallway mark of the season, and by the time July 12, 2005 (the date of the All-Star game) rolled around, the Chicago White Sox not only held the best record in the American League, but held the best record in baseball. The South Siders 57 wins put them 9-games up on the Minnesota Twinkies in the AL Central and were 5 wins ahead on the AL West leading L.A. Angels and were a whopping 8 wins up on the AL East leading Boston Red Sox. The ChiSox were just dominant thanks to starting pitchers Mark Buerhle and Jon Garland- both of whom were All Stars that year. Jon Garland led the American League with 13 wins while posting a 3.38 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. If advanced metrics were as prevalent in 2005 as they were today, then Jon Garland’s All Star selection would have been ripped to shreds. But at the time, Jon Garland was a Golden God, especially considering how anemic the White Sox’s offense had been. Wins are of course a useless statistic, but in Jon Garland’s case, it seemed like the perfect embodiment for how great he was doing. He ended the season with 18 wins- second in the A.L. Garland was so good that year that he was voted to be A.L.’s starter in the All-Star game. He declined to pitch, so instead that nomination went to his teammate Mark Buerhle.

Mark Buerhle and how he pitches was another great representation of the 2005 Chicago White Sox. He refused to strike anyone out, but he induced a butt load of ground balls and double plays to let his defense do the work, and he went deep into innings to preserve the White Sox bull pen. Buerhle is another guy who advanced metrics guys don’t like, but that’s only because he can’t strike anybody out. However, as Crash Davis said in Bull Durham “strike outs are fascist”. A pitcher’s only job is to get batters out, and Buerhle was phenomenal at doing that. At the All-Star break Buerhle only had a 2.58 ERA to go along with his 1.11 WHIP and 10 wins. He would end the season with a 3.16 ERA- good for third best among all American League starters and he also finished the year with 16 wins- good for 5th best in the A.L.

The only other selections the White Sox had in the All Star game were Paul Konerko and Scott Podsednik. Because the White Sox seems to be winning games based upon pitching, defense, and random scoring every now and then, they seemed like the perfect second half regression candidate. The biggest question ESPN kept asking in 2015 was “Are these White Sox for real?” with the answer being a resounding “no”. To this day, my father still resents ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball announcer John Miller. He remembers him being vicious towards the White Sox and not believing him. Even worse, he resent Miller for never apologizing for his statements. Personally, I don't remember the specific negativity, but I do remember the White Sox hate bashing by non-believers during this time frame. The 2005 White Sox were baseball’s Rodney Dangerfield, they got no respect.


Where Jon Garland faltered in the second half of the season, Jose Contreras picked up the slack. Post All-Star break, Contreras led all starters with 11 wins to go along with his 2.98 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Contreras was a beast down the stretch and it ended up bleeding into the beginning of the 2006 season. I remember the early A.L. Cy Young talks by ESPN as the 2006 All Star game was drawing near. For two half seasons, Jose Contreras looked like he was the best pitcher in baseball. That's why Ozzie Guillen tapped him to be the South Siders number #1 going into the playoffs, if they could get there first...


It seemed that all of the White Sox haters were about to give themselves a huge pat on the back for not believing in the South Siders all season long. They knew the collapse was coming and couldn't stop themselves as September drew to a close. As it later turned out, a September collapse would be a hall mark of the Ozzie Guillen era, but for at least one season, the White Sox were able to hang on.

On September 1, 2005, the Chicago White Sox had a 7.5 game lead over the Cleveland Indians. That lead was soon cut in half as the ChiSox only has a 4.5 game lead on The Tribe by September 15, 2005. As late as September 24, 2005, the Cleveland Indians were only down 1.5 games to the White Sox. The Indians were surging at just the right time and were ready to overtake this scrappy White Sox team that shouldn't have been in this race as long as they were.

By the end of September, the White Sox held on to a three game lead over the Indians. It was September 29, 2005 and the White Sox and Indians would face each other in a three game series to determine supremacy over the AL Central.

On September 30, 2005, the White Sox won a close game 3-2 thanks to the heroic effort of Mark Buehrle and newly appointed closer Bobby Jenks. On October 1, 2005, Jon Garland got his 18th win and Bobby Jenks got his 6th career save as the White Sox won 4-3. On October 2, 2005, the White Sox completed their three game sweep of the Cleveland Indians defeating them 3-1.

The White Sox defeated the Indians thanks in large part to their young and up-and-coming closer Bobby Jenks. Jenks ended up playing 6 seasons for the White Sox amassing 173 career saves with the ChiSox. Bobby Jenks would never reach Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera level highs, but he was always a guy I was confident could close a game. It's so important to have a shut down closer in the playoffs and Jenks was that guy for the White Sox. Paul Konerko will be the guy remembered the most during Jenks' tenure, but Jenks will always be my favorite White Sock. Maybe because he was chubby like me, but Jenks was so good during his time on the South Side that he'll always have a special place in my heart.


I can understand the criticism of the Chicago White Sox as the 2005 season played out, but at the end of the day, The South Siders won 99 games. Only the St. Louis Cardinals (100) won more games in 2005. The reigning champion Boston Red Sox and the ESPN favorite New York Yankees only won 95 games. The Cleveland Indians had a chance to win the AL Central, but they only won 93 games and missed the playoffs completely. You don’t win 99 games by accident, and everyone who wrote off the ChiSox and claimed they were going to miss the playoffs needed to, at the bare minimum, make a mea culpa, at season’s end. Which of course they did not.

The Chicago White Sox won 99 games thanks to pitching and defense. White Sox pitchers ranked first in 2005 in WAR and their defenders ranked fifth. While their batters were almost exactly middle of the pack in terms of WAR (16th), the team was 4th in stolen bases and above average at base running. While not an ideal team on paper, this team proved throughout the season that they were one of the best.

(Boston Red Sox vs. Chicago White Sox)

The White Sox handedly defeated the Red Sox in this series 3-0. In Game One, the ChiSox won 14-2 thanks to two home runs by A.J. Pierzynski, a homer by Paul Konerko, a combo meal by Scott Podsednik, and a dominant performance by Jose Contreras going 7.2 innings striking out 6 and walking none. In Game 2, the White Sox won 5-4. While Mark Buehrle gave up 4 earned runs in the first three innings, the White Sox took the 5-4 lead in the 5th thanks to a three run Tadahito Iguchi home run and the pitching never looked back. In Game Three, The South Siders won 5-3. Despite David Ortiz and Manny Ramierz hitting 3 combined home runs, the White Sox scrapped together 5 runs and not only defeated Tim Wakefield, but the World Series Champs in route to face the Angels in the ALCS.

(Los Angeles Angels vs. Chicago White Sox)

The White Sox dropped Game One to the Angels. As it would eventually turn out, that would be the only game they would lose in the 2005 postseason. In Game One, Jose Contreras pitched 8.1 innings, losing a nail bitter 3-2. In Game Two, Mark Buehrle gave up only one run across nine innings to force the White Sox to win 2-1. In Game Three, Jon Garland also pitched a complete game fanning seven compared to just one walk and only gave up four hits as the Sox rolled to a 5-2 lead. Not to be outdone by his teammates, Freddy Garcia also pitched 9 innings, striking out five versus just one walk as the Sox cruised to an 8-2 victory and were now only one game away from making the World Series. In Game Five, Jose Contreras pitched 9 innings as the White Sox won 6-3.

I think more should have been made out of the White Sox pitching performance in the ALCS as what they did was just superhuman. What they did won’t go down in any Bill James record books, but this rotation pitched four back-to-back-to-back-to-back complete games and pitched 44 and 1/3 innings out of a possible 45 innings. When the games mattered the most and when the innings could not have been any more high leverage, the White Sox rotation buckled down and did what needed to be done. Sabermatertians can point to luck and statistical anomalies and noise all they want, and that’s fair to an extent, but at the end of the day, all that matters is a win. You don’t get to the World Series based upon what the odds say should happen, you get there based upon how you perform on the field, and those White Sox starters performed incredibly. I’m sure the logical explanation is that a five game series is just too small of a sample size and anything can happen, and while that’s true, what did end up happening is that the White Sox won four straight games. Plus, you can’t make the small sample size argument against the White Sox and not make it compared to literally every other team that wins the World Series. The path to winning a World Series is all based upon small samples sizes. Tough luck other 31 teams.

I think a "more fair" argument is that the only reason the White Sox won this series is because A.J. Pierzynski reached base on a “dropped third strike” in Game Two. In the ninth inning, the game was tied 1-1. With two outs and no one on base, Angels reliever struck out Pierzynski. While the ump called the strike, he didn’t call an out as he saw back up Angels catcher Josh Paul drop the ball. A.J. swung and missed for strike three and appeared to walk back to the dug out so the game could go into extras. But after a few seconds, he ran to first and was called safe. He claimed later that because he is a catcher he heard the ball fall and thus knew it was a dropped third strike, but truthfully, I think umpire Doug Eddings just messed up and called a rule that shouldn’t even be in the books to begin with and Pierzynski was smart enough to take advantage of that. A.J. was eventually replaced with Pablo Ozuna who immediately stole second and was hit home a batter later by Joe Crede liner (on an 0-2 pitch mind you). Angels fans may cry foul, and that’s true to some extent, but if you really should have won that game then get Joe Crede out on the next at-bat and win the game in extras (even if the Angels did get out of that inning, there is absolutely no guarantee they would have won in extra innings). Or win the next three games at home as the first two were in Chicago. Was it a bullshit call by the ump? Most certainly. Did it prevent the Angels from winning the series? Absolutely not. There were still five more games left to be played after that. Win at least one of them before you complain.

(Houston Astros vs. Chicago White Sox)

GAME ONE: Contreras vs. Clemens

We all hate Roger Clemons now, but he was a God back in 2005. A 43 year old Clemens was coming off of a season where his ERA was a measly 1.87. That's incredible for today's pitching dominant era nevertheless in a year where hitting was reaching an all time high. Unfortunately, Clemens' age caught up with him early in this game, but not before Jermaine Dye homered off of him and the Sox took an early 3-1 lead. Jose Contreras went seven deep while only giving up 3 earned runs as Bobby Jenks got the save as the White Sox defeated the Astros 5-3.

GAME TWO: Pettitte vs. Buehrle

The Astros also got the World Series thanks to a pretty darn good pitching staff. Despite their age as Andy Pettitte was 33 years old when he started this game, the Astros were darn good. Pettitte pitched a really good game as he went 6 innings, striking out four, walking none, and only giving up two earned runs. I'd take that over Mark Buehrle's line of 4 earned runs over 7 innings. Luckily, the South Siders were able to pull ahead 6-4 in the seventh inning, but that didn't stop the Astros as they scored two runs off of my boy Bobby Jenks in the ninth inning, tying the game 6-6. 

The White Sox came up in the bottom of the ninth and Astros shut down closer Brad Lidge was pitching. The mighty Scott Podsednik was at the plate. This was a man who was a speedster, and not even a great one at that. He had a whopping zero home runs throughout the 2005 regular season, but he had one in the postseason. Scotty Pods hit a homer off of Lidge in the bottom of the 9th in Game Two which allowed the ChiSox to win the game 7-6. 

GAME THREE: Oswalt vs. Garland

Roy Oswalt used to be fantastic. For some reason I thought he had a Cy Young under his belt, but the fact that he doesn't have one doesn't mean he wasn't a legitimate ace in his prime. And he was in his prime in 2005. However, Oswalt did not have a great game this particular night and the White Sox were able to rough him up for five earned runs over the course of six innings. It was Jon Garland who had the better night and he allowed 2 earned runs (4 total) over 7 innings. Kudos to the White Sox and Garland as the Astros were up 4-0 going into the fifth inning The Astros and Oswalt were rolling and this should have been a game they won, but the White Sox hung in there touching up Oswalt for a 5 run fifth. 

Going into the 8th inning, the White Sox were up 5-4 and it looked like their dominant bull pen was going to take them home. Then Cliff Politte, Neal Cotts, and Dustin Hermanson allowed the Astros to rally and tie the game 5-5.

This game went into extras. The 10th innings came and went with no score. The 11th inning came and went with no score. The 12th inning came and went with no score. Eventually, I had to go to sleep. I know it sounds horrible for me to say as a die hard White Sox fan like myself, but I had class in the morning! I found out that the White Sox had won thanks to a pinch hit home run by Geoff Blum. As the legend goes, Ozzie Guillen's son famously told his dad that he had a gut feeling about Blum and that his dad should play him. So Ozzie did and the rest is history. The White Sox ended up going up 3-0 on the Astros in the series as they won Game Three 7-5. Also, fun fact, Mark Buehrle, who had just pitched a few days earlier, notches the save in this game. 

GAME FOUR: Backe vs. Garcia

Ten years later I have absolutely no idea who Brandon Backe is, but he had had himself a game in the World Series going seven strong innings striking out seven while walking none and giving up no runs on only five hits. The Astros couldn't have asked for a better performance out of their starter in an elimination game. Unfortunately for them, the White Sox would win this game and sweep the Astros to become World Series Champions. Closer Brad Lidge would replace Backe and gave up a single RBI to Jermaine Dye and the White Sox won 1-0. Like Backe, Freddy Garcia also went seven strong innings, but the Sox bullpen held strong in this close, close game.

And that was it. Bobby Jenks tossed the final inning of the 2005 season without giving up a run and the Chicago White Sox were the World Series Champions.


I did a handful of sabermetician bashing in this post, partly because what the 2005 White Sox did defies what the advanced metrics believes and that’s part of the reason nobody remembers this team even a decade later. I also did that because what the White Sox did in ’05 was a lot of “grindiness” to win games, and that’s a concept diametrically opposed to statistics. I am a firm believer in stats, but just because statistics doesn’t back up what was seen on the field doesn’t mean we should discount everything we see on the field. Logically, I know that the fact the White Sox below average offense still managed to score what seemed like the minimum amount of runs per game is luck more than anything, but saying that not only discounts the incredible pitching performances the White Sox had that year, but also the effectiveness of their ability to play small ball. This model of winning certainly isn’t very sustainable as the White Sox, even as they got better on offense by adding future Hall of Famer Jim Thome in 2006, as their lack of post season appearances since 2005 shows us; however, that doesn’t mean this model will never work again. The 2014 Kansas City Royals had a version of the 2005 White Sox model. The team focused heavily on pitching and generated runs mainly through speed and base running, and they took the San Francisco Giants to a Game 7 in The World Series. The Royals issue, and what the White Sox did so damn freaking well in 2005, was their lack of starting pitching.

In fact, the single most important factor that you can point to for why the 2005 White Sox won the World Series and what is sustainable for both the Sox and every other organization, is a great rotation. The ’05 White Sox had an incredible rotation that doesn’t look like it on paper. No one will ever consider Jon Garland, Mark Buerhle, Jose Contreras, or Freddy Garcia a Hall of Famer, but the four just so happened to have the best season of their lives all at the same time. It’s one of the rare lightning-in-a-bottle occurrences that makes poor GMs looks brilliant.  You could replay the 2005 season 1,000 times and you might not be able to get the stars to align for these four pitchers the way the actual 2005 season ended up, but we shouldn’t discount what these four men did, especially in the playoffs, just because of how their careers ended up.

Kenny Williams put together a true team in 2005, a team where everyone contributed in one way or another. That might not have been a murder’s row in that line up, but there wasn’t an easy out either. It wasn’t flashy, but those batters got the job done. They made their pitchers sweat it out, and they did just enough to get the win. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters is the win. So you can point out all the statistics you want and discuss all the luck that went into the 2005 season, but the reason these players play this sport and play it in the MLB is to get that championship ring. You’ll never be able to take away those players ring and you’ll never be able to take the title of “World Champs” away from the 2005 White Sox, and you’ll never be able to take away the joy I felt watching my team win it all.

Flags fly forever baby!



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