We finish our offseason review of the Royals’ AL West competitors with the Chicago White Sox, who brought up the rear in the division in 1976. In fact, they had the worst record in the American League at 64-97, and were only kept from baseball’s worst record by the woeful Montreal Expos (55-107).
The White Sox offense was actually not terrible. Not that they were good; they finished 10th in the league at 3.64 runs per game, but five regulars (Pat Kelly, Ralph Garr, Jorge Orta, Kevin Bell, and Jack Brohamer) had an OPS+ above 100, and two more (Brian Downing and Jim Spencer) were just under it. They lacked depth, though, as only one bench player (Lamar Johnson) was above-average offensively.
Chicago’s real problem was pitching. The Southsiders posted a 4.25 ERA, last in the league by 0.38 runs. Not one member of the rotation had a winning record. You might expect a staff this bad to be a bunch of no-names, but there were actually a few notable ones. Chicago’s best pitcher in 1976 was probably Ken Brett. George’s older brother went 10-12 with a 3.32 ERA. The White Sox also employed a future Hall of Famer–Rich Gossage was a 24-year-old starter in 1976, not the relief pitching monster he would become later on. He went 9-17 with a 3.94 ERA in 1976, and was the only Chicago hurler to break 100 strikeouts. Terry Forster had been a pretty good reliever, leading the league in saves in 1974, before the White Sox decided to try him as a starter; he went 2-12 with a 4.37 ERA, so that wasn’t a great experiment.
The White Sox had just completed their first year of Bill Veeck’s second run as owner, and were still trying to get their financial affairs in order after years of shoestring budgets. Veeck, who basically had only his baseball team as a source of income, was not known as a big spender. So it was surprising when the White Sox adopted a “rent-a-player” strategy in the offseason, looking for players in the final year of their current contract with the theory that their impending free agency would lead to big years. Chicago traded for the big bats of Oscar Gamble (giving up Bucky Dent) and Richie Zisk (surrendering Gossage and Forster). They signed free agent pitcher Steve Stone and third baseman Eric Soderholm, who had missed the entire 1976 season with a knee injury.
Despite those moves, few observers expected the White Sox to contend in 1977. There was some hope they could close the gap between them and the rest of the division, and it seemed likely they could at least overtake Oakland.