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How The South Side Hitmen Took Over Chicago In 1977

  • By Matt Eastman

How The South Side Hitmen Took Over Chicago In 1977

The summer of 1977 was one to remember for the Chicago White Sox, as this group from the South Side will be forever remembered as one of the franchise's most popular and exciting teams to date.

Having climbed to the top of the division, the White Sox remained in first place from the beginning of July until mid-August, and ultimately finished in third place of a very stout AL West division, behind the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers, with 90 victories.

The '77 White Sox broke the mold, in more ways than one. There were those snazzy, collared uniforms -- you know, those same ones the Sox were so strapped for cash for, that they forced returning players to wear following the '76 campaign. But, it was their exciting brand of ball in which their identity was built upon -- a potent, record-breaking offense.

Owner Bill Veeck was nothing if not innovative, and he along with general manager Roland Hemond hatched a plan that they thought could keep an under-financed team viable in the free agency era. Moneyball before "moneyball" existed, if you will. Unable to afford to pay the best players, Veeck instead chose to field a team made up of hungry youngsters, as well as veterans playing for a lucrative future contract. It was a risk, but the result turned out to be one of the most exciting teams to watch for many years to come.

Enter the team that would come to be known as the South Side Hitmen.

The South Side Hitmen

The '77 White Sox were built on power, lot's of it. With the likes of Richie Zisk (30 HR, 101 RBI, .290), Oscar Gamble (31, 83, .297), Eric Soderholm (25, 67, .280), Chet Lemon (19, 67, .273) Jim Spencer (18, 69, .247) Jorge Orta (11, 84, .282), Lamar Johnson (18, 65, .302) and Ralph Garr (10, 54, .300) the Sox routinely drew enthusiastic crowds, prompted frequent curtain calls and popularized the singing of Na, Na, Hey, Hey…Goodbye. According to the Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan, it was a glorious time to live in Chicago. Anything seemed possible. Everyone seemed happy.
"The '77 season was really entertaining because we could really hit," Steve Stone said. "I think we got shut out for the first time against Anaheim in one of those early games. Ralph Garr started off the game with a triple and he was stranded at third. We never got close to scoring. But when you go into September without getting shut out again, you have yourself an offensive powerhouse."

The Legacy Lives On

The memories of 1977 still burn bright -- seeing a South Side Hitmen T-shirt these days is no mere nostalgia. If not the last White Sox team before the 2005 World Series team to capture fans' imagination, it was the most improbable run for the franchise in decades, perhaps in all of White Sox history. Veeck recalled that the 1977 team was even more satisfying to him than the pennant-winning 1959 White Sox...
"because of the fans. I have never seen anywhere the kind of enthusiasm that was engendered in [Comiskey Park] in '77."

'77 Opening Day Lineup

Ralph Garr, LF Alan Bannister, SS Jorge Orta, 2B Richie Zisk, RF Jim Spencer, 1B Oscar Gamble, DH Eric Soderholm, 3B Chet Lemon, CF Brian Downing, C Kenny Brett, P

Record-Breaking Year

  • The White Sox hit 192 home runs, a record which lasted until 1996.
  • Spencer won a Gold Glove.
  • Soderholm was the Comeback Player of the Year and led AL third basemen in fielding percentage (.978).
  • Gamble led the team with 31 homers and his .588 slugging percentage was the third-best in team history and remains 10th-best today.
  • Lerrin LaGrow, a surprise closer who had registered only five saves in 124 career games before 1977, finished third in the AL with 25 saves. His 89.3 save percentage is still the second-best in White Sox history.
  • Off the field, United Press International named Lemon its Manager of the Year, while Veeck was Executive of the Year.

You can get this custom shirt from Urban Gameday, which pays homage to this unforgettable team. 

This South Side Hitmen tee should resonate with any true White Sox fan -- from any era.

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