White Sox went from losing ugly to winning ugly in 1983

Tony La Russa's 1983 Chicago White Sox recovered from slow start to win division title.
Tony La Russa's 1983 Chicago White Sox recovered from slow start to win division title. / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

The Chicago White Sox know what it takes to recover from a slow start.

The White Sox are without a doubt one of the biggest disappointments in major league baseball so far this season. But the Sox's slow start this season is merely a speed bump compared to 40 years ago.

If you are looking for a reason to remain optimistic about the White Sox's chances of returning to the postseason this year, then it is important to look back at the 1983 season.

The White Sox of exactly four decades ago were a depressing 16-24 after a sluggish 3-1 loss to the Texas Rangers on May 26, 1983, at Comiskey Park. The White Sox were seven games out and is sixth place behind the American League West Division-leading California Angels.

Just the year before in 1982 the Sox were an impressive 27-13 at the 40-game mark and leading the division. The 1982 Sox won their first eight games and finished with an 87-75 record in third place.

That 87-win season, the Sox's best since 90 wins in 1977, felt like ancient history on May 26, 1983.

The White Sox won ugly in 1983 which will always be remembered.

Manager Tony La Russa's White Sox were clearly underachieving after 40 games in 1983. Catcher Carlton Fisk was hitting .173 with two homers. Third baseman Vance Law was at .193 with no homers.

First baseman Tom Paciork was hitting just .264. Right fielder Harold Baines was stumbling along at .253, left fielder Ron Kittle was hitting .264 and designated hitter Greg Luzinski was hitting .205.

Baines and Luzinksi, though, both had 23 RBI and Luzinski had seven homers. Kittle had already hit eight out of the park and driven in 31 runs. Leadoff hitter Rudy Law was hitting .280 with 14 runs scored and 16 stolen bases.

So offense wasn't the biggest reason why the 1983 Sox lost 24 of their first 40 games.

Only one starter had an earned run average under 4.00. That was Britt Burns at 3.70 but the 24-year-old lefthander had made just four starts by May 26.

LaMarr Hoyt was 3-6 with a 4.80 ERA, Richard Dotson was 4-5 with a 4.02 ERA, Floyd Bannister was 2-6 with a 5.07 ERA, and 40-year-old Jerry Koosman was 2-0 with a save with an ERA of 5.20 after 11 appearances and the first of 24 starts he'd make in 1983.

The bullpen, which consisted mainly of veterans Dennis Lamp, Dick Tidrow, and youngsters Salome Barajas, Juan Agosto, and Kevin Hickey, was solid. There was no established, lockdown closer but that wasn't considered a necessary ingredient to winning games 40 years ago.

La Russa took the closer to new levels later in the decade with the Oakland Athletics. In late May 1983, the Sox manager had more pressing worries on his mind.

The 1983 Sox lost 12 of 16 games from May 8 through May 26. They were eight games under .500 for the first time since the 1980 Sox finished 70-90.

A division title and a spot in the postseason for the first time since the American League championship White Sox in 1959 seemed to fade with each passing day.

That all changed on May 27, 1983, in Game No. 41. On May 26 the White Sox were one of the worst teams in the American League. Starting May 27, they became the best through the end of the regular season.

Hoyt went nine innings and beat the Rangers and Frank Tanana, 3-2, at Comiskey Park on May 27. Kittle hit a two-run homer in the second inning and Baines drove in Tony Bernazard with a single in the third inning for a 3-0 lead.

Closer? Who needs a closer? Hoy went nine innings and allowed just six hits and didn't walk a hitter. It was the first of seven wins in eight games that lifted the Sox to 23-25 and second place, five games out.

But, still, something was missing. The Sox lost six of eight to fall to 25-31 and seven games out back down to fifth place. And they were still an uninspiring 29-33 and still in fifth place on June 18. The Sox were certainly playing better than their 16-24 start but something was needed.

That something, it turns out, actually put on a Sox uniform for the first time on June 17.

The White Sox traded Bernazard to the Seattle Mariners for Julio Cruz on June 15. At first glance, the trade of the two second basemen seemed like a lateral move for both teams.

The 28-year-old Cruz, after all, was hitting just .254 for the Mariners with two homers and 12 RBI. The 26-year-old Bernazard was hitting .262 for the Sox with two homers and 26 RBI.

The difference? Speed, energy, and enthusiasm. Cruz had 33 stolen bases with the Mariners while Bernazard had just two with the Sox, though he would steal 21 bases the rest of the year with Seattle.

Cruz would play 99 games for the Sox starting on June 17, hit .251, score 47 runs, and steal 24 bases. La Russa hit him ninth for the most part, giving the Sox two speedster, leadoff types in a row in the order with Law.

It seemed to ignite the offense and the team.

One other move La Russa made starting on June 15 also turned the team around. He started hitting the 35-year-old Fisk second.

Fisk was hitting just .197 on June 16 with five homers and 19 RBI. He would finish the year with 26 homers, 86 RBI, and a .289 average and finish third in the Most Valuable Player voting.

Starting June 17, the day Cruz made his White Sox debut, Fisk went 29-for-77 (.377) with eight homers and 16 RBI through July 12. The Sox were 13-6 in the 19 games and are now 43-39 overall and just 1.5 games out of third place.

The 1983 Sox just didn't sit back, cross their fingers, and hope to turn around the season. They went out and made a pivotal trade and shook up the lineup and made it happen.

All of the positive things from the first 40 games (the power, Kittle, the veteran hitters) continued the final 122 games. Paciorek ended up hitting .307, Law stole 77 bases and scored 95 runs, Baines hit .280 with 20 homers and 99 RBI, and Kittle finished with 35 homers and 100 RBI.

Cruz was a huge addition as was putting Fisk in the two holes. But the biggest ingredient to the turnaround was the starting pitching. Hoyt, Dotson, Bannister, Burns, and even Koosman were simply the best starting staff in baseball in the final four months of the season.

The Big Three (Hoyt, Bannister, Dotson) were almost unbeatable. The three were a combined 9-17 on May 26. After that point they were a combined 53-10.

Bannister's ERA dropped from 5.02 on May 26 to 3.35 by the season's end. Hoyt went from 4.80 to 3.66 and won the Cy Young Award. Dotson's ERA dropped from 4.02 to 3.23.

All five starters tossed at least one shutout (Burns had four). The team with no closer somehow found a way to save 48 games, with five different relievers saving between 5-15 games.

Cruz? Well, he fittingly scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning on a sacrifice fly by Baines that clinched the West Division title on Sept. 17 with a 4-3 win over, you guessed it, the Mariners.

The Sox finished with 99 wins and won the division by 20 games. Since May 26 The 1983 Sox went 83-39 after May 26, going from eight games under .500 to 36 over and seven games out to 20 up.

So, yes, a bad start doesn't prevent a fantastic finish.

Can the 2023 White Sox do the same thing? The starting pitching needs to wake up and the injuries need to stop.

The 1983 Sox had an edge over the 2023 Sox as far as the experience was concerned. Fisk, Paciorek, Luzinski, Koosman, Tidrow and Lamp were all 30 or older. Bannister, Hoyt, and Cruz were all 28. Kittle was a rookie but he was 25.

The 1983 lineup also had tremendous depth with Walker and Paciorek handling first base, Fisk and Marc Hill behind the plate, and Scott Fletcher and Jerry Dybzinski handling shortstop.

La Russa, just 38 years old in 1983 but in his fifth year as a manager, had a lot of buttons to push and he seemed to always push the right one at the right time.

The chances of the 2023 White Sox pulling off a 1983-style turnaround seem remote with a rookie manager, an inconsistent pitching staff, little depth, a roster core that can't stay healthy, and a general manager that seems afraid to pull the trigger on a lineup-changing deal.

But maybe someone should give them a White Sox history lesson just the same.

Next. The 15 worst contracts in Chicago White Sox history. dark