The 1959 White Sox Set a Record - in 2008
How can any team - even a pennant winner like the 1959 Chicago White Sox - set a very impressive record nearly a half century after going to the World Series? Is there a statistic that hasn't been calculated in this numbers-obsessed era? Although the "Go-Go Sox" were known for solid pitching, airtight defense and team speed, this record was set by manager Al Lopez and his coaching staff.
Lopez (born August 20, 1908) owned the record for most career games by a catcher (1918) until Carlton Fisk surpassed that mark in 1987. Known for his defensive skills, Lopez played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Boston Braves/Bees, Pirates and Indians. He was an National League All-Star in 1934 and 1941.
Lopez was also the only manager to beat out the Yankees for the American League pennant from 1949 to 1964, achieving that feat with the 1954 Cleveland Indians as well as the '59 White Sox. By living until October 20, 2005 - or 97 years and 71 days - the Hall of Famer set the example for his four-man coaching staff.
Pitching coach Ray Berres (born August 31, 1907) actually beat Lopez in longevity. The Wisconsin native passed away on February 1, 2007 at the age of 99 years and 154 days. Although he is forgotten today, Berres - a weak-hitting backup catcher from 1934 to 1945 - is one of the premier pitching coaches in baseball history. He spent 18 seasons with the White Sox, and Berres survived six managerial changes during that time because of his skill in working with the staff.
Don Gutteridge (born June 19, 1912) began his major league career with the Cardinals in 1936. He played third and second base for the Redbirds until going to the St. Louis Browns in 1943. As the team's second baseman and leadoff hitter, Gutteridge was a part of the 1944 Browns, the only pennant winner in the franchise's nearly unbroken 52-year run of futility.
Gutteridge was the first base coach and worked with the infielders for the south siders as the team won its first pennant in 40 years. He also served as the White Sox manager in 1969 and 1970 after Lopez retired, and Gutteridge spent more than a decade scouting for the Dodgers after his career in uniform ended. The Pittsburg, Kansas native died in his home town.on September 7, 2008 at the age of 96 years and 80 days.
Third base coach Tony Cuccinello (born November 8, 1907) displayed better than average power and run production for a 5'7" infielder during his big league career.
After making his big league debut as a third baseman with the Reds in 1930, Cuccinello came through with a career high 14 HR and 94 RBI for the Dodgers in 1934. Being moved to second base in 1931 wasn't a problem, as Cuccinello racked up 93 RBI with just two home runs. Career highs in doubles (39) and batting average (.315) undoubtedly helped in the run production department.
An N.L. All-Star in 1933 and 1938, Cuccinello was one of many players who extended their careers because of the World War II talent shortage. As a sore-legged 37-year old, he closed out his big league career in 1945 by hitting .308 in 402 ABs for the White Sox. Yankees second baseman Snuffy Stirnweiss edged out Cuccinello for the batting title by hitting .309 thanks to an error call that was changed to a hit during the last game of the season.
As a noted sign stealer who was at the center of a 1967 controversy over that age-old tactic, Cuccinello sometimes stood out from his low-key peers. After scouting for the Yankees well into his 70s, Cuccinello retired in Tampa and lived just down the street from his close friend Lopez. The long-time coach died at 87 years and 317 days on September 21, 1995.
Bench coach Johnny Cooney (born March 18, 1901) died young - at 85 years and 112 days on July 8, 1986 - when compared to the other members of the Sox brain trust. If you want a weird baseball career path and biography, Cooney's story would be all but impossible to duplicate.
One of the few big leaguers from Rhode Island, Cooney was signed as a left-handed pitcher by the Boston Braves. His best season came in 1925, when he went 14-14 for the 70-83 Braves. Cooney was eighth in the National League with a 3.48 ERA, and his ERA+ was 115. The southpaw gave up just 50 walks in 245.2 innings pitched for just 1.83 BB per nine innings pitched. That was fourth best in the NL.
Numerous bone chips and fragments - more than a dozen were removed, and the surgery permanently shortened Cooney's left arm - all but ended his mound career by 1930. What could a hurler with a bum wing do to make a living in the early days of the Great Depression?
A talented slap hitter - he hit .379 (25 for 66) with a lone double in 1923 and .320 (33 for 103) in 1925 - Cooney kept his baseball career alive by moving to the outfield. He turned out to be a skilled defender in center field and played in the American Association from 1930 to 1935. Casey Stengel became well acquianted with Cooney's skills while managing in Toledo. When the Old Perfesser was named manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Cooney returned to the majors at age 34 in 1935.
What made Cooney's transition from the mound to the outfield noteworthy is his rare combination of batting right-handed and throwing from the left side. Although Cooney could poke and slice singles like a dead ball era maestro, his power was nonexistent.
Cooney never took a home run trot in 1376 at-bats with the Dodgers and Boston Bees/Braves from 1936 to 1938 while hitting .282, .293 and .271. He struck out just 39 times during those three seasons, or once every 35.3 ABs, but a combined 68 walks in that span didn't help his on-base percentage..
When the former pitcher finally went yard, he didn't mess around. At age 38, Cooney hit the only home runs in his 3372 career big league ABs in consecutive games against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds on September 24 and 25, 1939. Both bombs came in the third inning with a runner on base. It would be interesting to know if either or both of Cooney's homers barely cleared the 279-foot left field fence at the Polo Grounds.
Even with the end of the power drought, the best was yet to come for Cooney. His .318 average for the Bees in 1940 was third in the National League. After being the toughest strikeout in the league with just eight Ks in 368 ABs in 1939, Cooney nearly duplicated that feat by whiffing just nine times in 365 ABs in 1940. No other player has come remotely close to making his first appearance among either league's top 10 hitters at such an advanced age, and certainly not in the top three.
Turning 40 didn't slow the former pitcher at all in 1941. Cooney's .319 performance in 441 ABs was second to Pete Reiser. In an era where batting average was revered, it came as no surprise that Cooney won the Veteran Player of the Year award from The Sporting News.
The wheels fell off in 1942, as Cooney hit just .207 with seven RBI in 198 ABs. He hung on until 1944 as a wartime pinch-hitter with the Dodgers and Yankees. Cooney finished his long career with a 34-44 record and 3.72 ERA as a pitcher and a .286 (965 for 3372) average as an outfielder and occasional first baseman.
Are there any common denominators among the long-lived members of the 1959 White Sox coaching staff? Although Cuccinello could get animated at times, this was a group of men who were known for their calm personalities and lack of temper tantrums. No Billy Martins, Earl Weavers or high-maintenance divas in this bunch.
It's purely coincidential, but Lopez, Berres, Cooney and Gutteridge each had one child - all sons. Cuccinello's three children were the exception to the general trend. Both Berres and Cooney turned down managing opportunities because they didn't want the constant stress that came with the job.
Lopez, Berres, Gutteridge, Cuccinello and Cooney lived a total of 464 years and four days, which works out to just over 92.8 years per person. While the White Sox teams they ran were notorious for a lack of power and slugging, no one can top this five-man group in average lifespan and sheer longevity.