REMEMBERING RAY: BERRES WAS SOX QUIET INFLUENCE

Before there was Don Cooper, there was Ray Berres.

70 years ago Saturday, the White Sox signed Berres to serve as their pitching coach.

The signing began a distinguished 20-year career which turned out to be the longest stint by a White Sox coach.

Berres’ record may be in peril. No-signs-of-slowing-down Cooper, also a respected pitching coach, can eclipse Berres’ mark if he lasts through 2021.

So revered was Berres he was once called “the greatest pitching coach of all” by Bill Fischer, who played under Berres and was a big league pitching coach for 14 seasons.

Berres, who died at age 99 in 2007, played 11 seasons as a catcher in the Major Leagues in the 1930s and 1940s.

“You don’t see many players like him anymore,” said Dale McReynolds, a Platteville native who has scouted since 1953 for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals and currently works for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I wish I could find an 18-year old with the ability of Ray. He scrambled, scratched, and clawed until he made his way to the big leagues. The fire he’s got inside of him… it’s almost impossible to find these days.”

The native of Kenosha, Wis., played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1937 to 1940 before being dealt to the Boston Braves with $40,000 for Lopez June 14,1940.

In his only year as a regular with the Braves, Berres topped big league catchers with a. 995 fielding percentage in 1941. Following the season, Berres was sold to the New York Giants.

He played sparingly there and retired after the 1945 season.

Berres’ success as a catcher helped him become a great pitching coach, former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond said.

“I was raised in New England and I remember as a youngster growing up he was a catcher for the Boston Braves and he was noted as such an outstanding receiver and handler of pitchers,” Hemond once said. “When he went on to become a great pitching coach with the White Sox, it certainly was no surprise because he had gained such a great reputation of how he handled pitchers and pitching staffs.”

Following his playing career, Berres served one season as the Boston Braves bullpen coach and one season as the minor league Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach before the Sox came calling.

It was with the Sox that Berres indiscreetly earned his reputation as one of the best in his profession through hard work and attention to detail.

“He was a quiet man behind the scenes but developed that great pitching staff of the 1950 s and through the 1960s,” White Sox historian Rich Lindberg said in a phone interview for the Berres’ obituary I wrote for the Kenosha News. “He was one of (Hall of Fame manager) Al Lopez’s most trusted assistants. Beyond that, though, was the fact that this man was very gracious, very nice.

“He made better managers out of Paul Richards and Marty Marion during those years. He really had few peers as far as pitching coaches in the Major Leagues….The ’50s would not have been the ‘Go Go ’50s’ without him and that’s the key thing. His influence covered the best years of White Sox history.”

Said Gary Peters, who won 19 games and the Rookie of the Year Award for the 1963 Sox: “I think he was the best pitching coach of his era, easily, and maybe any era.”

Berres was with the White Sox from 1949 to 1966 and 1968 and 1969. He also spent time with the franchise as a minor league instructor and consultant.

According to Lindberg, Berres was instrumental in developing the White Sox farm system.

During his time on the Southside, the White Sox became the peskiest team in baseball, reeling off 17 consecutive winning seasons. Those clubs were built on Berres’ stingy pitching staffs, speed and defense.

“I really think he was one of the unsung heroes and one of the architects of the fine White Sox farm system and those pitching prospects that came up,” Lindberg said.

The “Go Go Era” reached its zenith in 1959 when the White Sox won the American League pennant — their first since 1919 and their last until 2005.

Berres’ 1952 and 1953 staffs led the A. L. in strikeouts. His staffs in 1964 and 1966 led the league in ERA.

Among those Berres tutored were Hall of Famers Hoyt Wilhelm and Early Wynn, Billy Pierce, Tommy John, Joel Horlen and Peters, a left-hander who followed up his

Rookie of the Year campaign with a 20-win season.

“He was the reason I got to the big leagues,” Peters said. “I don’t think I would have gotten there without his help…. He had a knack for spotting mechanical problems in your delivery and he could cure you pretty easily.”

Berres also had a knack of salvaging careers.

“He had the ability to pull out of these guys some elements of talent they didn’t know they had,” Lindberg said.

The most prominent examples of Berres reclamation projects were Bob Shaw and Ray Herbert.

Shaw caught Berres ’ eye one day in Detroit in 1958. Berres saw a struggling Shaw fire a ball in disgust after learning of his demotion to the minor leagues.

“With just that one throw, I liked what I saw, ” Berres said in November of 1999. “I thought it would be a good idea to pick him up if he we had the chance. I figured, what the heck if he doesn’t work out for us maybe we could use him in a trade or something.”

On Berres ’ recommendation, the White Sox acquired Shaw from the Tigers. The 6-foot-2 right-hander finished up strong in 1958 and then went 18-6 with a 2.69 ERA for the 1959 A. L. champs.

Herbert came to the Sox in 1961 after several undistinguished seasons with the Tigers and A’s. Under Berres’ guidance, Herbert won 20 games in 1962, a season that included a victory in the All-Star Game at Wrigley Field and a scoreless streak of 31 innings.

“He made Herbert a very effective pitcher,” Lindberg said. “Ditto for Frank Baumann in 1960, who was a retread from the Boston Red Sox, who led the league in earned-run average that year…. He worked with them on their deliveries and helped them develop new pitches. Ray Berres is a key figure in White Sox history but he was very quiet and very reticent. I don’t think a lot of fans realize the significant role he played in team history.”

After taking off the uniform, Berres still served the Sox as a minor league instructor.

He was Rich Gossage’s first pitching coach.

“Throughout my whole career I would remember Ray Berres yelling at me to stay back,” Gossage said. “We had a lot of fun with it. He was just as good as they come.

“What a great guy. If we had more people like him in the world we wouldn’t have the problems we have. I’ll tell you that.”

So impactful was Berres on his career that Gossage mentioned him in his Hall of Fame induction speech.

“The first place they (the White Sox) sent me was to the Gulf Coast Rookie League in Florida.

“The coaching I received in rookie league was tremendous. Joe Jones was the manger of the team. Sam Hairston was an assistant coach and my first great pitching coach was an ex-catcher by the name of Ray Berres. I learned so much.”

On Nov. 11,1999, Berres was inducted into the State Athletic Hall of Fame. That same year a baseball field was named in his honor in Fox River Park near his Kenosha County homes of Twin Lakes and Silver Lakes, Wis. (where he commuted from during his days with the Sox).

“I was fortunate, ” Berres said in a November 1999 interview with the Kenosha News. “I had good rapport with all my pitchers and I was a good demonstrator. I spent most of my time in the bullpen that was of my own choice. There I could spend more time with the pitchers and work with them and make sure they didn’t revert to their high school or college habits. That’s where I was their godfather and their ‘ mother goose. ’ They trusted me. I never told anybody anything not even the manager sometimes.

“I had a very happy tenure there. ”

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WAY BACK WEDNESDAY: OTD IN 2000 FRANK GETS ROBBED

It all seems so tainted now, doesn’t it?

On this date in 2000, White Sox designated hitter Frank Thomas finished second in the American League MVP voting to Oakland’s Jason Giambi in results released by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Giambi polled 317 points while Thomas had 285 in falling short of his third MVP Award.

Thomas was the driving force behind the Sox surprising run to the American League Central crown, hitting .328 with a career-high 43 homers and 143 RBIs.

Giambi hit .333 with 43 homers and 137 RBIs.

In hindsight, these results look like a joke because Giambi is an admitted steroid user.

Frank, on the other hand, publicly railed against steroid use.

One of the complaints levied against Frank throughout his career was that he didn’t smile enough or seen happy.

Can you blame him?

During his career, Thomas watched players of lesser talent who were suspected users grab headlines, records and accolades while he just did his thing year after year.

Frank did get a chance to vent in 2005 when he testified before Congress.

He concluded his statement by saying: “I have been a major league ballplayer for 15 years. Throughout my career, I have not used steroids. Ever.”

Compare that to what you recall Giambi saying about the subject.

Frank also had the last laugh in Cooperstown in 2014.

Also in the 2000 voting, White Sox right fielder Magglio Ordonez finished 12th after hitting .315 with 32 homers.

This marked the first time since 1994, when Thomas finished first, Julio Franco finsiehd eighth and Jason Bere finished 23rd that the Sox had more than one player receive votes for this award.

MONDAY MEMORY: THIGPEN POLLS WELL

White Sox reliever Bobby Thigpen finished fourth in voting for the American League Cy Young in results released by the Baseball Writers Association of America on this date in 1990.

Thigpen and his big league record of 57 saves were a big reason why the White Sox experienced a renaissance season and finished a surprising second in the American League West in their final season at Comiskey Park.

Thigpen polled two first place votes but it was 27-game winner Bob Welch who won the award.

Thigpen’s finish was the highest in the voting since LaMarr Hoyt won it in 1983.

He was also the first Sox reliever to poll votes since Rich Gossage in 1975 and his finish was the highest ever by a Sox reliever.

FRIDAY FLASHBACK: OTD 1948 SOX GET PIERCE

On this date in 1948, the White Sox pulled off one of the great trades in franchise history when they acquired left-hander Billy Pierce (along with $10,000) from the Detroit Tigers for catcher Aaron Robinson.

It was the first trade executed by general manager Frank Lane and it couldn’t have gone any better.

Pierce went on to become one of the best White Sox pitchers ever and was honored as such when his No. 19 was retired in 1987.

Robinson, meanwhile, was a regular for only two seasons and his non-descript career ended after the 1951 campaign.

Pierce was a rock during the White Sox’s “Go Go” era, winning 186 games with a club-record 1,796 strikeouts between 1949 and 1961.

A four-time All-Star (and three-time starter), the Detroit native was a two-time 20-game winner, led the A.L. in strikeouts in 1953 and in complete games in each season between 1956 and 1958 and ERA in 1955 (1.97).

The class act is also remembered for his rivalry with the Yankees’ Whitey Ford during the 1950s. The aces went head-to-head frequently between 1953 and 1960 many times in front of packed houses in the Bronx or at Comiskey Park.

Pierce went 8-6 against Ford and was victorious in his last three matchups against the future Hall of Famer.

Pierce’s best game may have come June 27, 1958 when he retired 26 consecutive Washington Senators before 11,300 at Comiskey Park.

Pinch-hitter Ed Fitzgerald ruined Pierce’s date with destiny and denied him just the second perfect game in Sox annals by delivering a double to right field. Pierce struck out the next batter to notch the 3-0 complete game victory.

Following the 1961 season, Pierce was shipped to San Francisco in a six-player deal.

He pitched three years with the Giants before retiring after the 1964 season.

One of the nicest people ever to don the Sox yarns, Pierce remained a presence on the south side late into his life and remained one of the most popular players in team history until his death in 2015 at age 88.

@SOXNERD HISTORY LESSON: JOCKO CONLAN

On this date in 1935, the White Sox did Jocko Conlan a favor by releasing him and ending his playing career.

The Chicago native went on to become one of the great umpires in big league history and he was recognized as that when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974.

Conlan was a National League arbiter between 1941 and 1965.

He got his start as an umpire while with the White Sox in 1935.

In a game against the Browns, umpire Red Ormbsy was overcome with exhaustion.

With the blessing of White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes, Conlan volunteered to umpire and a Hall of Fame career was born.

Conlan’s umpiring career officially began in 1935 in the minors at the New York Pennsylvania League.

Conlan made it to the Majors in 1941 and stayed there until June 6, 1965. His 1967 book, “Jocko,” written with the great Robert Creamer, chronicled his umpiring life.

In between, he umpired five World Series’ and six All-Star Games.

Conlan, who died in 1989, hit .263 with no homers and 31 RBIs in 1934 and 1935 for the Sox.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ROLAND HEMOND (AND HAPPY ANNIVERSARY ’05 TITLE)!

Roland Hemond had quite the birthday in 2005. Photo: https://goo.gl/images/VCvxsb

Twelve years ago Thursday, Roland Hemond had the best birthday ever.

Hemond, who served as White Sox general manager from 1971 to 1985, began the day watching the Sox win Game 3 of the 2005 World Series in Houston in his capacity as executive advisor to general manager Ken Williams.

The Sox epic 7-5 win in 14 innings ended in the wee small hours of Oct. 26, which was Hemond’s 76th birthday.

Later that day, Hemond, still in birthday mode, watched the Sox finish off the Astros for the title with a 1-0 win in Game 4.

“It was hard to describe,” said Hemond, a baseball lifer who has spent more than a half century in the game.

“It was very emotional for me. That’s the ultimate of my career.”

12 YEARS AGO: MY GAME 2 JOURNEY


When I walked out of cold and wet U.S. Cellular Field 12 years ago Monday  –- for what would be the last time during that magical 2005 season – I knew I had not only witnessed the greatest game in the history of the White Sox but in the history of the great City of Chicago as well. 

I was so stunned and emotionally drained after Scott Podsednik’s walkoff homer had given the Sox a 7-6 Sunday night win over Houston and a 2-0 lead in the World Series that was about the most coherent thought I could muster.

The fact that I witnessed and worked this classic with people I love and respect made it the most amazing sporting event of my life.

I was there in my capacity displaying graphics on the scoreboard while my baby brother and youngest daughter were in the stands taking it all in.

My daughter Ellie, right, and my co-worker Jen McMahon after Game 2 of the 2005 World Series.

Usually my wife would have been at the game but she was with our oldest daughter 95 miles and 90 minutes to the north at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center at a Paul McCartney concert.

Sir Paul is a must-see for us so when that tour was announced we bought the Milwaukee tickets and joked that the only possible thing that could keep me from the show was if the Sox were in the World Series. 

It was no joke.


My wife and daughter kept tabs on the game via text while seeing another classic performance by Paul.

By the way, that night Paul did NOT play any songs that The Beatles performed at their day-night doubleheader at Comiskey Park on Aug. 20, 1965.

For many, the other Paul in our life —  Konerko — had the game’s most memorable moment with his grand slam in the seventh inning.

And why not?


The slam –- the first by a Sox player in postseason and the 18th in World Series history — gave the Sox a 6-4 lead and sent the 41,432 into a frenzy.

Konerko’s blast was the first slam in World Series history that came in the seventh inning or later and erased a deficit. 

This game was not without controversy, which obviously contributed to its greatness.

With one out in the seventh, Jermaine Dye was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

The Astros protested that the ball hit the bat and not Dye and replays backed that up. However, Dye took first and Konerko followed with the slam.

Those feisty Astros tied the game with two in the ninth off Bobby Jenks with the tying run scoring on a close but clearly safe play at the plate.

In the ninth, Juan Uribe led off with a fly out to center before Podsednik sent Brad Lidge’s 2-1 pitch into the right field stands to put the Sox two wins from their first World Series title since 1917. 

When the ball landed in the right-center field seats, I put both hands on my head, looked at the first person I could find and made the declaration of the greatness of the game that I would repeat to this very day.


That game holds up and the memories endure as the years fly by.

What has emboldened that for me is something I discovered years later while watching the MLB Network.

In recapping Podsednik’s blast, I caught a glimpse of the scoreboard — my scoreboard — as the camera tracked the flight of the ball. I could see based on just the lower-part of the graphic that I had Podsednik’s career stats vs. Lidge on the board for that pitch of that at bat.

The gravity of the moment made it a blur for me at the time so that snippet is a nice snapshot of that night for me.

As with Podsednik as he described on the White Sox Talk Podcast (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/white-sox-talk-podcast/id1162163703?mt=2&i=1000392820481), the moment did not get too big for me or anybody else working that unforgettable night.

Happy 12th birthday Game 2 of the 2005 World Series: The greatest workday of my life! 

DON’T STOP BELIEVIN’!

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