Friday, December 14, 2007

Richie Zisk: A Man For One Season

Richie came to the White Sox for only one season, but it happened to be the best of his career. He was part of Bill Veeck's "rent-a-player" experiment of 1977. It was a crazy idea from a man with crazy ideas and it almost worked.

Richie started his career in Pittsburgh and was with the Pirates from 1971 to 1976. Tragedy contributed to a regular spot on the Pirates starting in 1973. Richie took over Roberto Clemente's spot in the outfield and on the Pirates roster after his plane crash. He put up decent numbers, including a 100 RBI season and another season where he hit 21 home runs. He even hit over .300 twice in Pittsburgh. In December of 1976, Richie was traded along with Silvio Martinez to the White Sox for Rich Gossage and Terry Forster.

1977 was the year of the South Side Hitmen. Home runs came left and right, or so it seemed. Richie hit 30 home runs, 101 RBI and averaged .290, which were the best of his entire career. Sox fans had reason to cheer. There was excitement in Comiskey Park for the first time in many years. The Sox would have a legitimate shot at the postseason. The Sox finished 90-72, only good enough for third in the Western Division.

Third place was not success and the experiment was dismantled. He was granted free agency at the end of the 1977 season and signed with the Texas Rangers a few days later. He made the All-Star team with the Rangers in 1978, just like he did the season before with the White Sox. Richie stayed with Texas until the end of the 1980 season. He was traded to the Mariners in December 1980 and stayed in Seattle until his release in January 1985. His last game was on September 21, 1983.

Richie never quite matched his 1977 season with the Sox. His average never suffered that much, but his power numbers kept dipping lower. He is still remembered fondly in Chicago. Some people who saw the South Side Hitmen swear that it is the best hitting team that the White Sox ever put on the field.

Richie is currently a hitting coach for the Daytona Cubs. They retired his number 22 in a ceremony on July 20, 2007 with his family in attendance. It was also Richie Zisk bobblehead doll day.

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