Going deep with 'the Bandit': A near-pennant and a Gold Glove

  • White Sox outfielder Ken Berry on March 6, 1968.

    White Sox outfielder Ken Berry on March 6, 1968. Associated Press

 
Updated 11/28/2020 8:22 PM

Second of 3 parts

Two years after the Sox finished second for the third straight year, Ken Berry once again found himself in the middle of a pennant race in 1967.

 

That year, the Sox were fighting for the AL flag with three other teams.

Manager Eddie Stanky's aggressive style, using small ball and an abundance of speed to squeak across enough runs to win, while holding down the opposition with pitching and defense, looked like it would pay off with a pennant in 1967.

Berry said he learned how to play the game from Stanky, especially how to take advantage of all 27 outs and not give them away.

"He was tough to play for, because he wouldn't give you an inch. He would be right there, staying on you, making sure that you knew what he wanted."

Stanky's Sox developed a reputation as a strong defensive but weak hitting club, one that Berry feels is unfair.

He said the Sox literally put a damper on the offense when Stanky required groundskeeper Gene Bossard, father of the current Sox groundskeeper, to water down the infield from the front of home plate almost to the pitcher's mound to compensate for the lack of range of the White Sox infielders.

"It was soaking wet every day, regardless of whether we had any rain," Berry said.

The downside was, "No one could have hit there, because if you hit a hard ground ball that's going to go through the hole, it was like slop, slop, and then somebody picked it up and threw you out at first by a step," he said. "We had (Tommie) Agee, (Don) Buford, (Al) Weis, (Tom) McCraw and I, five guys that could really run, and we just didn't beat out many hits."

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Berry's offensive numbers would improve when the Sox installed artificial turf -- known as Sox Sod. In 1970, he posted a respectable .276 batting average.

In 1967, Berry would mostly play right field. In 1966, Agee had been given the regular center field job, held by Berry the year before in 1965.

During the 1967 pennant push, Berry would contribute significantly to the offense, at one point putting together a 20-game hitting streak.

That year, he seemed to specialize in late-inning heroics. Shortly after 2:15 a.m. on July 26, Berry's two-run homer in the 16th inning won the game 6-5 and ensured the Sox a doubleheader sweep over Cleveland.

On Sept. 3, Berry's two-run triple in the ninth provided the exclamation point in a 4-0 win over Boston that kept the team within one game of first.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Berry earned a trip to the All-Star Game that year. But, for reasons unclear to Berry, he incurred the wrath of AL Manager Hank Bauer. Bauer kept him on the bench until the last out of the 15-inning marathon that featured 30 strikeouts, inserting him as a pinch hitter to face a young Tom Seaver. Berry struck out swinging to end the game.

The Sox faltered at the end in 1967, dropping from a first-place tie in early September to fourth by the season's finish.

One game that signaled the end took place at Comiskey Park against Boston on Aug. 27, when Berry, attempting to score from third on a fly out by Duane Josephson, was tagged out by catcher Elston Howard, who made a leaping catch on right fielder Jose Tartabull's throw and blocked the plate, for the last out of a 4-3 loss.

Berry, who said he had a sprained ankle, said, "If I had been my normal self, with two good legs, I probably would have beaten the throw."

On Sept. 24, the Sox were in third place, but only one game back, with five games left against two lowly teams, Kansas City and Washington.

They dropped all five and finished fourth, three games behind the AL champion Red Sox.

With the season over, Berry said, "I'm driving down I-55 heading for Kansas, and just thinking, 'Man we had it.'"

Berry regained his center field position in 1968.

He said, "When they put me in center field, they said, 'OK, you understand that you have priority over everybody in the park,'" explaining he was in charge of the other outfielders, as well as over infielders backing up on a fly ball.

"I was in hog heaven," he said.

What wasn't heavenly was the uneven terrain of the Comiskey outfield.

"We had a lot of rolling little slopes and dips. And every time it rained, those little low spots would fill up with water, and it would take a day or so for them to go away," he said.

Berry's play from 1968 to 1970 was stellar -- he went errorless throughout the 1969 season -- and would earn him Gold Glove honors in 1970.

During his Gold Glove year, one of the worst for the White Sox, his outfield play was among the season's highlights.

They included a catch against the left-center field wall at Fenway Park to rob Don Pavletich of the Red Sox of a homer on May 29.

On June 17 at White Sox Park, Berry's leaping catch against the center field barrier deprived the Yankees' Curt Blefary of a trip around the bases.

Even his failed attempts brought excitement, as when he dived head first over the center field fence as he chased a Harmon Killebrew home run against the Twins at home on June 28.

On Aug. 9, 1970, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of photos depicting a diving catch of a sinking liner off the bat of California's Joe Azcue, with the headline, "He's the Berries."

But shortly after he was awarded Gold Glove honors, the White Sox would trade Berry to the Angels.

Part 3: Managing the Big Hurt and the Little Hurt, a brush with the silver screen, and the literary life

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