The attraction was a doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and the team’s historic nemesis from the Go-Go Sox days of the 1950s and ‘60s — the New York Yankees. But the true significance of the long day wouldn’t be known until its final moment, which would serve as a true rolling-out party for protagonist Dick Allen and his Sox teammates fondly remembered a half-century later, beyond Allen’s death at 78 in 2020.
Ultimately, 8,000 fans would be turned away from the well-worn, 62-year-old stadium. The official attendance was 51,904 — the largest crowd to see the Sox since 1954 and the sixth-largest paid crowd in Chicago history up to that time.
A traditional Bat Day partly accounted for the massive turnout at the ballpark. The hated Yankees, long a South Side draw, could also be factored into the standing-room-only throng.
But the increased fan excitement on this day was mainly caused by their overachieving team, resurgent in the American League after a fallow three-year period. From 1968 to 1970, the Sox lost a combined 295 games, finished last in the league in attendance in two of three years and were continually rumored to be moving out of the city.
“There was just a smattering of fans throughout the park during those days,” recalled stadium organist Nancy Faust, who was hired as a 23-year-old in 1970. “Where I was originally located, in the center field bleachers, fans practically didn’t exist.”
But in 1972, the White Sox were generating excitement with their fan base in a way that hadn’t been seen on the South Side since the early 1960s. On June 4, the Sox were 23-17 in the American League’s Western Division, just 3½ games behind the already-dominant Oakland Athletics. That team, which had charismatic All-Stars ranging from Reggie Jackson to Catfish Hunter to Joe Rudi, was one year removed from its first AL West title and looking forward to a dynastic future with multiple World Series Championships and a place as one of the great teams in baseball history. But the 1972 White Sox were poised to be competitive with the A’s.
“They were a great team and every time we played them it was a battle,” remembered Stan Bahnsen, a starting pitcher with the ’72 Sox.
Competitive roster, thanks to Tanner and Hemond
The reason for the White Sox’ rebirth was multifold. Sox manager Chuck Tanner and director of player personnel Roland Hemond — both brought over from the California Angels late in the 1970 season — had created a competitive roster through trades (former Yankees pitcher Bahnsen, former California Angels outfielder Jay Johnstone), the farm system (a talented young bullpen of fireballers Rich “Goose” Gossage, Terry Forster and Bart Johnson) and holdovers (power-hitting third baseman Bill Melton, line-drive hitting Carlos May and veteran knuckleball pitcher Wilbur Wood).