William Frank Isbell
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 190 lb.
- Debut May 1, 1898
- Final Game October 3, 1909
- Born August 21, 1875 in Delevan, NY USA
- Died July 15, 1941 in Wichita, KS USA
Frank Isbell played ten seasons in the major leagues and was part of the 1906 Chicago White Sox that beat the great 1906 Chicago Cubs to win the 1906 World Series. He also had an excellent year in 1905, with a 149 Adjusted OPS. He led the American League in stolen bases in 1901 with 52, in his first season as a major league regular. He is one of a small number of players to have played all nine positions on the field during his career.
Minor League Beginnings
Isbell was originally signed as pitcher by Charles Comiskey to play for the St. Paul Saints of the Western League in 1896. However, he also batted .365 that first year, and thus began a habit of playing him all over the field. He played a variety of positions in his major league career, including 619 at first base, 351 at second base, and over 100 in the outfield. He even filled in twice at catcher in emergencies. He also pitched 17 games (85.3 innings, mostly as a rookie), with a decent ERA.
A Rookie in the National League
Isbell's rookie season was with the Chicago Orphans (later to become the Chicago Cubs) in 1898, where he was the consummate utility player, spending time on the mound and all over the field. He even saved a baby from a burning building located across from St. Louis' Sportsman's Park on April 16th, two weeks before his major league debut. He hit .233 in 159 at bats as a rookie, while posting a 3.56 ERA in a time of very high batting averages. He was sent back to St. Paul in August, in exchange for pitcher Bill Phyle, and played there the following year. In 1900, Comiskey moved the St. Paul franchise to Chicago, with the Western League becoming the American League that season, and calling itself a second major league beginning in 1901.
A Regular with the White Sox
Frank Isbell was the White Sox's regular first baseman from 1900 to 1903, having a particularly good year in the team's inaugural season as a major league entity in 1901, when he contributed 93 runs scored, 75 RBI and 52 stolen bases and a .257 batting average to a pennant-winning team. He struggled at the plate over the following seasons, hitting a trough in 1904 with a .210 batting average, backed by a .255 on-base percentage and only 14 extra base hits in 314 at bats. He lost the regular first baseman's job to Jiggs Donahue that season and returned to shifting around the diamond.
He had his best season as a utility player in 1905, hitting .296 with an excellent .440 slugging percentage. That earned him the regular second base job the following year, when he contributed 153 hits, 11 triples, 37 stolen bases, a .279 batting average and a .352 slugging percentage as the third-place hitter for the pennant-winning White Sox. He started that year's World Series with a whimper, going 1 for 16 over the first four games, but then caught fire, hitting four doubles in Game 5, and then adding three hits in the Series-clinching Game 6 as the White Sox defeated their heavily-favored crosstown rivals, the Chicago Cubs, by 4 games to 2.
Isbell's production dropped off afer that, and by the end of the 1907 season, he was lobbying Comiskey to release him in order to accept an offer to manage his hometown Wichita Jobbers in the Western League. Comiskey refused to grant the request, either because other teams would not let him clear waivers, or because Comiskey did not want to let go of a player who was still useful, depending on whose version you want to believe. Isbell hit .243 in 125 games for the year, then held out to begin the 1908 season, working on his Wichita, KS farm until Comiskey granted him a raise in June and brought him back as the team's first baseman. He hit .247 in 84 games, but then fell to .224 in 120 games in 1909, his last season in the majors.
Minor League Manager and Owner
He was released in January, 1910 and returned to Wichita where he managed the Jobbers in 1910 and 1911, presiding over the team's transfer to Pueblo, CO mid-way through that second season. He took over the reins for the Des Moines Boosters in 1912, a team that was partly controlled by Comiskey. He returned to Wichita in 1915, serving as club president until 1926, including a stint as manager in 1917. He worked as a free-lance scout for a few years, then became president of the Topeka Senators in 1931. He always kept up his connection with Comiskey over those years, sending a number of young players his way during those two decades.
After he left baseball for good, he was elected Sedgwick County Commissionner in 1940, a post he filled until his death in Wichita in July, 1941.
He was called "The Bald Eagle" because of his receding hairline. He was sensitive about being bald and did not like the nickname.
- AL Stolen Bases Leader (1901)
- 50 Stolen Bases Seasons: 1 (1901)
- Won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 1906
Year-by-Year Managerial Record
|1910||Wichita Jobbers||Western League||89-78||4th||none|
|1911||Wichita Jobbers/Pueblo Indians||Western League||92-75||3rd||none|
|1912||Des Moines Boosters||Western League||82-80||4th||none|
|1913||Des Moines Boosters||Western League||93-72||2nd||none|
|1914||Des Moines Boosters||Western League||82-81||4th||none|
|1915||Des Moines Boosters||Western League||87-53||1st||none League Champs|
|1916||Des Moines Boosters||Western League||75-75||5th||none|
|1917||Wichita Witches||Western League||--||--||replaced by Bobby Wallace|
- Trey Strecker: "William Frank Isbell", in David Jones, ed.: Deadball Stars of the American League, SABR, Potomac Books, Inc., Dulles, VA, 2006, pp. 478-479.