Sale of the Century!

July 1, 2015

I have not written a lot about the White Sox of late.  It has been a very disappointing season for the South Siders, sitting ten games under the 0.500 mark, in a season where there was a lot of buzz about turning the corner and getting into contention.  However, even in the darkest of nights, there can be a bright shining star.  Chris Sale seems to be that beacon of hope.

Let’s talk some numbers.

Last night, June 30, Chris Sale tied the Major League record by striking out 10 or more batters in his 8th straight game.  That is pretty darn good, and it helps to keep in mind that he was playing the St. Louis Cardinals who have already eclipsed 50 wins on the season, doing so in the least number of games of any team of the past decade.

Last night, coincidentally, was also Chris Sale’s 100th career start.  That’s a time when we can take pause and begin comparing him to some other pitchers on a career basis.  Over their first 100 starts, let’s examine some classic strikeout masters in terms of the number of games they had 10 or more strikeouts:

Nolan Ryan: 22

Randy Johnson: 17

Roger Clemens: 18

Pedro Martinez: 19

Clayton Kershaw:  12

 

Chris Sale:  27

 

We need to take this with a degree of salt. In the case of Johnson and Clemens, they entered the game at a time when strikeout pitching was starting to wane, though it took of soon enough.  It is difficult to tell for sure if we are passed that or if we are still in the midst of it.  If we are still in it, then Sale’s performance is perhaps not as awe inspiring as it looks.  If we are past the time of great strikeouts (certainly it is nothing like the early 2000s, the Sale’s numbers are incredibly good.

 

Here are three statlines of note:

  1. 100 starts, 557 strikeouts, 565.1 IP, 30-37, 4.23 ERA
  2. 100 starts, 592 strikeouts, 621.1 IP, 38-34, 3.97 ERA
  3. 100 starts, 766 strikeouts, 682.2 IP, 46-30, 2.81 ERA

You may have guessed that since I am making a point, that last line is Chris Sale, and you would be right.  The second line is Randy Johnson, and the top line belongs to none other than Sandy Koufax.  It is a little difficult to compare across eras, and like stocks, past pitching stats are no indicator of future performance.  Still, those are damn fine numbers compared to not just a couple of Hall of Fame pitchers, but two of the immortal pitchers in baseball history.

 

Another interesting stat is that Sale is really hear to baffle hitters.  That is, his stuff must look very hittable, but the hitters have a hard time touching it.  From May 23 to June 30, here are the top pitchers in baseball in terms of number of swings-and-a-miss strikes they have thrown:

Cole Hammels:  99

Rubby de La Rosa:  102

Clayton Kershaw:  109

 

Chris Sale:  171!

 

This is an enormous statistical difference, and for those not in the baseball orbit, Kershaw has won three of the last four NL Cy Young Awards, including the last two in a row, and is the defending NL MVP.  While he is not enjoying the overwhelming success he has had the past few years, he is, as of today, still leading the NL in strikeouts.

 

From a franchise perspective, he already owns the career record for games with 10 or more strikeouts.  His 2.17 ERA in 2014 was the lowest of any White Sox pitcher since the Nixon administration.  Of all White Sox pitchers with at least 500 career innings pitched in a Sox uniform, his ratio of strikeouts-per-9 innings pitched is the highest ever, and it is better than a full strikeout-per-9 innings pitched better than the second best pitcher.  The three best White Sox seasons according to strikeouts-per-9 innings pitched are Chris Sale (2014), Chris Sale (2013) and Chris Sale (2012).  If he simply continues at his current pace without improvement, he will improve his own record by over a strikeout and a half-per-9 innings pitched (and would rank as the fifth best season in MLB history at that statistic).

 

There are 10 White Sox pitchers who have collected 1000 or more career strikeouts while pitching on the South Side.  After the equivalent of 4.5 full seasons of pitching, as of today, Sale has 878.  Again, if he simply continues at his current pace, he will reach 1000 strikeouts before October.  If he were to slow a little, and add 200 strikeouts in 2016, he would end 2016 as the sixth most prolific pitcher in White Sox history … and there is evidence that his best pitching may still be ahead of him.

 

Is there something stopping Chris Sale?  Two words:

RUN SUPPORT

Despite putting up numbers that would beg to question on June 30 if his coronation as this year’s Cy Young Award winner will be a plurality of unanimous, Chris Sale cannot seem to win games because the offense is not getting him routine support.  In fact during this joyous time, Chris Sale joined Randy Johnson and Curt “bloody sock” Schilling as the only pitchers in MLB history to pitch 10 or more strikeouts in four consecutive games and somehow not win any of them!  Last night was no different.  Sale pitched 8 brilliant innings giving up a home run for the Cardinals’ only run, yet the Sox could also manage only one run.  Sale left without a decision in the game, which was won in extra innings.  Just to be complete, here is Sale’s stat line for 2015 through July 1:

 

15 games, 15 starts, 103.1 IP (76.5% of complete), 2.87 ERA, 141 K (leading AL), 22 BB, 0.968 WHIP, 12.3 K/9 IP (leading AL).  Win-loss record: 6-4.

 

 

6-4??????  For the rest of those numbers, one would have to wonder if this is a misprint, because it is more indicative of 11-4.

And herein is the quandry.  Chris Sale is beloved on the South Side, yet in two years when his contract comes up, he must seriously consider if Chicago is where he wants to stay.  It is one thing to put up amazing numbers, but another to not get the support that is needed to win the games and be a champion.  Certainly, on the open market, Sale would command Insane Texas oilman/Insane Arab sheikh prices.  With that in mind, if the Sox get an inkling that Sale will not sign, it may mean at some point that the White Sox will need to consider trading this rare gemstone in hopes of getting something back in return.

Let us hope the offense comes around, and Chris Sale starts getting the support that he has more than earned.

 

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Strange coincidence.

June 16, 2015

You know what doesn’t happen a lot … this:

Hawks_2015

Yes … it was the Blackhawks 3rd Stanley Cup championship in 6 years, but it was the first time that the Blackhawks had won the Cup on home ice since 1938.

 

You know what else doesn’t happen very often?  The White Sox playing the Pirates.  The Pirates play in the National League.  The White Sox simply don’t play them very often.  Over the past 100 years, the Sox have played the Pirates a few times perhaps 50 times, and most of those were in pre-season Spring Training games.  Nonetheless, thanks to the Blackhawks, this story was not widely followed yesterday:

Sox_2015

 

It is the worst loss the Sox have ever suffered at the hands of Pittsburgh.

 

Let’s time warp back to the last time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup at home … April 12, 1938:

Hawks_1938

It took 77 years for the Blackhawks to win a Stanley Cup on home ice … and equally long for the Pirates to beat the Sox that badly.  The 10-2 loss (a Spring Training loss) was almost certainly the worst loss to the Pirates, prior to last night.

 


White Sox Township

May 8, 2015

The New York Times published a map of the United States, highlighting in great detail where baseball loyalty lies.

Baseball_map

Here you can see the great nations:  RedSoxNation, YankeeNation, Giants Nation, RangersNation, BravesNation, TigerNation, and CardinalNation.  CubNation is there … not quite as geographically large as some Northsiders would suspect.

Alas, where is WhiteSoxTownship?

Baseball_map_closeup

Ah ... there it is!

If we zoom in even further, we can see that Cook county is not as overwhelming Cub as you would think (40%-38%).

Baseball_map_Cook

The map is pretty neat, it goes down to zip codes, and that got me thinking:  Where is the soul of White Sox fandom?  Where do Sox fans outnumber the Cub more than any other place?  It turns out there is a place where 59% of folks are White Sox fans … the most White Soxy zip code in the world:

Baseball_map_zipcode

It turns out the heart of White Sox fandom is none other than Alsip, IL.

So I have that going for me.


When you have no one else to blame … blame the Sox

April 12, 2015

I’ve been accused of having fun at the Cubs’ expense, though I argue that the Cubs are having fun at their own expense, and I’m simply reporting what is happening.  As a Sox fan, you couldn’t make up the real problems that the Cubs create for themselves.

And when I thought it couldn’t get worse, some Cubs fans help ease the shipwreck a little deeper.

According to a report at “Bleed Cubbie Blue” (part of the SB Network of websites), which itself is likely greatly misinterpreting a Chicago Tribune article by Mark Gonzales … the REAL culprit behind the lack of hot dog buns and long lines for the men’s room at Wrigley Field has been uncovered … and of course they are blaming the White Sox, because when you have run out of excuses, you blame the other guys.

Apparently, the Cubs realized back at the start of the 2014 season that they would not have the reconstruction project done on time, and that they wanted to start their season on the road.  The MLB schedules are made up more than a year in advance, and as such the Cubs were scheduled to open at home vs. the Cardinals.

Cubs schedules are complicated because they share the city with the White Sox, and it is very rare for both teams to be playing in town at the same time (this is to keep traffic and police requirements to a minimum) … it still happens maybe a few times a year, but with Opening weekend being an especially busy time, it is not realistic to have both teams in town at the same time.

The Cubs apparently requested a change (which would have also required changes to the schedules for their opening opponents (the Cardinals), and the Sox opening opponents (the Royals … who as defending AL champions were scheduled to open at home).  According to the story, the Sox vetoed the Cubs request by saying that they didn’t want to open at home in consecutive years.

Is this true?  It might be, though I suspect that IF it is true, the Sox were simply repaying decades of the Cubs and the Tribune Company rubbing the noses of the Sox and their fans in the ground, capitalizing on their media empire that billed the Cubs as Chicago’s premier baseball team (despite having a worse record than the Sox).  In fact Chicago’s CBS affiliate reported (based on an interview on Chicago radio station WSCR) that as the Cubs knew they would not have Wrigley Field ready on time, they considered supplicating themselves to Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to rent U.S. Cellular Field.  According to the report, they didn’t bother asking because they knew the White Sox would say “no” … though I suspect the real reason is that they were afraid he would say “yes”, in return for exorbitant sums of money that the Cubs might have had to fork over … knowing that as their fans suffered, the Sox could say “we did make the offer”.  But I digress.

 

The Chicago Cubs must realize by now that anyone can have a bad day, week, month, year, or even century.  The Cubs have repeatedly assured fans that on the far side of these projects is a bright shiny future for the Cubs.  If that is the case, fine, fans, players, and ownership have nothing to worry about, and while there are some pretty bad missteps along the way, there is a light on the horizon.  That said, blaming others for your mistakes is not really classy.  I’m not laying this one on the Cubs, but the way Al Yellon carries on (not directly accusing Jerry Reinsdorf, but coming close) while implicating MLB for “dropping the ball” … sorry Al … it is the Cubs front office who dropped the ball.  Blaming others for your team’s lack of foresight is pretty unbecoming.  If the schedule was a big deal, the Cubs could have put off construction for a year.  If the comfort of their fans was a big deal, they would have had sufficient facilities for the fans.  From this outsider’s perspective, it is yet another example of some corporate billionaire who thinks because he has money he knows how to do anything, and again managing to screw things up.

I’m sure brighter days rally are ahead for the Cubs, but that is no reason to blame anyone else for the mistakes of the front office.  If the situation were reversed, and Hawk Harrelson attacked the Cubs for not allowing a schedule change and thus implying the Cubs ruined Opening Day on the South Side, we would never hear the end of it from Cubdom.


A dark time to be a Southside Geek

March 1, 2015

I’m not an actor and never aspired to be, but I would imagine that in the realm of acting, there are two key challenges.  One is to repeatedly master interpreting a character that has been well written and developed.  I suppose this is the draw of the Shakespearean actors who spend a lifetime mastering the characters written by the Bard.  You start off young playing a Romeo or Juliet, and as you age, you graduate to Hamlets and Ophelias then Lears and Desdemonas and finally the Prospero and … (there really aren’t a lot of great roles for female actors … this inequity has been around for a long time!).  To me, this is like mastering the old figures that skaters were required to trace in the ice as a preliminary to the more interesting and expressive free-skate.  It took exceptional discipline and skill, even if it was not particularly creative.

The other challenge is giving birth to an original character.  Sure, there are some basics worked out by a writer, but here the challenge is to create a realistic and convincing character that is also consistent.  To me, this is the more difficult thing, because it requires discipline, intelligence, and imagination (somewhere, there is an interview where Samuel L. Jackson chides other actors’ complaints about working with green screens and virtual characters … and that he never had a problem with it because all it should take is using imagination to fill in the details).  To me, this is a bigger challenge.  I think so much of our art is derived (even Shakespeare drew heavily from source material … this is hardly new), which isn’t necessarily bad, but original characters are few and far between … and the percent of those who get some good writers and a good actor to really give them life are even smaller in number.

 

 

Spock

 

Pictured:  Original

 

You can’t be a geek and not love this guy … if there were a Mt. Rushmore for geeks, he’s up there.  It is hard to think and look back but in a time in our country (not so dissimilar from now), when emotion and illogic on all sides was the rule of the day, that a hero could come about that was so icily logical.  To conservatives, he was a stark contrast to the bleeding heart hippies and civil rights protesters tearing up cities, and to more liberally minded folks, he was a living representation of acceptance without reservation.  Anyone who ever felt like they didn’t quite fit in could relate to this character.

That’s the character.  In contrast, Leonard Nimoy wasn’t all that icy.  There have been hundreds of articles printed in the past few weeks about him (his passing was not a surprise).  Certainly there have been platitudes of sadness and celebration, all well earned.  Let me focus on some facts.

Like in 1968, when a young bi-racial girl wrote a letter to a teen magazine, addressed to Spock, asking how he handled being bi-racial.  When Nimoy found out, he wrote a letter to the magazine giving the young lady some advice.  In a time when it was hard enough for people in this country to accept African-Americans … it was progressive to even begin thinking about bi-racial people.  Keep in mind, things like this could cost performers future earnings since studios could easily turn away more progressive thinking actors in order to avoid alienating money earned in Southern/MidWestrn theaters.

Like in 1973, when Star Trek: The Animated Series was gearing up.  Nimoy found out that Shatner and DeForest Kelly (Dr. McCoy) had been approached to star along with Nimoy, but that Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), George Takei (Sulu), and Walter Koenig (Chekov) had not been offered roles.  Nimoy made it clear to the producers:  Star Trek is about diversity, and those actors were the diversity.  If they weren’t offered roles, they could count him out.  One of the recurring motifs I’ve picked up in reading a lot of the tributes to him are that his compassion and respect for fellow actors and artists was genuine.  Prior to that Nimoy and Koenig had been involved in making sure that Nichelle Nichols started getting paid equally with the rest of the non-African-American, non-female cast.

Like in 2007 when Nimoy published The Full Body Project.  Dating to his youth in Boston, Nimoy was fascinated with photography, and took classes in California, and was even an artist in residence at the American Academy in Rome.  The Full Body Project, in Nimoy’s own words, “frightened” him as he photographed nude full bodied women in an exploration of femininity and sexuality beyond what society and the media portray.

Like in 1962 when Nimoy teamed up with Vic Morrow to independently produce Deathwatch, which was a film about two prisoners fighting over the love of a third.  Read that again … a full half-decade before anyone knew who Nimoy was, he was teaming up to make a serious film about homosexual love in prison … in the early 1960s.  In the early 1980s, it was still considered risky to produce a film version of Kiss of the Spider Woman, and that got William Hurt an Oscar for his risk taking.  I would imagine that Nimoy qualifies for “artistic street cred”.

Like in 1968, when it was still a bit risky to publicly side with the Civil Rights movement, especially for less-established stars who might frighten studios away from giving them work if they were seen as taking sides … he joined far better established actors like Jack Lemmon and Barbara Streisand to help the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the immediate wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  While the SCLC is often thought of strictly as a political association, they were also responsible for trying to help hundreds of thousands of impoverished people in the South.  Nimoy ran a food drive, including a big fundraiser at the Hollywood Bowl, to help them out.

In more recent years, he has been behind a big push to get people to stop smoking and to not start the habit.  Ultimately, this is what killed him, he knew it was going to kill him, and he tried his best to speak out and help others not walk that same road.

Spock_car

It goes without saying … he was just frickin’ geek cool 40 years before Tina Fey brought it back!  Also, there is a great story about the time Spock’s car was towed by … well, who would you guess would tow Spock’s car (set phasers for hammy fun!)?

 

That’s why there is an overwhelming amount of love for the guy.  It makes one wonder if Spock helped make Leonard Nimoy all he became, or if we so embraced Spock because so much of Leonard Nimoy was in the character.

IDICIDICIDIC

This morning I woke up to read dreadful news for the citizens of White Sox Township.  Our very own “Mr. White Sox”, Saturnino Orestes Armas Arrieta Miñoso has passed away.  He was simply known as Minnie Miñoso.  No one in Major League history had a career like him.

Miñoso was Afro-Cuban, and was the first Latino with dark skin to play in Major League Baseball.  Two years before Ernie Banks integrated the Cubs, Miñoso integrated the White Sox.  His arrival from Cleveland at the start of the 1951 season not only heralded a new era of greater racial awareness on the South Side, but it also helped bring in the “Go-Go” era in White Sox history.  In his first game on 1 May, he hit a home run.  The Sox would end the 1951 season with an 81-73 record, their first winning season since 1943.  The Sox would have winning seasons through 1967 .. .one of the five longest stretches of winning seasons in Major League history.  Over his 17 year career, he was a 9-time All-Star, and 5 times finished in the top-10 for MVP voting.  Along with Al Kaline and Willie Mays, he was one of the first three outfielders to win a Gold Glove when the award was started in 1957.  He would win two more in the next three years.  Miñoso’s career on-base percentage was 0.389 (higher than folks like Tony Gwynn, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez (all of whom are at least Hall of Fame caliber players).  In one of baseball’s golden ages, Miñoso was one of its greatest players.

His career WAR (wins above average replacement player) with the White Sox is 41.3 (over his entire career, it is 50.1).  Between 1951-1960, Miñoso’s WAR was the 8th highest in the Major Leagues.  For that decade, his WAR was higher than Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Al Kaline, Larry Doby, Red Schoendienst, and Roy Campanella.  All of those players I mentioned have plaques hanging in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  For reasons that are boggling to many baseball historians and fans, Miñoso remains a glaring omission.  8 times he finished in the top 5 in the American League in stolen bases … he might have done better if Luis Aparicio not come along and started stealing more.

In the 1950s, only two players in the Major Leagues hit 100 home runs, stole 100 bases, and managed to bat over 0.300.  Willie Mays was one.  Minnie Miñoso was the other.  That is elite company in an era of hitting.  Miñoso was an exceptional all-around player.

Miñoso retired with a very respectable 0.298 batting average.  From 1951-60, Miñoso batted 0.307, which was the 8th highest batting average for the entire decade in Major League Baseball (rounded off, that ties him with Mickey Mantle!).  His teammate Nellie Fox, who eventually made it to the Hall of Fame after far too long a wait, batted only 0.303 for the decade.

Aside from integrating their respective teams, and becoming so beloved as to earn the monikers “Mr. Cub”/”Mr. White Sox”, Miñoso and Banks shared something else … they truly loved the game.  In Miñoso’s case, he hated being away form it.  In 1976, with Bill Veeck back in charge of the White Sox, Minnie, aged 51 (plus or minus a few years, no one was certain of his real age), signed a limited contract with the Sox, and made it into 3 games as a designated hitter.  In 8 at-bats, Minnie managed one hit, becoming the third player in history to hit safely in a Major League game after his 50th birthday (I remember this distinctly … my dad was not a big baseball fan, but even he got excited about seeing a player from his boyhood getting a second chance).  In 1980, Minnie made a shorter return (2 games, 2 at bats as a pinch hitter), and became the first player to appear in 5 decades of Major League Baseball.  Only former Sox great Nick Altrock and the immortal Satchel Paige had played Major League Baseball at an older age.

In 1990, the Miami Miracle of the Florida State League (a minor league) requested permission to sign Miñoso to play in his 6th decade of professional baseball.  The Commissioner’s Office refused to grant permission, but three years later, the independent St. Paul Saints (owned by Disco Demolition creator Mike Veeck, Bill Veeck’s son) gave Miñoso his wish.  In 2003, now aged 78ish, Minnie made his final professional appearance, drawing a walk, becoming the oldest player to reach base in a professional game.

One of the prizes of my collection is a baseball signed by the 1957 White Sox, and Minnie is on there.  About a year and a half ago, I was at a show (which would turn out to be Minnie’s last appearance).  I realized what a shame it was that I had never actually met “Mr. White Sox” face-to-face.  So I decided to go and do so.  He was certainly of an older age, but he would continue telling stories until you walked away.  I purchased one of his custom made hats, proclaiming that he is in fact baseball’s only 7 decade player.  On the brim, he signed it. personally, to me.  That’s a special part of the collection!

Minnie_statue

Minnie got about every accolade that he had coming to him.  His #9 had been retired in 1983 by the White Sox (only Luke Appling and Nellie Fox had their numbers retired prior to that).  In 2004, the White Sox dedicated a statue to him on the outfield concourse.  In 2000, he was elected one of the three starting outfielders on the White Sox “All-Century Team”.  In 1984, he was elected to the Chicago Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1990 he got elected to the World Baseball Hall of Fame.  Minnie has been elected to the Cuban Baseball Hall of Fame … TWICE!  After the government of former pitcher Fidel Castro closed down the Cuban professional league in 1960, the Hall of Fame there stopped selecting players.  A group of baseball players in exile formed a group in Florida to keep the tradition alive, and elected Minnie in 1983.  After a half-century of dormancy, the Cuban government re-opened the actual Cuban Hall of Fame, and began inductions again in 2014.  Minnie got in on the first ballot!  At the last game ever played at old Comiskey Park, Minnie brought out the lineup card to the umpires for the final time.

It seems like everyone has recognized the greatness of this special player … except for the American Baseball Hall of Fame.  Despite all of his numbers, Minnie played in the shadow of players like Mantle and Williams who were superior power-hitting outfielders.  Even in Chicago, he took a back seat to Ernie Banks who slammed over 500 home runs.  Not helping his case is that he never appeared in the post season (he spent 1959 with Cleveland while the Sox won the AL pennant).  Some have suggested that his later-life appearances were seen as cheap publicity stunts.  As more and more people embrace sabremetrics, the accomplishments of Miñoso’s career are getting more positive buzz.  Bill James, one of the first historians to routinely apply advanced metrics in baseball listed Miñoso as the 10th best left fielder in the game’s history, noting that he might have been ranked higher if he had been allowed to play sooner (Miñoso didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 26).  In 2011, Miñoso finished runner-up on the ballot for induction by the Golden-Era Veterans Committee (losing out to the recently deceased Ron Santo).  In 2014, he finished fifth in a year where no players got enough votes to be inducted (I have a hard time forgiving the committee for this … if Minnie had been elected, he would have gone in along side Tony LaRussa and Frank Thomas, and I would have witnessed that!).  At this point, while he certainly deserves induction, and I suspect it will come one day, it is even more of slap in the face to a great player to be strung along until after their death.  I mean, some of the slightly less extreme Pete Rose fans suggest that as a fitting punishment.  Why is Minnie getting treated this way?

Minnie_Jose

Minnie’s last public appearance at U.S. Cellular Field was 26 April 2014 to throw out the first pitch at Noche de Familia Night … a night dedicated to Latino families.  Catching the pitch was Cuban-born rookie José Abreu, who would win the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year.

Nonetheless, I will choose to dwell on his greatness.  We members of this small township of baseball fans know the truth about this gift given to us over 60 years ago.  We will continue to tell the stories of this man’s legacy to the game and the city that embraced him.

58_Sox_Logo58_Sox_Logo58_Sox_Logo


Farewell #14 …

September 26, 2014

I think I have noted before that baseball, unlike so many other sports, and likely because of its intimate connection to the seasons, acts like a kind of clock … kind of unusual for a sport noted for not having a clock to keep time on the field.

Baseball, like so much of life, sees eras of stability interspersed with chaos.  I think baseball appeals to the very same part of my mind that science does:  the paradoxical coalescence of the chaotic and random nature of the quantum realm with the plodding timelessness of the vast relativistic realm of the larger universe.

 

Take the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Between 1954 and 1996 the team had two managers (Walt Alston and Tommy Lasorda;  by contrast, the Sox had 16 managers in that same space of time).  The team had been owned by the O’Malley family for slightly longer.  The stability produced great teams and a wonderful environment.  These were the great Dodger teams of Drysdale and Koufax and Buckner and Garvey and Valenzuela and Hershiser.  One high school baseball coach I talked to said that he always encouraged his players to reject being drafted into the Major Leagues in favor of going to college, unless they were drafted by the Dodgers, because they would arrange for money to be set aside for college, in case the playing experience didn’t pan out.  From 1992 to 1996, every National League Rookie of the Year was a Dodger.  The past and future were bright.

That stability crashed down and burned in 1998 like Bikini Atoll when the O’Malley family sold the Dodgers to billionaire tyrant Darth Rupert Murdoch (specifically to the Fox Corporation).  Dodgers fans felt like Catholics would seeing Notre Dame sold off to a business coalition of Orel Roberts, Benny Hinn, and Pat Robertson.  One of the first moves under the Fox regime was trading away Mike Piazza, the future Hall of Fame and much, much beloved catcher.  Anyone in Dodger Nation who was rocking back and forth thinking that Fox Corp would not ruin the team was immediately snapped back into reality.  Dodger Nation was most displeased, and the Fox group reacted by giving the people what they wanted.  The Dodgers wanted to do some more unloading, and while their first baseman Eric Karros would have been a wise give away, the ownership felt that getting rid of another fan favorite would cause attendance to collapse.  They did have a first baseman, a shiny, juicy young first round draft pick who was under-performing.  Sure enough, on the Fourth of July, the Dodgers sent their extraneous first baseman to Cincinnati … Eric Karros, popular as he was, did not have a long career ahead of him.  By 2002 he was out of L.A., and he was retired by 2004, never having made an All-Star team.

That unwanted first baseman spent the rest of 1998 in Cincinnati.  On November 11, 1998, he was traded to the White Sox in return for Mike Cameron.

Cameron was a decent outfielder.  Later, playing in Seattle, he would take revenge on the White Sox by becoming the first Mariner to slam 4 home runs in one game.  While his career would not last as long as the guy he was traded for, statistically, the White Sox lost on the trade.

Yet, I can say this reliably, not one member of White Sox Township would go back and undo that trade.  That was the trade that brought Paul Konerko to the South Side.  This weekend, after all of these years … after the strange journey from hopeful prospect of Dodger Nation to exulted hero of White Sox Township, he ends his career.

Given the tendency of the White Sox to constantly move people on to and off of the team, it is very rare that a player with significant playing time retire from the White Sox.  In my lifetime, this is only the second time that a player on the White Sox has reached retirement after a significant 10+year career with the team.  Prior to free agency in the mid 1970s, this used to be a more common sight around baseball.  In that sense, Paul Konerko is a huge success for White Sox fans everywhere.  In the entire 115 year history of the White Sox, only Ted Lyons, Red Faber, Luke Appling, Ray Schalk, and Frank Thomas spent 15 or more years with the White Sox.  Paul Konerko is only the sixth such player in team history, and with Frank Thomas, only the second to play after 1950.

Moments?  Paulie collected his career 2000th hit and 4000th home run with the Sox.  His World Series grand slam will remain a part of White Sox lore (40,000 were there, and easily 50,000 will claim to have been there).  There was the incident where he get hit in the face, and yet continued to first base.  In 2009, he had a 3-home run game against Cleveland.

He is one of roughly a dozen Sox players to bat 0.280 since 1950.  He ranks second all-time in home runs, RBIs, sacrifice flies, and extra base hits.  He is third in hits and doubles , fourth in walks and runs scored.  Only Luke Appling wore the uniform in more games, and only Appling and Nellie Fox came to bat more often.  His 10 grand slams are a team record, and just this year he became the first White Sox player to reach 4000 total bases.  His nine consecutive years with at least 20 home runs is a team record.  His 13 years with at lest 20 home runs is also a club record.  29 games saw him hit multiple home runs … three more than former teammate Frank Thomas for the Sox record.  He has hit 259 home runs at U.S. Cellular Field, two shy of Frank Thomas’ career record for the stadium.

 

Konerko’s retirement is being overshadowed by the national media campaign surrounding Derek Jeter’s retirement.  Jeter is certainly going to be a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame player, and playing for some of the best teams money can buy gave him opportunities to establish some post season records.  Jeter, like Konerko, was a team captain.  Unlike Jeter, Konerko never wore the “C” on his uniform.  He led quietly in the clubhouse.  One of my colleagues has a son who professionally blogs for the White Sox, and confirmed that Konerko was not only one of the nicest people to work with, but really was the person looked up to by the other players.  He leads by power voluntarily ceded to him rather than the power invested to him.  In an era where authoritarianism has run rampant, it is nice to leadership working the way it should.  In great Broadway tradition, Jeter’s farewell was nationally broadcast, and involved drama both manufactured and real.  I suspect this weekend, Paul Konerko’s farewell will be more sedate … much more the way he seems to like it and more fitting the Middle West.

A few years ago, Robin Ventura was hired to manage the Sox.  White Sox GM Kenny Williams admitted that there was some discussion about asking Paul Konerko to become a player manager.  Many think that Konerko has the disposition to be a great manager or coach.  Konerko, however, has said that he intends to stay home and be a husband and father while playing the guitar whenever possible (Cleveland’s baseball club gave him a beautiful new guitar in White Sox team colors and logos).  Among the other retirement gifts he received:

  • A #14 from the scoreboard at Wrigley Field (from the Chicago Cubs)
  • First base from Yankee Stadium (signed by the Yankees, and presented by fellow retiree, Derek Jeter)
  • A really big bottle of wine (2005 vintage) and a $10,000 donation to Paul’s children’s charity

Not much … I guess most of the love is reserved for players who attract media attention.  Konerko has played solidly and led quietly.  The rest of the League may not miss him so much, but on Chicago’s South Side, he will be dearly missed as few players before him have been missed.

 

Follow up (8/27/2014)

As a rule, I usually never go to baseball games once the school year starts.  I did in 1993 to see the Sox play their first playoff game in the new stadium, and again 2006 when the Sox opened the season after winning the World Series.  I talked it over with a friend, and we decided to go on out and say goodbye to Paulie.

The pregame festivities were very nice.  Among the gifts he received:  a custom Bench by Ron (Ron being former Sox slugger and noted philanthropist Ron Kittle).  He received a beautiful painting highlighting his White Sox career.  He received a shadowbox with baseballs:  white baseballs surrounding black ones forming the number “14” … with the white ones each signed by a member of the 2005 World Series champions.  The White Sox gave him two guitars (which he collects and plays): a 1976 Gibson (his birth year) and a 1963 Fender Stratocaster (I don’t know nothing about guitars, but I suspect this is a rare/especially desirable model of guitar).

The Chariman of the White Sox had some balloons released form the outfield concourse to reveal the newest bronze statue:  Paul Konerko, fist raised as he trots to first base after his dramatic World Series grand slam in Game 2 (both he and his parents received maquettes).  For those who have never seen it … its kind of like the US beating the Soviets in terms of “great moments in White Sox history”:

After the World Series, Paul Konerko presented the ball which accounted for the final out to Chairman Reinsdorf.  You would think that a guy who has been through 6 Bulls championships wouldn’t be so moved, but Reinsdorf was very touched by the gesture.  Reinsdorf related this story to the crowd, Saturday night, and told Paulie that he was not giving the ball back … but did say that they had spent many years trying to track down the ball he hit for that grand slam.  The found it, and the guy who caught it was willing to part with it.  And so out the gentleman came (Chris Claeys, a true Sox fan), and gave Konerko the ball.  That was pretty touching!

Sadly, Paul Konerko has not been hitting well at all, and he was pulled in the seventh inning to allow him to walk off the field to applause rather than people remembering another strikeout or ground out.  Before he was lifted, we got to see his replacement, Jose Abreu hit his 36th home run of the year, breaking the White Sox all-time rookie home run record set 31 years ago by Ron Kittle.

Follow up (8/28/2014)

Earlier in the week, our department secretary was kind enough to give me some gift certificates to get some free White Sox tickets.  Unfortunately, I had to present them in person at the box office, and my schedule was not allowing for me to get down to the South Side.

I was then hit by inspiration:  since I was already going to be there on Saturday … I could get free tickets to Paulie’s final game ever … and keep those as nice keepsakes of a game I never went to.  So I did.  Of course, my friend Matt asked for a ticket, which I gave him (I had four), and said he was coming down on Sunday, and that a real Sox fan would be there for that special game.  I’m above being goaded into most things, but having it implied that I am not a real Sox fan is not going to work.  So for the first time ever, I found myself at back-to-back Sox games.  Not to mention, it was the first time I got to go to the very last game of the season.

Much like the day before, Paulie was not hitting very well.  In the fifth inning, the time had come.  After he trotted out into the field, Paulie was replaced,and left the field to thunderous applause.  White Sox fans, notorious for not being at games, showed up in droves these two days, so the applause really was thunderous.  It was a beautiful day for a game, and an anticlimactic, if not quiet good bye.


Destiny …

July 27, 2014

This morning it was back in the time machine to go back into the past.  Upon arrival in Cooperstown, it was off to mass.  The church was small, and a pre-Vatican II design with the tabernacle centered on the back wall.  It was a bit odd walking in to church and seeing Yankees, Cardinals, and White Sox uniforms (one Cubs, two Braves)

It was a fast mass, and the priest invoked the White Sox as the greatest team ever for their perseverance through tough times.  The priest ended mass by reminding everyone that if they parked in the church parking lot, they were welcome to leave them there as long as they were gone by midnight (a very kind thing … most private homes were charging $40 or more for parking today).  He then announced that the recessional hymn would not be found in the hymnal, but that everyone would know the words.  Then, I had the surreal experience of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” … in church (with an organ as the dear Lord intended the song to be accompanied).  It was a reminder:  Cooperstown, like Camelot, is unique, and operates under different rules.

I got to walk through the small residential neighborhood today between the church and the field where the induction ceremony would be held.  Many residents had signs advertising parking, and many other homes and makeshift lemonade/water/homemade cookie stands manned by the local adorable urchins (the church was about half way between the Hall of Fame and the field where the induction ceremony would be held).  Every do often, a father and son or brotehrs or a brother and sister playing catch.  The town was very friendly in a very 1950s kind of wholesomeness.

The induction ceremony was in a field next to the town’s athletic center.  A giant white tent shielded the immortals and the soon to be enshrined.  We had reserved seating behind the invited guests.  As we entered, we noticed that Joe Torre, the Yankee manager, seemed to have nearly one-third of the reserved seating (it turns out his wife is one of 15 kids, and her side of the family knew a good thing when they saw one).  We waited in our seats for about an hour watching videos on the giant high def projection screen.  Nearby, former Brave pitcher John Smoltz and former White Sox hero Jermaine Dye were manning the MLB Network booth.  John Rocker arrived and started signing autographs, miraculously not getting the pus beaten out of him by the assembled citizens of Yankee Nation.

As the ceremony began, the immortals arrived and were seated while the six new inductees got front row seats.  Gary Thorne, broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles, was the MC, and introduced the President of the Hall of Fame (the granddaughter of the founder), and the Commissioner of Baseball, Bud Selig.

The three Braves were inducted first.  Greg Maddux gave an elegant speech that was practiced, sharp, and slick. The man delivered speeches just like he pitched.  Maddux elicited boos from the Braves fans when he declared Cubs fans the best fans in the world, but then made up for it when he declared that he left Chicago because he wanted to win. Ouch!

Tom Glavine was also relatively short, and to the point.  Bobby Cox included some humorous anecdotes about his years managing the Braves dynasty.  I guess I hadn’t expected an old-timer like Bobby Cox to give a nice speech, but it was well done, and relatively short.

Tony LaRussa’s speech was a little longer, and at times meandered, but the emphasis of his speech was learning … that one is never too old to learn, and that this is how he managed to stay in the game so long.  He expressed his gratitude for all three organizations he had worked for: the White Sox, the A’s, and the Cardinals.  He noted that he still seemed somewhat confused over his election, and that he didn’t know what to make of it.  LaRussa was the fifth manager in Major League history to have a law degree.  He was also the fifth manager to have a law degree to get elected to the Hall of Fame.  I guess law degrees can have some value in the world 😉

Each of the inductees were introduced by a video testimony from someone.  Maddux was introduced by Tom Glavine, and Glavine by John Smoltz.

The next video was Ken “The Hawk” Harrelson, who explained (and showed through footage) the origin of the nickname “The Big Hurt”.  He also lapsed into a Hawkism explaining that in his 50 years in the game, the three greatest right handed hitters he had ever seen were Manny Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera, and Frank Thomas.  Then, Frank stepped to the mic.  Maddux and Glavine had been warm but precise, and Cox had been humorous.  I’m not sure anyone was ready for a man who towered over the podium and microphone to deliver what came next.

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/6003532/v34858697/thomas-is-inducted-into-the-hall-of-fame/?c_id=mlb

If you click that link (and it worked), you will see that it didn’t take long for the big guy to choke up and start crying through most of the 18 minutes he spoke.  I was trying to take video, and it was hard for me to hold the camera steady while dabbing my own eyes. I lost track of how many times he said “thanks” or “thank you”. He could have made this about a crusade against those who tried to cheat with steroids, but he didn’t need to. His mere presence was all of the proof he needed for that. The last Chicago White Sox player to be alive for their induction was 30 years ago when Luis Aparicio was inducted in 1984.  At this rate, and given the current state of the team, there is no strong indication to counter this, we may not see another induction for at least 20 years if not longer.  I was extremely happy to be a witness to this event.  It was a great day for baseball (the third highest attendance for an induction), and a diamond studded platinum moment in White Sox history.  I hope one day to share my pictures and videos with my nephew.