Results tagged ‘ White Sox ’

Robin Now Leads Batmen

Congratulations to Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf and all others with the Chicago White Sox who managed to pull not just a complete surprise, but what is likely to be a long-term brilliant maneuver, in hiring Robin Ventura as the team’s new manager.

If anybody in baseball history has ever been better prepared psychologically for the roller-coaster of managing, I can’t think of his name. Ventura was probably the most unflappable, even-keeled player I’ve ever met – completely immune to the impact of wins and losses, interviews and ignorance, the media and the fans. He focused on exactly one thing: playing the game, and helping his teammates play it nearly as well as he did.

And he did this with an exceptional sense of humor that he used surreptitiously and almost conspiratorially. You have doubtless heard the story of Rickey Henderson coming to the New York Mets in 1999 and being reintroduced to John Olerud, briefly his teammate with the 1993 Blue Jays. Rickey – famously unfocused in the most benign and only self-injuring way possible – is supposed to have caught one glimpse at the batting helmet worn in the field that was both Olerud’s protection against after-effects of a brain aneurysm and the first baseman’s trademark – and said “I played with a guy in Toronto who did that, too.”

The story was entirely false, but so authentic-sounding, that it is still told as if it were biblical truth. And it was completely the concoction of Robin Ventura, perhaps the only such practical joke clean enough to be documented here. What’s more, if it took 100 words to tell that apocryphal story, those were probably 100 of the 200 words Ventura said to anybody not on his team that month. The French will tell you that there is the man good at the “bon mot” – the clever remark, that might have been the only clever remark out of a thousand he made that day. Then they will tell you, with a great deal more reverence, about the expert at the “mot juste” – the guy who is quiet all night, all day, all week, until he finally speaks, and says something so precisely correct and appropriate, that the quote stays vibrant and with you, forever. That’s Robin Ventura.

That’s not just about his humor. His baseball intuition was just like that, too. Jerry Manuel just said on MLB Tonight that Ventura used to “take care” of their infield when both were with the White Sox. The same was true with the Mets. Even as his skills slowed with the Yankees, his ability to position himself defensively based on pitch and hitter more than made up for the slowing reflexes. As a manager, one would expect that he would be as he was as a teammate: he will say damn little, and when he does speak, his players will say “Jeez! Why didn’t I think of that? He just extended my career five years.” This is, simply, one damn smart baseball man, who can’t be upset.

The latter truth probably comes from one infamous day that only becoming an all-time great manager might enable Ventura to live down. On August 4, 1993, after Nolan Ryan hit Ventura with a pitch at Arlington, Ventura charged the mound. He was 26, Ryan was 46 – it should’ve been no contest. It was exactly that. Ryan, alone among all pitchers who have ever faced that scenario, had the presence of mind to stay on top of the mound. From there, he was Andre The Giant. Ventura could do little more than run into Ryan’s headlock, and the rest was a video highlight that will still be being played on the day humankind disappears from the earth.

Since then, Ventura has made no brash move. Only stealth stuff. He has marched to his own drummer’s beat and done very well at it. And this is all said with the kind of caveat the White Sox must have anticipated. If he has misjudged his own interest in dealing with today’s players, Ventura will shrug his shoulders and go home. Maybe that will happen in 2032, maybe in 2022, maybe next May.

I’m not saying it’s likely, I’m just saying he doesn’t need this managing crap, and that’s one of the reasons he figures to be great at it.

Andy Pettitte: Hall Of Famer?

You haven’t considered that question, have you?
I don’t think it’s anywhere near the 50 most pressing issues of the spring, but it started formulating for me last fall as the veteran Yankees’ lefty cut such an unlikely swath through the post-season. And while the case for a Cooperstown spot for Pettitte is hardly closed, but it is surprisingly compelling.
Comparing across eras is often a dangerous thing, but it does offer a little perspective. And barring a breakdown, at some point in the season ahead Pettitte is going to win his seventh game and pull up into a tie on the all-time victories list with none other than Whitey Ford.
Ford ended what amounted to a 16-year career with a 236-106 record, for a phenomenal winning percentage of .690. Right now Pettitte is at 229-135, which is an impressive .629 (another Yankee great, Herb Pennock, is in Cooperstown with 241 wins and a .598 percentage, and Hal Newhouser of the Tigers is there at 207 with a .579). 
A numbers box follows, just to get to the essence of the thing (the asterisk indicates the numbers have been adjusted to cut out seasons that are just cameos).

                         Ford               Pettitte           Pennock

Seasons              16*                   15                   20*

Wins                   236                  229                  241

Losses                106                  135                  162

Percentage         .690                 .629                 .598

ERA                   2.75                 3.91                 3.60

K                       1956                 2150                1227

W                      1086                  921                  916

20 Win Yrs            2                      2                      2

World Series       10-8                  5-4                   5-0

I’m fascinated by the World Series marks. Pennock made his bones in the post-season, and Ford, from his rookie year of 1950 onwards, became legendary in them. And here’s Pettitte with as many World Series wins as Pennock, and the same post-season percentage as Ford.

I do not go in for lumping all post-season statistics into one number – it is unfair to pitchers pre-1995 and especially pre-1969. Neither should it be ignored that Pettitte is now 13-5 in division and league series. More over, with his triple-play from last fall he has now pitched the decisive game of a playoff series or a World Series an astonishing nine times, and is a tidy 6-1 in such games, with his team having won both of his personal no-decisions, and the one loss being Game Six of the 2003 World Series in which he surrendered exactly one earned run in seven innings. It gets a little less impressive if you include his human torch act in Game Six of the 2001 Series which could have won it for the Yankees – but still, that’s 6-2 in ten potential deciders.
I find Ford was asked to pitch the wrapper three times. He won the finale of the sweep of the Phillies in 1950, got a no decision in the win in Game Six in 1953, and lost the fourth game as the Dodgers swept New York in 1963. As with everything else concerning the post-season, it was tougher for pitchers to get chances to pitch the decider in the days before the playoffs, but Ford did pitch in eleven Series. Pettitte has pitched in no fewer than 28 post-season series (that percentage of deciders pitched is thus still higher than Ford’s).
To this day I think Pettitte deserved the 1996 Cy Young Award, if only for the fact that he went 13-3 after New York losses that season. One wonders if his strong Hall of Fame credentials would be a little more prominently discussed if he’d taken the trophy. If you’d like to be further befuddled by stats and Cooperstown and lefty pitchers, consider one more set: 239-157 (.604), a cumulative post-season mark of 10-5 and a 2-1 record in four deciders. That is David Wells.
YOUR SCORECARD WON’T HELP YOU NOW, MY FRIENDS
I was delighted to settle down, between hospital visits tonight, with MLB Net’s telecast of the Dodgers and White Sox from Arizona, and not merely for the intriguing return of Eric Gagne. Dodgers’ announcer Charley Steiner was my second boss in broadcasting – he hired me 30 years ago last December to jump from UPI Radio to his operation at RKO Radio and from there I was poised to leap into television with CNN (yes, this was before they invented color tv). And I know Charley’s colleague Rick Monday even longer, having interviewed him as far in the past as the 1977 World Series. Rick was later the sports director at Channel 11 in Los Angeles while I held the same post at Channels 5 and 2.

Thumbnail image for 66A.jpgThis monstrosity at the left is included because my friends Charley and Rick were victims of one of the standard media nightmares of the spring. In the bottom of the sixth, the White Sox sent number 83 out to play shortstop. And, of course, as can be the case from the first game of the exhibition season through the last, t
here was no number 83 on the White Sox roster. Managers, especially in split-squad situations and/or road trips, supplement even the usual mass of 40-man roster guys and non-roster invitees with as many as dozen extra minor leaguers on a one-game basis, whose identities are usually written down on the shirt cuff of the visiting Media Relations guy. Anyone in the press box is thus left as helpless as in high school, when whoever kept your scorecard had to exchange rosters with whoever kept theirs (I once had a hockey game in which the rival team wore several years’ worth of uniforms and thus had multiple players wearing the same numbers – they had at least three guys wearing number “5″ and tried to fix this by stitching in a little “A” or “B” atop the number).

Anyway, 83 was eventually unmasked as minor leaguer Eduardo Escobar and Rick and Charley moved giddily on to the further disturbing truth that Mr. Escobar was wearing an expandable cap, the surest sign of minor league serfdom. Steiner assured his audience that having been the first pick in the first-ever amateur draft in 1965, Monday suffered no such degradations, whereupon Monday insisted that in his first spring training with the then-Kansas City A’s in 1966, he had been insulted in no less an astonishing way than being assigned uniform number 104.
A-hem.

Monday66.jpg
As they used to say on Letterman, “#104 Rick Monday” is a bit of writer’s embellishment. Conceivably in some instructional camp after they anointed him the first-ever draftee, the A’s made him wear such garb, but it wasn’t in spring training. 
It is kind of marvelous, though, that as late as 1966, number 45 was still the kind of number you gave to a non-roster second-year pro who wasn’t going to make your team. By the time Monday reached the bigs in the fall of ’66 he was wearing 28, and then moved to 7 the following year.
And the White Sox, by the way, later debuted an outfielder named Justin Greene and a pitcher named Justin Cassel (brother of quarterback Matt and pitcher Jack).  Both Justins were wearing number 86.

The Great Gazoo and Happy Hour

550-wright-gazoo.jpg

OK, so there it is. That’s what the new super-sized batting helmet debuted tonight in Denver by David Wright evokes: Fred Flintstone’s little green prehistoric Shark-Jumping visitor from outer space.

That, or the old cliche about the life-of-the-party guy, who winds up wearing a lampshade.
Wright, who looks pretty young as it is (he’s not yet 27), probably looks five years younger with the oversized, 100-MPH resistant plastic chapeau. Hard to say if this is going to make it more appealing to players or less so, but early on there does seem to be one practical issue. Wright tried to steal second in the third inning tonight and went-in headfirst; the new helmet seemed to exhibit a different center-of-gravity and flew off Wright’s head and scuttled in front of him. It is conceivable that a player sliding in that way might actually collide with his own helmet – and I can’t remember ever seeing that happen with the standard helmet.
Then again, why is a guy just back from a beaning and a concussion sliding headfirst?

Jeff Francoeur has vowed never to wear the new helmet, for aesthetic reasons, and of course he will not be made to, as the revised version will only be mandatory in the minors. It is interesting to note that in the gradual advance of helmet use, only one attempt was ever beaten back. The Pirates tried to entirely replace caps with helmets – at bat, in the field, on the bench – in the ’50s. By 1957 they were back to a mix of plastic and fabric.
All this again begs the question: batters must wear them, now coaches must wear them – why not umpires, and given that line drives to their heads travel a shorter distance at a higher speed even than batters, why not pitchers?
WHITE SOX FIRE SALE FOLLOW-UP:

I am reliably informed that the message Chicago GM Kenny Williams sent to the other 29 general managers Sunday night and Monday morning not only invited them to bid on any of five to ten veterans (two of whom Williams actually moved), but urged them to contact him quickly because, and this is a loose quotation, “I intend to be the first guy at Happy Hour this evening.”

Jim Thome And Other Personnel (Fifth Update)

Vin Scully just announced on the Dodger broadcast that the team has obtained Jim Thome from the White Sox for a player to be named later. If they’ve dropped somebody from the roster, Thome would be playoff eligible. Every Blue player and fan would be happy, except, presumably, James Loney. The Chicago Tribune says the price is infielder James Fuller (24 years old, in A-ball, not much of a resume) and the Sox included some money to pay off the last month of Thome’s current deal.
Half an inning later, Vin waxed poetic about how nice it would be to see the Thome trade posted on the Dodger Stadium scoreboard when his producer instead showed a shot of Jon Garland in the Arizona Dugout. “He is being told he has just been traded to the Dodgers.” Again, with the option present to make him playoff-eligible, one assumes LA will clear roster space tonight (one would not be advised to invest heavily in the roster security of Charlie Haeger, James McDonald, or maybe even Juan Castro).
Meanwhile in Denver, the Rockies have announced they’ve gotten Jose Contreras from Chicago in time to put him on the post-season eligibility pile.
At some point in his long and varied playing career, White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams probably witnessed an on-field special promotion night performance of “Captain Dynamite.” It is hard to imagine today, but this gentleman would get into a box which also contained some explosives (and, honestly, if they’re in the box with you, exactly how many, and how powerful, do they really need to be before you begin to think this is a bad way to make a living?).
And then they’d blow up the box.
Captain Dynamite would then stagger to his feet, and wobble back to his trailer, no doubt shouting “Somebody answer the damn phone,” as he did.
The point of the act, of course, was that while one assumed Captain Dynamite knew what he was doing, even the realization that he probably had long since maximized the bang-for-the-buck without getting himself killed, did not take away any of the guilty thrill. It was the threat inherent in the performance that kept Captain Dynamite going, and self-detonating.
This brings us back to Kenny, who according to various reports (here’s Jon Heyman’s) spent the day after his White Sox washed out here in New York, advising other GM’s that he had waivers on most of his veterans and was willing to move them all, whether before or after tonight’s post-season roster “deadline”: Thome, Contreras, Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, Octavio Dotel, and Scott Linebrink. After their embarrassingly flaccid performance at Yankee Stadium, during which they sank to 6-and-19 on the road, some members of the Chicago traveling party hinted to me that Williams would either get rid of anybody he could, or at minimum, use the threat of a fire sale to try to wake up his guys. Hitting coach Greg Walker had already met with his batters and warned them to start compiling smart AB’s, or lose playing time. Manager Ozzie Guillen was greeting old friends with variations on the announcement “We stink.”
As noted above, Thome went to the Dodgers, waiving his no trade clause as he did. He and Dotel become free agents in a month, Dye has a “mutual option” for twelve million, Contreras was thought to have little return value (a 5.42 ERA is not automatically considered a liability in Colorado), Linebrink is owed nearly eleven million over the next two years, and Konerko has a year to go, owed twelve mill. And while each of the hitters might spark up a contender’s line-up, Dotel looked like a mop-up man during a game in Boston, and Linebrink turned a close game into a laugher in just a handful of batters yesterday in the Bronx. For the White Sox, hopefully the scare will be effective, because the likelihood of a salary off-load seems pretty low.
ELSEWHERE:

Absolutely fascinating that the Mets, who deliberately kept some of their prospects in the minors even as gaping holes opened in their line-up, were the first out of the box to announce an intriguing September call-up. He’s catcher Josh Thole, who after hitting .300 in the Florida State League, improved that to .328 in the Eastern League. Take a look at his numbers and one will jump out at you. There may not be much power there, but in 384 at bats, he struck out only 34 times. Hard to guess how much they’ll play him in preference to Brian Schneider and Omir Santos, but I don’t think they called him up the first day of roster expansion (and announced it the day before) to have him warm up pitchers between innings.
In a sense, Arizona actually made a critical September call-up last week – but didn’t realize how critical. Daniel Schlereth, still considered the closer of the future, returned to the D’Backs  just in a time to watch the team’s only two veteran relievers exit, suddenly. Jon Rauch went to the Twins, and Chad Qualls was lost for the year with a dislocated kneecap. There seems no reason not to give Schlereth save opportunities or at least 7th or 8th inning duty over the last month. Juan Gutierrez might be Qualls’ successor (on the slim resume of two save opportunities) but it is unimaginable that an Arizona team driven by ex-Player Development guru A.J. Hinch would rather see if Gutierrez can claim the job for next year rather than Schlereth. If you’ve been trying to figure out what the Snakes are actually going to do, don’t bother scour those who cover the team. As usual, the obvious question (“Hey, A.J.? Who closes if you lead 4-3 in the ninth tomorrow?”) seems to have eluded everybody until about 9:30 eastern time when Nick Piecoro finally blogged that Gutierrez would get the first call, but he might also work in Schlereth. And Esmerling Vasquez. And Blaine Boyer. And Clay Zavada. The Arizona radio guys said it would be Gutierrez, maybe Zavada against lefties. There was much more in the Arizona websites about Luis Gonzalez’s new job in the front office. Sigh.

As it happened, Arizona used Boyer in the seventh inning while trailing 3-2. Then Justin Upton homered to tie it, and in came first Schlereth and Vasquez in the eighth in crunch time, and each pitched effectively. Vasquez continued through the ninth, and after Arizona went up in the 10th it was Gutierrez, working an almost effortless inning for the save.

Meantime, the Marlins managed to sneak Cameron Maybin into playoff-eligibility by bringing him back from New Orleans, and DFA’ing reliever Luis Ayala. Maybin hit .319 and cut his K’s to 58 in 298 at bats in New Orleans, and who memorably batted a gaudy .500 in the last eight games after his late-September call up last year. An update here: turns out Maybin actually isn’t a September call-up. Florida DFA’d pitcher Luis Ayala tonight and added Maybin before the midnight deadline and would thus be post-season eligible.
One last note. Can’t remember anybody who thought the Yankees didn’t rip off the Pirates last July when they stole Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte from Pittsburgh for “some minor leaguers.” The third of them, Daniel McCutchen, made an effective big league pitching debut Monday, joining Russ Ohlendorf (11-9, staff leader in wins) and Jeff Karstens (flashes of brilliance, then crap, then injury) on the Pirate roster. It means
that outfielder Jose Tabata, the high-upside crapshoot of a prospect, doesn’t even have to succeed for this to indeed be a ripoff – for Pittsburgh. Nady may never play again, and nailing Thome on a ground out on Sunday lowered Marte’s ERA to 10.57.
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