Friday, April 30, 2004

Home run as alarm clock 

The White Sox exploded for five runs in the sixth inning yesterday to pace their 6-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said the ballclub was "kind of flat" until Magglio Ordonez leadoff the sixth inning with a home run. Neal Cotts did a great job in two scoreless innings of relief and then gave way to Bill Koch in the ninth for the save. With two out and a man on first, Guillen went to the mound to tell Koch to forget about the runner and express his confidence in him. Esteban Loiaza wasn't at his best, but allowed four runs over six innings for the win. Tonight's rainout will be made up Saturday in a traditional doubleheader.

Interesting to note 

Kelly Dransfeldt is getting an enticing cup of coffee that ultimately is going to be snatched out of his hands before he can finish drinking it. Dransfeldt will cross paths, figuratively, with Jose Valentin after Valentin finishes his rehabilitation stint at AAA Charlotte. Valentin is scheduled to rejoint the team in Baltimore Tuesday.

Sox manager Ozzie Guillen noted that Dransfeldt is one of several young players making a surprising contribution on the Sox this year. Juan Uribe has been white-hot at the plate and good defensively. Uribe's hot play could cost Willie Harris some playing time when Valentin returns. Hitting coach Greg Walker said Harris works as hard as any player on the team and is very close to taking his good swings from the batting cage to the plate during the game. Uribe also may play some in center field. Neal Cotts, Guillen said, is headed for stardom. Ross Gload does a nice job as a left-handed pinch hitter and occasional starter.

Shingo Takatsu's bullpen mates are impressed with his ability to change speeds. Takatsu has been pretty much lights out since he got his debut in New York under his belt.

The Sox are 7-1 in one-run games. That's a pace the club is not likely to keep up.

Although the Sox lead the American League with 33 home runs, Guillen said he expects them to score more runs -- they're only seventh in the league in runs. The Tigers and the Twins are 1-2.

A Sox fan takes early-leaving fans to task in the Daily Herald.

Frank Thomas has kept a vow of silence with the media for two weeks now.
"I hope he doesn't talk to you guys and wins the MVP," Guillen said. "I don't care about Frank and what he does off the field. I'm worried about him on the field and in the clubhouse. He's a grown-up kid and he can do what he wants."

Good words about good guys 

The Daily Herald's Barry Rozner said the White Sox radio announcing team of John Rooney and Ed Farmer are "in spectacularly good form." Rooney said he was excited for this season to start because of the return to Ozzie Guillen to the team as manager. Rooney, as most of you know, does an interview with the manager that airs in the pregrame show, so he works particularly close with any Sox manager.

A little help, please 

The Daily Southtown is asking readers for marketing suggestions for the White Sox and their new marketing director, Brooks Boyer.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

It remains to be seen 

Unbelievable. I was at today's game -- sitting one row and one seat over from where I sat Saturday, incidentally -- and it was really something. Basically, the White Sox should be on a five-game losing streak, and, if you add in the Yankees series, that would make seven losses in eight games on this homestand, the longest of the season.

I guess there's two ways to look at this.

The pessimistic way is that they're getting lucky. The flaws we've seen lately (the tendency of their hitters to get hot or ice cold at the same time, the unproven rotation, the reliance on young players at key positions such as second base and center field) are being masked by some incredible comebacks. The pessimistic view is that as soon as the luck runs out, the Sox will sink like a guy wearing cement "boots" in the Chicago River. The pessimistic view is that the pitching (20 runs allowed the last two days) is showing its true colors.

The optimistic view is that they've managed to win three of five games when they haven't played well because they're a team whose players are close to each other, a team that does enough to win. The optimist would point out that Scott Schoeneweis has a good chance to bounce back from today's start (which should have never extended into the sixth inning anyway; it took him 97 tough pitches to get through five innings, so Ozzie Guillen should have given Schoeneweis the rest of the day off), keeping in mind the way Esteban Loiaza tore it up for a month and then got absolutely shelled by the Mariners in his first start in May last year. This year, they won the game where the surprisingly steady starter (nice alliteration) had his first bad outing. The optimist also would point out that the hitters seem to be kicking it up again, as the team has scored 16 runs in two days against the Indians. And the bullpen bounced back from yesterday's tough game with 3-2/3 innings of scoreless relief today.

I know I prefer being an optimist. Maybe they have caught lightning in a bottle. Maybe they're a team that will be jumping up and down at home plate all season. Maybe. What a game. For today, that's enough for me.

A little much? 

Major League Baseball handed down suspensions today to Kerry Wood, five games, and Dusty Baker, one game, for their behavior on consecutive days during the Cubs-Reds series in Chicago a week and a half ago. I'm a little surprised by the length of Wood's suspension. I understand that the only thing you can really do to a starting pitcher is give him five games. His actions that day did call for some reprimand. MLB can't allow a pitcher being removed from the game to accost an umpire like that. There has to be a penalty for it. I thought they might suspend him for two or three games, enough to hit him in the wallet, but still reserving some stronger penalty for a player who bumps an umpire. But I guess players who bump an ump are suspended for as much as 10 games -- for instance, Carl Everett in 2000. A five-game suspension for a starting pitcher is about commensurate with the penalties handed out in years past. Some of the players on this list did make contact, but it was incidental. Wood was just as threatening to the umpire as a player who gets in the face of an umpire and inadvertently bumps him. Everett got 10 games because he did it twice and with intent.

For Wood, essentially, it's a one-start suspension, which is equal to a position player or reliever sitting out a game. All it really means is that Wood will get an extra day between starts. Given the way that Baker leaves him in the game to throw upwards of 120 pitches, an extra day of rest would do him some good. I think Baker was smart to let Wood have an extra day last week between the Reds start that got him in trouble with MLB and his start against the Mets.

(Music to write by: The Rolling Stones, "Some Girls.")

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Boy, was that ugly 

That's the first bad outing of the year for Jon Adkins. Interestingly enough, Adkins and Koch both have the same ERA now, 5.40. All the Sox pitchers suffered from poor control -- eight walks and two hit batsmen. Neal Cotts allowed an inherited runner to score, but otherwise, he was the only member of the pen who didn't get touched tonight.

How quickly fortunes change 

About 10 minutes ago, the crowd at the Cell was loudly booing Billy Koch. He deserved it. Just a few minutes later, they were cheering him as he got the last two outs of the inning on strikeouts. "He just pulled a rabbit out of the hat," John Rooney said after the third out was recorded. The great thing about Koch is I bet he says that the fans were justified. He's brutally honest about himself and has kept a positive demeanor for a guy who has struggled as much as he has with the Sox.

Assessing the new hire 

This story in the Sun-Times tells new Sox marketing director: Don't bother. Lewis Lazare, the marketing and advertising columnist in the Sun-Times business section, is a little more constructive. There's marketing advice for the Sox from random people that the Tribune's Tempo section think are worth listening to. Barry Rozner in the Daily Herald says the Sox blew an opportunity to do something bold. He also chastised Ozzie Guillen for his remarks last week in defense of Frank Thomas, saying Guillen is falling into the "same sullen trap" of whining about the Cubs. I agree that Rozner's idea of a team president is a good idea, as I said a few days ago. But he's misinterpreting Guillen's remarks -- just like most of the columnists around town -- and his suggestion that the Sox should market that they love Cubs fans, well, Rozner doesn't get it. You can make the point that there are tickets still available on the South Side without alienating your fans. Mike Veeck has the right idea -- make a joke out of the Cubs mania to invite fans to the Cell. It would work.

Maybe I'm misinterpreting Rozner a bit. Maybe he's thinking of a tongue-in-cheek ad campaign that says something like, "Don't have an extra kidney to sell to get seats on the other side of town? The White Sox welcome all baseball fans to U.S. Cellular Field. Call (866) SOX-GAME for tickets." They could have a whole series of them:

"Don't have a rich uncle to buy you seats on the other side of town?"

"Does working all day keep you from attending games on the other side of town?"

The Sox are free to use these. I guess I was just reacting to the idea of the Sox showing Cubs fans some love. The Sox can market to them without making their true fans sick to our stomachs.

Is this a coincidence? 

Both the Tribune and the Daily Herald had features today about the improvement of Miguel Olivo. I agree that he's much improved. He's got a much better approach at the plate than he did last year. But both of them on the same day? I also know that you have to have a feature story when the team has a day off like Monday. I just find it funny that they both did this story on the same day.

The Daily Southtown has a nothing story quoting Ken Williams about how the team's positive attitude, courtesy Ozzie Guillen, is helping the team make strides.

The Sun-Times had a good story about how effective of the Sox bullpen has been this season. The White Sox have the third-best bullpen ERA in the American League. They aren't striking out a lot of batters -- they're 12th in that department -- but they're first in double plays. That's been saving them. (Of course, I wrote this before Cliff Politte and, to a much lesser extent, Damaso Marte gave up a two-run lead in the eighth tonight. And, of course, Billy Koch has loaded the base in the ninth inning on a hit batsman and two walks. Sheesh.)

"Quit trying to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring, and besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls. They're more democractic." -- Crash Davis.

Interesting to note 

Another mystery man. Does anyone have any idea who Ken Williams is pointing the finger at this time? In the first item in this Trib notes column, Williams said if someone is unhappy, he doesn't want the guy around, but there are no clues to identify the player or players the GM is talking about. Is Kelly Wunsch grumbling about being stuck in the minors? It would make sense, but there's nothing to indicate that's the case.

Kelly Dransfeldt, Sunday's hero and a native of Morris, Ill., said the intensity of the crowd at the Cell helps the team.

Monday, April 26, 2004

My thoughts exactly 

I was glad to read that Ozzie Guillen was letting his players know that he wasn't pleased with their play just because the Sox beat the Devil Rays 6-5 Sunday with a three-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth. Basically, it was like Christmas in April -- both teams were in a giving mood. The Rays were just more generous. The Sox were handing out goodies, too. Carlos Lee getting picked off first base for the first out in the ninth inning was inexcusable. I thought it was the backbreaker. Mark Buehrle made a horrible 0-2 mistake on the pitch that Toby Hall hit out in the seventh. And in the eighth, Aaron Rowand has got to make that play on the ball Julio Lugo (Julio Freakin' Lugo almost beat the Sox twice in two days, after handing them the game Friday night) hit off Cliff Politte in the eighth. Rowand was able to get back in time, but the ball hit the wall to his right. He's got to make that catch. All of these mistakes should have cost the Sox the game. Buehrle said that maybe the Sox are carrying around the horseshoe this year. If they don't start hitting and playing smarter baseball, they'll need it.

Just like I told you 

Ozzie Guillen said that he was defending Frank Thomas, not trying to pick a fight with the Cubs, with his remarks the other day. That's exactly how I read them, too. That better be the same message that Ken Williams delivered when he stopped by Wrigley Field Sunday to see Dusty Baker. Guillen also said, again, that this is the happiest he's ever seen Thomas and said how much he appreciates Thomas's attitude on the field, in the dugout and in the clubhouse. Jay Mariotti, on the other hand, thinks he's being the responsible party in taking Guillen to task in today's Sun-Times. You can accuse Guillen of exaggerating for effect, but how about Mariotti saying that "Prior's injuries conceivably could alter baseball history." Not Cubs history. Baseball history. Sheesh.

When Guillen said Thomas is "way better than Prior," it was clear from the full quote that Guillen simply meant that Thomas has had 15 mostly spectacular seasons in the big leagues, while Prior has had exactly one spectacular season and one pretty darn good partial season his rookie year as a May callup. Guillen made clear in his comments that he respects the talents of Prior; it's just that the Sox manager still thinks you have to count 15 years and two MVPs for more than two seasons in the majors. When Baker kisses Sammy Sosa's butt, Mariotti calls it smart managing for the sake of a harmonious clubhouse.

And Mariotti again misinterprets Guillen's comments about how the Cubs have the pressure on them: "They lose a game, and everybody is panicking. We lose a game, and nobody knows about it. I like that." Obviously, Guillen is talking about fans and media, not Cubs players or coaches, panicking. Just look at the parallel construction of the two sentences. He can't be talking about the teams in the second part of either sentence. I know English is Guillen's second language, but I can't believe he was trying to say that the Sox don't know if they lose.

Best of all, from a guy who wasn't so concerned about baseball peace to pick on the still-unknown Steve Bartman in his column right after Game 6, Mariotti makes it sound like Guillen's comments will start riots during the Cubs-Sox series in June and July. Mariotti feeds the stereotypes -- that Sox fans are somehow more dangerous, more prone to violence than Cubs fans. Tell that to Chad Kreuter.

See, it's not just us 

Here's a look at what my neighbors think of us Sox fans. (It has audio and video, so careful watching at work; nothing dirty, however.) I can laugh at this, even though it's really just one cheap shot after another. I just can't stand hearing that it's just Sox fans stirring up the animosity. Right.

I guess Mike Veeck didn't get an interview 

Wow. That didn't take long. The White Sox hired Brooks Boyer a Bulls marketing executive, to replace Rob Gallas as marketing director. Boyer was in charge of corporate sponsorships. I hope he knows more than how to come up with another variation on the pizza, frog and airplane races on the scoreboard. Boyer also oversaw ticket sales for the Bulls who, if you haven't noticed, have managed to stay near the top of the NBA in average attendance despite the little matter of having stunk up the court for six years. Maybe Boyer is a super salesman. I'm being optimistic.

Interesting to note 

The Devil Rays' leadoff hitter and left fielder, Carl Crawford, impressed the hell out of me, too. Ken Williams said the Sox leadoff man, Willie Harris, has to pick it up, which is fast becoming a catch-phrase for Williams. He also said that Harris is taking too many pitches early in the count. I beg to differ. He's a leadoff hitter. He should be taking pitches. He's one of the few guys the team has who makes pitchers work. And if he listens to Williams, he'll lose his plate discipline and hit even worse. I know Williams played in the big leagues and I didn't, but I think he's wrong.

Ozzie Guillen said he ran out to the mound in Saturday's game to ask Dan Wright if he hit Crawford on purpose. Wright said no. I'd point out that the Rays hit three Sox batters on Friday -- Paul Konerko twice and Magglio Ordonez. Besides, the last thing Wright wanted to do was put Crawford on with two outs in the inning.

(Music to write by: Allman Brothers Band, "Brothers and Sisters," and Garbage, "Version 2.0.")

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Dreary as the weather 

I went to Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Devil Rays. A little cooler than I would have liked, but overall a decent April day in Chicago. The White Sox offense was even cooler, however. I also was a little surprised at the lineup. John Rooney noted on the radio broadcast that it was a little like spring training with the lineup: Kelly Dransfeldt at short, Timo Perez in center and Ross Gload in right field. During the pregame interview, which I listened to while eating my first steak pita of the season while sitting on the revamped Fan Deck for the first time, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said that he wanted to give Magglio Ordonez a day off before Ordonez needed to ask for one. Guillen also said he wanted to give Dransfeldt, who was called up from AAA Charlotte when Jose Valentin went on the 15-day disabled list, a chance to start a game. Juan Uribe moved over to second to keep his bat in the lineup, knocking Willie Harris out of the lineup and the lead-off spot. I suppose that prompted the starting of Perez in center, to some extend.

As Dave Wills pointed out after the game, it's tough to sit Ordonez when Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko and Joe Crede are all struggling, although even Ordonez has cooled considerably from his AL Player of the Week start. Frank Thomas, with home runs on consecutive days, is the only Sox hitter who looks comfortable at the plate right now. Maybe Guillen wanted to get the bench players in the game against Doug Waechter, a guy who got drilled by the Columbus (Ohio) Clippers in his last start, instead of Sunday's D-Rays starter, Jeremi Gonzalez, who at least has major-league credentials. Well, more or less: he's pitched for the Cubs and the D-Rays.

The Rays came out to win this game. They ran hard on the Sox and forced the issue, while the Sox looked a little lifeless. Dransfeldt did make a great relay throw in the fourth inning to nail Tino Martinez at the plate, although Martinez is running about as fast as Sid Bream these days. The Sox got away with playing poorly Friday against the Rays, but not yesterday. Dan Wright was decent -- 3 runs in 5-1/3 innings. I'll take that most days. I hope they give Mark Buehrle some runs to work with today.

The anti-Uecker seats 

Even though my ticket to yesterday's game read "Section 158, Row 8, Seat 4," I was actually in the front row, with the Sox bullpen directly in front of me. I haven't sat in the front row of a section since I don't remember when. (I know in my first Sox game, in 1978, I did sit in the front row, just past the Sox dugout on the third-base line.) Not only was the view of the game good, but it was interesting to watch the dynamics of the bullpen, how the guys watch the game and prepare to enter.

Billy Koch has had his struggles with the Sox, but he is without a doubt the cool kid of the bullpen. He watched the first five innings as the center of attention of younger relievers Neal Cotts, Jon Adkins and Cliff Politte. They seemed to hang on Koch's words as he animatedly told jokes. Koch also gave Ross Gload the salaam motion (I don't mean fumbling or smoking something funny, a la Rashaan Salaam) after Gload made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in the first inning.

Bullpen coach Art Kusnyer and bullpen catcher Man-Soo Lee also sat on folding chairs next to the four pitchers up on the raised platform that is the business part of the bullpen. Mike Jackson, Shingo Takatsu and Damaso Marte stayed down in the covered area. I didn't see Marte the entire day, come to think of it. Adkins, Politte, Jackson and Cotts all signed autographs just before the game. Lee seemed to have a friendly rapport with the fans who regularly sit in the first row in Sections 157 and 158. He was shaking hands like a politician, being introduced to friends who were joining the regulars for the game.

Around the fifth inning, Koch remained on his folding chair, but Politte disappeared and Adkins and Cotts began stretching. While the Sox were batting in the fifth, Jackson became the first pitcher to get up and throw.

I was struck by the loud popping of the catcher's mitt no matter who was throwing. Even Takatsu, who throws his fastball 86 mph tops, got a nice sound out of the mitt. Jackson and Saturday's starter Dan Wright really had "loud" stuff. Then it struck me that this was, by far, the closest that I've ever been to major-league pitching.

I recommend the experience of sitting there if you can. I especially liked watching the starter warm up. The starter warming in the pen is kind of a microcosm of spring training. All the possibilities are ahead, everyone is optimistic. At one point, pitching coach Don Cooper stood on the mound next to Wright's to demonstrate something. Lee and Sandy Alomar took turns warming up Wright, starting with Lee throwing long toss with Wright in the outfield. Alomar took some throws from behind the plate with Lee standing in an imaginary left-handed batters box, then Alomar left and Lee took his place. I don't know if this is a thing just Wright likes to do or if all the Sox starters do this, but when Wright was done warming up, he walked to the far end of the pen and shook hands with Lee. I liked that. As he made his way out, Wright fist-bumped Adkins, Politte, Koch and Cotts.

Running bull(pen) 

My attention was on Thomas, not the pen, when he was plunked in the sixth inning and expressed his displeasure with Rays starter Doug Waechter. I didn't really see how they reacted till they were in left field. As they jogged toward the infield alongside Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford, I thought, Boy, they could just take him down and do some damage. I can't remember seeing that in any brawls. Maybe it's an unwritten rule that bullpen guys can't brawl until they get to the infield. That would be a good rule.

I can't blame Thomas for being angry. After he hit the home run in the fourth, he saw several pitches inside before he got hit. My guess is that Waechter knew Rays manager Lou Pinella wanted the ball inside, and he wasn't going to miss over the inside half of the plate; if he was going to miss, it was going to be off the plate inside. Too bad he didn't miss over the plate. I might have caught a ball or happily watched it sail over my head. Thomas's fourth-inning home run was no more than 20 feet to my left, maybe a couple rows farther back than I was sitting.

Bullpen brands 

Cotts, Koch and Politte wear cleats by addidas. Jackson and Lee wear Nike shoes (cleats for Jackson, turf shoes for Lee). Takatsu, appropriately enough for Mr. Zero of Japan, wears Mizuno cleats and uses a Mizuno glove. Adkins wears Reebok cleats (I think that's what those were) and uses a Rawlings glove. Lee wears Wilson catcher's gear and uses a Wilson mitt. Someone -- Adkins, I think -- wore Franklin batting gloves to warm his hands. Politte chews Red Man. I didn't get a good look at the tin of dip tobacco that Koch had, but it might have been Copenhagen. It had a shiny bottom like Copenhagen tins have, but he slipped it into his left back pocket before I could tell for sure. I can say that he packs the tin with his right hand, as I would expect for a right-handed pitcher. Just about everyone drank AquaFina bottled water.

This wasn't in the bullpen, but in the men's room on the left-field concourse, I noticed little cards for Scores "gentlemen's club" near O'Hare Airport. There was no way in hell that I was going to actually touch something that's been sitting in a men's room like that, but I believe the cards entitled the holder to free or reduced admission.

Interesting to note 

Ozzie Guillen said he's determined to make the Sox a family, and he believes it's easier to bring Latin players into the team these days because of their greater numbers among players, managers and coaches. He said it's important for Latin players to learn English nonetheless, and he joked that his English is broken because his best friend as a young player, Harold Baines, didn't speak enough to teach Guillen to speak better.

Cubs beat writers asked Dusty Baker about Guillen's comments regarding Cubs hype. Baker said he watches the Sox and wishes them well, and he doesn't understand why the Sox talk about the Cubs so much. Guillen wasn't talking about the Cubs as a team or organization, mind you, just the media and fan reaction to them. No one expects the Cubs players and coaches to care about the Sox. I'm going to assume that Baker didn't actually read what Guillen said. If Baker had, I'm sure he'd recognize that Guillen was trying to show his support for Frank Thomas, a talent that Baker is rightfully credited with. Baker also offered up his latest loony theory -- that the Cubs are more popular because the Cubs began playing in Chicago first. I hope that was tongue-in-cheek, but it wasn't written that way, and Baker even talked about the Yankees predating the Mets (valid, I think) and the Dodgers predating the Angels in Los Angeles (more of a stretch; being there first by a few years helped the Dodgers, but the fact that they were an established, storied team, not an expansion team like the Angels, probably had more to do with it). But Baker thinks starting in 1876 versus 1901 makes a difference in 2004? Come on.

The reporters must ask Guillen about this after every time Wright starts. Guillen said Wright will continue to be the fifth starter. Cotts allowed his first run of the season yesterday.

Remember, he works for the Sox, not the station 

WMVP, AM-1000, had a problem on its hands Saturday: the Sox were playing a game during the heart of the first day of the NFL draft. I'm sure they didn't want to completely cede the silly infatuation with the draft to the Score. They broke into the broadcast to play the tape -- or maybe it was even live, they didn't introduce it -- of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announcing that the Bears selected Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris with the 14th pick of the first round. Fine. They mentioned the Harris pick again everytime they did a sports headline update during the broadcast (which must be an indication of how long the first round takes -- enough to play a baseball game). About the third or fourth time, Ed Farmer said something along the lines of, hey, it's baseball season. I'm a Bears fan, he said, but get back to me in six or seven months. Farmio said something else that cracked me up yesterday, but I can't remember it. Wish I'd written it down.

It's not mission impossible 

Jay Mariotti didn't have anything better to do Thursday night, so he decided that more of the same-old, same-old would be good for his Friday column. First, he takes aim at the Charles Comiskey statue, saying that it should be in front of the ballpark, not out in right-centerfield. I think the White Sox should be saving the front of the ballpark for the Frank Thomas statue that will go up when Thomas makes the Hall of Fame. Mariotti also makes a big deal, again, about selling the naming rights to the park. I'm glad the park doesn't have "Comiskey" in its name anymore. Comiskey Park was born in 1910 and died in 1990. They tore it down. The new park is fine, but it is not the park where I first watched the Sox. So I'm glad there's none of this "new Comiskey" and "old Comiskey" stuff anymore. There's just Comiskey and the Cell. He also said that there's basically no hope for the Sox -- it doesn't matter who they hire as marketing director -- unless they build a new park closer to downtown in some version of Wrigleyville South. It may be excruciating for us Sox fans to wait this long, but the neighborhood near the park is changing, particularly east of the Dan Ryan Expressway, and the Sox are in good position to benefit from that in their current location.

He does make a good point that the Sox lost their fans with the 1994 strike. It came up at the absolute worst time, with the team peaking. Jerry Reinsdorf was a prime mover behind the strike. I will say this: The season the team was having gave Reinsdorf some credibility with his fellow owners. And, disapponted as I remain to this day that the season wasn't played out, I guess you have to give some credit to Reinsdorf for sticking to what he believed was best for the owners as a whole, not just for him personally. Like I said, I hate what happened. It was terrible for the game and awful for Sox fans like me. But a balance needed to be established between players and owners, and the strike went a ways toward establishing a balance for the first time, really. The owners had their way for a century, then the players ruled for two decades. The division of power between the two might be closer to balance now than it has ever been.

Barry Rozner in the Daily Herald has a different idea. What the Sox need, he contends, is not just someone with some marketing genius but also someone who can be the public face of the team. Rozner writes that Sox fans see too many team executives who have bad news to deliver and a demeanor to match. What they need is a team president who can speak for the team with a more positive attitude, an outsider who hasn't been beaten down by the problems the team has had since the 1994 strike. Rozner suggests John McDonough of the Cubs. I still like the idea of unleashing Mike Veeck on the marketing plan. Hiring McDonough would make it difficult for Veeck to play off the Cubs mania in town, since McDonough might rightly feel that he deserves credit (I would say blame) for that mania. But in general, I like the idea of a team president who represents the club to the public. Reinsdorf, thankfully, keeps the background most of the time now, but his reclusiveness also means that there isn't someone at the ownership level representing the club, speaking to the media and communicating with fans. Others outside the club -- think talk radio, then sports columnists -- are left to fill the void, and that is not good for the club.

A cool piece of history 

It was appropriate for me to be at an American League baseball game Saturday, as it was the anniversary of the first-ever AL game, right here in Chicago on April 24, 1901. The White Sox beat the Cleveland Blues, 8-2. Saturday was also the first chance I had to see the Charles Comiskey statue that was unveiled this week. It's on the outfield concourse, just to the right-field side of the Fan Deck. It's worth checking out, although I realize now that I was so eager to eat my steak pita that I never read the plaque next to the statue. I did take some pictures of the statue.

Wish I could have said it this well 

Larry Mahnken is, unfortunately, a Yankees fan, but he made an excellent point about Barry Bonds in this column on the Hardball Times web site. The point? Enjoy Bonds while he's still playing. We may never know if he used steriods or other performance-enhancing drugs. Don't turn away from watching the greatest player of our generation just because of the rumors. If they turn out to be true later, that's no reason to feel badly about watching Bonds now.

I attended one of the games when the Giants visited the Cell last year, the one started by Bartolo Colon. The first three at-bats, Colon challenges Bonds and strikes him out each time. It was a riveting matchup. The park had the electricity of a Sox-Cubs game, or the Sox-Indians matchups of the early 1990s. Around the sixth inning, with the Sox up 4-1, if I recall correctly, I turned to the friend I attended the game with and said, "I hope the Sox score a few more runs. That way, I can root for Barry to hit one nine miles in his next at-bat. I want to be able to tell my grandkids that I saw the great Barry Bonds hit a home run." Well, as you may remember, I got the second half of my wish. Bonds hit a home run alright, tying the game in the ninth with a two-run shot off Colon. Jerry Manuel, who had no one warming up, had to let Colon keep pitching. He loads the bases. Manuel brings on Damaso Marte, who proceeds to allow a grand slam to Rich Aurilia. 8-4 is your final, Sox fans.

An interesting coincidence: The game recap I linked to above mentions that the last time Bonds had struck out three times in a game was June 13, 2001, nearly two years to the day that Colon whiffed him three times. The pitcher in that 2001 game was none other than Scott Schoeneweis, then with the Angels and now in the Sox rotation. Colon, of course, has made the reverse trip.

(Music to write by: Eric Clapton, "Journeyman," Derek and the Dominos, "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs," from the "Crossroads" boxed set and from the "The Layla Sessions" boxed set and The Strokes, "Room on Fire," "New York City Cops" single and "Is This It?")

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Why Ozzie matters so much 

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen took time before yesterday's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Devil Rays to give Frank Thomas some love. Guillen defended Thomas, who is not speaking to print media (hallalujah for that; see post No. 1 commenting on the Daily Southtown story that started Thomas's little contract tempest for media advice he should follow):
"When you walk that many times (1,402) and you hit .340 and you hit 40 home runs … a lot of people don't give Frank the credit he should get," Guillen said. "A lot of people forgot quick in this town that he was the MVP two times (1993 and '94). A lot of people talk about (Cubs outfielder) Moises Alou more than Frank. You know, Moises is over here for two days. Now (Mark) Prior … they talk about Kerry Wood.

"They don't talk about Thomas. Frank Thomas is Michael Jordan … because Sammy (Sosa) was here after [Thomas] was. I was looking in the paper this morning and saw the 'Prior Watch.' You know, it's nothing against the kid, but come on. …"

When he was hurt for [three] days, they did not have the 'Frank Thomas Watch' in the paper," Guillen said. "Frank Thomas is way better than Prior (who is on the disabled list with a sore Achilles' and tender elbow). Frank has done more things for this town than Prior. I give all the respect to Mark, don't take me wrong. But, my God …"
There's perfectly good reasons of journalism to have a "Prior Watch" and not a "Thomas Watch." Thomas's injury was mild and predictable, where Prior's has been on 10 different timetables and is harder to get a handle on. And I wouldn't put any player in any sport on the same level as Michael Jordan. But I love hearing Guillen stick up for Thomas. It's the manager's way of saying, OK, we're not talking about your contract status anymore, and as long as you're clear on that, I've got your back. Guillen also said that Thomas should be considered Mr. Sox, perhaps thinking of the way Jeff Conine is called Mr. Marlin. He calls his former teammate a lock for the Hall of Fame, too. As usual with Guillen, he delivered the defense with a little tweak, too, saying that Thomas's attitude over the years explains some of the lack of respect. But the overall message is, you're my guy and, as long as you continue to put the team first, I'll always back you. I doubt Thomas felt that way for even a day during Jerry Manuel's six-year tenure.

As for the game itself, the Rays did all they could to hand the game to the Sox, who didn't seem willing to take it most of the night. For the second game in a row, Joe Crede came up with the big at-bat, as his sacrifice fly in the 10th brought Magglio Ordonez home with the winning run. Crede said the team is starting to gel as it has won two one-run games in a row. The Sox let several good scoring opportunities get away.

Interesting to note 

Reporters want Ozzie Guillen to say he has a closer by committee, but Guillen won't give them the satisfaction. It was very encouraging last night to see Shingo Takatsu strike out lefty Aubrey Huff looking. Takatsu struggled with left-handed batters in spring training and in his first regular-season outing against the Yankees (beginning the new Yankee legend of outfielder Bubba Crosby in the process), but he has looked much better in his two appearances since then. I'd like to see him get more work. Neal Cotts has yet to allow a run. Billy Koch looked solid in his one inning and got the win.

Although Guillen would like to see Frank Thomas get his due, he doesn't mind having all the focus and pressure on the Cubs right now. He thinks obscurity helped the Marlins last year.

Willie Harris is in a 1-for-16 slump. I think he needs to be a little more patient at the plate (big shock, I think a player needs to take more pitches). He seems to be a little less selective right now.

Esteban Loiaza wasn't as sharp as he was against the Rays last Sunday, but not too many pitchers are going to be that good two starts in a row. The Rays actually knocked him around quite a bit -- 8 hits allowed in 7 innings -- but Loiaza only walked two batters and induced a double play on a comebacker. Catcher Miguel Olivo also helped Loiaza by throwing out Rey Sanchez trying to steal second on a strike out and picking Rays catcher Toby Hall (I almost called him Toby Harrah) off first base. I'm a little concerned about Loiaza throwing 122 pitches after throwing 112 in his last start. I wouldn't mind seeing him get an extra day off before his next start, especially since the Sox have Monday off. He doesn't have a history of arm trouble, however, and, at age 32, he's not a young pitcher whose arm hasn't fully developed, two factors often considered when looking at pitch counts. Loiaza also has a smooth, easy throwing motion, rather than the violent, torque-full delivery of a power pitcher such as Kerry Wood. Still, I don't want him to be gassed later in the season.

This is why we hate Cubs fans 

OK, if you still don't understand why Cubs fans drive me up the wall, look no further than this little encomium. "Cubthumping" is what this Cubs fan calls the team's recent outbreak of runs scored -- 82 runs in 10 games before Friday. What does he call three runs against the Mets on Friday? Look, go ahead and root for your team and feel good when they play well. Fine. I have no problem with that. It's just that "Cubthumping" is the usual too-cute-and-smug-to-stomach kind of thing that Cubs fans say and do. I swear, last year, I started to expect to hear Cubs fans refer to the franchise as "Marky Prior" so he could fit in with all the other cutesy names, like "Kerry" and "Corey" and "Sammy" and "Kenny." I'm surprised Jim Hendry didn't make it an off-season priority to get more players with names ending in "y."

And really, I always thought "cubthumping" is what happens when Cubs fans mistake Jimbo's for Murphy's. Sorry, Jon. At least you can gush over the first win for the prodigal this season.

(Music to write by: Led Zeppelin, "III," Pink Floyd, "Dark Side of the Moon," and R.E.M., "Green.")

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Doing just enough to win 

Watching the replay of the game-ending double play, there wasn't a split-second to spare on the turn that Willie Harris made to get the throw to first base. The ninth inning is going to be an adventure for the forseeable future. Timo Perez's diving catch off a short fly hit by Alex Rodriguez was a Web Gem on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. Another good start for Scott Schoeneweis (6-2/3, 4 H, 3 R, 3 W, 1 K, and 66 strikes in 107 pitches) and a real nice outing tonight by Cliff Politte (1-1/3, 1 H, 0 R, 0 W, 0 K, 15 strikes in 24 pitches). A 4-3 win over the Yankees to put the Sox at 9-6 after 15 games. Not bad, not bad.

No middle relievers needed 

I guess the problem was, they just couldn't get Javier Vazquez out of the game yesterday. Jon Garland had his second good outing against the Yankees this season, but he just couldn't match Vazquez. All of the runs in the 3-1 Yankees victory scored on home runs -- solo shots for Carlos Lee and Alex Rodriguez and a two-run, game-winning home run by Jorge Posada in the seventh inning. "We'll see him again in the (bleeping) playoffs," Guillen said in the locker room. Love that attitude. As good as Vazquez was, Guillen said, the Sox had their chances early in the game.

Interesting to note 

I'm becoming more and more convinced that Kelly Wunsch was the player that GM Ken Williams was talking about when he said, in the latter stages of spring training, that someone needed to "step it up" or he's not going to make the team. Manager Ozzie Guillen said that Wunsch won't return unless there's an injury to a reliever. I was kind of wondering where they were going to put Wunsch when he was healthy. I guess it's Charlotte.

Guillen is a lot more happy with Jon Adkins and Neal Cotts. He likes the resiliency of Adkins' arm and says he and Cotts could both be starting pitchers some day. I'm not as sure about Adkins, but I definitely see Cotts in the starting rotation, perhaps even this season if Dan Wright continues to struggle. Guillen has nicknamed Adkins Fat Boy. Adkins said he hasn't forgotten the negative comments that greeted him when the Sox acquired him from the A's in return for free-agent-to-be Ray Durham.

Guillen said one of his sons, a college student, told him that there's a pool on when Guillen will earn his first ejection as manager: "I asked him what he picked. I told him, 'At least you should win.' "

Scot Gregor suggests in the Daily Herald that it might not be a coincidence that the Sox had two hamstring injuries over the weekend. With the team trying to force the issue on the basepaths, Gregor wrote, maybe the players need to focus more on pre-game stretching.

Thankfully, disco is really dead this time 

Greg Couch in the Sun-Times wrote today that the White Sox should hire Mike Veeck, son of Bill Veeck, to replace Rob Gallas as marketing director. Can anyone, Couch asked Veeck, get fans to come to the Cell?
"Absolutely,'' Veeck said. "It's cool to be a Cubs fan now, but White Sox fans are still some of the best in the world. And it's always an advantage to be David to someone else's Goliath. You never heard anybody in the Coliseum going, 'Come on, Goliath, crunch that little bum.' The Cubs are in one of those zones where they can do no wrong. So you position yourself against them and have some fun with it. It's all there waiting to be nurtured and then harvested.''
Veeck's idea is to use gags that play off the Cubs position.
"If I were the Sox, I'd have a Scalpers Night,'' Mike said. "You invite the scalpers from the North Side who aren't working because they've already sold their tickets. Put an ad in the paper: 'Scalpers wanted.'''

This is a not-so-subtle stick in the eye of the Cubs, who made national news last year by running a scalping scam on their fans. They're still running it, by the way.

"You know, I've still never set foot in Wrigley Field,'' Veeck said. "Never.''
I sure like that last part.

Would Jerry Reinsdorf do it? Well, he's been suspected of doing things just to spite people (like sign Albert Belle to tick off his fellow owners). Maybe we could get Jay Mariotti to say it would be a terrible idea.

In all seriousness, I guess the question is, Would hiring Mike Veeck make the Sox a laughingstock? That will be the argument against him, that he's too much of a clown. The critics will bring up the game the Sox forfeited to the Tigers because of his Disco Demolition Night promotion in 1979. One man's laughingstock is another man's innovator. Hire him.

Ripe for a fall? 

I think Veeck is definitely on to something with his idea to mock the success and excess of the Cubs. First, it would definitely be popular with Sox fans. There's no team's fans that we love to mock more. Second, despite how beloved the Cubs and their fans are right now, I think they're both candidates for a backlash. As Carol Slezak of the Sun-Times points out, it's just April, yet the atmosphere around the park is nothing short of delirium. Slezak also writes that there is a proposal to replace many of the cops who work on game days with traffic aides.

As someone who lives about a mile from Wrigley Field, I think I can say with some authority that that is a very bad idea. I remember walking around on Clark Street during Game 3 of the NLDS against Atlanta. It was bedlam. The cops were doing everything they could just to keep the crowds from filling the streets. There was a block-long line to get into a packed Cubby Bear. (My friends and I skipped the Bear, where we were supposed to meet up with some out-of-towners, and went to Taco-Burrito Express instead. They opened on Clark just before the playoffs. The line for the Cubby Bear would extend south right past the brand-new burrito joint. Perfect timing for my favorite burrito entrepreneur, Rosario.) The beer cups strewn on the field in consecutive games last week were one thing, but an incident outside the park will provoke a serious backlash. Keep in mind that the groups aligned against night baseball are seriously vigilant about what happens in the neighborhood when the Cubs play. If it happens, it will be publicized.

I also remember a ride home on the Red Line from Streeterville after the Cubs won Game 5 of the NLDS. There was a problem with the train, because we waited nearly a half hour at the Chicago station. As a result, the train was packed. When we got to Fullerton, where a young woman and I tried to disembark, there was a rowdy crowd of mostly Cubs fans on the platform. I thought we were going to be knocked over by the obnoxious jerks who wouldn't let us off the train before they tried to crowd on. I'm not saying that Sox fans follow Miss Manners, but I've found the crowds entering the Red Line at 35th Street to be pretty reasonable. But I've seen this kind of euphoric, mob behavior by Cubs fans over and over. It will cost them at some point.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

All tuckered out 

One thing the Sox may have accomplished with their comeback yesterday, besides improving their demeanor, was tiring the most important parts of the Yankee bullpen, as Paul Quantrill, Tom Gordon and Mariano Rivera were forced to pitch yesterday in a game that appeared to be locked up early. Quantrill, who threw two innings Tuesday, also threw 2-2/3 innings Sunday and got an out Friday. Gordon was pitching for the third day in a row on Tuesday night. Rivera should be available, as he had last pitched Sunday and didn't otherwise pitch in the Red Sox series.

I doubt we'll see either Quantrill or Gordon tonight, and that could be key in the six, seventh and eighth innings. The recent workload might make Yankees manager Joe Torre decide that it's not worth bringing either of them tonight, for their long-term good. So if the Sox can get Javier Vazquez out of the game, they might be able to attack the rest of the Yankees' bullpen.

A report from last night's game 

I mentioned yesterday that my friend and former coworker Chris attended Tuesday night's game. Here, with his permission, is the e-mail he sent me this morning.
What an ugly night for baseball. But the Sox and the fans hung in there. I would say that after the first rain delay, almost all of the crowd remained in the ballpark. And they saw a hell of an offensive show. I place the blame for last night's loss squarely on the shoulders of Mark Buehrle, and not because he gave up hard-hit balls, but because he showed no hustle. If he gets his ass off the mound and gets Jeter out in the first inning, that seven-run Yankees explosion never happens. Maybe they score two or three.  I give Jeter credit, though. He hustled. The difference in last night's game was all in the first inning, and it was the difference between a confident team on a two-game winning streak and a struggling group of All-Stars coming off two embarrassing losses to its biggest rival. The Sox should have known the Yankees would be swinging freely and running hard from the first pitch.

A number of fans in Section 160 thought that sending Maggs in the sixth inning, when he got picked off with one out, was a mistake, considering Konerko was due up after Lee (who subsequently struck out). I disagree. It fits with the strategy of running the bases aggressively and forcing other teams into situations in which they can make mistakes. Of course, Posada isn't generally someone who makes a lot of mistakes, but it was a wild night, and it just worked out that Quantrill threw a perfect pitch and Posada made a perfect throw.

I will say that the home plate umpire consistently called low strikes and did not call strikes that were up in the zone. The Sox never adjusted. It seems to me that it's Alomar's responsibility to tell pitchers, "Look, the ump isn't calling high strikes. Keep it low." It's my belief the Yankees don't score any runs in the six, seventh or eighth innings if either a) the ump has a reasonable strike zone or b) Sox pitchers realize the zone is low and pitch accordingly.
After I complained about Lee and his lack of plate discipline, Chris had this to add:
No question the first inning was a disaster, and one of the things that did not help in that regard was when Miguel Cairo smoked that double to left. Lee ambled over like he thought it would be foul. Again, it's hustle vs. complacency. The Yankees were running - no, sprinting - on contact, and Lee seemed content to let the ball drift foul, which from our vantage point (which was essentially Lee's vantage point, but 10 feet higher) it looked like it would. In fact, when the ball landed, I looked at the umpire, who hesitated for just a second before signaling it was fair. Nobody could believe it. But the wind was blowing from left to right field, so anything hit down the left field line, or even slightly foul, would most certainly get blown back in play. Isn't it Lee's job to know that?
Yeah, it is.

There's nothing like getting your friends to do your job for you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Ugly, sloppy, but they battled 

The first inning was brutal. It was reminicent of the way the Sox played behind Mark Buehrle during his losing streak last year. As for Buehrle, as Ed Farmer pointed out, he had no trouble getting two strikes on hitters, but he couldn't put them away. Farmer suggested at the end of the game that Buehrle may have been doing something different with two strikes to tip his pitches.

I liked the way the hitters battled, even if they did most of the damage off the Columbus (Ohio) Clippers, not the Yankees pitchers. Farmer also had the line of the night. With two outs and no one on in the ninth, down by three runs with Mariano Rivera on the mound, he said, "If they come back in this one, start handing out the loaves and fishes."

That was a nice crowd at the park tonight (including my good friend and former coworker, Chris). They gave the team standing ovations after the bottom of the fourth and the bottom of fifth for narrowing the Yankees' lead. I know it was half-price with a Pepsi night, but I hope they can keep up similar-sized crowds Wednesday and Thursday nights, just with better results.

Walker in 'dream job' 

Greg Walker says he has patterned himself after the hitting coach who made his career, Charlie Lau. I didn't read his most famous book, The Art of Hitting .300, but I did read The Winning Hitter: How to Play Championship Baseball, the one that has Ron Kittle on the cover. (It's out of print; I still have my copy.) Kittle's completing that big swing of his -- top hand off the bat, as Lau is famous for teaching -- in that funny-looking, but glorious uniform from 1983. That book taught me a valuable lesson about the game: With a runner on first, a single to right field is worth more than a single to left, because the baserunner has a much better chance to reach third base. It was a revelation for a 12-year-old.

Walker doesn't seem to push the pure Lau theories, such as releasing the top hand to improve extension on the follow through and not trying to pull the ball so much.

A good guy leaves 

Rob Gallas, White Sox senior vice president, marketing and broadcasting, has resigned after 15 years. In a statement, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf credited Gallas with promotions including Elvis Night, Dog Day and, my personal favorite, the 1990 Turn Back the Clock Day. I was at that game -- July 11. It was a wild afternoon. The park was packed. Unfortunately, the Sox blew a late lead and lost 12-9 in 13 innings to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Easy punching bag 

It's hard to believe that Frank Thomas didn't realize that he was opening himself up to so much criticism. And for what? Reinsdorf does not renegotiate contracts. Thomas has joked in the past that the author of this column, Teddy Greenstein of the Tribune, was his "bad luck charm," since Greenstein covered the team in 1999, when Thomas battled an ankle injury and had his worst season to that point in his career.

The importance of the Bombers 

Jay Mariotti wrote today that the Yankee pressure cooker is stewing Alex Rodriguez, whose struggles are being analyzed everywhere. He also uses the Yankees' only trip to Chicago this year to say that attendance is the "big litmus test," suggesting that if the Sox don't draw in the 30,000s each night, the upper deck renovations were for nothing. I'm sure he's already half-written a column that if the Sox don't win at least two out of three, they've missed a huge opportunity to be relevant in a city that is in love with all things Cub, blah, blah, blah. I swear, that's not a quote from an old column. I've just read it so much that I can anticipate his Friday column if the series doesn't work out in the favor of the Sox. I don't think the Sox are going to let him write it that way.

Props for Williams, Olivo 

Scot Gregor in the Daily Herald writes today that perhaps some of Kenny Williams's critics owe him an apology. Maybe I should apologize myself. By the end of spring training, I had a good feeling about the team, but I was pretty critical with the lack of off-season moves in February. I was wrong. I was just frustrated hearing about what the Cubs were doing and not having anything to come back with to defend the Sox.

Meanwhile, Joe Cowley writes in the Daily Southtown that Miguel Olivo is putting it all together so far this season. He also writes about the mentoring relationship Olivo has with veteran Sandy Alomar Jr., who says he's doing the same things for Olivo that Tony Pena did for him when he was a kid. Alomar also benefits because his career is being extended as a part-time catcher.

Salary updates 

The Associated Press has published their annual review of major league salaries. Now that I've got the whole list of White Sox salaries, I can note for you that Timo Perez is making $850,000 and Mike Jackson is making $500,000. I've added them to the chart from Sunday. Everyone else is making $350,000 or less.

Monday, April 19, 2004

I really shouldn't do this... 

Peter Gammons admits it, "it" being that he and most of the national baseball commentators vastly underestimated the talent that remains on the White Sox and the difference that Ozzie Guillen would make on how that talent performs. Gammons acknowledges a similar underestimation of the Marlins as the lead of this column. He might want to talk about his pick of the Braves as no better than third (I think he picked them fourth in those team-by-team previews he and Harold Reynolds did on SportsCenter last month, but I can't find anything to document that and I don't completely trust my memory) after their impressive sweep of the Marlins.

As with everything else at this point in the season, we have to be careful. It could all fall apart. I don't want to be prematurely giddy -- that's so Cubs fan -- but it's hard not to have a good feeling about Guillen and the obvious change in the way this team is playing.

Gammons also mentions, further down in the column, that outfield prospect Jeremy Reed is hitting better than .400 at AAA Charlotte and that Garrett Anderson's four-year, $48 million deal will have an impact on negotiations between Magglio Ordonez and the White Sox. I hope it has the effect that Gammons thinks -- that it makes a signing more likely -- but as I wrote before, I would be using the overpaying of Anderson to justify big bucks for Ordonez if he were my client. Still, I like the close proximity of these two items. Sign Maggs to an extension. Trade Carlos Lee. Promote Reed.

Easing my doubts 

Yep, Esteban Loiaza definitely fixed that arm angle problem yesterday against the Rays. Sox pitching allowed only one run -- unearned -- in the last 24 innings of the series. Sox catcher Miguel Olivo said Loiaza threw the ball the way he did last year, for the first time this season. Pitching coach Don Cooper said Loiaza's earlier struggles are "in the rearview mirror."
"I just want him to attack now," Cooper said. "Stop thinking too much: 'Is this right, is that right, is my left big toe in the right direction, what about my ear lobe?' No, just do what he did most of last year — compete and attack."
Winning the last two games of the series with great pitching is a nice way to lead into the longest homestand of the season, 12 games starting Tuesday with the Yankees. Let's hope they stay in their funk for three more games.

Interesting to note 

It may be warm in the Tampa area right now, but it's cold inside Sominex/Tropicana Field. A stadium worker says the deep freeze will end as soon as the club gets a load of the electricity bill. Let's hope that the hamstrings of Frank Thomas and Jose Valentin are not seriously hurt. Valentin is the one left-handed hitter with power in the lineup. Thomas is a serious presence even when he struggles, and he was just starting to look better in this series. Valentin remembers struggling with a hamstring injury for most of 2001, and he said he'd rather sit now for a couple of games than have it bother him for a month or more.

I bet Willie Harris won't hesitate to steal a base the next time Ozzie Guillen gives him the green light. Guillen wouldn't accept as an excuse that Harris couldn't get a good read off the pitcher. Good. So far, Guillen said, baserunning has been the team's only glaring weakness, more so on trying to take extra bases than on steals -- they've been thrown out six times trying to take the extra base.

The Sox are already thinking about Sandy Alomar Jr. as a potential minor league manager but Alomar, hitting .353, said he still loves playing. Ken Williams gave Tony Pena his first managerial job, in the Dominican Republic, after the club traded Pena in 1997 to the Houston Astros.

Just waiting for the Guillen punchline 

Frank Thomas told the Daily Southtown that commentators and fans seem to be focusing only on the negative comments he made last week about his contract and not his positive statements about his commitment to the team. Thomas should know better by now that those positive statements will sound hollow when he, of all people, is complaining about his contract.

(Music to write by: The Replacements, "Putting on the Ritz."(live))

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Control, movement and velocity 

I know it's just one game, but Esteban Loiaza was really outstanding today. I was a little nervous when manager Ozzie Guillen sent him out for the ninth. Not because I was worried about Loiaza blowing the lead, but because I was worried that Loiaza might be throwing too many pitches. I shouldn't have worried. Loiaza, according to the box score, threw just 110 pitches, 72 of them for strikes. I don't know enough about pitching mechanics to say for sure, but I think Loiaza must have implemented the changes to his motion that he and pitching coach Don Cooper talked about after his less-than-stellar Opening Day start. Loiaza looked like he did last year, not only having consistent velocity in the low 90s, but just the way he kept the Rays hitters from really squaring the ball on the bat. That's indicative of a lot of movement on the ball. After those first two starts for Loiaza, this excellent performance is a relief. And if his offense won him his first two starts, well, they owe him for the two times they got shutout in his starts against the Tigers last year.

The payroll situation 

With all the talk recently about new contracts for Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas, I thought it would make sense to take a look at the salary commitments the White Sox have for the next four seasons. I've left out the players who either haven't got enough service time to reach arbitration or were non-roster invitees (such as Mike Jackson) and, as a result, have salaries at or near the $300,000 major league minimum.

Player 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Ordonez, Magglio 14.00 ??? ??? ??? ???
Konerko, Paul 8.00 8.75
Lee, Carlos 6.50 8.00 8.50
Koch, Billy 6.38
Thomas, Frank 6.00 8.00 10.00
Valentin, Jose 5.00
Loiaza, Esteban 4.00
Buehrle, Mark 3.50 5.75 7.75 9.50
Garland, Jon 2.30
Schoeneweis, S. 1.73
Perez, Timo 0.85
Wunsch, Kelly 0.80
Politte, Cliff 0.80 1.30
Takatsu, Shingo 0.75 2.50
Alomar Jr., Sandy 0.75
Jackson, Mike 0.50
Marte, Damaso 0.50 1.25 2.25 3.0 3.0
______ _____ _____ _____ _____
Totals 62.36 35.55 28.50 12.50 3.0
Optional money 0 3.80 8.50 12.50 3.0

Sources: Chicago White Sox news releases, MLB Player Contracts, Slam Sports, and the Transaction Guy.

Underlined figures represent option years. The figures on the "Totals" line include money from option years, with the option-year money listed below.

I didn't underline Frank Thomas's salaries for 2005 and 2006 because I am assuming that he will be smart enough to exercise those options. He was a free agent after the 2002 season, and he knows that there isn't much interest in him out there. You can eliminate the National League altogether, since Thomas has been primarily a DH since 1998.

One problem is the White Sox have nearly $32 million committed next year to five players: Konerko, Lee, Thomas, Buehrle and Marte. But they will lose the salaries of Koch and Valentin. Loiaza is not signed for 2005, but I hope he has a good enough season this year to warrant a raise. Ditto for Garland. I think, again, that there could be a trade market for Carlos Lee, even at $8.5 million (his 2005 salary plus the $500,000 buyout for 2006). If they can patch whatever hole they need for next year by trading Lee for a similar salary or salaries, then, yes, I think they can afford to resign Magglio Ordonez to a good-sized contract. If the Sox were able to trade Lee, that would leave $20 million in committed salaries in 2006 for Buehrle, Marte and Thomas.

As an aside, I wish Ken Williams would have considered trading Carlos Lee when the Dodgers were reportedly interested in acquiring him this winter. With Paul DePodesta now filling the GM's chair in Chavez Ravine, there's no way in hell that the Dodgers trade for a guy with a career on-base percentage of .337.

I say this even though there's a lot I like about Lee. I just think he has more value in a trade than he will playing for the Sox. He clearly has worked hard to become a decent left-fielder. He was atrocious when he came up in 1999. And I like his enthusiasm, which extends to the fans. For instance, I was at Wrigley last year for the first game of the crosstown series. With the Sox up about 10-0 in the fifth, Lee missed the cut-off man on a ball hit toward the line, allowing the batter to reach second base as the run scored anyway. A group of Sox fans, including me, got all over Lee for failing to hit the cut-off man. Next batter also hit one down the line, Lee fielded and threw a perfect strike to the cut-off man. As he made his way back to his position, he looked over at us and smiled. That was cool.

(Minor editing done at 8:17 p.m. CDT, 4/18; two salaries added 4/20)

Contract conundrums, Vol. II 

Frank Thomas, you're just getting what you asked for by bringing up your contract issues during the season. John Rooney was critical of Thomas during his first-inning at-bat, commenting that Thomas has said the contract talk has been overblown, yet there was a story about the squabbles of Thomas and Magglio Ordonez in the St. Petersburg Times today. But Rooney was wrong. That story didn't have any fresh quotes, but merely relied on the Daily Southtown's original scoop. Rooney owes Thomas an apology.

Steve Rosenbloom says no corner outfielder, Ordonez and Sammy Sosa included, is worth 5 years, $70 million. Rosenbloom suggests that the Sox should trade Ordonez for a No. 2 starter or a closer and a position player, which is pretty much what they were looking to do with the Ordonez-Nomar Garciaparra deal that was contingent on the Red Sox trading for Alex Rodriguez. Scott Williamson was part of that deal. Rosenbloom also contends that they'd be just as well off with Carlos Lee hitting third. I think Ordonez is worth a lot more than Lee, and I'd be happy to see the Sox trade Lee instead, if the aim is to reallocate money from position players to pitchers. I almost think Rosenbloom is taking this side of the argument just to be opposite of Jay Mariotti.

Glad he's making me look bad 

Scott Schoeneweis made his second solid start of the season yesterday. Schoeneweis said he kept his confidence despite his brutal spring training. The Rays' Aubrey Huff said of Schoeneweis: "A lot of fastballs. He wasn't fooling anybody. He was throwing it right by us.'' To me, that signals that he was fooling them by effectively changing speeds. I'm not saying that Schoeneweis couldn't break a pane of glass with his fastball, but he's not overpowering either, unless you're looking for something slow. Schoeneweis also credited Sandy Alomar Jr. with taking the thinking out of the game for the lefty. During his radio pre-game interview, manager Ozzie Guillen said Schoeneweis was overthinking during his spring outings. It also helps that Schoeneweis isn't throwing cut fastballs and changeups exclusively, as he did for most of spring training so he could work on those two pitches. I'd be happy to be wrong about Schoeneweis all year long. Damaso Marte recorded his first save of the year with two tense innings.

Interesting to note 

With Saturday's start at third base, Juan Uribe has played second base, shortstop and third base on consecutive days. Guillen said he wants to find a way to keep him in the lineup, with Uribe hitting .375. Uribe is shaping up as a possibility at shortstop next year. Jose Valentin's contract is up at the end of the year. Valentin has said that he would like to resign with the Sox and money wouldn't be his biggest concern, but I'm not sure they wouldn't be better off with Uribe, since he'll cost the Sox a lot less than Valentin. It's a gamble, too, because Uribe struggled as an every-day player in Colorado.

Ken Williams said the Rays have a definite home-field advantage at Sominex/Tropicana Field. Williams said visiting players feel like the pitches are reaching the plate more quickly than they really are in the dome. He said the Sox hitters were reacting that way on Friday night, but they adjusted for Saturday's game.

Ozzie Guillen said yesterday that there would be calls to fire him if he messed up a double switch the way Dusty Baker did on Friday. Guillen is exaggerating for comic effect, but it's fair, in part, for Baker to get the benefit of the doubt more than Guillen. Baker is in his 12th season as manager, and Guillen is a rookie manager, and he knows you have to prove yourself, whether you're a player or a manager. I know that a Cubs fan I talked to Friday night was solidly behind his manager, saying Baker always uses the double switch. Well, then he should know that you have to ensure that the umpire gets the message. Shouldn't someone on the Cubs bench have noticed that umpire C.B. Bucknor didn't signal anything to the Reds? I don't attend very many National League games, so I haven't noticed how the umpires signal this, but clearly the Reds didn't think a double switch had been made, which is why they asked Bucknor about it.

Not exactly 

Reading Rick Telander's column today, I can see why he's a sportswriter and not a scientist. Telander wrote that the Wednesday and Thursday day games that the Sox and the Cubs played on opposite ends of town show the stark disparity between the fan bases for the two teams. Telander does this as a way to defend himself and his brethren from the charge that they hype up the Cubs and downplay the Sox. Telander also makes a big deal about how the two games were almost a perfect "scientific" experiment, with equivalent conditions for both teams.

First, I'm curious how many fans the Cubs were drawing on April weekday afternoons when they're not coming off a playoff appearance with sky-high expectations. How many folks were braving cold April days a year ago, when they were coming off 90+ losses? How about in April 2000? Given the expectations for the team and the scarcity of tickets in a small ballpark, of course they had big crowds. Those games might have been the only chance for some of those fans to attend a game this year. That is a sign of the greater interest in the Cubs right now, but there's also the fact that Wrigley is a destination no matter how bad the Cubs are. That artificially increases the demand for tickets.

Second, sure, I agree, there are more Cubs fans in Chicagoland right now (some true-blue, some fair-weather), so I can understand why media outlets would use more of their scarce resources on the Cubs. I still think you can make the case that the Cubs get better play no matter what the situation. For most of the first half of the 2000 season, as the White Sox were sprinting out to the best record in the majors at the All-Star break, the headlines were dominated by these grave questions: Are the Cubs going to trade Sammy? Will the sky fall if they do?

Lost his head and the lead 

Are you like me? Do you think Kerry Wood was lucky that he didn't get thrown out of the game the first time he vigorously gestured at the home plate umpire? The first pitch that angered Wood, thowing to Reds slugger Adam Dunn, was a ball outside, but the second pitch, close as it was, looked like a strike to me. It was a very close pitch.

Chip Caray and Steve Stone were thankful that Wood didn't bump the ump, Eric Cooper, because they believe that that ensures that he won't be suspended. I'm not so sure. The way Wood rushed Cooper was somewhat threatening. Besides, if there's no penalty for rushing an umpire after you've been removed from the game, that opens up a lot of possibilities for pitchers showing up umpires and inciting the home crowd, the way Wood did yesterday. It's a difficult call, for sure. I originally thought a five-game, i.e. one-start, suspension would be appropriate, but maybe that's too much. Instead of fining Wood, why not suspend him two games? That will hit Wood's pocketbook, but it probably wouldn't cost him a start.

Maybe Wood would be better off missing a start. He threw 131 pitches yesterday. By my review of the pitch-by-pitch game log on ESPN.com, Wood had thrown 112 pitches heading into the ninth inning, but Dusty Baker sent him out for the ninth. I know it was only a one-run lead, and I know Joe Borowski has been shaky, but Baker can't continue to pound Wood's arm and, besides, the Cubs need to find out about Borowski sooner rather than later, don't they? It's not like this team can't afford a trade for a closer.

Given Baker's explosion on Friday, it will be interesting to watch the interaction between the Cubs and the umpires in the games today and tomorrow.

Dave Wills on WMVP, AM-1000, just mentioned what I wrote about yesterday: That no one would make a big deal about Cubs fans littering the field. There are differing perceptions of fans at the two ballparks. Some of that is understandable, given the horrible incidents in September 2002 and April 2003 when the Royals were in town. But the Cubs fans-Dodgers players melee seems to be conveniently forgotten. The Shrine has been littered two days in a row now, and I noticed during yesterday's game that WGN did not show the debris-strewn outfield the way they did Friday. That clip ended up on SportsCenter Friday night. Think someone had a note for the TV producer working Saturday's game?

Nothing to worry about, yet 

Favorite team off to a slow start? Jim Conrey of baseballtruth.com says there's no reason to worry at this point in the season. He points out that many of the teams that have won 95 games over the last eight years had mediocre records after 20 games. The World Series winners over that span, with the exception of the Yankee three-peat (1998-2000), were all around .500 or worse at that point. Great "disclaimer" at the bottom, too.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Fall asleep faster! 

Maybe the Rays' home park should be named Sominex Field, what with the way the place seems to put the White Sox to sleep. Dan Wright couldn't get past the fifth inning again, but manager Ozzie Guillen said Wright will stay in the rotation. Guillen also said his players weren't flat, although that was tough for me to see on TV. The Daily Herald's Scot Gregor suggested that the Sox swing for the fences in Tropicana/Sominex Field too often, and that's why they've struggled there. Paul Abbott has had two nice starts for the Rays after struggling with arm injuries for nearly two years. Shingo Takatsu looked very good yesterday, pitching out of a one-out, two-on jam in the sixth and setting the Rays down in order in the seventh. He even retired a left-handed hitter, Carl Crawford.

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