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Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Too little too late 

Online voting for the All-Star Game ends at 11 p.m. CDT Wednesday. Frank Thomas has moved up to second place in the voting for first basemen, but he's not going to catch Jason Giambi, who's got more than twice as many votes. Still, it's nice to see Thomas getting some recognition. Giambi, meanwhile, is day-to-day thanks to some intestinal parasites that have laid him low. Dude, you make $20 million a year -- where the hell are you eating?

(Lightly edited 7/1/04.)

Sox 6, Twins 2 

It was a relief to watch Mark Buehrle throw so well Tuesday night. He was still up in the zone with more pitches than I'd like to see, but far less often than he has been in recent starts. The Sox offense combined home runs by their double-play combination, Jose Valentin (solo, No. 16) and Juan Uribe (one on, No. 11) with two-out, run-scoring hits by Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko and Timo Perez to score their six runs, all off Carlos Silva, who fell to 0-3 against the Sox this season. The win puts the Sox and Twins in a virtual tie, although the Sox have played two fewer games and lead by one game in the loss column. Now I'm just gearing up to see Freddy Garcia make his White Sox debut Wednesday night.

GM as punching bag 

Everyone in the world thinks Ken Williams got fleeced in the Freddy Garcia deal. Here's a sampling of opinions from the blogosphere (including an excerpt of a post by yours truly). This overreaction is no big surprise, because Williams is the Rodney Dangerfield of baseball GMs. Let's look at a few of the big "bust" trades that people criticize him for.

David Wells for Mike Sirotka before the 2001 season: 2001 was the only year since 1995 that Wells didn't make at least 29 starts (although thanks to his little knife accident, he might not reach 30 starts this year) and, except for 1996, he had an earned run average that was better than the league average for every one of those years, including 2001. Mike Sirotka has yet to pitch since he left the Sox. And even if inujuries hadn't shelved him since the deal, I think Williams traded Sirotka at the height of his value, as he was coming off a 15-win season. Just because David Wells didn't pan out doesn't mean it wasn't a worthwhile chance for a team coming off a division title to take.

Kip Wells, Josh Fogg and Sean Lowe for Todd Ritchie before the 2002 season: This one was a bad deal, even initially, although it's not nearly as bad in hindsight as it first looked. Perhaps the Sox needed to be more patient with this Wells, but I think you can also make the argument that he needed a couple of seasons to develop with less pressure than he felt with the Sox, who expected to contend. Fogg would also fill a hole in either the back of the rotation or in middle relief, but it's not like the Sox gave up on the next Greg Maddux. Lowe was an OK piece because of his versatility. Ritchie, people seem to forget, had a very good first month or so (although he seemed to have some hard luck as far as getting wins for those good starts) before an injury transformed him into a 7 ERA pitcher. Still, there's no doubt the Sox overpaid for him whether you look at the trade now or at the time it was made.

Minor leaguers Anthony Webster, Josh Rupe and Franklin Francisco for Carl Everett on July 1, 2003: The Rangers chose these three minor leaguers a few weeks after the deal. Baseball America had this to say about the deal. The White Sox traded some decent prospects, but they were still relatively low in the minors, and therefore still relative long shots to pan out. They also managed not to pay much, if any, of Everett's salary. Francisco has reached the big leagues this season and he's doing OK. He's a hard-throwing right-handed reliever. He might be a solid member of a bullpen. It's a little early to say where the other two prospects will end up. Webster is at Stockton in the California League, a "high" Class A league. Rupe threw four innings at Stockton and then went on the disabled list. The bottom line is that the Sox didn't give up any of their top prospects in this deal.

Royce Ring, Edwin Almonte and Andrew Salvo for Roberto Alomar on July 1, 2003: Ring was the only highly rated prospect the White Sox gave up in this deal, as he was the team's 2002 first-round draft choice. I'm not that crazy about picking a closer in the first round. You could argue that the club should have gotten a better return out of their first-round pick, but I think it was worth a three-month rental of Alomar, who was reasonably (although incorrectly) expected to bounce back at least somewhat from his disappointing tenure with the New York Mets. Baseball America thought the White Sox did well considering that the Mets picked up Alomar's salary. Almonte is filler -- a closer who relies on control and was getting knocked around at Class AAA Charlotte -- and Salvo is a utility infielder at best.

Three out of four of these trades have been on very reasonable terms for the White Sox. The Ritchie deal is the exception. And let's not forget gems such as Matt Guerrier for Damaso Marte and Aaron Miles for Juan Uribe. Given the financial constraints put on him, Ken Williams does a pretty solid job. Sometimes, he's forced to overpay a bit with talent because of those financial constraints, but that is mostly the fault of management (you could argue that Williams has overpaid a few players, such as Carlos Lee or Paul Konerko, and that that has contributed to the tight budget situation). Williams isn't perfect, but he's no Chuck LaMar.

(Music to write by: Death Cab for Cutie, "We Have the Facts and We're Voting Yes" and a mix of Eric Clapton.)

Monday, June 28, 2004

1917: The most important number 

What the White Sox trade for Freddy Garcia boils down to is that number, or 86 years, if you want to talk about it in that way. The Tribune's Rick Morrissey wrote that he was talking to Sox GM Ken Williams about Williams's hair trigger on trades. Despite the GM's attempts to talk about all the preparation, all the groundwork that must be laid, Morrissey wasn't having any of it. I love the response from Williams:
"Hey, 1917," Williams said, referring to the Sox's last World Series title. "How many more generations of fans are going to have to wait? I don't want to wait."
Me neither. There's a lot to like about Jeremy Reed. But I keep hearing people who've seen him play say he could be like Mark Kotsay or former Ranger Rusty Greer. Assume for a minute that he has a career as good as Kotsay's. He's been traded twice, the latest time to the A's and playing center field (and many scouts question whether Reed is a good enough fielder to play center). Would you want to look back five years from now and say, "Shoot, we had a good shot to really go for it in 2004, but I'm glad we have an average-fielding center fielder with some pop and a catcher who struggles against right-handed pitching but has a good arm"?

Jay Mariotti, who still hasn't acknowledged how wrong he was in predicting that the Cubs would sweep the series at the Cell, was generally positive about the trade, although probably begrudgingly so. Mariotti had to see the trade through his red-and-blue Cubbie glasses, but I still liked this observation:
The deal was announced by the club's public-relations guy, Scott Reifert, just after Cubs manager Dusty Baker finished his session in the interview room. Baker stopped to hear the announcement, and when the news sunk in, his jaw literally dropped in amazement.
Phil Arvia in the Daily Southtown wrote that the Sox marketing staff and the team's fans should realize that getting Garcia is more important than taking two of three games from the Cubs. I agree with that point, but disagree with Arvia when he says the Sox organization shouldn't have had so much fun with the historical misery of Cubs fans. It is time to move on in the marketing campaign to whatever bright ideas are coming from the mind of Brooks Boyer, but, c'mon Phil, we had to have our fun this weekend with the games in our park. I wish I could have seen it when the Sox slapped a picture of Steve Bartman on the Jumbotron with a Sox cap superimposed on his head. On White Sox Interactive, I also saw a picture of the scoreboard showing the tidbit it displayed when former Marlin Derek Lee was batting, noting a big hit he had in the NLCS last year. Excellent.

The Tribune's Phil Rogers noted how quickly fortunes change or at least the perception of fortunes. On Wednesday, the Cubs had a four-run lead on the St. Louis Cardinals and were four innings from pulling even with the first-place Redbirds. Heading into their series at home with the Houston Astros on Tuesday, the Cubs are five games out of first (although they are tied for the lead in the NL Wild Card with the Cincinnati Reds).

As for the Sox, Rogers wrote that Seattle wanted Miguel Olivo and Joe Crede. It was their willingness to take Reed instead of Crede that finally got it done. A player in the minor leagues, like a backup quarterback, is often perceived as better than a guy who is struggling somewhat at the major league level. You can see the flaws in the starting quarterback or the young player in the major leagues. Joe Crede has shown that he can hit major league pitching, the question is whether he'll be able to hit for an entire season. Like last year, Crede struggled mightily for the first two months and, like last year, Crede is heating up big time. It's worth remembering that Crede has just one full season in the big leagues. Thanks to appearances dating back to 2001 and the positive billing he's had for years, it seemed like Crede has been in the big leagues for three or four years until I looked at his stats again. To this point in his career, Crede has posted stats that put a couple of interesting names in the top 10 of his most similar by age list: No. 3 Kevin Mitchell, who was the 1989 National League MVP, and No. 7 Darrell Evans. Even No. 1 on his list, Max Alvis, had a nice, if short, career. Plus, Crede's defense at third base is excellent. I think the Sox kept the right player, even though it is a little easier to find a third baseman than a catcher.

The week ahead, and beyond 

I'm really looking forward to the series that begins Tuesday in Minnesota. Last year, after taking two of three from the Cubs, the Sox swept the Twins, with both series being at the Cell. The series included a walk-off home run by Frank Thomas in the third game, made possible by a ninth-inning, game-tying home run by the then-struggling Paul Konerko.

I'm also going to Friday's Cubs-Sox game. Unlike last week, I'm able to take the day off, so it should be a lot of fun with my friends. I have tickets through a friend for the Sox-Angels game on July 7, but I'm thinking of going July 6, too. Not only is it Pepsi half-price night, but it looks like that will be Freddy Garcia's home debut. Garcia is scheduled to pitch Wednesday against the Twins, and that would make July 6 his turn to pitch. I want to welcome Garcia to Chicago. If I attend both of those games, that will 13 for me at the Cell this year, plus the game at Wrigley, by the All-Star Game.

(Music to write by: Nirvana, "MTV Unplugged in New York," and a mix of The Replacements.)

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Whoa! I feeeel good 

After the Sox beat the Cubs 9-4 today, I was already feeling good. But then I checked my cell phone and saw that I had a voice mail. I listened to the message that my good friend Jody had left -- that's how I learned that the White Sox had acquired Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Freddy Garcia. I checked in with Jody from a wedding barbecue I was at -- they got married in St. Thomas and then had a great party back here -- and we didn't discuss the details, just the headline: Sox acquire Garcia. After I got off the phone with Jody, I started to wonder which players the Sox had given up in return.

I was hoping that, if they had to give up an outfield prospect in the high minors, it was Joe Borchard rather than Jeremy Reed. Not only was Reed in the deal, so was Sox catcher Miguel Olivo and minor leaguer Michael Morse. Losing Olivo is a tough blow. I've wanted to see Olivo take over a larger share of the catching duties for quite some time. There's a lot that I like about Olivo's game. But you have to give up something good to get something good. I also liked Reed because he has, I've read, the patient approach at the plate that tends to mark a hitter for major-league success. Borchard, meanwhile, may be a very good player in the majors, or he may be a great example of the dangers of drafting a guy because he looks good in blue jeans, as A's GM Billy Beane would say.

The Sox also received catcher Ben Davis and cash. Davis has been a highly touted catching prospect for some time, but he's never been able to live up to his billing. Perhaps the change of scenery will help him climb out of the rut that sent him back to Class AAA this year.

That's the baseball side of the deal. On an emotional level, as a fan, well, wow. Wow because it's tough to see Olivo go. Really tough. The story about the trade that I linked above said that Olivo was too upset after he learned the news to comment. Damn. But an even bigger wow because Garcia was the pitcher that everyone wanted, he was the pitcher the Sox needed, and it was the White Sox -- the freakin' White Sox -- who got him. Not the Yankees. Not the Red Sox. Not the Dodgers. Not the Braves. The White Sox.

Sox Pride, alright. We have something to be proud of.

What does humble pie taste like? 

If you're as curious about that as I am, you can ask Jay Mariotti, because I think he's had to stick his head in a humble pie and try to eat the entire thing like a contestant in one of those eating contests. Mariotti foolishly (but bravely, I'll acknowledge) went out on a shaky limb and predicted that the Cubs would sweep the Sox in their interleague series this weekend at the Cell:
Yet we are quick to plunge into this crosstown rivalry, in yet another act of local masochism, caring more about position-to-position comparisons than the U.S. Open, the NBA draft and the breakup of the Lakers. The Cubs, by the way, come out ahead with Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Moises Alou, Corey Patterson, Sammy Sosa (only because Maggs is hurt), Michael Barrett, their starting pitchers and their bullpen. The Sox come out ahead only with Frank Thomas at designated hitter, Juan Uribe and Jose Valentin.

Owners? Tribsters, by default.

Ballparks? Next question.

Concessions? Sox, starting with the kosher dogs behind home plate.

Managers? Dusty's experience and savvy over Ozzie's tart tongue.

Result? A Cubs sweep, which means you'll have to excuse me while I buy a coat of armor and arrange for my phalanx of bodyguards. [Emphasis added.]
Of course, the Sox won two of three. Instead of a coat of armor, Mariotti should buy a clue. First off, why is everyone so convinced that Derek Lee is so superior to our boy Paulie Walnuts, aka Paul Konerko? Konerko had a pretty nice series -- 6-for-10, two home runs, 9 RBI -- didn't he? Yes, Derek Lee is better defensively, but it's not as if Konerko is some butcher at first base. How about that sweet, over-the-shoulder toss he made to Esteban Loiaza for a putout during Sunday's game? Konerko's also very good at digging throws out of the dirt. And the Cubs bullpen is superior to the South Siders'? On what planet? Besides LaTroy Hawkins, who in the Cubs bullpen is so great? The Sox can count on two relievers -- Shingo Takatsu and Damaso Marte -- to close out the game. They've also gotten very good work out of Jon Adkins and, mostly, Neal Cotts. And what do you think of ownership now, Mariotti? The Sox did what you're always screeching in support of -- making the bold move to get a difference maker.

There wasn't even a slight acknowledgement of his prediction going awry in Mariotti's Sunday column on the Shingo Takatsu phenomenon. (Two other columnists wrote Sunday about Takatsu: the Tribune's Rick Morrissey and the Daily Herald's Mike Imrem.) Much more smug was Mariotti's Saturday column about the Cubs' 7-4 win. He related an anecdote from the post-game press conference that proved, to him at least, that the Sox suffer from an inferiority complex led by their manager, Ozzie Guillen:
Oh, and you had the ever-growing chip on the shoulder of Ozzie Guillen. In a funny interlude, the Blizzard of Oz took subtle offense at a suggestion by an enemy official -- in an interview room at U.S. Cellular Field, mind you -- that it was time to move on to the Cubs' portion of the postgame press conference. Some nerve, huh?

''Dusty Baker is waiting,'' barked Sharon Pannozzo, Cubs media-relations boss.

''Ohhhhhhhhh,'' said Guillen, Sox manager and grand marshal of the South Side inferiority complex, getting up to make way for the Rev. Johnnie B.
Guillen won't accept the White Sox being treated like second-class citizens. He won't accept an icon like Frank Thomas -- remember, he's got twice as many league MVPs as that beloved North Side right fielder -- being accorded anything less than the respect and admiration that the best hitter in franchise history -- and one of the greatest right-handed hitters of the last 30 years -- deserves. Why is it a sign of an inferiority complex to point out obvious discrepencies in the way your team is treated by the local media? To me, the strongest sign of an inferiority complex would be to sit back and take it because, deep down, you feel like you deserve it.

Then there's these lines from Saturday's column. The first refers to the trade of Carlos Beltran to the Houston Astros (Woo-hoo! Go 'Stros!):
Given Chicago's size and futility streak, this is the kind of blockbuster that the Cubs and Sox should make at midseason -- but never do.
And this:
''I'd rather not discuss anything in regard to the trade market or potential guys we're looking at,'' said Williams, whose aggressive efforts to obtain Freddy Garcia fell through when Seattle stopped shopping the lefty. [Emphasis added.]
Mariotti is so busy trying to bury the White Sox, he couldn't even correctly state which arm Garcia throws with, not to mention his wrong presumption that the White Sox were out of the Garcia derby.

I couldn't resist it. I sent Mariotti the following e-mail:
Subject: Mmmm, pie.

Jay,

Sox 6, Cubs 3.

Sox 9, Cubs 4.

Sox trade for Seattle's Garcia.

How does that humble pie taste?

Vince Galloro
It's funny how quickly events can overtake predictions. Believe me, I know from my experience writing about Billy Koch.

(Music to write by: James Brown, "40th Anniversary Collection.")

Friday, June 25, 2004

Damnit, damnit, damnit 

Aaarrrrrghhhhhh. This game was there for the taking for the Sox. Mark Prior did quite a good job to allow only one run in five innings on a day where he clearly did not have command of the strike zone. I don't want it to seem like I'm picking on Paul Konerko. If it weren't for his home run in the eighth, it would have been a 100% brutal day for Sox fans. But if he can get a hit in the first inning off Prior, two runs score and the whole game probably takes on a different complexion. That said, Jon Garland showed today why he is a decent, but not great, pitcher, at least to this point in his career. Garland can't avoid the big inning. That was what was encouraging about his start in Montreal, despite the loss. He allowed those two runs in the sixth inning thanks to a severe bout of wildness, but at least he kept it to two runs. Mark Grudzielanek is a good hitter, but Garland has to keep his team in the game right there. Sitting in the left field stands, I certainly couldn't tell you what pitch Garland threw Grudzielanek, but if he got beat on another change up, I might break my hand punching the wall. Frankly, I wish Garland would quit throwing his change, no matter whether that was the pitch Grudzielanek hit. The next time Garland fools a batter with the change will be the first time. Maybe he should call his old teammate Keith Foulke and see if Foulke will teach him the palm ball.

As unhappy as I was with Garland's performance, I'm just as disappointed with the way Sox hitters performed today. I give them a lot of credit for waiting out Prior. Given that he has had, what, four starts since coming of the disabled list, they took the right approach by being patient at the plate today. They succeeded in knocking him out of the game after five innings by getting Prior's pitch count up. So far, so good. But once you've knocked the big guy out, you have to feast on the dregs who come on next. The Sox didn't do that, and that was the difference in the game, even more so than the lack of a big hit in the first inning.

It was spectacular sitting in Section 157 today. The majority were Sox fans, of course, but there were enough loser Cubs fans around to make it interesting. I have to acknowledge that the quantity of attractive women went up with the trendy team playing in our park. I was mildly disappointed with Brooks Boyer that the Sox didn't do something special in the lead-up to the first pitch. It was a nice touch to play a tape of the famous boxing ring announcer saying, "Let's get reaaaaaady to rummmmmmbllllle," along with a montage of highlights punctuated by Jose Valentin's walkoff home run against Antonio Alfonseca in the first game of last year's Cubs-Sox series at the Cell. I think I saw that home run about 10 times today. It never gets old. Still, I predicted early this morning that Boyer would have something special up his sleeve, and he let me down just a bit. That's OK. He's still got two games left to showcase something special.

The worst thing I saw today was on the Diamond Vision during the middle innings -- Scott Schoeneweis was placed on the 15-day disabled list, and Felix Diaz will start in Schony's place Saturday against the Cubs. In some ways, it's good to know that, perhaps, Schony's borderline production of late is because of soreness in his elbow. Of course, the problem is, you never want to hear that one of your starting pitchers has elbow soreness. I guess this sets up a two-way fight at the major league level for who will be the fifth starter till, at least, a trade is made to bring the Sox another starting pitcher. If either Diaz or Jon Rauch looks good consistently, it wouldn't surprise me for the Sox to move Schony back to the pen for his own good. As for Saturday's game, well, I'm glad that I might not be able to see the whole game because of a wedding. On the other hand, Diaz has good stuff, and you just never know. If he shows good command and control, he could blank the Cubs, too.

I have saved what turned out to be the best part of the afternoon for last. Of course, a Sox come-from-behind win would have eclipsed this, but I am happy to report that I saw my favorite Sox fan, Skimpy Top, at today's game. Skimpy Top was, as my name for her would lead you to believe, wearing a tight top with spaghetti straps and tight, low-cut jeans, like the first time I saw her. The top was in Sox colors -- black with a little field of white and gray stripes in what I think I'll call a strategic area -- and that's no surprise, because I believe that she is a die-hard Sox fan, in addition to being a ballplayer hunter. I will need irrefutable evidence to be persuaded otherwise (and I'm not eager to see or hear such evidence, so if you happen to know the woman I'm talking about and know that she's not a Sox fan, well, keep it to yourself; of course, I've conveniently left out much of the description of her, so I don't think I'm tipping my hand). The friend I brought to the game -- OK, I admit it, for the second year in a row, I brought a LCF -- said he wouldn't be surprised if she's in the bleachers at Wrigley Field on occasion, too. I said she'd be more likely to be in the club boxes down the left field line, hunting, as I say, for ballplayers next to the Cubs bullpen. I was coming back from the men's room when I was fortunate enough to encounter Skimpy Top from about five feet away. I pretty much stopped in my tracks. She is not a woman who needs to be 20 feet away to look hot.

No matter how disappointed I was with the game, I have to say this: It sure beats working.

(Music to write by: Guns 'n' Roses, "Appetite for Destruction.")

Nervous anticipation 

The cross-town series finally begins in less than 15 hours. I am nervous and excited. Nervous because the Sox haven't exactly been playing their best ball during the month of June. The Cubs, notwithstanding losing two of three in St. Louis, have been playing very well. I'm excited because I know how high the energy level is going to be this afternoon. The crowds at the Cell have been plenty enthusiastic this year, but the energy level is going to be turned up to 11 today. The expanded opening to home games -- with clips of Sox greats past and present, then "The Natural"-inspired music leading into another montage of players and wrapped up with the player introductions to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" -- is not to be missed. It's going to feel like the minutes before kickoff in a huge college football rivalry game.

I also have a feeling that new Sox marketing director Brooks Boyer has something up his sleeve. Boyer has already shown that he wants to try new things. The Sox have been a much greater presence in my e-mail inbox since Boyer came on. I loved the e-mail that I received Thursday with the Top 10 reasons not to miss the Cubs-Sox series. I'll have more on this over the weekend (I hope), but I attended the games on Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday, I picked up my "Sox Pride" T-shirt with the slogan, "It's all about US" on the back. Another nice touch by Boyer, and it disproves the short-sighted criticism of the "A comparison: Them vs. Us" commercial. People who will never understand White Sox fans -- OK, I mean Jay Mariotti -- wrongly believe that the Sox can't think of anything better to do than make fun of the Cubs in their advertising. If the Sox produced a half-dozen commercials that were all centered on tweaking the Cubs, these naysayers would have a point. But "Sox Pride: It's all about US" has been the slogan from the start. The T-shirts bearing those very words were on the backs of the grounds crew just a few days after the commercial was unveiled on June 8 (a game I am happy to say that I attended). The naysayers will see it soon enough, as the Sox continue to introduce new commercials. I'll be wearing my "Sox Pride" T-shirt later today under my Nossek jersey. Now, it's time to go to sleep in my 1970s throwback Sox T-shirt with the batter logo.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Perfect for a while 

Jon Garland had me on the edge of my seat Sunday afternoon as I watched him retire the first 16 Expos that he faced. The three walks that Garland allowed over the next four batters were inexplicable to me. The game-winning home run by Orlando Cabrera didn't bother me half as much as the three walks setting the Expos up for a two-run sixth inning. Of course, when Cabrera's ball left the yard, I did yell out something that I wouldn't say in front of my mother. The walks are killers, because the Expos aren't a great hitting team. If you don't help them out with walks, they aren't going to knock you around. Saturday was all hitting and no pitching. Sunday was all pitching and no hitting. At least the bullpen got the day off. The Sox are scuffling. Let's hope that returning to their home park will get them going.

Just plain ugly 

I was listening to the game Saturday night while I was getting ready to meet friends for dinner. I was able to shower, shave and dress while Arnie Munoz was coming unglued in the second inning. Nine runs, including two home runs by the great Juan Rivera. Overall, Munoz allowed 11 runs in three innings and promptly had his ticket punched for Class AAA Charlotte. Munoz had been at Class AA Birmingham, so I guess that's a promotion. Pitchers in the fifth starter's slot have have posted some ugly numbers: 0-8 (with one no decision) and an 11.97 ERA.

Jon Rauch made the return trip to the big leagues, joining the White Sox in Montreal to help the bullpen and, probably, start Thursday's game against Cleveland in Chicago. Rauch left the clubhouse before the end of the game after his poor start on May 29 against the Anaheim Angels (I was in attendance). His disappearing act set off Sox GM Ken Williams, who suggested that Rauch might never see the big leagues with the Sox again. The awful performance of Munoz and the way Rauch is lighting it up at Triple A prompted Williams to say this:
"Before I made the decision to bring him back, I consulted with the coaching staff and I consulted with his teammates," Williams said. "They agreed like me that none of us are beyond giving someone else a second chance."
Williams, after all, was having second thoughts about his angry reaction to Rauch the next day.

The awful pitching performance overshadowed the huge day that Juan Uribe had: 3-for-6, with a home run and a double and 7 RBI.

At the restaurant, they had the Sox on a big-screen TV in the main dining room. It was 11-4 by the time I arrived. There was a small TV mounted to the wall. They had a replay of the Cubs 4-3 comeback win over the A's on, but I noticed an update on the Sox game, so I walked over to the screen: Expos 15, Sox 11, top of the seventh. I was cracking up as I walked back to our table and shared the good news. After finishing dinner, I used the restroom in the main room, and I caught the score on the big screen on the way back: 15-14 Expos. We were about to leave and I was watching on the side of the big screen as our party got itself together. Neal Cotts to Termel Sledge and it was gone. 17-14 Expos heading into the ninth. We went to a bar just a block away, and it was over by the time we got there. At the bar, we ran into a friend of mine, a Sox fan, who delivered the bad news.

Interesting to note 

Magglio Ordonez is questionable to play this week for the Sox. I'd love to see him back in time for the Cubs series, but I also want him to be fully healthy before he pplays again. I think the Sox and Ordonez are lucky to even be talking about his return so quickly.

OzzieGuillen expects to find a bill from Major League Baseball for his June 12 ejection. Guillen thought the home-plate umpire was squeezing Esteban Loiaza's strike zone and he got tossed before he emerged from the dugout.
"When I get to Chicago, I'll be donating some money," he said. "I'm finally a real manager now, I guess. If you haven't been fined, you're not a manager yet. I should have Loaiza pay for me."
Guillen said there's no point in constantly arguing with the umpires, because they remember and you lose their respect.

Guillen has a lot of respect for former teammate Tim Raines, whose No. 30 was retired by the Expos Saturday.
"He was one of my better golf partners I ever played with," Guillen said. "We had a lot of fun on the golf course. In the game, he was a funny man. He knew the game, but my best memory was on the golf course."

Trade talk (non-Sox edition) 

The Tribune's Phil Rogers suggests that the Houston Astros bear watching in the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes. The Astros have the prospects at the right positions for the Royals -- third base and catcher -- according to Rogers. From what I saw during the Cubs' four-game sweep of the Astros, Rogers is right when he says the Astros are weak defensively at every position except shortstop, where Adam Everett is outstanding. Rogers said the Astros could plug Beltran into centerfield. Craig Biggio could split time in left field with Jason Lane, Rogers writes, with Lance Berkman playing right field. Well, I don't know about Berkman playing right field. He can barely handle left field. I guess Berkman could play right field when Biggio plays left, and then move to left when Lane is in the lineup. Rogers says Biggio also could play games at second and first bases occasionally to give Jeff Kent and Jeff Bagwell needed days off. More intriguingly, Rogers writes that if the Astros acquire Beltran now, they could play him for six weeks and see if he makes an impact. If he doesn't, they could trade him before the July 31 deadline.

Hey Dad, wanna have a catch? 

Melissa Isaacson has a nice Father's Day story in the Tribune about big-league father-and-son duos. The Hairston and Alomar families are featured in the story, so the Sox are well represented, but I found the sections with Moises Alou the most interesting. Alou was very forthcoming about how tough it was to grow up in the Dominican Republic while his father was playing or coaching in the United States. I like to poke fun at Alou's hygiene habits, but he is one of the classiest players in the big leagues. He treats everyone with a lot of respect, including reporters. I know he blew his top in the heat of the moment after the Bartman incident, but he was very clear after the game that Bartman didn't cost them the game. Contrast that to the way Dusty Baker brought up "fan interference" several times during his post-game news conference. Alou is the one Cub that I find it hard to root against.

Wrigelyville questions 

I've been meaning to write about this all week. It's hard to criticize local media for overlooking something that I forgot about, too. Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport had a short item in his column Monday about police activity outside Wrigley Field on game days. Here's the item in its entirety, and pay attention, because this is the only thing I've seen written about this by a reporter from the downtown papers:
Police wrote 240 citations and made 25 arrests outside Wrigley Field in the hours surrounding the Cubs' 13 May home games, reports the Associated Press. In 13 games last May, there were 110 citations and four arrests.
That's it. I did find the full Associated Press story on the web sites of a couple of smaller suburban papers. The AP story was probably prompted by a story in the Sun-Times a couple of weeks ago that gushed about the great atmosphere surrounding the park. The AP story does it's fair share of gushing, too (and I don't disagree, necessarily, with all of the gushing; I do live near there, after all), but the AP report was a lot more conscientous. The report not only included the police information, but it also did a better job of talking to residents of the neighborhood, both those excited about the Cubs and those wary of what their popularity is bringing.

Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions. What explains the doubling of citations and the increase in arrests from four to 25? Are police in the neighborhood cracking down? Is it simply the increased numbers of fans who are watching games in the bars and then wreaking havoc when they're outside? Are there differences in weather or in game starting times between the two Mays? The city has approved allowing the Cubs to add four more night games this season, for a total of 22. Did the Cubs play more night games this May than the year before? There are always a lot of different factors that play a role in changes in crime statistics. I'd like to see an examination of this from that perspective.

The biggest unanswered question is why is no one interested in answering the other unanswered questions? I don't like to write much about some media conspiracy against the White Sox. I guess one explanation is that no reporter likes to follow up on a story that another reporter broke. Maybe this will be fertile ground for some good reporting when the court case of the man accused of shooting and killing a fan on Clark Street after a game in May proceeds.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Bargains at the Yard Sale 

I went to the Cell Saturday morning to take a look at the White Sox Yard Sale for the first time. The scheduled hours for the sale were 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. I arrived a little before 9:30 a.m. The first thing I learned is that getting there at 9:30 a.m. is getting there very late. I was jealous of the early arrivals who were leaving before I even went in. A couple of them were walking off with signs from the 300, or club, level. Many had bats. I met Chris, my friend and former coworker, outside and then I went in to get in line while Chris waited for his friend Jonathan. They joined me a few minutes into what turned out to be about a 40-minute wait to get inside the Patio Area, where the sale was held. We saw former Sox player Beltin' Bill Melton a few times while we waited. The last 10 minutes were spent right in front of the door -- kind of like having your parents bring you down in front of the Christmas tree and then telling you that you can't pick up those toys that Santa brought you just yet.

I had two objectives. One was to find a Father's Day present. One of my father's favorite players over the years was Tony Graffanino, so I was looking for a jersey or something else with his name and No. 17 on it. I looked through all the racks of game-worn jerseys. I found a home jersey (a standard one, not with the black sleeves), although the shoulder patch was torn off it. There was also a gray road model. Both were $150. I was a little skeptical, especially because my dad hasn't been known for wearing baseball jerseys. "I don't know," I said to Chris. "This is a lot of money to spend on a utility player's jersey." I got that "Huh?" look from Chris. "Even for Father's Day?" he asked. I felt guilty for a moment, but I knew he was right. I'm glad he said that, and I'm glad I bought it. As for the shoulder patch, I can buy him one and have it sewed on. (Come to think of it, I should have stopped by Grandstand to look for one.)

My second objective was to find an inexpensive jersey for myself. I knew I had a winner when I found a standard home jersey worn by former bench coach Joe Nossek for $50. It's got a few little marks on the front, but I think I got a deal. It appears to be five years old: On the bottom of the left front of the jersey, there's a sewed on rectangular patch with "Nossek 99 1" stitched in black on it. That "1" makes me wonder if Nossek wore it on Opening Day. Well, that's how I'll interpret it. Nossek didn't seem to wear his jersey much anyway, usually opting for the black pullover. Just above the personalized patch is the Wilson Sporting Goods patch, which announces that the jersey was "TAILORED EXCLUSIVELY FOR PRESTIGE TEAMS." I haven't had a Sox jersey in a long time. A baseball jersey is the only polyester garment that I care to wear. It feels pretty good having it on right now as I type. I still want a black Magglio Ordonez jersey, but only if the Sox re-sign him. I may have to settle for a Buehrle or Thomas.

Chris also found himself a bargain Nossek jersey, a gray road model with No. 21 on the back. Before we saw it, I said that Nossek had worn No. 23 since Robin Ventura left after the 1998 season, saying that he didn't want anyone else to wear it just yet. Immediately, some woman said, "What about this one?" and showed us the jersey that Chris ended up buying. I couldn't explain it at the time, but now I remember that Nossek let Brian Daubach wear it last year since Daubach had worn No. 23 with the Red Sox, too. (I did mention to Chris that it didn't surprise me that there was a woman there to correct me; that's nothing new.) Chris also got the bargain of the day. I was looking through some media guides that were for sale when I came across a 2001 Anaheim Angels guide. Chris, who grew up in Oregon, has long been an Angels fan. "Right team, wrong year," I thought, as I continued to peruse the media guides. Sure enough, I found a 2002 Angels media guide, so now he has one from the year the Angels won the World Series. The cost? 25 cents.

I'm looking forward to givng the jersey to my father on Sunday. Dad and I are attending Monday night's game against the Cleveland Indians, so he'll have a chance to wear it to the park right away. One of my cousins landed some tickets to sit in a sky box, so we'll get to see the game in style. Maybe, as we walk among the fat cats on the box level, we'll run into Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, whose favorite player was Graffanino.

(Music to write by: The Allman Brothers Band, "At Fillmore East.")

Une victoire est une victoire 

After scoring just one run in the final two games against the Marlins, the White Sox outslugged the Expos Friday night, winning 11-7 in Montreal. Mark Buehrle had his second weak outing of his last three starts, allowing seven runs in six innings, but Buehrle is getting an American League-leading 9.46 runs per start from his hitters. Carlos Lee had a big night, going 4-for-6 with a home run and four RBI. Those hits were Lee's first since his 28-game hitting streak was snapped Wednesday. Jose Valentin had two triples and a double, as he and Lee paced an 18-hit attack.

Tracking the gun readings 

I recently read an interesting column by ESPN.com's Rob Neyer about young Royals starting pitcher Zach Greinke. Neyer said he charted Greinke's pitches on a recent start to illustrate the 20-year-old's rare ability to change speeds. Neyer noted that Greinke's pitches ranged from 63 mph to 94 mph, and that he recorded gun readings on 26 of the 32 distinct speeds in that range (he wrote that there were 31 speeds, but I counted 32).

This column got me thinking about Mark Buehrle's ability to change speeds, so I decided to track his pitches Friday night against the Expos. Buehrle hit every notch on the speed gun from 70 to 91 mph, except 72 mph, unless he did it on one of the 13 pitches that I either missed or couldn't record because the speed wasn't posted. I have to acknowledge that I missed a few just because I spaced out. A few others I missed because I've been trained over 26 years of watching baseball to watch the ball when it's hit, and sometimes that keeps you from seeing the pitch speed on the top-of-the-screen graphic on Fox Sports Net. Also, FSN rarely had the graphic up for the first pitch of the inning, so I couldn't see the speeds on those and other occasions. Still, I recorded pitch speeds on 93 of the 106 pitches I recorded (FSN and ESPN.com both had Buehrle at 107 pitches, so I guess I missed one altogether). Here is the distribution:

SpeedNo. of pitches Speed No. of pitches Speed No. of pitches
70 2 71 1 73 5
74 2 75 3 76 2
77 1 78 2 79 4
80 1 81 6 82 4
83 2 84 10 85 3
86 13 87 8 88 11
89 9 90 3 91 1

So Buehrle threw an awful lot of fastballs between 84 and 89 mph, but he balanced that to some extent with some slow curveballs in the low 70s. I think it's a good distribution of speeds, but I don't have a lot to compare it to. I'm going to try to do this again for more Buehrle starts -- more successful ones, I hope -- to get a better picture of Buehrle's ability to change speeds.

Interesting to note 

Arnie Munoz will be the latest Sox pitcher to make his major-league debut as a starter against Montreal Saturday night. Munoz, who turns 22 on Monday, had been a reliever until this season, when he went back to Class AA Birmingham to work as a starter. The diminutive lefty (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) is known for his sharp curveball. Ozzie Guillen said he told Munoz to "take advantage of this situation", since the fifth slot in the rotation seems likely to be his until the Sox can trade for another starting pitcher.

Magglio Ordonez said he would like to try to play against the Cleveland Indians next week at the Cell, possibly as soon as Monday. Trainer Herm Schneider isn't so sure, but he acknowledges that Ordonez is improving rapidly. Chris DeLuca of the Sun-Times wrote in Saturday's paper that Ordonez was limping more noticeably on Friday than he was in Miami. Ordonez said he had to break through the scar tissue that is causing him some soreness.

The Expos will retire the No. 30 of former leadoff man extraordinaire Tim Raines, who played well with the Sox from 1991-1995.

Steve Dahl reminisces about Disco Demolition Night as the 25th anniversary approaches.

Billy Koch post-mortem 

Despite how bad his performance was, I think Sox fans were too hard on Billy Koch. Koch was not a malingerer. Koch never blamed anyone but himself for his problems. He was undeservedly treated like Royce Clayton by Sox fans. His performance was about the same as Clayton's, but his demeanor with the fans and his teammates was way, way better than Clayton's. I watched Koch in the bullpen a few times this year, and I'd venture a guess that Jon Adkins, Neal Cotts and Cliff Politte learned some things from Koch. Ozzie Guillen said of Koch:
"He knows that from the first day he got here that he didn't do the job," Guillen said. "He talked to me and apologized and said he let me down. He said, 'You were one of the few managers who stuck up for me and I let you down.'

"He is a great kid … a class act. I have more respect for Billy Koch than I have had for any player."
Koch wrapped up his tenure with the Sox the same way he was throughout those 18 months, as a first-class guy. I thought his comments Thursday night were honest and fair:
''I don't have to sit down there and rot,'' Koch said shortly after learning about the trade, ''and they don't have to have a heart attack every time I come into the game.''

Asked why things didn't work out in his 1-1/2 seasons with the Sox, Koch said, "Because I sucked. For whatever reason, I don't know. I just didn't get the job done.''
In hindsight, Ken Williams obviously was mistaken when he signed Koch to his contract, but it's typical of the way closers are overcompensated anyway (excepting Eric Gagne and Mariano Rivera). But it's important to remember that the trade of Keith Foulke and a minor leaguer for Koch and a minor leaguer (Cotts) came about in part because Jerry Manuel refused to use Foulke as the closer any more, even when he recovered in the second half of 2002 from his poor first half. Why keep a guy who's going into his walk year when your boneheaded manager refuses to use him properly? Foulke was arbitration elegible, so they were going to have to pay him closer money. In hindsight, the better decision would have been to eat the last two years of Manuel's contract -- that's roughly as much money as they'll be eating on Koch's deal -- and keep Foulke. If he walks, fine. They ended up eating the last year on Manuel's deal anyway.

The guy the Sox got in return, 26-year-old Wilson Valdez, is only as valuable as however many minor-league options the White Sox have on him. He's the kind of guy, from what I've learned of him so far, who should do no better than yo-yo between Chicago and Charlotte as dictated by the needs of the team. That's OK. You need guys like that. And maybe the Sox are saving at least $1 million in salary on a guy they weren't going to pitch anymore anyway. That's $1 million they can spend elsewhere, maybe on a righty reliever to take the place of Mike Jackson, if he continues to stink it up.

There was no room for Koch in the pen anymore anyway. I've said before that I think the Sox are carrying too many relievers. I think six relievers would be plenty, given the innings that the starters are throwing. Ideally, they would get another reliable starter to complement the other four so they could continue to work deep into games as long as they are effective. Having five good starters would enable them to have an extra day off between starts once in a while. Buehrle and Garland seem OK without the rest, but Loiaza and Schoeneweis look like they could use a little extra time off now and again.

Curious Manuel discussion 

John Rooney and Ed Farmer had an interesting discussion in the middle of Friday night's game about Jerry Manuel. Farmer asked Rooney what he thought of Manuel's work. Rooney paused before answering. The silence made me think that Rooney might not have anything nice to say (which I found funny), but Rooney then interjected that he would answer after the pitch. When he did, he said that last year, a lot of scouts and former managers told him, "Your team needs a kick in the butt." Rooney was a little critical of Manuel's willingness to wait for the bomb, the big inning, contrasting that with what he sees as Ozzie Guillen's more aggressive style of putting runners in motion.

Rooney also contrasted the two managers' styles with dealing with their players. "Jerry was in his office a lot," Rooney noted. He talked with players during batting practice, usually in the outfield. "Ozzie is rarely in his office," Rooney said. He's always talking with players and coaches, making sure they're ready to play.

Farmer perhaps had the most pointed criticisms. He said Manuel approached him one day and asked about their disagreement over Manuel's handling of Jon Garland. Farmer said he did disagree with Manuel but noted that it's the manager's call. Later Farmer added of Manuel, "The door to his office facing the locker room -- he sealed it up. I didn't care for that." Guillen, as Farmer noted, has had that door reopened. Then, in the post-game wrap up, Farmer said, and this isn't a perfect quote, "In past years, and I'm not trying to criticize anybody, but the White Sox wouldn't have come back in a game like this." Sure seems like he was trying to criticize Manuel to me. Farmer also said in the post-game that he liked the energy level of the team, how they don't quit. Again, it's a criticism of Manuel, because the perception was that the Sox were as listless as their manager was serene over the last three seasons. I know that was my thought about the team.

Farmer's criticism of Manuel's handling of Garland is nothing new to regular listeners of the Sox radio broadcasts. What I'm still trying to figure out: Why Rooney and Farmer brought the issue up. Perhaps there were some officials with the Expos asking about the difference between Manuel and Guillen, and it got them thinking. Guillen coached a year with the Expos under Jeff Torborg, but there aren't that many people left in the Montreal organization from his time there. The Expos were owned by Jeffrey Loria, who sold them to Major League Baseball in order to buy the Marlins. Most, if not all, of the baseball people moved down to South Florida with Loria.

A valiant effort 

No, I'm not talking about Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Marlins. Exile in Wrigleyville finished in second place in the American League Central division in the "World Series of Blogs" hosted by The View from the Bleachers. Congratulations to Seth Speaks, a Minnesota Twins blog, for taking the division. Thank you to everyone who voted for EIW. I appreciate it enough that you take the time to read my blog, let alone go to another site and vote for it. And thank you to the guys from The View from the Bleachers for conducting the contest.

I've added a few sites to the left rail of Exile in Wrigleyville. Baseball Corner is a good collection of links about major and minor league baseball. It's a clutter-free site that enables a reader to quickly find both official and non-official links for teams and players. Also, I've added some new team blogs. 35th Street Mess is a little pessimistic for me, but to each his own. And finally, in what must be the most thankless task there is, Jean-Pierre Allard is writing Traveling Expos. It's a labor of either love or masochism. I'd also like to mention a Marlins blog, The Book of Mike, which is written by a Sox fan who now lives in Miami. He said he rooted for the Sox this week when they played the Marlins.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Interesting to note 

Neal Cotts had a double in his first major league at-bat Friday in the 11-7 win over Montreal. I noticed that he wasn't wearing batting gloves. Does that mean he uses the Moises Alou treatment on his hands?

I'm well past that point in the season where I can recite the lines in all the radio commercials. I've had enough of those Miller spots that spoof political ads. Doesn't Miller realize how much people hate political ad?

Ozzie Guillen was wearing a "Sox: Pride" T-shirt Thursday night in Miami. I could see the phrase on the back -- "It's about US" -- through the mesh black-and-gray top Guillen was wearing. I want one of those T-shirts, badly.

Wall ball 

After I sang the praises of John Rooney's call of Timo Perez's game-tying home run Tuesday night, my good friend Tim wrote to remind me that Rooney messed up the call on the double hit by Carlos Lee in the 10th inning. Rooney initially called that ball a home run, before realizing that it had hit the wall. Rooney apologized profusely, Tim thought, because he knew that he had wrecked a call of a big play. Like his "IT'S .. A ... GONER!!!!" call on Perez's home run, a clean call on the hit that gave Lee his 28-game hitting streak to break the team record would've been great for a radio or TV ad. Ed Farmer showed him a little sympathy by mentioning how difficult it is to tell whether the ball hit the wall in play or something beyond it in left field at Pro Player Stadium. The scoreboard that forms part of the wall has some weird nooks in it, so there isn't a clear line at the top of the wall.

Tim said he tuned in just in time for Perez's home run, so he missed the trouble Rooney and Farmer had with Frank Thomas's home run in the eighth inning of Tuesday's game. That ball found one of those nooks in the wall for a home run, or it appeared to. Even after seeing a couple of replays, I'm still not sure what it hit. I do think it was a fair-and-square home run. It either hit something behind the wall or it hit the yellow line painted on the top of the wall, and in either case, that's a home run. Even though it would have cost Thomas a home run the other night, I think the umpires' job would be made much simpler if the Marlins would fill in those gaps in the scoreboard. They don't have to continue the high wall all the way to the foul pole, but the top of the wall should be at the same height across the top of the scoreboard.

Also, what's with the two Canadian teams having those foul screens instead of the traditional foul poles? I'm going to e-mail some Canadian baseball bloggers and see if that's more than just a coincidence. I don't think I've seen those in parks in the United States, but I could be wrong.

Heating up, as it should 

Sometimes Jay Mariotti writes excellent columns that make me think or that smartly express an opinion or idea that I hadn't thought of. Other times, I wonder how he got out of high school. Mariotti must be too busy with his daily radio and TV obligations to actually read what he writes before he sends it on to his editors. His column Wednesday takes the Sox to task for the "Us vs. Them: a comparison" commercial. He says the commercial is nothing more than a continuation of the team's fixation with the Cubs. He compliments the Sox in order to tear them down: The Sox, he says, are good enough to be marketed without resort to "cheap shots" against the Cubs. He suggests marketing the players, starting with Carlos Lee and his franchise-record 28-game hit streak, which unfortunately came to an end Wednesday night. He suggests the resurgent Frank Thomas also could be a focus of a commercial. Then, of course, he goes on to suggest that Thomas still has a lot to do to earn his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think Thomas has done enough right now to be there, but Mariotti is a voting member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, so he has a lot more say than I do.

I guess when your writing is as subtle as a sledgehammer, nuances can be lost on you. The commercial is tongue in cheek all the way, and Sox fans love it. If this were the extent of the new ad campaign, or if this were the first in a series of commercials trying to tweak the Cubs, Mariotti would have a point. But neither of those things are true. I didn't catch this when I was at the game on Sunday, but one of the posters on White Sox Interactive said that the "Sox: Pride" T-shirts that some Sox employees were wearing say on the back: "It's all about US." Brooks Boyer, the new marketing director, knows where the focus needs to be: on the Sox and their die-hard-but-demanding fans.

Not to mention that there is nothing wrong with an intense (within reason) rivalry between Sox and Cubs fans. Mike Imrem in the Daily Herald understands that a little nonviolent hatred can go a long way toward fueling interest in both teams. It's what makes being a loyal fan of one team in a two-team city so much fun. The trading of insults between fans of rival teams is always fun.

Getting back to Mariotti, he seems to have the problem that most Cubs fans have: They can't understand why ANYBODY who lives in Chicago would hate their furry little red-and-blue team and its ADORABLE fans. Last fall, it wasn't the Cubs fans who knew baseball and gave me a hard time about the collapse of the Sox who bothered me. It was the idiots who couldn't understand why I would still profess to like the Sox when EVERYBODY likes the Cubs now. Not this North Sider.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

It's our turn to be magic 

The Florida Marlins had a miracle season last year. Tonight's 7-5, 10-inning win for the Sox is one of those games that will be remembered if things go for the Sox the way I always dream they will. I arrived home and turned on the radio and TV about 10 seconds after Jon Garland allowed the three-run home run to Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the seventh inning (Garland should consider asking me to stay out of my condo during his starts, unless I'm there at the start of the game). Seeing the 4-0 Marlins lead was not a pleasant way to begin my evening. The rallies in the eighth, ninth and 10th innings, however, couldn't have been sweeter. John Rooney's call on Timo Perez's ninth-inning game-tying two-run home run should be used as part of the opening of the broadcasts (this is probably a paraphrase, except for the last part): "Perez hits it deep to right center field, going back to the wall, IT'S A ... GONER!!!!" Frank Thomas's three-run home run of Armando Benitez, who had allowed just two runs before Tuesday night's outing, was absolutely huge. The Sox scored three earned runs off Benitez, who also allowed two inherited runners to score ahead of Thomas's blast; Benitez had been charged with only two earned runs before pitching against the Sox. That at-bat also gave me even more confidence that Thomas is heading toward an MVP-type season, because Thomas hit his dinger off a good fastball pitcher. Hard throwers have given him more trouble the last few years, so it was great to see him turn on a fastball that was low and out over the plate.

It's a good thing the Miami-area papers had some nice things to say about Ozzie Guillen before the game, because I'm not sure the Marlins will want to say nice things about their former third-base coach anymore. Not because the Sox manager did anything to alienate his former mates; it's just that, for one night at least, Guillen seems to have swiped the mojo away from the Marlins and given it to the Sox.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

It's all about the buzz 

The White Sox finally got some earned (that is, free) media attention for the "Them vs. Us: A comparison" ad. Both the Tribune and the Sun-Times have stories today that examine the ad and the marketing of the Sox. I love the quote from John McDonough, the Cubs vice president of marketing and broadcasting:
"We're flattered that once again we would be the centerpiece of another Sox advertising campaign,'' he said.
It was a smart way to answer, I guess, but it comes off as condescending to me. I worked at a country club for nine years, so I can smell the derision that the high and mighty have for the unwashed masses, and this comment reeks of it.

The Tribune story, written by former Sox and Cubs beat writer Teddy Greenstein, noted that few other teams who are second in their market have directly called out their bigger competitor this way. Greenstein draws the parallel to the minor-league Chicago Wolves hockey team and their marketing that tweaks the "major league" Chicago Blackhawks. That's fine with me, because the Wolves are brilliant marketers. I also enjoyed the way the Tribune story ended:
The line that might draw the Cubs' ire is "Need tickets? See a broker."

Remember the Cubs' brokerage service, Wrigley Field Premium Ticket Services Inc., which has been a source of more embarrassment than revenue for the team? Isn't that line intended to poke fun at Premium?

"That's for you guys to decide," Boyer said.
Nice work, Brooks. The Sox have nothing to lose in this ad campaign. Everybody loves the underdog, right? Boyer was smart to come up with the tagline, "Sox: Pride," because it shows that the campaign is about a lot more than just putting down the Cubs. He's just getting our attention with this one. Boyer has infused a new sense of enthusiasm and purpose into the Sox marketing approach. For instance, tonight, I received an e-mail celebrating Carlos Lee extending his hitting streak to a team-record 28 games with his 10th-inning double. It's a little thing that the club can do to connect with fans, and they were smart to send it out. It remains to be seen whether Brooks Boyer is converting any casual fans over to the cause of the Pale Hose, but so far, he's certainly preaching a wonderful sermon to those of us in the choir.

(Music to write by: Led Zeppelin, "BBC Sessions.")

Monday, June 14, 2004

An all-around pleasant afternoon 

I attended Sunday's game against the Braves, a 10-3 win for the Sox. For the third time this season, I attended a game started by Mark Buehrle, and for the third time the Sox scored 10 or more runs. I walked up and bought a ticket in Section 156, a seat that was technically obstructed because the foul pole is part of the view. It wasn't a problem from Row 18, Seat 10, because the pole is situated between the mound and home plate. In any case, I only spent the first couple of innings there. Then I met up with some friends who were in Section 147. There were two empty seats next to them, so it was no problem for me to join them. While I was in Section 156, I took a good look around for Skimpy Top but I didn't see her. Too bad.

I almost didn't go to the game. I popped outside for the first time just after noon, and I saw how beautiful the weather was, and I just had to go. The skies were overcast and a somewhat chilly wind whipped the park by the time I settled into my seat. I thought I felt a drop or two of rain, but the rains never came. By the middle of the game, the blue skies and sunshine had returned.

I can say I was in the park for the debut of the new Sox mascot, Southpaw; I'm sure I'll tell my grandkids someday. In all seriousness, I don't see a problem with having a mascot. The kids -- and since it was a kids day, there were a lot of them -- seemed to enjoy seeing him. I liked the theatricality of the way he was introduced. The Sox played a video on the Jumbotron, showing Southpaw at various famous sites around the city. Then, a huge group of families escorted Southpaw into center field, surrounding him with dozens of helium-filled balloons. For a moment, I was concerned that the winds were going to ruin that little touch. When the kids released the balloons, they appeared to have some trouble taking flight in the strong winds, but after a moment, they began their ascent. One bunch of balloons that were tied together wrapped itself around the left-field foul pole. All that accomplished was giving the Mayor of the Bullpen, bullpen catcher Man-Soo Lee, another chance to soak in the adulation of the crowd. Lee climbed up on the fence and, after the wind blew the balloons out of his reach one time, he retrieved the balloons to the delight of the crowd.

Man-Soo wasn't the only Lee to get an ovation from the fans in the left field corner. The whole ballpark gave Carlos Lee a standing ovation for tying Albert Belle with the longest hitting streak in team history, at 27 games, with his first inning double. When Lee trotted out to his position for the top of the section, those of us in the corner rose again and applauded.

I'm also really enjoying the new player introductions to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." I'm glad the Sox are making better use of their excellent public address announcer, Gene Honda. The Sox also shot T-shirts into the crowd during one inning changeover in the middle of the game. My friend Kent snared one of the T-shirts, then decided to give it to a kid sitting behind us because we didn't think it was big enough for either of us to wear. New marketing director Brooks Boyer hasn't been shy about implementing some of the ideas used by his former employer, the Bulls, and he's injected some life into the team's marketing. The player introductions really get the crowd going. I like the new slogan, "Sox: Pride," and I especially like the Them vs. Us commercial. That commercial hits on something that every Sox fan can agree on. Pride is a good marketing concept for a team whose fans have had it pounded into their heads that they're second rate, and we Sox fans certainly like to think of ourselves as being much more sophisticated and into the games than Cubs fans.

I noticed some of the grounds crew guys wearing "Sox: Pride" T-shirts, and I can't wait to buy one for myself. I'm also waiting for the T-shirt entrepreneurs who sell their unofficial wares to come out with Them vs. Us T-shirts. I bet they're working hard to get some T-shirts in for the Cubs series June 25-27. If they develop these, I want one.

A little shaky 

I watched most of Saturday's 10-8 win over the Braves at my friend Brian's graduation party. We were watching from a 48th floor party room downtown, so we had a great view of the post-game fireworks. Right after the fireworks started, another display north and east of the park began, so we had fireworks in stereo. The shaky outings on Friday and Saturday for Scott Schoeneweis and Esteban Loiaza should be a warning sign that these pitchers could use an extra day off between starts once in a while, something the Sox can't afford to do until they acquire another starter who rates with the top four starters. Damaso Marte also had a rough outing Saturday, but the game included the first major-league save for Shingo Takatsu. It remains to be seen whether hitters will be able to adjust to him. He makes it incredibly difficult for a hitter to make square contact against him because of the tremendous movement on his pitches. Combine that with the variation in speed -- from 65 mph to 86 mph -- and you have an idea how hard it is to hit the ball hard against Takatsu. Saturday's game marked the first time that Guillen has been run from a game as a manager. It was also the first time this season that Frank Thomas has played first base, as Guillen wanted to get him in during a home game to prepare for the six games the club will play without the designated hitter this week at Florida and Montreal. I wonder if Guillen will consider playing Paul Konerko in left field for a game or two on the road during interleague play, with Carlos Lee switching to right field. I know that would leave the Sox with pretty poor outfield defense, but it might be a way to keep Konerko and Thomas in the lineup, especially with Magglio Ordonez out. This might be tough to do in Florida's Pro Player Stadium, which has a pretty large outfield, although left field there is pretty straight forward. I think Konerko playing left field wouldn't be much worse than having him play third base, as Guillen has suggested he might try. The Sox would be incredibly susceptible to bunts with Konerko and Thomas playing the corners.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Ordonez doings 

Sox GM Ken Williams vows that Magglio Ordonez will not be traded, no matter what happens with Ordonez's contract negotiations.
"Magglio's not going anywhere," Williams said. "We're trying to win this thing."

But if Ordonez stays for the rest of the season, the Sox could lose him this winter for nothing but draft choices.

"Then so be it," Williams said.

"We will have given it our best shot to try to win the ultimate prize this year."
I love hearing both parts of that statement. I love the attitude of going for it. And I love that Williams isn't concerned if the Sox give it their best shot with Ordonez and then only get draft picks. I don't know what to believe about the chances of signing Ordonez to a new contract. I hope they can get it done.

The story doesn't directly cite the source, but the Sun-Times reports that Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has approved expanding the payroll to make a run at the pennant. The story credits the positive atmosphere fostered by Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Tough break for Sox, too 

When a liner off the bat of Carlos Beltran struck Expos starting pitcher Tomo Ohka above the right (throwing) wrist, I think I heard Sox GM Ken Williams scream. I winced when I heard news of the injury Friday morning on SportsCenter, and not because it was one of those gruesome Joe Thiesman's-leg-snapping moments. Ohka could be out as long as three months with a broken radius bone in his right forearm. Ohka was probably a pitcher on Williams' radar screen as a possible starting pitcher to plug into the rotation.

Ohka makes just $2.3 million this season, so the Sox could have acquired Ohka and still had the payroll flexibility to acquire a better starting pitcher if they were able to complete another deal closer to the trading deadline. Ohka then would be insurance in case there is an injury to a starter and would be a valuable pitcher in the middle innings in the bullpen. Here are his three-year statistics. Not outstanding, but consistently solid. I like that he doesn't walk many batters (2.1 W/9 innings), because that bodes well for pitching in the launching pad that is the Cell. He allows a fairly high batting average and only strikes out 5.4 batters per 9 innings, however, so he has to keep the walks down. If he has surgery, Ohka is gone three months, but if the doctors feel it will heal without it, he could be out six weeks. He could still be a pickup later in the season, but this is bad news for the Sox, because it takes another potential starter off the trade market.

Greg Couch of the Sun-Times counsels patience for Williams and his Cubs counterpart, Jim Hendry. Couch contends that the Sox have a chance at getting a better starting pitcher via trade in two or three weeks than they do right now.

Interesting to note 

Sox pitchers know they can't hit, and they'll probably prove that this week in games at Florida and Montreal. Former Sox and current Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa and I agree that both leagues should play by the same set of rules, but LaRussa thinks the American League should dump the designated hitter, while I think the National League should adopt the DH. "You see more of the total game, more of the beauty of the game [without the DH],'' LaRussa said. I disagree. What's beautiful about watching pitchers bat or run the bases and get hurt, the way Andy Pettite has this year and Mark Prior did last year? You want to see the beauty in baseball? Watch Frank Thomas hit.

Former Sox hitting coach Von Joshua now works for the Cubs, as hitting instructor at Class AA West Tenn, where Sammy Sosa is on his minor-league rehabilitation assignment. Joshua said the Sox made him the scapegoat when they stumbled badly in the first two months of the 2001 season. There's something to what he said, but they did go on a hot streak shortly after Joshua was fired. After a detour with Gary Ward, the Sox have a guy who could be around a long time in Greg Walker.

Sox GM Ken Williams said the architects assurred him that the renovations to the Cell last winter wouldn't affect play at the park. I don't know if they're right or wrong. I noticed on Opening Day that I couldn't feel any wind at all in the left-field stands, but I'm not sure what that means for fly balls. I do know that the Sox are on pace to hit a team-record 240 home runs.

The walk that Braves closer John Smoltz allowed to Thomas Friday night was Smoltz's first walk of the season.

(Music to write by: Elvis Costello, "The Very Best of Elvis Costello," and Liz Phair, "Whip-Smart.")

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Shameless self-promotion 

Many of you have been kind enough to head over to The View from the Bleachers and vote for my blog in the World Series of Blogs. Right now, I'm in second place, quite a bit behind a Minnesota Twins blog, Seth Speaks, but if you have the time and the patience to vote again, I'd greatly appreciate it. The voting ends Friday. If you don't get the AL Central when you open the page, just refresh, but remember, if you use a pop-up blocker, you have to disable it by holding down the CTRL key to get the divisions to cycle. Thanks again.

The ups and downs 

I was just completing a workout Wednesday night when I stopped to watch Miguel Olivo's at-bat in the fourth inning against Eric Milton of the Phillies. The Sox were down 8-3, with a man on and two outs. I figured it was worth watching Olivo's at-bat before making the short walk back to my place. I thought something important might happen, one of those gut feelings. As Olivo fouled off several pitches with two strikes in the count, I thought, well, at least he's giving me a good effort here. Then he worked the count full. Now my gut feeling was a lot stronger. Something good was about to happen. And in one of those moments that makes baseball such a great game to watch, Olivo took Milton deep for a two-run home run. The Sox were back in it, down only 8-5 in a series that had taken on the complexion of an "R.B.I. Baseball" slugfest when both teams are stuck using dead-tired relievers.

By the time I had made the walk home -- we're talking less than two blocks -- the score was 10-5. Ozzie Guillen left Jon Garland in the game. He walked Bobby Abreu and then Jim Thome hit his third home run in two games, a line shot into the Sox bullpen in left field, as the Sox would go on to lose 13-10.

I clicked on the TV and then the radio right after walking in the door. On the TV, they were showing the list of most home runs hit by Illinois-born players, with Thome on top. Former Sox and Phillies slugger Greg "The Bull" Luzinski was on the list, too. (Luzinski is also a graduate of my high school, Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles, Ill.) As the next batter stood in, the information graphic that Fox Sports Net runs across the top of the screen popped up. That's when I realized that they were showing the list that Thome topped because he had just hit another. I went from sky high to valley low in a moment, a tendency of temperment that is one among many reasons that I wasn't cut out to be a major leaguer.

When Garland finished his diastrous fourth inning, having allowed seven runs, I thought his night should be done. I particularly thought that once the Sox closed the gap to 8-5. If it's still a five-run game, I can see trying to get another inning or two out of Garland and saving the bullpen for the next night, when the game might be a lot closer. I can see what Guillen was trying to do. It's always easy as an arm-chair manager to call for aggressive use of the bullpen. If they're tired the next night, it's not my problem. Still, with seven pitchers in the bullpen, not all of whom get enough work in my opinion, I think Guillen could have taken the chance. Billy Koch's terrible outing (one run allowed, two inherited runners allowed to score) didn't help matters, either.

I thought Doug Padilla in the Sun-Times had the best lead of the day for his story on the game:
Wearing helmets while constantly making left turns no longer is reserved for NASCAR.

The White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies were circling the bases at an impressive rate yet again Wednesday night as pitching continued to remain on a holiday.
There were probably a lot of pitchers praying for the heavy rains that washed out the finale of the series.

The silver lining 

With Thursday's rainout, the Sox will be able to avoid using a fifth starter for another week. Scott Schoeneweis and Esteban Loiaza will each be pushed back a day, starting Friday and Saturday against the Atlanta Braves. Mark Buehrle will pitch Sunday, as scheduled. Then, with a day off Monday, the Sox won't need to use a fifth starter until June 19 in Montreal. This delay could give GM Ken Williams enough time to work out a trade before the fifth starter's slot comes up again.

Just dead wrong 

I know that regular readers of the Sun-Times and regular viewers of ESPN's "Around the Horn" will be shocked by this, but Jay Mariotti blew something way out of proportion the other day. Mariotti is putting way too much importance on Billy Koch's problems as the closer. Mariotti is going so far as to say that a "legitimate closer" is more important than adding another starter. This is so stupid, I'm probably wasting cyberspace to debunk it.

First, think back to 2000 and the way the Sox starting staff was decimated by the time the playoffs came around. Adding another solid starting pitcher to the Four Tops would enable them to occasionally get an extra day of rest in between starts. I have to think that's going to keep them fresher as the season wears on. I also think it will help keep them injury free, and if anyone does have to spend time on the disabled list, the Sox will be in much better shape having five legitimate starting pitchers. Second, Shingo Takatsu and Damaso Marte could very well prove to be a nice tag-team closer. I'm particularly interested in seeing Takatsu close games, because I would think he's got the right make up for it. Now that he's settled into living in North America, he seems unflappable. Third, as the season wears on, more closers become available as teams drop out of the race, more so than starting pitchers. Again, it's because starting pitchers are so valuable and so hard to develop and keep. Relatively speaking, closers are much easier to find, so teams that are out of the race are more willing to deal them.

But this isn't the only stupid thing that Mariotti wrote in his column. In listing the supposed premier closers in the American League, he included Troy Percival of the Anaheim Angels. Not only is Percival injured, but his effectiveness has waned anyway. Francisco Rodriguez is the far superior reliever, and the Angels are wisely using him in a more important role -- coming on with men on base and pitching more than one inning. With the quality and depth of the Angels pen, they just might be better off without Percival.

Then there's this nonsense:
As it is, [Sox GM Ken] Williams has been on the lookout for another starter. Specifically, he has targeted Seattle's Freddy Garcia, who happens to be Guillen's close friend and offseason hangout partner in Venezuela. But other teams want Garcia, including the Yankees and division-rival Twins, and likely have more to offer than Williams.
The Yankees? What the heck do the Yankees have to offer? Bubba Crosby? The Twins do have a lot of minor leaguers who are valued around baseball, but I don't think they have a huge advantage over the Sox. The farm systems of both teams are strong in outfield prospects.

The one Mariotti idea that I do like is at least asking the Mariners about their closer, Eddie Guardado. If they're going to have to go through a painful rebuilding, there's not much point in paying good money (his deal guarantees $13 million over its three years, with up to $4 million in incentives) for a closer. With Koch's salary (nearly $6.4 million) coming off the books after this year, the Sox may be able to swing this.

Bring the DH to the National League 

Ozzie Guillen believes National League teams have an unfair advantage during interleague games, since adding a bench player to the lineup as a designated hitter is a simpler transition than the one American League teams are forced into with pitchers batting in NL parks.

I have a real simple solution. Stop the nonsense of pitchers batting and adopt the DH in the NL, too. I know I'm in an unfashionable minority on this one, but I think about it this way: You don't have to watch Tom Brady play a crappy free safety in order to watch him brilliantly play quarterback, do you? No. So why should you have to watch Randy Johnson lamely swing at three pitches and trudge back to the dugout? The DH is in keeping with the tradition toward specialization in sports. No one's arguing for a full offense-defense platoon system in baseball. But really, do you want to watch pitchers bat?

I don't think it heightens the strategy elements, either. I think it's easier to decide when to lift the pitcher when he's a batter in the lineup, because offensive considerations can make it a simple matter to decide it's time. An AL manager doesn't have that crutch to lean on, and it's much easier to second-guess a manager (see above) for leaving a guy in there when the decision is based solely on his effectiveness on the mound. A lot of fans will say, well, he left him in because he's leading off the next inning anyway. It's an excuse that AL managers don't have.

And please don't bring up the double switch like it takes some genius to pull that by-the-book manuever (of course, as Dusty Baker can attest, it's not always so easy to notify the umpires of your doube switch).

Hope it'll be so, Magglio 

Magglio Ordonez said his left knee is pain-free and has minimal swelling, making him optimistic about possibly returning before the All-Star Break. Ordonez said he believes that he first injured his knee in the horrific collision he had with Willie Harris May 19 in Cleveland and then aggravated it on a swing in a game against Texas at the Cell on May 25. Let's hope Dr. Ordonez is right.

(Music to write by: A grunge nostalgia trip (including Alice in Chains, Mudhoney, Temple of the Dog, and a live version of Nirvan's "Been a Son," plus Cake, which is from that era, but not grunge), Van Halen, "Diver Down" and "Van Halen.")

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The new rules 

I attended tonight's beer-league softball game between the Sox and the Phillies. A win's a win, so I'm not complaining about the Sox prevailing 14-11. Six of those Philadelphia runs came courtesy of two Jim Thome three-run blasts. Mike Jackson got rocked -- five runs allowed in 1+ inning, including the second of those Thome home runs. Definitely not one of Mark Buerhle's better outings, as he allowed six runs over seven innings, but he shut the Phillies out over his last five innings. The Sox had a well-balanced attack, with eight of the nine starters contributing to the 15 hits they compiled. Juan Uribe snapped out of his slump with two home runs and Paul Konerko also hit two blasts. Frank Thomas had a home run and two doubles, and he is now the franchise's career leader in doubles. Struggling Joe Crede (that first word is now part of his name, at least on this site) took the collar, 0-4, but even he reached on a walk and scored in the six-run first inning that the Sox produced.

I think the game was the first Tuesday Pepsi half-price night that included new limitations on beer sales, at least in the outfield seats. There were no beer vendors walking the stands. The beer vendors manning the taps on the outfield concourse would only sell you one beer per person. There is no question that those policies limit the amount you can drink. I didn't mind the limitations. I did feel sorry for the beer vendors, who would have made a killing on a warm night with a good, solid crowd. I can't directly attribute it to the rules, but the crowd where I was sitting in Section 158 was well-behaved, at least through the end of the sixth inning. My friend Dion and I went up for another beer at that point and never returned to our seats. We watched the seventh from near the beer stand and then made our way up to the Fan Deck, which Dion had never seen (he's a Cubs fan). Jackson made it interesting while we were up there, but then we saw Cliff Politte close the game out from there.

I didn't notice much in the way of heckling of Billy Koch either, in the first home game since his meltdown Sunday night in Seattle. I did notice that a security guard was posted near the relievers as they sat and watched the game. I missed Koch's walk out the bullpen, however, so perhaps I missed the fireworks. Maybe the security guard materialized after his reception by the fans. In any case, I'll give him a little credit for sitting out in the open, as he normally does, instead of hiding in the bullpen cave. They all sat out there the way they have every time I've sat behind the bullpen -- from left to right: bullpen coach Art Kusnyer, bullpen catcher Man-Soo Lee and relievers Neal Cotts, Koch, Politte and Jon Adkins. Damaso Marte also spent time outside, sitting to the right of Adkins. Maybe he was waiting for the warmer weather to watch the game from the raised bullpen, because I never saw him up there until he had to warm up in previous games where I could watch the bullpen. The fans' choice, at this point, to close games -- Shingo Takatsu -- got a nice hand when he came out in the middle innings to play catch with Carlos Lee before the start of an inning.

So, will Ozzie Guillen try Marte, Politte or Takatsu as the closer? I doubt there will be just one closer for the time being anyway. I would expect Marte and Takatsu to get the bulk of the chances, unless Koch pitches well enough in another role to be reconsidered. I don't think Guillen will worry about the soft-tossing Takatsu not having "closer stuff" because Guillen has seen the way Takatsu can tie hitters in knots with his curve and change. I hope and expect that Guillen will make his choices based on the matchups with the batters scheduled to hit and those who could come off the bench.

Tomorrow, I hope to get a chance to write about the players the Sox picked in the amateur draft and the team's new commercial that contrasts Sox fans with Cubs fans. The commercial was played on the video board a couple of times during the game, and my initial reaction: I liked it.

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