January 2010

Lance Johnson, Juan Pierre “One” of a Kind as Past and Present Meet in White Sox Outfield

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Sox Boast Teacher-Student Dynamic in the Leadoff Spot
I’ve always been fascinated by the special connections in sports that seemingly come out of nowhere. For instance, Hall of Famers John Havlicek and Phil Niekro grew up together in Ohio. Legends Bill Russell and Frank Robinson were 1952 basketball teammates at McClymonds High School in Oakland CA and the next year Robinson and future baseball stars Vada Pinson and Curt Flood comprised the nucleus of the McClymonds Five. Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola lived across the street from each other and were best buds as youngsters on The Hill in St. Louis.
Another interesting connection has surfaced in a story by Scott Merkin on whitesox.com describing the mentor-student relationship between former and current White Sox outfielders and leadoff men Lance “One Dog” Johnson and Juan Pierre, just acquired from the Dodgers. 
As the story goes, Johnson and Pierre are both products of the University of South Alabama, where Johnson came back to work out with his alma mater’s baseball squad. It was there he took Pierre under his wing.
“You have to realize I actually trained Juan and gave him the road map to the big leagues,” Johnson told Merkin with a modicum of levity. “I taught him my innermost secrets. I’m excited to see he’s here and wearing my number.” Pierre will wear No. 1 for the Sox in honor of Johnson. He has previously worn No. 9, but that was Sox favorite Minnie Minoso‘s number and it’s retired.
“He always preached being a leadoff hitter, not a leadoff man,” said Pierre. “You are not up there just trying to walk, but you should try to do damage. He took his walks, but he made his point clear about being a leadoff hitter, getting on base anyway you can and hitting the ball hard.”
Sox fans are looking forward to seeing Pierre put Johnson’s lesson plan to work at the Cell this summer.

Sox-wise and Otherwise

My weekly offseason musings about the White Sox and more…

Character still a priority on the South Side

WYX3d7Cx.jpgJim Thome and Jermaine Dye are no longer in the White Sox clubhouse, but the organization continues to build championship-caliber clubs with talented players of character. The latest in the long line of Sox good guys is newly-acquired third baseman Mark Teahen (above, signing autographs for a group of kids).

Teahen was recently honored with the 45th Hutch Award presented annually to the major league player who “best exemplifies the dedication to team, family and community and exemplifies the honor, courage and perseverance of former major league player and manager Fred Hutchinson.”

Garland, Contreras Move on

Two White Sox postseason pitching heroes from 2005, Jon Garland and Jose Contreras, have recently found new homes. After time with both the Diamondbacks and Dodgers last season, Garland has signed a deal with yet another National League West club–the Padres. After splitting last year between the Sox and the Rockies, Contreras is now a member of the NL champion Phillies.

Just what I wanted to hear

The usually intense Carlos Quentin was all smiles at SoxFest, according to whitesox.com‘s Scott Merkin. The reason? He appears to be healthy and ready to regain his 2008 form.

“I felt a little restricted, and you put that in the back of your mind as a hitter,” CQ told Merkin, referring to his injured wrist. “Your hands are very important in the swing. But I’m more focused on how much better it feels now. It makes me excited. This offseason I’ve been hitting and been satisfied with my swing…My body feels well. The foot feels great. The knee feels good. The wrist feels 10 times better having the hardware out. The old injuries that were in the past feel great.”

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E-nough Already About Thome

I know it’s just fans being fans, but the White Sox faithful are overreacting to Ozzie Guillen‘s decision to move on without Jim Thome and the slugger’s subsequent signing with the rival Twins.

I know he was productive for the Sox and I know he’s a great guy, but there simply wasn’t a fit in the new Sox universe. I was upset when Joe Crede went to Minnesota because it just didn’t sit well with me, but Thome not so much. Like Crede, he very well could beat us in a game or two, but that’s baseball.

As a Sox fan friend of mine said yesterday, we’re not going to lose the division because of Thome’s departure–it’s all about the pitching. And if things work out the way we think they will, that will be our major strength in 2010.

I’ll leave you with this. Remember that some of the same Sox fans were scratching their heads and voicing their outrage over trading Carlos Lee and a minor leaguer for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino prior to 2005. So, how did that work out?

Ozzie’s Final Word: No Thome (and I, For One, Agree)

clip_image007.jpgAs has been well-chronicled, Kenny Williams allowed Ozzie Guillen to make the decision on whether or not to keep Jim Thome. After a SoxFest weekend where fans lobbied for the popular slugger and rumors of the Twins’ and Rays’ interest in Thome abounded, Ozzie still came to the conclusion that the Sox should move on without him.

Personally, I think it’s the right call. Granted, that means we go into 2010 without Thome AND Jermaine Dye. It’s also a fact that while Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel and Mark Kotsay provide solid bench strength, there is no guarantee that they will be a championship caliber DH rotation. Despite those questions, I’m convinced it’s just time for Thome to go with the Sox changing their persona to more of a speed-oriented and versatile ballclub.

Thome leaves the Sox with a legacy of class and leadership. And we certainly will never forget his dramatic 500th home run, the monumental blast against the Twins in 2008 that propelled us in the playoffs and many other on-field heroics. But after last year’s disappointing season change is needed and while time will tell if it’s the right call, Thome is a victim of that change. 

When a Fan Meets His Hero

I took a trip down memory lane last night as my wife Bonnie and I had the pleasure of having dinner with former White Sox star third baseman Pete Ward and his wife Margaret.

This is the same Pete Ward who was my favorite player when I was a less-than-mediocre backup third-sacker for the 1965 Calumet Conference champion Wirt High School Troopers in Northwest Indiana. How much of a backup? I played nine innings in two years and spent most of the time coaching first base. But I was proud of the No. 8 on the back of my uniform–the same number that Pete wore with the Sox when he was the 1963 Sporting News Rookie Player of the Year and for a time the club’s No. 1 offensive threat.

Through a serendipitous circumstance, my favorite player and I became friends when I was at Sports Illustrated. You see, Pete was on his way to becoming an SI cover boy in June of 1965 after he led the Sox into first place following a weekend series victory over the Yankees. The cover was even printed. But Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston in their rematch around that time and Pete was bumped (see below).

I met him when he knocked on SI’s door in the 1990s to see if he could add to his collection of the almost covers. They were nowhere to be found in the SI offices, but that didn’t diminish the fact I had met my Pete Ward. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Ali, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Sandy Koufax and many others on the elite level. None gave me a bigger thrill than the day I met Pete. 

Since that time I have gotten to know Pete and Margaret as friends. They are the kind of people that are wonderful to be around. The fact that Pete was once my favorite player is always there, but our friendship has gone way beyond the fan/athlete stage.

What a great thing it is to meet your boyhood idol and then become his friend. It’s even better when he’s all you thought he would be.                                                                                                            23dc7d854cb2a2c7bfb8f40f246a.jpeg
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Thome? It’s in Ozzie’s Hands

Jim Thome‘s White Sox future is firmly in the hands of Ozzie Guillen. Sox GM Kenny Williams made it clear during SoxFest that it’s up to Ozzie whether or not Thome has a role–likely a diminished one with a reduced salary–for the 2010 South Siders. 

With the Twins seemingly ready to swoop in if the Sox don’t and the fans in Chicago lobbying for Thome this weekend, it’s not the simple decision it was when the brass felt it was best to move on without the popular slugger.
Ozzie seemed confident that the decision will be made today before he leaves Chicago for his home in Miami.
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Jenks’ Status Highlight of SoxFest’s First Day; Is Thome on the Way After All?

SoxFest is designed to rally the troops, send out good vibes and convince the faithful that the Summer ahead will be a special one. As a glass half-full guy, I was already drinking the Kool-Aid before the annual event began yesterday.

Realistically, there IS a great deal to be excited about. Ozzie Guillen talked at SoxFest about how much he likes the revamped lineup and there’s little argument about the potential of the starting pitching. Having J.J. Putz as a complement to Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks in the pen is a big plus and a bench of Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel and Mark Kotsay is a significant upgrade over 2009.
Speaking of Jenks, he was the big story of SoxFest’s first day. Kenny Williams, who publicly challenged the hefty one at the end of last season to get in shape, emerged from a meeting with Bobby claiming he’d never seen the closer look better. KW even said he was proud of Jenks so it appears the Sox and Jenks are back in love.
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Thome or Not Thome
Despite Ozzie’s convincing argument that he would rather have a committee manning the DH role, there’s still a chance that Jim Thome will be returning to the South Side. It appears that the Sox are re-thinking the matter and even Ozzie has backed off a bit on his earlier statements. It’s certainly possible that there could be a compromise with Thome, instead of being the full-time designated hitter, joining the likes of Andruw Jones, Omar Vizquel, Mark Kotsay in a DH rotation and providing a lethal bat off the bench. Not to mention the advantage of having such a great presence in the clubhouse.
And at the risk of burying the lead, there’s one other team rumored to be seriously interested in Thome–the Twins. Think that has anything to do with the South Siders’ supposed change of heart?
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Sox-wise and Otherwise

My weekly offseason musings about the White Sox and more...

Will SoxFest be a Lovefest?

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    It all begins tomorrow and continues through
    Sunday at the downtown Palmer House Hilton.  
    Current Sox players and execs, past players
    and execs plus fans from near and far will be
    part of the last formal gathering of Pale Hosers
    before the trucks are loaded and headed for
    Camelback Ranch in Glendale.

    I have to think there will be great energy and
    optimism about the team Kenny Williams and
    the Sox brass have put together.

Pale Hose Bits & Pieces

47750427.jpg     Sox phenom Gordon Beckman (above in celebration mode) tells Joe Cowley of the
     Sun-Times that he’s comfortable at second base and adds that he’s looking forward
     to a special year on the South Side. GBeck participated in “Camp Cora” in Miami from
     January 12-14, working with new keystone partner Alexei Ramirez. Well, Jermaine
     Dye
and Jim Thome (celebrating above) are still available. Any takers out there?
     Based on what I’m hearing, there’s little chance either one will return to the South  
     Side…Word is that coach Greg Walker has liked what he’s seen of Alex Rios this 
     winter. How great would it be if he returned to his All-Star form? You have to think
     Rios’  2009 performance was an aberration. I sure hope so.

Who are the White Sox? Well, Wally, a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

From a recent blog by the Chicago Tribune‘s Paul Sullivan:

White Sox bashing never seems to go out of style at the Cubs Convention.
 

This
year’s biggest blow was delivered not by a fan, but by new marketing
chief Wally Hayward, during Saturday’s business management seminar.

When
someone mentioned the South Side team during a question-and-answer
session, Hayward started off his answer by saying: “”First of all, who
are the White Sox?”

The response drew loud cheers.

Wally, you probably won’t recognize the scene, but these are the White Sox and their fans celebrating their World Series victory with a parade in downtown Chicago. Had one lately?

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Ozzie Hits the Big 4-6

Thanks to Sox communications czar Scott Reifert, I’m reminded that today is Ozzie Guillen‘s 46th birthday.

Best wishes to one of our own who bleeds silver and black and is the most underrated manager in the big leagues.

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