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Good In The Clubhouse

An amusing baseball story, since debunked, featured the greatest leadoff man in history, Rickey Henderson. Seems that in 2000, when Rickey signed with the Mariners as a free agent, he encountered first baseman John Olerud, another fine player, who always wore a batting helmet in the field because of a brain aneurysm he suffered in college.

Olerud explained his situation to Henderson, who said that was such a coincidence because he knew a guy he played with on the Mets who also wore a helmet in the field.
"That was me, Rickey," said Olerud.

Henderson may have reached base about 40 percent of his plate appearances while scoring more runs and stealing more bases than anyone in history, but the interchange with Olerud also disclosed another aspect of Henderson that the sabermathemeticians can't measure. The game was all about Rickey, whose ego barely fit into the stadiums in which he performed, perhaps explaining why he played for nine different teams in his 25-year career.

Being "good in the clubhouse," a term bandied about today as often as slashlines, RBIs or ERAs, clearly wasn't a skill Henderson possessed. Rosters today are sprinkled with marginal players who may hit .220 or have an ERA north of five, but their positive contribution to team morale apparently keeps them in a big league uniform.

The still-developing White Sox, who have now won half of their 22 games, by necessity have featured athletes who donate more to team camaraderie than what they chip in on the field.

Ryan Goins, a career .229/.278/.333 hitter eight seasons, was released on July 19 by Oakland and signed again by the Sox four days later. This was Goins' second go-round with the South Siders, having split last season between 35th and Shields and Charlotte.

Jason Benetti and Steve Stone mentioned the "good in the clubhouse" mantra when discussing Goins' value. At the same time, another clubhouse darling from last season, Yolmer Sanchez, might have been available. After winning a Gold Glove in 2019 at second base - Sanchez also can play third and shortstop - Sanchez has disappeared from the radar with the San Francisco Giants. In addition to his defensive prowess, Yolmer hit .252 and led the team in bases on balls last season. However, the Giants opted to go with Donovan Solano at second base, and he's currently hitting .433, sealing Sanchez's fate.

Sanchez was an entertaining fellow. Who can forget the great reviews he received for pouring the Gatorade jug over his own head? However, his $4,625,000 salary - worth far more than a season's supply of Gatorade - and the emergence and potential of Nick Madrigal made him exceptionally expendable. Besides, Leury Garcia, who now is lost for the rest of the regular season with a torn thumb ligament, was slated to fill Sanchez's role, plus he also can play the outfield.

With Madrigal mending from a shoulder separation, Danny Mendick has inherited second base by default. No word yet about his clubhouse behavior, but we assume he's an agreeable, cordial guy.

But let's face it, ballplayers with above average talent are most valued whether they play well with others or not. The designated hitter on the champion 2005 team was Carl Everett, acknowledged as a genuine pain in the posterior in all of the eight clubhouses he called home during his 14-year career. He made Bleacher Report's Most Despised Teammates In Major League Baseball History, a listing of ill-tempered individuals the website compiled a few years ago.

However, I doubt that his teammates weren't happy to have Everett's 23 dingers and 87 RBIs in that magical season.

A.J. Pierzynski's clubhouse reputation was anything but stellar with the Twins and Giants when he came to the Sox in 2005. He was a .301 hitter in five seasons with Minnesota and had a solid year for San Francisco in 2004, which earned him his release. Clubhouse demeanor rarely, if ever, was mentioned about A.J. once he got to the Sox because he played the game with intelligence and skill.

One of the criticisms of manager Chuck Tanner in the early '70s was that he had a separate set of rules for Dick Allen, who no doubt deflected his mates' negative feelings by winning the MVP award in 1972. That's what leading the league in homers, RBIs, walks, OBP, slugging and OPS will do for you.

Don't forget that the Sox signed badboy Albert Belle, a notorious pill by all accounts, to a two-year $20 million contract in 1997. That was a huge deal then, and Belle, a prominent member of that Bleacher Report list, responded with 93 home runs and 268 RBIs in his two seasons with the Sox.

Superego Manny Ramirez played briefly for the Sox in 2010. The phrase "Manny Being Manny" was coined because of Ramirez's aloofness and his contrary attitude. He once refused to play left field in Boston. Taking one for the team for Manny meant ordering another cocktail.

But don't forget that Ramirez played on 11 teams that went to the post-season where he hit 29 home runs and drove in 78 runs in 111 games. I'm confident that his teammates were just fine with that. (And the Cubs later hired Ramirez to work as a hitting instructor in their minor league system.)

In any profession, relationships between workers can be complex and contentious. Just because people play on the same baseball team or work in the same office doesn't mean that everyone gets along hunky-dory.

The most effective bosses (managers in baseball) are adept at team-building and getting the most out of their employees, while solving clubhouse conflicts when they arise. The description "family" too often is used to describe professional sports teams because the truth is that athletes have a life removed from what they do on the field or court.

You need look no further than last week when Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac hooked up with his homies and left the team's hotel in Chicago for dinner and a night hanging out. After missing the 10 p.m. curfew, enacted because of the coronavirus threat, Plesac's actions earned him a ride back to Cleveland via automobile rather than on the team plane. Teammate Mike Clevinger, who accompanied Plesac, joined him on the restricted list.

Making matters worse, Plesac took to Instagram to blast the media for criticizing his immature and selfish behavior. Keep in mind that teammate Carlos Carrasco is a leukemia survivor and manager Terry Francona has a plethora of health issues.

"They hurt us bad," Cleveland pitcher Adam Plutko told the assembled media after a loss to the Cubs last week. "They lied to us. They sat here in front of you guys and publicly said things they didn't follow through on. So those 'grown-ass men' can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they're gonna do to fix it. I don't need to do that for them."

Oh, boy, talk about "good in the clubhouse."

This is when the abilities of a manager like Francona come into play. He missed the three-game series against the White Sox a week ago that the Indians won 2-1. The team then dropped two to the Cubs. However, they swept the Tigers in a three-game set over the weekend to up their record to 13-9, good for second place in the division behind the Twins and two games ahead of the White Sox.

All without Plesac and Clevinger, who had a combined 2.09 ERA in six starts this season. Plesac's 1.29 puts him third among all pitchers.

Could it be that adversity has brought the team closer together? They had some practice with turmoil last season when pitcher Trevor Bauer went ballistic on July 28, hurling a baseball into the centerfield stands in Kansas City when Francona lifted him after he was bombed by the Royals.

Francona and the front office weren't impressed even after Bauer gave an emotional apology. He was traded to the Reds three days later.

Jason Kipnis, then with Cleveland and now with the Cubs, who seriously seems "good in the clubhouse," said then, "It's no fun for our clubhouse. I'm sure it wasn't any fun for the front office. It's [the trade] a hard trigger to pull. Hopefully we'll get some guys here who are ready to compete and ready to fit in and ready to buy into what we're doing here.

"No one has to be best friends here. No one has to hang out off the field. It's still a business. It's still work, and I think guys come and they're professional about it. I don't think you have to love everybody you play with, but you will respect everybody in here, and you will fight alongside them and for them and he was doing that."

And that, my friends, is being good in the clubhouse, and just about everywhere else.

TWIWSB Notes
The White Sox had their own mini-drama last week when Dallas Keuchel called out his teammates for a lethargic performance on Monday in a 5-1 loss to Detroit. The boys responded with two wins on Tuesday and Wednesday before dropping a doubleheader on Saturday to the Cardinals, who hadn't played in 17 days. Sunday's 7-2 whipping of St. Louis featured Keuchel's six strong innings and four straight homers by Yoan Moncada, Yasmani Grandal, Eloy Jimenez and José Abreu off Roel Ramirez, who was making his first big league appearance. Ouch!

Whatever you want to call it - growing pains, inexperience, lack of intensity - this team is on a rollercoaster in this 60-game folly. You never know who's going to show up.

Much has been written and said about the team's leaders like Keuchel, Abreu and Tim Anderson. As good and effective as they and others might be off the field, there's no substitute for hitting with runners in scoring position, picking up the ball, and getting people out. If the attitude in the clubhouse is positive and helps in these areas, that's just lovely.

But there have been lots and lots of guys who are not loved by their teammates who can do all these things on a daily basis better than anyone else. I'll take a clubhouse full of 'em.

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Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Posted on Sep 21, 2020