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Nice Guys Finish Third

A number of theories and suggestions have been made to explain the inconsistencies of the White Sox this season. However, as yet, I'm not aware that anyone has said that maybe our guys - with the possible exception of A.J. Pierzynski - are just too nice and friendly.

Just within the Central Division - the one that counts most for the Sox - is it unreasonable to question the goodwill and lovey-dovey exchanges between the Sox and the opposition?

It's no secret that Ozzie and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, fellow countrymen, are close. In addition, the accolades and plaudits flow freely from Chicago to the Twin Cities about all the fundamentals that the Twins do better than anyone else.

Jim Thome wears a Twins uniform, but he was very popular in the White Sox clubhouse and remains pals with Paulie and others. And, of course, Gordon Beckham let the world know that he and the Royals' Chris Getz - another former teammate - remain buddies by his infamous message scrawled in the Cell's infield dirt a few weeks ago.

Oh, how times have changed.

"When we took the field, the opposing team was the enemy," says Joe Cunningham, who played first base for the Sox (1962-64) among his 12 seasons in the big leagues (.291 lifetime average). "There was no patting on the back during batting practice or anything like that."

Bill (Moose) Skowron, who played first base on the great Yankee teams of the 1950s, but also with the Sox 1964-67, concurs.

"We didn't take too much to the opposition, not like these guys today," says Moose, a native Chicagoan who's become an icon around the city. "There was not much conversation."

I talked with another former Sox first baseman, Mike Squires, last week because conversations at first base between fielder and runner seem to be part of the game today.

"Most of the time when you're talking to someone at first base, it's small talk," relates Squires, who manned the position for the Sox in the 70s and 80s and now scouts for the Cincinnati Reds. "Guys would get down there and make a comment, 'Hey, way to hit the ball,' or 'You guys are playing good,' or something like that."

In fact, there were rules against yukking it up with the opposing team.

"Back in our day, the umpires would sit in the stands about an hour before the game started, and we were not allowed to fraternize like they do today," remembers Squires. "[Today] the players will sit out there and give each other brother hugs and sit around the [batting] cage and talk. Fifteen minutes before the game they're running sprints and giving each other hugs out in center field. You couldn't do that when I played."

Cunningham spent most of his years with the Cardinals and remembers teammate Eddie Kasko who eventually was traded to the Reds.

"If he got a base hit and I was the first baseman, we certainly would not talk much about baseball," reveals Joe, who also roomed with Kasko on the road. "He would ask me how's my wife Kathy doing, but I would have to say the conversations at first base were almost none."

However, there were players, like Yogi Berra, who were notorious for talking to the opposition. But his intention was distraction, not camaraderie.

There's the story about one of the World Series' against Milwaukee (1957-58) when Henry Aaron stepped to the plate, and Yogi pointed out that Hank didn't have the trademark on the bat pointing up to minimize breakage.

"I didn't come up here to read," deadpanned Aaron. End of conversation.

Squires remembers Mickey Rivers, an all-around player from 1970-84 who once stole 70 bases in a season.

"I was a rookie in 1979, and I started out really good," says Squires. "Mickey Rivers gets down to first base, and he never quit talking. He takes his leadoff, and he's still talking to me. 'Hey, rookie, keep swinging the bat like that. You're swinging the bat real good.' The last word he said was 'bye!,' and he stole second."

Skowron tells another good one from days long ago.

"When I was with the White Sox and Mantle was with the Yankees, Eddie Stanky was our manager," Moose begins. "He did not like the Yankees. He had a meeting prior to the game and he said anybody caught talking to any Yankee player will cost you $50. Mickey got a base hit, and he says, 'How's the wife and kids doing?' I said, 'I can't talk. It's gonna cost me 50 bucks.' He says, 'All that money I made you in the World Series, and I'm not worth $50?' Eddie Stanky saw me and gave me the five fingers. I never paid that."

Pointing out that folks like Cunningham and Skowron are "old school" only accentuates the obvious. Nevertheless, their points of view are interesting in the context of today's game.

"Times have changed," states Skowron. "Look at the beards and mustaches and all the new hairdos. We couldn't do that stuff."

Nor would it have occurred to them.

"The uniform has changed," continues Cunningham. "What do you think about the pants? They have them hanging down to their heels. I always admired the Cincinnati organization because they had a dress code. I always felt that wearing my pants medium up helped the umpires get a better view of the strike zone."

Note: Joe had a career .403 on-base percentage and walked 101 times for the Sox in 1962. He of the eight home runs that season. Are you listening, Gordon Beckham?

* * *

Meanwhile, our warm, friendly, and cordial athletes swept an abbreviated two-game series in Cleveland with a 4-2 victory yesterday, leaving them 4 1/2 games in back of Detroit, which invades The Cell tonight for a three-game showdown.

The Tribe, acting in a giving and friendly manner, committed three errors including a sixth-inning dropped fly ball off the bat of Adam Dunn by Ezquiel Carrera. Dunn hit it pretty well to the warning track, but it was not a difficult play.

However, Carrera stumbled and then lost the ball in the sun - two runs scored which turned out to be the margin of victory - while his $150 sunglasses were perched on the bill of his cap. Even after this miscue, he neglected to anchor the shades on his nose where they belonged.

Hawk and Stone Pony had a marvelous time chirping and chuckling about Carrera's seeming refusal to use the sunglasses, and the cameras panned over to other Indians whose sunglasses occupied a similar place as Carrera's.

What Hawk and Stone didn't dwell on occurred in the top of the ninth when Dunn grounded to Orlando Cabrera, who bobbled the ball which rolled behind him. Our $56 million DH failed to run hard, and Cabrera threw him out. Two singles and a wild pitch followed but produced nothing because of Dunn's lack of hustle.

Some observers have been patient and supportive of Dunn. This space a few weeks ago was devoted to the stupidity and futility of booing or demeaning the big guy. But not running out a ground ball?!? C'mon Adam, you can do better than that.


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