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According to general manager Rick Hahn, the White Sox are "mired in mediocrity," but when it comes to crazy off-the-field, clubhouse shenanigans, they're leading everyone. And Chris Sale is the ringmaster under the Big Top.
After Sale's spring training tirade aimed at vice president Kenny Williams following Adam LaRoche's bizarre walkout - as opposed to a walk-off which LaRoche failed to register in his one season on the South Side - the ace left-hander again went ballistic Saturday evening after being instructed to wear the uniform made famous by the South Side Hit Men 40 years ago.
Before examining exactly what is happening with this team and its best pitcher, let's review the attire in question.
When owner Bill Veeck introduced the duds in 1976, they already were a throwback. One feature was a sewn-on collar meant to emulate how players dressed at the turn of the 20th Century. In addition, these were the only jerseys in history intended to be untucked, something in vogue today wherever millennials gather.
My guess is that the untucked style agrees just fine with Sale when he dines out, but when he pitches, the leisure mode is not conducive for a guy leading the league with 14 victories.
Thank heaven the front office didn't insist that the players also wear the shorts that the 1976 team wore for the first game of a doubleheader in August of that season. Had Sale been handed shorts and knee socks, there's no telling what degree of devastation might have ensued.
When the uniforms were introduced in a fashion show during the winter before the 1976 season, they achieved the desired effect, which was nationwide publicity, or exactly what happened again last weekend. Instead of headlines about the Cooperstown Hall of Fame induction of Junior Griffey and Mike Piazza, fans were scratching their heads over the news of Sale taking a scissors to any of the throwbacks within reach.
Ironically, the shirts and shorts were designed to accommodate the athletes, not to impede them.
"Players should not worry about their vanity, but their comfort," Veeck said when the uniforms were rolled out, as recounted by Rolling Stone two years ago.
"If it's 95 degrees out, an athlete should be glad to put on short pants and forget his bony knees. I've got a worse-looking knee than any of my players. It's solid wood," said Veeck, who lost a leg in World War II.
Lucky for Sale he wasn't a member of the Sox contingent back then because those teams displayed the untucked style for six seasons.
Sale's competitive, brash, and occasional out-of-control demeanor is well-documented. Without it, he probably wouldn't be the guy who is the mainstay of the pitching staff and the team's most valued member. With the trade deadline looming in a week's time, the rumor mill is churning, with teams like the Rangers and Red Sox reportedly talking to Hahn about acquiring Sale for a stable of present and future big leaguers.
Then there was last Monday in Seattle when manager Robin Ventura lifted his ace after eight innings and exactly 100 pitches, even though Sale had blanked the Mariners on one hit.
My pal Tim texted, "Imagine telling [Cardinal Hall of Famer Bob] Gibson he's coming out" of a one-hit shutout three outs short of a complete game. "Sale should have been telling his manager, 'This is my game. Give me the ball.'"
Gibson approached the game like a war. His 255 complete games speak volumes about his fierce determination to finish what he started. Of course, today's game, with it closers and set-up men, is far different than in Gibson's day, but Sale has some of the same fire as pitchers of bygone eras.
In came closer David Robertson, who because of injury and the All-Star break hadn't pitched in 12 days. With a 3-0 lead, Sale's 15th victory seemed assured. Two singles and a walk set the stage for pinch hitter Adam Lind, who had four hits in his previous 35 at-bats. Lind took an 0-1 offering from Robertson over the right centerfield fence for a three-run homer and a 4-3 Seattle win. If Sale needed a reason to self-destruct, Ventura and Robertson certainly provided one.
How much is a guy supposed to endure? Here's Sale, the all-time White Sox leader for strikeouts in a season; a career ERA of 2.95; 71 wins in a Sox uniform against just 43 losses; and the favorite to win the Cy Young Award this season.
Through no fault of his own but rather because of the ineptitude of his teammates, manager and front office, a trade to another team has become a genuine possibility. He's pulled from a one-hit shutout with three outs to go and a hundred pitches thrown, only to see the vaunted closer blow it. On top of it all, he's told to wear a jersey he considers ugly and uncomfortable. Forget the $12 million he's being paid this season. Where are the scissors?
The Sox failed to discipline Sale last March over the LaRoche outburst, but destroying team property in such a manner got him canned for five days. If Sale has been pitching with a chip on his shoulder, he figures to have boulders on both shoulders if Ventura starts him on Thursday, when he returns, in the last of four games at Wrigley this week.
And how did the Sox do on Saturday and Sunday without Sale around? It depends on how you look at it. Saturday's game against the Tigers was suspended because of rain after eight innings with the teams deadlocked at 3-3, so the game resumed on Sunday. Adam Eaton's walk-off single gave the local crew a 4-3 win as Ventura employed seven relievers to cover for Sale, who was sent home like an expelled schoolboy.
The regularly scheduled game provided another masterful performance by Jose Quintana, who lately is every bit as good as Sale. He left with two outs in the seventh and a three-hit shutout intact. Nate Jones yielded a solo homer in the eighth, and Ventura summoned Robertson once again, after he picked up the win in the suspended game earlier in the afternoon.
Either Robertson is playing hurt or he is masquerading as a batting practice pitcher judging by the three - count 'em - solo home runs he served up in the top of the ninth as the Tigers evened the count at four, resulting in another no-decision for Quintana. Twice Robertson was within a strike of saving the game for Jose. It should be noted here that Quintana not only didn't savage any jerseys, he didn't so much as kick the Gatorade jug.
Maybe Robertson is more into wins than saves; Melky Cabrera's run-scoring single in the bottom of the ninth gave the embattled closer his second W of the day. Consider that between the Monday and Sunday appearances, Robertson pitched 1 2/3 innings, giving up seven earned runs and four homers. You'd have thought he was pitching to Giancarlo Stanton in the Home Run Derby.
In fact, in 17 innings of relief last week, the Sox bullpen was tagged for 15 earned runs and nine homers. How they won three of seven games is a mystery to me.
So now it's two against the Cubs at The Cell, which will be filled with Cubbie blue, followed by two more on the North Side. One team is young, fresh, looking forward, playing in front of goo-goo-eyed devotees confident of a World Series appearance; the other is in tatters.
Sox fans can be excused if they're expecting the worst. Being embarrassed by the Cubs would be yet another low blow. But whatever transpires this week, the Sox will have their jerseys neatly tucked into their trousers.
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