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I attended a recent luncheon where someone asked Al Rosen, the former third baseman for the Indians in the 1950s - he was MVP in '53 - about the differences between the game today and his era.
"For one thing," he began, "if a pitcher threw you a changeup, you knew the next pitch was going to be a fastball. Today they throw two or three off-speed pitches in a row."
That certainly was Chris Sale's pattern in his stellar performance on Opening Day a week ago. Perhaps "pattern" is the wrong description because the Royals' hitters had little idea what pitch Sale was going to throw throughout the frigid - we sat in the shade of the upper deck - afternoon.
Judging from the seven singles Sale yielded until being lifted with two outs in the eighth inning, the Royals couldn't be sure whether Sale was going to unleash a 91-mile-an-hour fastball, a slider or the changeup he had been working on during spring training.
He continued his varied repertoire yesterday over seven innings against the Mariners on a yield of three runs. Had Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales not turned a couple of mistakes into home runs, Sale would be almost perfect in his two starts.
As a hard-throwing relief pitcher in 2011, Sale frequently hit the mid-90s. But he didn't approach that velocity last Monday until he reached back toward the end of his 104-pitch stint to hit 93 on the speed gun. A hint of Verlander, if you will.
Changing speeds early and often highlighted his first Opening Day start in a White Sox uniform. He consistently had hitters way out in front with pitches in the 76- to 81-mph range. You don't have to blister the ball at 95 if you're able to deliver the slow stuff and get it in or near the strike zone.
At the tender age of 24 with a new five-year $32 million contract, it appears that Sale is developing into a smart and crafty pitcher and not simply a young arm who relies on blowing the ball past the opposition.
Sale's different approach wasn't the only change we noticed during what was billed as Opening Week at the Cell. Gone from the left field wall are the likenesses of Fox, Baines, Aparicio, Minoso, Fisk, Appling, Pierce, Lyons and the Big Hurt. No longer is "The Catch" noted, marking the location of Dewayne Wise's gem to save Mark Buehrle's 2009 perfect game.
They've been replaced by Jimmy John's, State Farm and Comcast. Tom Ricketts must be green with envy.
However, you can't begrudge Sox fans if they don't share that sentiment since the retired numbers are now displayed in non-descript white circles adorning the façade of the Stadium Club down the right-field line. They have joined Jackie Robinson's 42 along with a sign for some guy named Hyundai whom I don't recall ever wearing a Sox uniform.
A healthy contingent of the announced crowd of 39,012 enjoyed a Bears-like tailgate celebration hours before Sale's first pitch on Monday. Many arrived on buses from south suburbs such as Homer Glen, Orland Park and Tinley Park. I didn't notice any coaches from Winnetka or Glencoe.
Included were 55 Sox fans from the Stoney Point Grill in Mokena. While the Beachwood Reporter may not be regular reading at The Point, once I identified myself, general manager Nick Kahoun made sure that I had a plateful of shrimp, burgers and his lake perch specialty.
"We were here at 11," said Kahoun. Starting time was 3:10, so the group had plenty of time to properly prepare for the season's inaugural. "This is our ninth year [at Opening Day]. There's probably 15 of us who have been here every year. We start planning about a month-and-a-half ahead of time. We marinate everything at the grill and then cook it all here."
Stoney Point's owner Jim Burke, a Sox season-ticket holder, is a perennial optimist when it comes to his favorite ballclub.
"I predict them going to the World Series every year," said Burke, whose prognostication, of course, was on the money eight seasons ago.
No one expected much from that team, and even less is expected from this year's crew.
However, four wins last week, characterized by solid starting pitching, effective relief - not withstanding Nate Jones's rocky start - and lots of homers including yesterday's walk-off from Dayan Viciedo have piqued our interest.
Give Doby His Due
In addition to describing how pitchers today differ from their counterparts of 60 years ago, Al Rosen was asked about Larry Doby, his teammate at Cleveland and the first African American to play in the American League. Doby made his debut on July 5, 1947, 81 days after Jackie Robinson started at first base at Ebbets Field.
The question was asked in the context of Friday's scheduled release of the movie 42, which purportedly tells Robinson's story, although the trailers I've seen indicate that true events may be incidental to Hollywood's version.
Rosen said that Doby, who played for the White Sox in 1956-57, had it even tougher than Jackie since he was even less prepared to break the so-called color line.
"Jackie Robinson was a college guy [UCLA], and he played a whole season in the minors before coming up with Brooklyn," said Rosen. "Doby went right to the big leagues."
Furthermore, Robinson was 28 in 1947 and had served in the army. His minor league season was spent in Montreal, and the furthest south the team played was Baltimore.
Doby was just 23 when he joined the Indians, and he was fresh from the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League.
Let's be clear that all of the early black players suffered hateful and cruel indignities which would have broken the players and fans from whence they came. But from my perspective Larry Doby, being the second pioneer, has never received the attention or appreciation which he deserves. Rosen's comments back that up.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox beat. He welcomes your comments.
1. From Tim Gowen:
Two co-workers and I were at Stoney Point last Friday afternoon for 18 holes of Golden Tee. Also, just an FYI, "The Catch" is still noted on the wall in left-center field. My dad and I were at Opening Day in our 27-game package seats in the front row of section 101 and one of the things I noticed as well were that the retired numbers had been moved, but I did notice that "The Catch" was still there. It was a cold Opening Day, but a quick and great game.
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