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Small Type

Few days pass when I don't check the agate type in the sports section under "Deals" in the Sun-Times and "Transactions" in the Tribune. I can't pinpoint the logic behind this impulse that draws me to investigate the minutiae that no one except the people involved care about, but I rarely miss a day.

Who possibly could be interested other than the athletes themselves in the roster changes in the Frontier League, an independent circuit with no big league affiliation? The new softball coach at Oklahoma Christian? Why is this information in my daily newspaper other than to fill space?

Most days I venture no farther than the comings and goings of major league ballplayers. I never watched the reality TV show made famous by "You're fired!" but I can understand how that might have been compelling. Perusing the deals in baseball, some perverse instinct leads me to discover who in essence has been axed, terminated, or demoted.

Every day a handful of players are instructed to pack up their gloves, shoes and jock straps and vacate the premises. A number of managers have stated that this is their most difficult task, informing a player that he no longer is wanted. No player relishes the thought of the clubhouse man after a game telling him, "The Skipper wants to see you in his office." The news is never good.

Take the case of now-former White Sox relief pitcher Bruce Rondon whose name appeared in that small type Wednesday morning. The guy basically pitched himself back to the minor leagues the previous evening in the Sox' embarrassing 14-2 pasting at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals (who fired manager Mike Matheny four days later). Chances are Rondon's days as a major league pitcher are over. Matheny's odds may be more favorable in terms of major league employment.

Rondon, who had a shocking 16.88 ERA in 12 appearances during the month of June, entered in the top of the 6th inning Tuesday with one out and the Sox trailing 4-2. When he departed four batters later with the bases loaded, the score was 6-2. Enter Hector Santiago, who promptly served up a grand slam to the otherwise struggling former Cub Dexter Fowler, and Rondon's fate was sealed.

Rondon, a huge fellow at 275 pounds, was a hard-throwing righthander who had pitched in parts of four seasons for the Tigers before they released him last December. The Sox signed him - according to Baseball Reference he was awarded $1.2 million via arbitration - and he began the season at Charlotte, but was summoned to the South Side just a week after Opening Day. In his first two appearances, Rondon retired all seven batters he faced, striking out five.

However, in his fifth appearance, the Astros slammed him for four runs in a third of an inning, and things continued to be up-and-down from there. Relief pitchers are well-served if they can retire the first batter they face. In 35 outings, the ineffective Rondon failed in this area 13 times due to seven walks, a hit batter, and five hits. In 19 of his games, he either walked or hit at least one batter.

On only six occasions did Rondon retire every batter he faced. The opposition hit .298 against Rondon. On balls in play (BABIP) that number mushroomed to .424. Couple that with 27 walks in 29 innings, and you easily can understand why his name was in that itty-bitty type last Wednesday morning.

On June 24 manager Ricky Renteria summoned Rondon to face Oakland with the Sox leading 10-2. Rondon walked Khris Davis on four pitches, and Renteria immediately visited the mound to yank Rondon. A somewhat heated discussion occurred, but, indeed, Renteria didn't trust Rondon even with such a lofty lead. Relief pitchers who have an inability to throw strikes tend to lose favor rather quickly, regardless of the score.

Rondon initially was "designated for assignment," meaning that any team could claim him on waivers within a 10-day period. Poor guy. None of the other 29 clubs showed the slightest bit of interest.

So the White Sox "outrighted" the Venezuelan hurler to Triple-A Charlotte. Rondon thus was removed from the 40-man roster, but his salary is guaranteed for the remainder of the season. Imagine making more than a million dollars when you are unwanted in your profession.

I'm not sure why Rondon thinks he remains marketable, but he turned down the assignment to Charlotte and now is a free agent. Why would a team sign him today when just days before he was nixed by every organization when the Sox offered him in a waiver deal?

At age 27, when most people are just beginning their professional lives, Rondon's baseball future is murky at best. He's a part of a transient gambit. Of the 13 active pitchers on the Sox roster Sunday morning, only two (James Shields and Juan Minaya) were on the team a year ago. Players like Rondon drift through the system, here for a moment and then gone forever.

Utopia for Rondon would be finding a way to consistently throw the ball over the plate to retire batter after batter at the minor league level. If he were able to do that, there could be another contract offer for next season. After watching his performance the last 3 1/2 months, that doesn't seem likely.

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While Rondon's departure is rather typical of the end-of-the-line, former All-Star Chase Utley of the Dodgers had the luxury last week of announcing that he'll retire at the end of the season. Utley is an aberration. He won't be summoned to the manager's office. His agent won't have to shop him around only to find that no team is interested in an aging player with a high salary. Utley will leave the game on his own terms. Unlike Rondon, you won't read his name in the small type buried in the sports page.

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Another former White Sox player last week also received little more than a mention in the sports pages, yet his tenure with the team was far more memorable than Rondon's.
Sammy Esposito died at age 86 at his North Carolina home after a career in baseball that spanned 35 years. A local guy who attended Fenger High School on the South Side, Esposito wound up playing for his hometown team for 10 years. He first appeared in a Sox uniform in 1952, playing in just one game before entering military service for two seasons.

Esposito was noteworthy for a number of reasons. For one, he grew up a Sox fan, a genuine South Sider who could live at home and make the short trip to Comiskey Park when the Sox were in town. For another, Esposito, a shortstop by trade, never played regularly and was a .207 lifetime hitter. As a member of the 1959 pennant-winning White Sox, Esposito batted twice in the World Series. Because starting pitchers toiled deep into games, teams carried fewer relievers, so utility players like Esposito were valued.

Aside from the fact that Esposito's offensive skills were not his forte - he never appeared in as many as 100 games in any given season - the Sox had guys named Fox and Aparicio at second and short, respectively, and that duo tended to play every day. Future Hall of Famer Aparicio didn't arrive until 1956, so Esposito saw some action at shortstop prior to Little Looey's debut. But after that he was primarily a pinch hitter and runner with occasional starts at third base.

Every Sox fan was well aware that Esposito was local talent. While he was no Aparicio, he was a strong defender and a great teammate. He was a benchwarmer who knew his role and never complained. When called upon he was ready for anything.

This included a September night in 1960 in the midst of a pennant race. Fox had a consecutive game streak of 798 games halted by a virus that sidelined the diminutive second baseman. Esposito manned the position in a game against the front-running Yankees whom the Sox were trying to overtake. Late in the game with the Sox holding a 4-1 lead, Esposito booted what could have been an inning-ending double-play ground ball.

An irate fan, who reportedly had a wager on the local nine, leaped over the wall by first base and headed straight toward Esposito. Sammy ducked a roundhouse right and delivered a punch of his own before the distraught individual was hauled off to the slammer. The game continued. The Yankees scored four times, as was their habit, and the Sox swooned, finishing in third place. And the fan? He was fined $25 and left free to visit Comiskey Park in the future as often as he desired.

After his playing days ended, Esposito became head baseball coach at North Carolina State in 1967. In 21 years at the Wolfpack helm, his teams won 513 games and finished as high as third in the College World Series. His is a good baseball story.

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For the current crop of White Sox, with the exception of Jose Abreu, who will be the American League's starting first baseman in Washington in Tuesday night's All-Star Game, a four-day respite should be a welcome relief. The Sox took two-of-three from the last-place Kansas City Royals over the weekend, capped off by a 10-1 shellacking of the Royals on Sunday. All things were peachy keen with Lucas Giolito pitching into the seventh inning and shutting out the opposition on just two hits. Yoan Moncada possibly gave us a glimpse of what's to come by hitting his 12th home run (his first from the right side) among his three hits.

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For those who will miss daily baseball most of this week, you might be interested in a neat little pictorial book just released called Wrigley Field's Amazing Vendors. While the book focuses on the North Side ballpark, most vendors work both sides of town, so the images will be familiar to Sox fans as well.

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Lloyd Rutzky, who actually is a Sox fan, began his vending days in the '60s and still is a fixture in the third base seats at The Grate. The photos in the book were taken by Lloyd primarily in the 1970s, and not only bring back memories of the many colorful characters who contributed to the enjoyment of so many ballgames but also remind us that beer once cost 65 cents. The copy was written by former vendor Joel Levin.

We also should mention that guys like Lloyd have lasted far longer than the Bruce Rondons of the world.

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

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