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Despite missing his turn in the rotation last week as the White Sox made a mad dash to the .500 mark, Chris Sale did receive some publicity. It had nothing to do with his ability to mow down American League hitters as one of the league's best pitchers.
No, this was about his culinary habits as described by the Wall Street Journal's Brian Costa under the headline "Baseball's Greatest Metabolism."
On the mound last week, Chris Sale, the 24-year-old ace of the Chicago White Sox, was practically unhittable. In two starts, he threw 16 2/3 scoreless innings, allowed just four hits and struck out 19 batters. That was all impressive enough.
But what really left teammates in awe of Sale was his performance on a charter flight to California. In a four-hour masterpiece, Sale packed two ice cream sundaes and, by one teammate's estimate, around 30 bags of potato chips into one of the skinniest bodies the sport has ever seen.
"He eats more than anybody on Earth," Adam Dunn told the Journal.
Calling Sale skinny is a reasonable description, and like most fans, I had no idea that the guy packs it away at an alarming rate.
However, there are other players in Sox history who no doubt could match Sale hamburger-for-hamburger. But unlike Sale, all the nourishment did alter the waistlines of a more than a few of them.
Take deluxe pinch hitters Ron Northey and Smoky Burgess, two guys who came to the Sox in the twilight of their careers prior to the introduction of the designated hitter. Both challenged the equipment manager to find pants big enough to fit them.
Northey played for the Sox for parts of three seasons, 1955-57, at the very end of his career. Whoever listed him at 5-10, 195 pounds was being exceptionally kind. Considering that all Northey did was pinch hit - he had 48 at-bats in 53 games in 1956 when he hit .354 - he had plenty of time to hang out in the club house munching away until manager Marty Marion summoned him for a late-inning appearance.
Burgess had a stellar career in the National League as a catcher, playing on the 1960 World Series champion Pirates and hitting over .300 five different seasons, He spent the last four years (1964-67) of his career on the South Side. In that time, he appeared in just seven games - three as a starter - behind the plate. Burgess is fourth all-time with 145 pinch-hits.
To say that Smoky was well-fed is like saying that Hawk Harrelson is a homer. Burgess was short, just 5-feet-8, and the longer he played, the stouter he got. But he never lost his ability to hit. Like Northey, Burgess had about the same number of plate appearances as games played. And he delivered big hits as evidenced by 24 RBI in 1965 in just 77 at-bats.
Both Burgess and Northey played for the Sox in '67, and rumor has it that the team lost money that year because of what it cost for the post-game spreads.
While the portly Northey and Burgess are memorable, there was no one quite like another renown eater, Wilbur Wood. His longevity with the Sox stretched over 12 seasons, first as a relief pitcher and then as a starter, a brainstorm of manager Chuck Tanner.
Wood looked nothing like an athlete, and one could argue that he truly wasn't one. Wilbur threw a knuckler, a very good one, and his numbers would indicate that he didn't expend much effort doing so. He started an average of 45 games a season from 1971 to 1975 and only a line drive that shattered his kneecap at the start of the '76 season curtailed his activity.
Wilbur had an ample waistline, and the idea of moving quickly or rushing to the mound would have been a shock to his makeup. He had a reputation of washing down his meals and snacks with an Old Style or two, but none of it affected his ability to baffle the American League.
In 1973, Wood lost 20 games. No big deal because he won 24. He started - and lost - both ends of a doubleheader that season. No one has done that since, and it's a good bet no one ever will.
In four straight years, 1971-74, he won at least 20 games. He pitched 367 innings in 1972 and followed up with another 359 the next season. These are prodigious numbers and a testament to performing on a full stomach.
The services of present-day glutton Chris Sale, who is slated to face the Cubs on Tuesday after a touch of shoulder tendinitis, actually weren't missed last week as the Sox won five of six. The return of John Danks on Friday night highlighted a stretch where the starters all pitched into at least the sixth inning with a combined ERA of 2.56.
In addition, the Sox are discovering how lovely it is to get a two-out RBI. They did it two innings in a row in Friday's tense 4-3 extra inning win over Miami. Hector Gimenez, subbing for the aching Tyler Flowers, stroked a hard single to left-center to score Conor Gillaspie in the bottom of the fifth, and Paul Konerko came though an inning later to plate Alex Rios. Those kinds of successes simply weren't happening earlier in the season.
Sunday's game also featured two outfield putouts by Dayan Viciedo and Rios which turned out to be the margin of victory in the 5-3 game. Give credit to Gimenez, who surely should challenge Flowers for the No. 1 catching role, for blocking Marcel Ozuna off the plate and staying with the tag. Ozuna had beaten Rios's throw, but Hector refused to let him touch home.
If Sale proves to be healthy, Axelrod will probably go to the bullpen, which has been inconsistent. While Addison Reed, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton have pitched well, Matt Lindstrom and Nate Jones have been up and down. Axelrod can help.
In addition, Gordon Beckham should return in another week if the six-week recovery from his hand surgery becomes reality. This will create two positive outcomes: Beckham will be a big improvement defensively at second base, while Jeff Keppinger will come off the bench as a spot starter, a role he has effectively played before.
It was only 12 games ago that the Sox were struggling along six games under .500. Other than Robin Ventura and his group, no one would have predicted this rapid turnaround. With four games looming against the Cubs, the hot streak just may continue a while longer. Don't stop eating now, boys.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox. He welcomes your comments.
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