Chicago Baseball History

White Sox Rebuild Year Two…But Questions Remain

CBM Editor’s Note

One third of the White Sox season has past and now in year two of the “Sox Rebuild” the team has the worst record in baseball with a 16-35 mark and is ten and half games out of first place.

Attendance at G-Rate Field is down. After 26 dates the White Sox have only drawn 415,654 fans or 15,987 per game, down from 20,244 a game a year ago. The Sox are trying to offer value with their 4 pack family offer ticket packages, that includes seats, hot dogs, and drink for around $50 in contrast to the Cubs that continue to raise their ticket prices, making attending a baseball game a once or twice a year event rather than a regular source of entertainment.

However, some long time Sox fans are starting to question whether this rebuild strategy will succeed with attendance now the third lowest in baseball in a city that is the number three market in America.  Further hurting matters is that the Sox media coverage has been poor compared to the Cubs with no regular beat reporter covering the team at the Chicago Tribune, who are using a Cubs “College of Coaches” approach to cover them due to financial budget cuts.

To give a fan perspective on the “State of the Sox Rebuild”, the CBM welcomes guest editorialist Mark Liptak, who has contributed to our site in the past and who for 11 years was associated with White Sox Interactive for his thoughts.

White Sox Rebuild….But the Questions Remain

By Mark Liptak

For every franchise there comes a moment of truth. A period when decisions made or not made can reverberate for years or even decades. For the Chicago White Sox that time came after another disastrous season, 2016. The Sox lost 84 games after a 23-10 start. It marked their fourth straight losing season and seventh out of ten dating back to 2007.

 

2nd baseman Yoán Manuel Moncada was the big prize in the Chris Sale deal

It was then when General Manager Rick Hahn was finally able to convince owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Vice President Kenny Williams that the “go for it” or “stars and scrubs” approach simply wasn’t working. That unless the franchise was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lure the top free agents the only way to change the fortunes of the organization was with a total rebuild or “tanking” in popular parlance to get the needed young talent to give the franchise a shot for sustained success.To get Reinsdorf and Williams to give that approval after years of trying to win another title was very hard in Hahn’s own words.

 

 

But the path was decided upon and out the door over the next 18 months went players like Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak. In return the Sox got arguably the greatest collection of young, unproven, cost-controlled talent in baseball. It was hailed across the national media landscape as a job well done by Hahn. Most Sox fans and even some of the more caustic members of the mainstream media in Chicago approved of it.

 

Given the successes of teams like the Astros, Royals,  and Cubs in recent years the general feeling was that with a little bit of luck, the Sox had a very good chance to completely turn around their fortunes. But… (you knew there had to be a “but” in there)

Not every Sox fan approved of the decision. Going around the various Sox web sites you still see a segment of the fan base that wondered why a major market franchise was acting like the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres or the Cincinnati Reds.

They and others, including again, some in the media brought up valid, uncomfortable points that in their mind didn’t guarantee the Sox anything given their history.

Those generally break down into five areas, which we’ll examine. Then I’ll give you my take on the situation. (more…)

Almora gets rating as most gifted defensively among post-war Cubs center fielders

Albert Almora, Jr.: Silky. smooth. Gliding. Graceful.

Throw any superlative out there. All apply to Albert Almora, Jr.’s defensive skills in center field.

Almora Jr.’s glovework at his position is the best I’ve witnessed in five decades watching the Cubs.

Albert Almora, Jr.

Better than Brock Davis turning on a final burst of speed to make up for a slow jump, finally engaging in a sprawling, diving catch in Wrigley Field.

Better than “Tarzan” Joe Wallis playing shallow, then going back…back…back…back and hopefully not running out of room before he hits the ivy and unforgiving bricks behind the foliage.

Better than Gentleman Jim Hickman, his spirit willing but the legs a bit too heavy, trying to flag down a Jay Alou triple picking up speed on the artificial turf in the right-center gap in the Astrodome.

A stereotype used to be floated that one did not needed a truly great defensive center fielder in cozy Wrigley Field. Oh, yes you did. You need a good one anywhere, including old Thillens Stadium. Someone athletically gifted. Definitely a take-charge, smart guy. And someone who craves mastering the position rather than marking time or having doubts because the Cubs needed another bat in the lineup, sacrificing some defense in the process.

Almora’s arrival was welcomed. Now if he can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt he can hit tough righties, he’ll be a lock for years to come, and one of the best in baseball.

He doesn’t look like he’s laboring when he makes a sensational catch, such as the moment the other week when he almost effortlessly drifted back and in one motion leaped to steal a Tyler Flowers homer over the fence in Atlanta. That’s the standard you see from Almora, Jr., and the standard he expects from himself.

Almora, Jr. legitimately talks a great game. He is pleasant and welcoming. The other day he spoke on sports-talk radio of his love of deep-sea fishing in his native Miami, prompted by his father’s gig as a commercial fisherman. He was an easy conversationalist when we checked him out as a 19-year-old Class A player at Kane County in 2013, just a year after he ranked as the first No. 1 draft pick of the Theo Epstein regime. His words then apply to his striving now to lock down the regular’s job in center.

“I want to be a player known as going hard every day,” summed up Almora then. “You can’t have four hits every day. It ’s a sport of failure. But you can control how you play and your actions, and that’s what I want to be known for.”

A great defensive center fielder should be a true ball hawk. He should not be straining every last bit of sinew to race to meet the ball in the gap, above the wall or sinking in front of him. Willie Mays and Curt Flood had that extra sixth-sense. I believe Almora, Jr. is cut from the same cloth — take off in stride the moment the ball is hit, and smoothly arrive at its descent point.

The position requires more than just raw speed. I mention the 1970-71 vintage Davis above.  An original Houston Astro, Davis got some renown as a four-month Cubs regular in ’71 making those diving catches and exciting Jack Brickhouse on the call. But I believe if he had Almora Jr.’s gifts, Davis would have lasted a lot longer in the majors. Fastest man on the Cubs? Davis was 0-for-6 stealing bases in ’71. (more…)

Baseball Under Glass

Andre Dawson the water-safety advocate could make another splash with Cubs kids

Some kind of middle ground in apparel must exist between Andre Dawson‘s funeral suit for his family business and the T-shirt and trunks for the youth swimming program that bears his Hall of Fame name in west suburban Lombard.

Like a Cubs uniform?

Andre Dawson is starting his first year as a Cubs ambassador.

In an under-publicized manner, Dawson has indeed worn the Cubs uniform officially for the first time in 26 years in spring training, and hopes to do so again sometime this season for Cubs minor leaguers. Add in more brightly-colored business casual wear for meeting fans and sponsors in other duties as a new team ambassador, and you have the perfect balance in the life of one of the most respected Cubs in history.

“Let’s say I’m all over the place,” Dawson, tracked down in Chicago the other day, said of his 2018 schedule. His base is hometown Miami, but much of his heart is in the city that he claims vaulted him into Cooperstown via six memorable Cubs seasons from 1987 to 1992. Mention that he’d spend even more time in Chicago if the temperature did not drop below 50 and he’d not have to wear anything heavier than a windbreaker, and Dawson breaks into a knowing laugh.

He was cast aside in the off-season, along with fellow Hall of Famer Tony Perez, as a Miami Marlins special assistant by budget-slashing Fish boss Derek Jeter. Regrets are few because Dawson can now work for the Cubs — a longtime goal — while still tending to the funeral home he operates with wife Vanessa and two uncles, earning him national profiles such as respected baseball scribe Bob Nightengale in USA Today:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2018/05/08/andre-dawson-hall-famer-funeral-home-florida-retirement/590358002/

And when two female fans of Dawson hired him a decade back as national spokesman for their Baby Otter swimming program and wanted to expand out of Florida, he suggested Chicago for obvious reasons. A photo of Dawson in the Lombard pool with a young student and a story in the suburban Daily Herald provided a surprising aspect of his 63-year-young life:

http://www.dailyherald.com/business/20180521/andre-dawson-opens-baby-otter-aquatic-center-in-lombard

His Cubs role, though, is still in development. He had talked to team chairman Tom Ricketts about a return to the organization on several occasions. He was officially free when he left the Marlins. And Dawson received an alumni 2016 World Series ring in 2017, proudly wearing the bling on three occasions at events. The Chicago Baseball Museum played a role in ensuring Dawson got the ring. The only better outcome would have been Dawson earning the jewelry as a Cubs player in, say, 1989, but that’s a whole other story.

The Cubs now have all their living Hall of Famers in the fold — Dawson, Fergie Jenkins and Ryne Sandberg as ambassadors, and Billy Williams as a special assistant. By now, Billy must be closing in on Yosh Kawano for most years in the team employ. “Whistler” has 57 seasons recorded as a player, coach, special assistant and marketing speaker.

Lee Smith (left) and Andre Dawson were 1975 draftees, Smith being picked by the Cubs nine rounds ahead of Dawson. But Dawson, who will represent the Cubs at the 2018 draft, made the Hall of Fame.

“I was hired as independent contractor,” the Hawk said. “I’ll go to  a variety of events during the year. When we reached agreement, the only other matter was getting out to spring training. I was in Mesa the final two weeks (of camp). I worked some with the outfielders.”

Dawson will represent the Cubs at the amateur draft starting Monday night, June 4. Back in 1975, the Cubs knew all about the Hawk coming out of Florida, but they passed on him, leaving Montreal to snare his rights.

Outfielder Brian Rosinski of Evanston Township High School was the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in ’75. Injuries derailed Rosinski’s career. Master scout Buck O’Neil got GM John Holland to pick Lee Arthur Smith at No. 2.  Big Lee ended up as the only ’75 Cubs draftee to make the majors — and he should have gone all the way to Cooperstown. Dawson eventually was picked by Montreal in the 11th round. Choosing ahead of the Expos, the Cubs picked shortstop Robert Umfleet out of the University of Oklahoma. Smith and Dawson do a lot of appearances together, so the subject of draft pedigree probably comes up.

A minor-league instructional tour for Dawson at some point this season is under discussion. The Cubs are multiple-men deep in hitting instructors, but they could always use the acumen as an eight-time Gold Glove winner in the outfield.

“I’m waiting to hear from upper management what the next step will be,” Dawson said. “However they see me going forward, that’s what I’m here for.”

Dawson the outfield counselor would be welcome. The Cubs haven’t employed such a big name in the minor leagues since Jimmy Piersall‘s 14-season stint starting in the mid-1980s. Baseball thinking men like Doug Glanville and Darrin Jackson praised Piersall’s animated instruction. Dawson would not be available full-time like Piersall. But the Hawk with his commanding presence and credentials will command attention whenever he steps on the field.

Dawson may not bring up the anecdote to his Cubs pupils, but fundamental outfield play can win games all by itself. Somewhere in the WGN archives is his laser throw to zap a Giants baserunner at home plate and end a Wrigley Field game in 1991.

One wants to be a fly on the wall when Dawson and fellow Miami native Albert Almora, Jr., two experts in center-field play, get together. Dawson was a Montreal Expos Gold Glover in center before the ravages of the Olympic Stadium artificial turf caused his shift to right.  So he knows what goes into a champion ballhawk. (more…)

Santo could have been lock-down Hall of Famer if not for Type 1 diabetes

Count me among the childhood critics of eventual Hall of Famer Ron Santo, getting upset when he hit into a double play with crucial ducks on the pond, or made an error with his frequent Gold Glove at third.

But like so many others five decades ago, I didn’t have all the information at hand. Santo was playing at a perennial All-Star level with Type 1 diabetes that he could not accurately monitor with medical instruments before or during games. He developed educated guesswork when diabetic symptoms began to come on, quaffing a candy bar and/or a can of Coke for an instant sugar fix. Sometimes, though, the symptoms arrived quickly. They may have affected his vision or his physical reactions temporarily and thus in turn cut down on his performance.

Ron Santo (left) already dealt with the effects of Type 1 diabetes on his career when he posed with Vince Lloyd and Ernie Banks in the early 1960s.

As Fergie Jenkins noted, Santo could not have grown speed in his legs — slowness being his only physical drawback.  But some of those double-play grounders may have been slashed through the infield without the diabetic impact on Santo’s reactions.

Imagine a Santo with a modern day medical monitors, being able to head off symptoms at the pass. Cubs closer Brandon Morrow, former Cubs outfielder Sam Fuld and ex-Bears quarterback Jay Cutler were not hampered in their careers through modern medical monitoring of their Type 1, called “juvenile diabetes” in Santo’s time.

He would have had even greater offensive numbers during his 1963-70 prime, and perhaps not have fallen off as quickly as he did in his final four big-league seasons, the last a controversy-filled campaign with the White Sox in 1974. The several Hall of Fame voters who did not like Santo for his 1969 heel-clicking wouldn’t have been enough to deny him entrance into Cooperstown while the then-Cubs broadcaster was still living. Santo ended up selected in a kind of guilt-ridden posthumous vote by an incarnation of the veterans committee soon after his death in 2010. (more…)