Showing posts with label Carlton Fisk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carlton Fisk. Show all posts

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Frank Thomas, a true White Sox, goes into the Hall of Fame

If you're a White Sox fan like me, Sunday's baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony was unlike any other.

Sure, we've seen our fair share of former Sox players go into the Hall during our lifetimes. If you watched Sunday's ceremony, you saw a few of them in attendance -- Carlton Fisk, Roberto Alomar and Tom Seaver. Heck, Tony La Russa, who was inducted into the Hall on Sunday as a manager, also made significant contributions to White Sox history.

But it's different with Frank Thomas. Unlike Fisk, Alomar and Seaver, all of whom have significant ties to other teams, Thomas is one of our own. He's the pride of the South Side. The first White Sox player to be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. The best player in team history. Even though he had brief stints with Oakland and Toronto late in his career, Thomas is a White Sox -- the most well-known player associated with the organization over the last quarter century. Watching him go into the Hall on Sunday was a moment of great joy for me, as it should have been for all Sox fans.

His numbers speak for themselves, but we'll repeat them again. A lifetime career batting average of .301, to go along with a .419 on-base percentage, .555 slugging percentage and a .974 OPS. 521 career home runs. 1,704 career RBIs. Four Silver Sluggers, two MVP awards, the 1997 batting title and a 2005 World Series ring.

How's that for a career?

If there is one thing that separated Thomas for every other hitter I've seen, it would be his legendary plate discipline. He simply didn't swing at bad pitches, and that was the case from the first day he entered the big leagues. I've seen other hitters through the years develop that patience and discipline (think Barry Bonds) at the plate as their careers move along, but you just don't see that often from guys at age 22 -- which was how old Thomas was when he joined the Sox in 1990. It usually takes time for a young hitter to develop that knowledge of the strike zone. Thomas had that the day he walked in the door. That was his edge, his gift.

Thomas led the league in walks (138) and on-base percentage (.453) in 1991, his first full season in the majors. Who does that? Not too many. Later in his career, Thomas was more of a pure power hitter, but in his White Sox heyday, he was a great hitter who just happened to hit his fair share of home runs. He hit 41 home runs while striking out just 54 times during his MVP season of 1993. Again, who does that? You don't see too many guys hit that many home runs without giving up some of their ability to make contact.

Thomas was a great contact hitter, a great power hitter and a guy who would take his walks. That combination is so very rare, and I don't know if all of us realized it at the time just how good he was.

Here's the number that, for me, sums up Thomas' greatness. His on-base percentage the first eight years of his career was .452. Only two players in the history of the game can claim to have been better -- Ted Williams (.488) and Babe Ruth (.467). That's elite company.

On Sunday, Thomas also was in elite company, joining Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, LaRussa, Bobby Cox and Joe Torre in one of the greatest Hall of Fame classes of all time.

Thomas' acceptance speech was the most emotional of the six. Plenty of tears were shed as he spoke about his parents, his brother and countless others who helped him during his early years and baseball career. Perhaps the most heartfelt moment of the day came when Thomas spoke of his late father, Frank Thomas Sr.

"Thanks for pushing me and always preaching to me, 'You could be someone special, if you really work at it.' I took that heart, pops, and look at us today," Thomas said.

The speech also featured a "verbal montage" to former teammates, during which Thomas mentioned 138 names of guys he played with during his 19-year career. During his playing days, Thomas was often portrayed as selfish and sometimes aloof. On this induction day, he proved otherwise with a speech full of humility and gratitude. White Sox fans should be proud to claim him as one of their own.

I don't agree with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on much, but I applaud him for proclaiming Sunday as Frank Thomas Day in Illinois. This is a day for celebration.

Bravo, Frank Thomas. Congratulations on your induction into baseball's Hall of Fame. Chicago is proud of you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Would the White Sox be able to part with Paul Konerko?

Baseball players rarely make farewell tours. For every Mariano Rivera -- who was still great in his last season -- there are tons guys who want to keep playing, but are told they can't cut it so pack it up.

White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko is adding more and more evidence to the case that he can't cut it. Since Jose Abreu has been out of the lineup, he's gone 2-for-15. Yes, both hits drove in runs, and yes, one of them was a two-run homer crushed to center at Kaufmann Stadium. That still leaves Konerko with a .133/.133/.333 batting line. That's after his .208/.259/.333 start as a part-time DH/pinch hitter.

Maybe it's hard to come off the bench and perform in sporadic duty. And maybe Konerko needs some time to settle back into a starting rhythm again. I think to believe those excuses you really have to ignore the fact that Paulie has been terrible since June of 2012.

If Konerko can't hold up to the rigors of everyday play anymore, and he can't be effective as a part-timer, he's got no value to the team outside of his role of ambassador, clubhouse leader, historical treasure, mascot, or whatever it is he was brought back for.

When this season looked for sure like it would be a lost one for the Sox, that might have been acceptable. But besides the fact that even at two games under .500, the Sox are still nominally in the playoff picture, the team just has better uses for Konerko's at-bats and roster spot than letting him take an extended bow before the fans.

They might want to use those at-bats to give Alejandro De Aza a better chance of righting his ship so he can be traded for something useful. Or the Sox might want to keep Marcus Semien's bat from atrophying on the bench.

If third base prospect Matt Davidson turns his season around at Triple-A Charlotte, he could begin his seasoning at the big league level later this year, and current third baseman Conor Gillaspie certainly doesn't deserve to be pulled from the lineup. 

It's possible the Sox lose 10 in a row, or 15 of 20, or 20 of 25 and put an end to any idea of contending. And maybe that opens the door for trades of De Aza, Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham and even Dayan Viciedo.

By that point, more younger players might have pushed themselves into the picture, like Micah Johnson. And despite their earlier MLB failures, it would probably be prudent of the Sox to give Jordan Danks and Josh Phegley more chances to try adjusting to a higher level with both not having much left to prove at Triple-A.

As unlikely as it might be that Danks or Phegley can stick, there's a chance they might, while one way or another, this is going to be the end for Konerko.

It'd be nice if it didn't come down to another situation like the one the Sox were in 21 years ago when they unceremoniously released Carlton Fisk. Fisk believed up until the end that he could still play, though I don't think many other people believed it. Fisk had played well as recently as Konerko has.

Perhaps Konerko could pick his own spot. As a long-time team fixture, he deserves to do that more than John Kruk did during his season with the Sox.

Maybe the decision is going to be for everyone to not make a decision. To wait for an injury, or just play out the string. And maybe the Sox just want to give Konerko that luxury more than they want to move on.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

'Bo knows ambassadorship'

Is "ambassadorship" even a word? I'm not sure it is, but former two-sport star Bo Jackson returned to the White Sox as a team ambassador on Wednesday.

Jackson will serve as a team representative in the community and make appearances on behalf of the organization. Other White Sox ambassadors include former players Frank Thomas, Carlton Fisk, Minnie Minoso, Ron Kittle, Bill Melton and Carlos May.

Jackson played for the Sox from 1991-93 and remains a resident of the Chicago area. His two most memorable moments came in 1993, when he hit a home run in his first at-bat after returning from hip-replacement surgery. Later that season, his three-run homer against the Seattle Mariners on Sept. 27 clinched the 1993 American League West championship for the Sox.

"Bo is an American sports legend, who always will hold a special place in hearts of White Sox fans," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "His heroic return from what seemed to be a catastrophic career-ending injury helped us win a division title in 1993, and demonstrated to the sports world an unrivaled will and determination to be the best. It is great to again welcome Bo Jackson as a member of the White Sox."

Garza to sign with Brewers

Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports the Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal with former Cubs right-hander Matt Garza.

Now that Masahiro Tanaka is off the market, we can expect some of the other free-agent starting pitchers to sign. The Brewers were not a player for Tanaka, so their pursuit of Garza likely was unrelated. Nevertheless, Milwaukee might have been compelled to move now on a deal for Garza, knowing the remaining free-agent pitchers might have more suitors now that Tanaka has signed with the New York Yankees.

Other notable remaining free-agent starters include Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana and Bronson Arroyo.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Paul Konerko's future: The speculation mounts

The White Sox have 45 games left in the 2013 season. The question is, are there 45 games remaining in Paul Konerko's fine career on the South Side of Chicago as well?

Nobody knows for sure, but the beat writers and columnists are starting to speculate. Gordon Beckham was asked Monday about filling the clubhouse leadership void if Konerko either retires or signs with another team this offseason. The Sox second baseman didn't want to address the possibility of Konerko's departure.

“If Paul wants to play, he’ll play,” Beckham said. “Obviously that’s a decision for him after the season. He’s got a lot more left in the tank, so I wouldn’t rule him out of playing next year. If he doesn’t, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I think he’s got a while yet.”

But does he? One of the more painful things about being a baseball fan is watching a player who has been good for a long time struggle or hang on too long in the twilight of a brilliant career. Sox fans went through it in the early 1990s with Carlton Fisk. The Sox ended up releasing the future Hall of Famer in June of 1993 because the proud catcher couldn't admit to himself that he was done.

This season, we've seen a steep decline in Konerko's production. The lifetime .281 hitter is batting just .243. Over the course of Konerko's career, his 162-game averages have been 31 home runs and 100 RBIs. This season, he has but 9 home runs and 40 RBIs. His OPS is a career-worst .664, well below his career mark of .850.

Konerko, 37,  had wrist surgery last offseason and has spent time on the disabled list this year with back problems. Are the declining numbers the result of injuries, advancing age or both?

Nobody can say for sure, but I know this: I've never seen Paul Konerko take more defensive swings than I have this season. I've never seen Konerko get himself out by swinging at bad pitches more than I have this season. We're talking about a guy who has played 15 years with the White Sox. He's appeared in 2,148 games and made 8,887 plate appearances with this team. I've had the privilege of watching most of them. I feel like I know when Konerko is locked in, and I feel like I know when he's going bad. I'm that familiar with his approach.

And I'm afraid we've reached a point where it is no longer reasonable to expect Konerko to be a big-time run producer in the middle of the lineup. The bat speed isn't quite where it used to be. Konerko isn't trying to drive the ball in a lot of situations the way he did in the past. Often, he's just trying to slap a base hit into right field. There are certain times where that is good strategy, but this Sox team needed Konerko to produce more. He hasn't been able to do that, and I think that's evidence that Father Time is starting to knock loudly for the Sox captain.

So, what do you do if you're the Sox at season's end? We know Frank Thomas is the greatest hitter in team history. But Konerko is clearly in that next tier with Fisk, Harold Baines and Luke Appling, et al. There's no question No. 14 will one day be retired by the team. It's hard to say goodbye to a player like this, one of the best the franchise has seen.

On a personal level, I'm hoping Konerko hangs 'em up at season's end. He has nothing left to prove. He's won a World Series and been to six All-Star games. And that would be the easiest thing for me as a Sox fan. I don't want to see Konerko in another uniform, nor do I want to see him hang on as a shell of his former self.

His contract is up at the end of the year, and if he wants to play in 2014, I just can't see the Sox bringing him back. How big of a market is there for a soon-to-be-38-year-old singles hitter with no speed anyway?