Beloved Hickey a 'classic underdog'

Beloved Hickey a 'classic underdog'
May 16, 2012, 9:41 pm
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On a bright, sunny day in Chicago, a dark cloud hovers over the White Sox franchise, and for the second time in two weeks.

First came the passing of Moose Skowron. Now its Kevin Hickey.

While we mourn their losses here on Earth, life up in heaven just got a lot more interesting.

In a sport known for its unique characters, Hickey was as original as they come. How many people do you know became a major league pitcher without ever playing a single inning of high school baseball?

Now you know one. Kevin Hickey.

A talented 16-inch softball player, the Chicago native was invited to a summer tryout with the White Sox in 1978. That day, 250 amateurs arrived at the audition dreaming of playing in the big leagues. Hickey was the only one who received a contract.

Kevin Hickey was the ultimate long-shot, the classic underdog, said former White Sox general manager Roland Hemond, the man responsible for signing him. You couldnt help but root for him. Kevin did the absolute most with every single opportunity he received and earn every bit of success.

His dark horse life could have been made into a movie, so much so that he had recently been speaking with a screenwriter about telling his Rudy-esque story. The odds of it actually becoming a Hollywood film might have been a long-shot, but then again, long-shot could have been written on Hickeys birth certificate.

After pitching for the White Sox from 1981 to 1983, he would roam the minor leagues for five seasons, and in a two-year span was released by four teams: the Yankees, Phillies, White Sox and Giants. In 1989, at the age of 33, he finally made it back to the majors, pitching three seasons with the Orioles.

In 232 career innings, Hickey finished with a 9-14 record, a 3.91 ERA and only made 1 error.

How good was he?

Ask George Brett. He never got a hit off Hickey. He was 0-for-15.

Wade Boggs, a lifetime .328 hitter, went 1-for-11 with 5 strikeouts.

After retiring from the game, he would spend the next 10 years in Columbus, Ohio, working as a car salesman. But baseball was his life. It made him whole. In 2003, the White Sox hired him to be a batting practice pitcher, a job that fit him perfectly. Hickey walked around with a chip on his shoulder, and even in batting practice wasnt afraid to challenge the likes of Paul Konerko, Jim Thome and Frank Thomas.

He had better stuff than most left-handers in the league, said Thomas, the White Sox all-time home run leader. I used to tell him all the time, Youre wasting this is in batting practice. You should be pitching in the big leagues for real.

This was when Hickey was in his mid-40s.

He was full of energy. He never had a bad day, Thomas continued. He would bend over backwards to make sure youre comfortable at the plate that day. He was a tireless worker. Always was.

When the White Sox won the World Series in Houston in 2005, there was Hickey right in the middle of the celebration. He was the life of the party, and added life to the White Sox clubhouse.

Ask anyone in our clubhouse, every person appreciated what Kevin did to help the White Sox win baseball games, said Konerko. No one wanted to win more, no one was more optimistic, no one cared more and no one took more pride in his job. He made us all better.

Thats why there has been a pall over the team this season. Hickey hasnt been around for any of it. He was found unresponsive in his hotel room in Arlington, Texas the morning before Opening Day. The White Sox later flew him to Rush University Medical Center to be closer to home and with the hope that he would make a comeback.

Players would stop by the hospital during their off-time. Thome, who had a close relationship with Hickey, frequently checked in with one of Kevins brothers, looking for updates, hoping for signs of improvement.

Unfortunately, they never came.

Hickey passed away Tuesday morning. He was 56.

He is survived by his partner in life, Anna DAgata; five daughters, three grandchildren, his mother, two brothers and two sisters.

Theres also his White Sox family, many of whom will take the field Tuesday night feeling the loss of their good friend.

Im not sure what heaven looks like, but if theres a pitchers mound up there, Im guessing Kevin is standing on top of it, and throwing high and inside.