Beloved Hickey a 'classic underdog'

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Beloved Hickey a 'classic underdog'

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.

White Sox avoid arbitration with Todd Frazier, four pitchers

White Sox avoid arbitration with Todd Frazier, four pitchers

The White Sox agreed to one-year contracts with five players on Friday, including a $12-million deal for Todd Frazier.

Frazier established a franchise record for home runs by a third baseman in 2016 when he blasted 40 in his first season with the White Sox. A free agent after the 2017 season, Frazier hit .225/.302/.464 in 666 plate appearances, drove in a career high 98 runs and produced 2.4 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. 

Starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez is set to earn $5.9 million this season. The team also agreed to deals with relievers Dan Jennings ($1.4 million), Zach Putnam ($1.1175 million) and Jake Petricka ($825,000).

The White Sox acquired Frazier in a three-player trade from the Cincinnati Reds in December 2015. It's expected they would try to trade Frazier, who has hit 104 homers since 2014 and participated in the All-Star Game Home Run Derby three consecutive years, before the Aug 1 non-waiver trade deadline as part of the club's rebuilding efforts. 

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Gonzalez went 5-8 with a 3.73 ERA in 24 games (23 starts) after he was signed to a minor-league deal in early April. 

Jennings posted a 2.08 ERA in 60 2/3 innings. 

Putnam had a 2.30 ERA in 27 1/3 innings with 30 strikeouts before he had surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. 

Petricka was limited to nine appearances before his season was ended by hip surgery.

Both Petricka and Putnam are expected to be ready for spring training.

Top White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada impresses club at minicamp

Top White Sox prospect Yoan Moncada impresses club at minicamp

It was a limited look, but Yoan Moncada made a strong first impression on the White Sox this week.

Acquired from the Boston Red Sox last month in the Chris Sale trade, Moncada arrived in Glendale, Ariz., earlier this week with the franchise hopeful he'd offer a glimpse of the skills that earned him the designation as baseball's top prospect.

Moncada didn't disappoint, either, as he had White Sox evaluators excited throughout a three-day hitters camp. Whether it's his physicality, how he carried himself or his baseball IQ, White Sox staffers couldn't have been happier about their first experience with their new prized possession.

"(Moncada) looks like a linebacker, but he moves like a wide receiver," player development director Chris Getz said. "He's got good actions. He's obviously a switch hitter. He's got power. He can hit. He's got a good smile. He seems to be enjoying himself out here, he interacts well with his teammates.

"So far it has been very impressive, and we look forward to seeing more."

Hitting coach Todd Steverson said Moncada, 21, looked every bit the part when he first observed him from across the hall at the team's facility. Steverson spoke to friends in the scouting community and wasn't the least bit surprised when he encountered the 6-foot-2, 205-pound second baseman. Moncada was just as impressive on the field with his skills and effort, Steverson said.

"This is a large specimen right here," Steverson said. "He's put together pretty well.

"On defense it looks like he has some really good hands.

"He got in the box and he hadn't swung for a while. But still, you could tell he had good hands going through the zone, has a nice approach and wants to work real hard."

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Moncada's fancy tools have been well publicized since he received a $31.5-million signing bonus from the Red Sox in March 2015.

MLB.com graded Moncada's hit tool at 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale while his base running is 65 and arm is 60. Moncada's power received a 55 grade, and his fielding is 50. Moncada received an overall grade of 65, which suggests he has the ability to be a perennial All-Star and worth 4 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com.

But the White Sox weren't just impressed with Moncada's physical ability.

One of manager Rick Renteria's top objectives for the camp was to emphasize fundamentals and what's important to the team. Renteria wanted to identify specific game situations and how players are expected to handle them so they're well prepared for the future. Moncada handled that area well, too.

"Yoan is a very knowledgeable baseball player who has experience on a multitude of levels," amateur scouting director Nick Hostetler said. "In the brief time we had with him this week, he showed a tremendous ability to drive the ball the opposite way as well as drive balls to the gap and out of the ball park from both sides of the plate. That ability will help him handle and any all situations that Ricky asks him to do at the plate. Defensively his hands and feet are very good and will have no problem there. He's a bright hard-working kid that is part of a bright future for the organization."