Cotts and Politte, joined at the hip

Cotts and Politte, joined at the hip
February 1, 2012, 10:55 pm
Share This Post

The human body was never intended to throw a baseball, let alone off a pitcher's mound, as hard as possible, thousands of times, over the course of 15 to 20 years.

It's a fact that former White Sox pitchers Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts are reminded of every day they get out of bed. Their creaky bodies as stiff as surf boards, their skin, once clean and clear, now dotted with stitches from past surgeries, road maps from one operation to the next.

It's the price the duo paid for playing baseball for a living. They were the unsung heroes of the White Sox World Series Champion team in 2005, coming out of the bullpen to protect so many leads during that one magical season. Cotts was 4-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 60.1 innings. Politte went 7-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 67.1 innings.

The two were so close, they were joined at the hip. Now in retirement, they have actually taken that connection quite literally.

Both have needed hip surgeries as a result of their playing days, just a sample of the physical toll the game took on their bodies over the course of their careers.

"When I retired, I had a total hip replacement," said Politte, who has a five-inch and six-inch scar on his front and backside from the operation. He's also needed two surgeries on his throwing shoulder, an ailment which caused him to abruptly quit the game after the 2006 season at the age of 32.

"Just recently I had some tendon issues. I had to go back in and fix the tendons and all this fun stuff. So I won't be picking up a baseball to try and play anytime soon," Politte said.

Traded to the Cubs for David Aardsma after the 2006 season, Cotts blew a save at Wrigley Field against the Pirates on May 25, 2009. He had no idea that it would be his last game in the majors. A month later he would be in the operating room needing Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ligament in his left elbow.

But that was only the start of his medical problems.

"Then I had four hip surgeries," Cotts said. "Mine was just a laberal tear that they fixed, and it got infected. So I spent a couple weeks in the hospital with the infection. Once they cleaned it out, they had to take quite a bit of stuff out. I don't know the medical jargon. It's really hampered me trying to get with a team the last couple years."

Cotts, at 31, is starting to accept that his baseball career might be over. Politte, 37, is still coming to grips with how his ended.

"You see guys that get hurt all the time and then they come back, so it was one of these things where if my shoulder was bothering me, I'd come back and pitch again. Unfortunately, that never happened to me," Politte said. "To have my season end and my career end the way it did, I'm still upset and bitter over it, and wish it never happened. But injuries are something that you can try to control, but if it happens, it happens."

Politte and Cotts actually met before becoming White Sox teammates in 2004. They were both working out in St. Louis during the off-season in 2002. Politte was with the Blue Jays, Cotts was still in the minors with the White Sox.

"It was a brief meeting," Cotts recalled. "He didn't really think much of me. I was a minor league guy. He was the big league guy. That's kind of how our relationship went to start with."

"Truth hurts sometimes, you know," Politte quipped.

But in 2005, everything gelled between them, both personally and professionally.

From 2004 to 2005, Cotts lowered his ERA from 5.65 to that spotless 1.94. Meanwhile, after going 2-11 from 2002 to 2004, Politte went 7-1 in 2005, his only loss coming in the last week of the season.

"I had the nickname as 'The Vulture.' You come in and throw one inning, you hold the team to no runs, your team scores the one run for you and you get the win," Politte said. "You sit there and you talk to players who say, 'You had a pretty good year that year,' and I say, 'I had a 2.00 ERA.' And you start thinking, 'Holy smokes, how did that happen?'"

He's not the only player from 2005 still asking that question.

Take Cotts. In 2004 with the White Sox, he gave up 13 home runs. In 2006, he gave up 12. How many home runs did he surrender in 2005?

One.

It was that kind of season.

And although they have scars to remind themselves of their playing days, both men provided memories White Sox fans will never forget.

"It's an opportunity that will never be taken away from us, and opportunity we cherish," Politte said.

"The experiences we got to go through, and the things we got to do, we're very fortunate to be in that position, however long it is. Granted, you'd love it to be forever, " Cotts said. "You think about our two situations. For the younger kids we talk to now, you really count the days.

The lesson?

Don't take it for granted."