Could the Sox have beaten Branch Rickey to the punch?

706416.png

Could the Sox have beaten Branch Rickey to the punch?

What if Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in a White Sox uniform? How would that have altered baseball history? How about the impact it would have had on our magnificent city? Five years before his Dodger debut, and 70 years ago today, Jackie and pitcher Nate Moreland appeared at White Sox training camp at Brookside Park in Pasadena, Calif.

None of the major Chicago newspapers mentioned anything of the event. The American Communist Party's Daily Worker (which frequently attacked baseball's color line in print) was the only newspaper to cover it. A 1997 Chicago Tribune article "Chicago's 55-year-old Secret" credits the Daily Worker with setting up the attempted tryout, and according to Neil Lanctot in "Negro League Baseball: The Rise and Ruin of a Black Institution," Herman Hill, Los Angeles correspondent of the Pittsburgh Courier, accompanied the men to Pasadena.

The Tribune's 1997 writeup suggests Robinson & Moreland actually worked out for Sox skipper Jimmy Dykes, whereas Lanctot says they requested a workout which Dykes declined with the usual "it's up to the owners and Judge Landis" runaround, which is the more likely story. Arnold Rampersad's 1997 biography of Robinson acknowledges the attempted tryout, quoting Dykes as saying "I would welcome Negro players on the Sox, and I believe every one of the other fifteen big league managers would do likewise. As for the players, they'd all get along too."

But why then would Robinson fail to mention this in any of his autobiographical work? The Tribune article submits Robinson may not have wanted any connection with the Communist Party (whose newspaper, remember, was said to have a hand in the appearance). That's possible; unfortunately as all parties have since passed away, we can do little but ask "What if...?"

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

quintana_post_05-03_640x360_678976067898.jpg

Jose Quintana giving White Sox another ace to play as early season success rolls on

The White Sox newfound brand of crisp, clean baseball is suiting Jose Quintana awfully well. 

The 27-year-old left-hander pitched another gem Tuesday night, firing eight innings of one-run ball to propel the White Sox to a 4-1 win over the Boston Red Sox in front of 15,025 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Anchored by improved offensive and defensive support, Quintana lowered his season ERA to 1.40. But more jarring — in a positive way — is that in earning the win on Tuesday, Quintana for the first time in his career won three consecutive starts. 

“It’s way better this year,” Quintana said. “The offense is, for me and for everybody, everybody tries to do his job. We’re off to a really good start and we believe this year is a good year for us, and we’ll try to do everything to stay in first place.”

Quintana’s posted consistently solid results since the White Sox plucked him from Double-A Birmingham to start in a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians four years ago. His decidedly-not-flashy-but-effective pitching style didn’t make headlines like his prolific teammate Chris Sale, but a 3.46 ERA and an unfairly poor win-loss record landed him on plenty of lists and social media takes focused on the most underrated or overlooked players in baseball. 

That’s changed this year. Before his stellar start Tuesday, Quintana was given 8/1 odds by the sports betting website Bovada to win the American League Cy Young, the third-best of anyone (Sale led the way at 6/5). It’s still early, of course, but these six starts to begin the 2016 season stand is one of the best stretches he’s had in his career. 

Manager Robin Ventura attributed Quintana’s ace-like success in part to pitching with a little less pressure than in the past. 

“There is something to be said for going out there thinking if you give up one you’re going to lose,” Ventura said. “It’s been a few years for him. Right now (with) the feeling going on in there, he knows if he just pitches his game those guys are going to scratch out some runs for him.”

The White Sox continue to show signs of ending a head-scratching inability to support Quintana. 

Jose Abreu’s first-inning RBI triple got the White Sox scoring started and his double in the eighth added two insurance runs (a Todd Frazier groundout in the third inning plated the White Sox other run). For the fifth time in six starts this season, Quintana was supported by four or more runs, and Adam Eaton and Austin Jackson made sparkling defensive plays to keep hard-hit balls from inflicting any damage. 

Having the offense score four or more runs in 83 percent of Quintana’s starts seems unlikely — if he makes 32 starts this year, that’d mean he’d get that support in about 27 of those — but it is an improvement off the last few seasons. The White Sox scored three or fewer runs in 54 percent of Quintana’s starts from 2013-15, a span in which it’s worth noting the club also was rated as having the third-worst defense in baseball by DRS and UZR. 

“There’s more of a confidence level of him knowing he doesn’t have to do an extraordinary thing — and he might do it, like tonight,” Ventura said. “But he doesn’t feel like he has to do it on his own.”

Quintana isn’t throwing harder this year and hasn’t added a new pitch or anything like that. But Ventura’s theory on why the Colombia native is pitching better makes sense — perhaps the next step in Quintana’s career was getting a good, reliable team playing behind him.

“He’s probably one of the best right now in the league,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through a translator. 

That’s not hyperbole. Quintana has a top-10 ERA that’s backed up by a 2.12 FIP, which is a good indicator that his early-season success isn’t necessarily a small sample size-generated mirage. 

Quintana is a shining example of how so much has gone right for the White Sox this season — even on the day in which the team announced it would eat over $11 million to cut ties with veteran left-hander John Danks. Not only is he pitching better, but everyone around him is playing better. And the combination of that, so far, has taken Quintana and the White Sox to another level. 

“Everything changed,” Quintana said. “Everything is going in a good direction this year. We believe in that.”

Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

hahn_on_danks_05-03_640x360_678725187926.jpg

Rick Hahn: Filling fifth spot in White Sox rotation a 'fluid situation'

Erik Johnson gets the first chance at the No. 5 spot in the White Sox rotation, but the situation is hardly finalized.

The White Sox announced Tuesday that they would promote Johnson from Triple-A Charlotte in time to make Thursday’s start in place of John Danks, whom they will officially designated for assignment later this week. But just because Johnson gets the first start doesn’t mean he’s here for good, general manager Rick Hahn said.

Hahn and the White Sox have made it clear they want better production from the fifth spot, whether it's from an internal or an external option.

“It’s going to be a bit of a fluid situation,” Hahn said.

Hahn is comfortable with the team’s internal options at Charlotte beyond Johnson.

Miguel Gonzalez, who started last Monday in Toronto, has a solid major league track record. Then there’s Jacob Turner, who has 27 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings with a 3.04 ERA in five starts.

But Hahn also said the White Sox wouldn’t shy away from looking outside the farm system, either. Hahn declined to answer whether or not the White Sox would watch Tim Lincecum’s tryout Friday in Scottsdale, Ariz. before he noted the club has “scouts everywhere.”

The White Sox could also try and use their internal options to get by for several months before adding another pitcher ahead of the trade deadline.

No matter whom they turn to, the expectation is better results than the White Sox received from Danks, who was 0-4 with a 7.25 ER in four starts.

“Obviously, Erik starts on Thursday,” Hahn said. “After that, we may well make another move next week as we try to accomplish two things with that spot -- first and foremost, get greater production than we’ve been receiving thus far this year.”

“We do have a few internal options.

“If it does get to the point where we’re better off going outside the organization, obviously we’ve never been shy about doing that.”

White Sox react to John Danks’ departure

sox_players_talk_danks_05-03_640x360_678755395956.jpg

White Sox react to John Danks’ departure

John Danks has called Chicago his home since 2007. But after nearly 10 years on the South Side, the White Sox have decided to part ways with their longest tenured player.

Danks will be designated for assignment later this week, the team announced Tuesday, ending his time with the White Sox.

“It’s always tough,” manager Robin Ventura said. “You don’t really know what’s out there, but at this point, we’re going in a different direction.”

Entering Tuesday, the White Sox held the best record in the American League at 18-8. Danks started in four of those contests, but all resulted in losses in which he had an ERA of 7.25.

That was enough for the White Sox to make a change.

“It’s just one of those things how we’re doing so well and he didn’t get a win. That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Todd Frazier said. “I’m sure he could’ve came around in his next start or maybe the next one after that. But he’s a bulldog.

“He’s a guy that wants to contribute and he has. He’s done it for years and just cause he hasn’t gotten a win in the first three or four starts that he’s had doesn’t signify what he’s done in the past.”

The success Danks had in the past convinced the White Sox to sign him to a five-year, $65 million contract extension prior to the 2012 season.

Danks struggled to find consistency with his game from 2012-16, going 25-48 with a 4.92 ERA in 97 starts.

His results ultimately proved that he didn’t live up to his contract. But off the field, the impact he had on his teammates is something you can’t put a price on.

“Everybody loves him, he’s a great teammate, he’s a great pitcher,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “Just going through a tough stretch right now. Part of life, I guess it’s part of him going home, reflecting on things and seeing what he wants to do.”

When Frazier arrived to Chicago during the offseason after being acquired by the Cincinnati Reds, Danks was one of the guys who helped him get acclimated to the Windy City.

“We became real close quick,” Frazier said. “Great guy. We’re about the same age. He came up a lot earlier than me. I know he’s had some really good years. Just one of those guys you really look up to. We’re gonna miss him. I’m especially gonna miss him.

“He kind of taught me a little bit about the Chicago Way. He’s just one of those guys who’s going to be in the back of your mind a little bit every couple days just thinking about how he’s doing.”

In addition, Danks used his experience to mentor young players like 23-year-old starter Carlos Rodon. The two would hang out most of the time during games, and sometimes away from the diamond, too.

“It was huge,” Rodon said of Danks’ presence. “A veteran like that, you'd figure a young guy coming here, kind of would ignore him or wouldn't really be around for him. He was different, a different guy. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff about this game.”

For the White Sox, the clubhouse will be a bit unusual not having that familiar face that’s been around for so many years.

But as the White Sox learned earlier this season, adapting to change is something that comes with the game.

“The game will go on, but our thoughts and prayers go out to him, his wife and his future family,” Adam Eaton said. “Saying goodbye to him was tough for all of us, but like I said it's part of the game. It's sad to see him go.”