Chicago White Sox

Sox Drawer: What still hurts the Big Hurt?

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Sox Drawer: What still hurts the Big Hurt?

Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
6:46 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Youve seen Frank Thomas hit. Youve seen him run. Youve seen him throw.

Now get ready to see the man cry.

Sunday is Frank Thomas Day at U.S. Cellular Field, an event honoring the White Sox all-time greatest hitter, who gave gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to the franchise for 16 seasons.

Now that hes retired, the blood and sweat are gone. All thats left are the tears.

Im going to try and keep a straight face, but its going to be hard, Thomas said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. I know the emotions are going to be flowing (on Sunday). Its going to be difficult.

So yes, there is crying in baseball. Its happened to Thomas before, but for an entirely different reason.

The 1994 baseball strike.

The infamous labor catastrophe that abrupty canceled the season might have robbed Thomas and the White Sox of a World Series title. It still hurts the Big Hurt, a gash that remains inside his heart, a wound that might never heal.

It was heartbreaking, because I was at my best that year, Thomas remembers. I had everything rolling. My mind was just in a great place. For that to happen, I had to pick up the pieces just like everybody else. But its been tough to swallow over the last 16 years.

On Aug. 10, the White Sox were in first place, 21 games over .500, predicted by most to be the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. Besides Thomas, the Sox lineup featured Robin Ventura, Tim Raines, Julio Franco, Lance Johnson, and Ozzie Guillen. The starting rotation had Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, and Jason Bere.

That team to me had it all, Thomas said. Hitting, pitching, defense. We were just a very talented bunch, and we had gelled together because of the disappointment of the 1993 playoffs (losing in the ALCS to Toronto in six games). We were ready to go all the way.

And Frank? He wasnt tearing the cover off the ball that season, he consistently severed and slashed it. He was batting .353, with an on-base percentage of .494, the highest since Ted Williams in 1957. He also had 38 homers and 101 RBIs.

But after beating the As in Oakland 2-1, Frank and everyone else were told to pack their bags and go home. The season was over. The league was shutting down.

Frank sat at his locker that night and cried.

I did because I knew it was my last game of the season, and because I knew that I was at my best. I said to myself that night, I dont think I can ever play at that level again, and have everything go my way. The hits were getting through, hitting behind runners, home runs, scoring runs, everything was just right where it needed to be.

It was a tough pill to swallow, about the size of a donut, which would ironically be repeated in 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series with Franks foot strapped to a cast, the slugger lost for the season with a fractured ankle.

He couldnt win, even when the White Sox did.

It was tough, Thomas said. On one side I was so happy for the organization, on the other side I was just torn, because I was sitting there going, How can we finally get to the World Series after all of this, and Im not playing. But this was my heart. This was 16 years of hard work, and I saw this team go from a bottom feeder to the top of the heap and it was such an amazing thing to be through all of that, because a lot of the guys on the team had no idea. (Before) nobody wanted to watch this team, no one wanted to put this team on TV, but to be World Series champions from there, and I was able to be there year in and year out through it all, it made my life.

Today, Franks baseball life is pretty full. Earlier this summer he became an official White Sox ambassador. Hes also spent the season on the set with Bill Melton and I as an analyst on White Sox Pre and Post-Game Live. As much as Id like to think that my presence has been a life altering experience for Frank, and that he will remain with Comcast SportsNet from here to eternity, he has other ideas for his baseball future.

How does manager Frank Thomas sound?

Of course I could manage. I think I could easily manage. I think I would be a great hitting coach, but at this particular time, Im happy with what Im doing, and well see. Working with young guys my last five years in the league, thats all I did day-to-day, was helping young guys with hitting situations, and getting them through tough times.

But now that his playing days are over, there is one goal that has yet to be fulfilled - induction into the Hall of Fame. Hes eligible in 2014.

Its in the back of my mind. Thats a goal of everyone after the first few years in the league and youve had success. Everyone wants to be compared to the greatest who have played in this game. To ever get the opportunity to be a Hall of Famer, I would be overwhelmed and overjoyed and a proud member, because I do know what it takes to get to that level because I put myself through it.

Now if he can only get through Sundays ceremony without weeping. That might be his greatest accomplishment.

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Why Yoan Moncada's slow start with White Sox could soon be a thing of the past

Yoan Moncada wrapped up his first Crosstown Series — in front of the closest thing to a playoff atmosphere he’ll experience in, likely, a while — with an 0-4 showing in the White Sox 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Thursday. 

The 22-year-old had mixed results facing the defending World Series champions, striking out four times in five at-bats on Monday and hitting his first career home run off Jake Arrieta on Wednesday. His final numbers for these four Crosstown games: 17 plate appearances, two hits, two walks, two runs, eight strikeouts and one hit by pitch. 

Moncada is off to a slow start in his second stint in the majors, but he’s drawing plenty of walks (12.5 percent) and probably has been victimized by some bad luck (a .118 batting average on balls in play which, to say the least, is exceedingly low). 

Manager Rick Renteria, though, likes Moncada’s even-keeled demeanor and his ability to handle the ups and downs of the day-to-day grind of the regular season. 

“What he’s going to be able to do is minimize how much he gets wrapped up in frustration, as opposed to taking the at-bat, the last at-bat, going through pitch by pitch and trying to figure out what it was he wrapped in his approach,” Renteria said. “Younger players usually get very, very frustrated and lose that moment to gain some knowledge. Failure is not in and of itself a bad thing. It’s actually something that can produce a lot of positives. The thing is to try to get them to understand as quickly as possible so they can take those moments and gain information. 

“That’s why his even-keeled approach and even-keeled attitude (will help). He’s got fire. It’s not that he doesn’t care. That’s where people — for a lot of players who are calm or even-keeled, they have fire, they have desire, but they know how to compartmentalize and separate those things and try to gain something from every moment, positive or negative.”

Moncada already took that clear-eyed approach to self-evaluation in the minor leagues, and said that hasn’t changed now that he’s at baseball’s highest level. 

“I’m just keeping the same routine that I was using in the minors,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “And the whole year, I’m just keeping with the things that have been giving me results.”

There’s not much of a common thread between Moncada’s brief call-up with the Boston Red Sox last September and his first few games with the White Sox. Moncada was overmatched in his 2016 debut, striking out 12 times in 20 plate appearances and only drawing one walk. He had four hits, though, so his way-too-small-sample-size BABIP was .571. 

Moncada looks like a different player this year, carrying over his strong Triple-A walk rate (13.6 percent) to his nascent tenure with the White Sox. Eventually, the hits are likely to start falling as long as he doesn’t get out of the approach that got him here — and made him baseball’s biggest prospect in the process. 

“He’s been doing all the work that he has to do to adjust to this level,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s been doing his same routine from Triple-A and I think that’s something good because you have to stick with the things that are giving you good results.” 

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo: More than talent needed for successful rebuild

Nearly eight months into their rebuild, the White Sox have accrued an eye-popping amount of young talent. The franchise continues to receive kudos even in trading a pair of relievers this week to add depth to what might be the best farm system in baseball.

But having the best farm system -- the White Sox have eight of MLBPipeline.com’s top 100 prospects -- won’t mean much until it’s realized.

Well versed on the subject having experienced it on his own, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo acknowledged before Thursday’s 6-3 win over the White Sox just how uncertain the rebuilding process can be. In Rizzo’s eyes, it wasn’t just talent that got the Cubs over the hump, it was timing, too.

“It happened fast, but it could have went the other way, too,” Rizzo said. “We’re lucky with how everything turned out. Plus, a lot of hard work has gone into it.”

[MORE: Aaron Bummer on what it's like to get called up to the majors]

Similar to Yoan Moncada’s arrival last week, Rizzo was the first [hyped prospect to be promoted] after Theo Epstein’s plan went into place. Acquired the previous winter from San Diego, Rizzo reached the majors midway through the 2012 season with the Cubs only a few months into their rebuild. The three-time All-Star didn’t know it at the time, but he was the first new face the Cubs would introduce to their audience. While Rizzo often [was aware of skepticism of Epstein’s plan], he said he never felt the same pressure from fans. Rizzo also said he can understand why not all the Cubs faithful were on board.

“I think I was naïve and happy to be back in the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “You’ve just got to focus on playing baseball and not worry about everything else that you can’t control.

“I didn’t feel (pressure) at all. I know people were calling for the upper front office’s jobs. But they had a plan and they had a vision and they preached it the entire time.”

“As a fan I can understand why you get upset because you want to win. As a fan of football or whatever sport, if my team doesn’t win, I get mad. But obviously they knew what they were doing.”

So far the White Sox fan base has been mostly supportive of Rick Hahn’s efforts and embraced the idea of building through the farm system. But not everyone is on board with a 25-man roster teardown that appears to have the club hurtling toward its first 100-loss season since 1970.

This week’s Crosstown series is a reminder there are tough times ahead for the White Sox.

The Cubs lost a combined 197 games in 2012 and 2013 and 89 games in 2014. The second half of the 2017 season could be extremely difficult for a White Sox club that has traded Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings all since December.

Rizzo thinks the way the Cubs handled those difficulties played into their success in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s life,” Rizzo said. “There are tough times in anything. There are going to be good times and bad times so it’s all about how you approach it and how you handle it.

“We always knew the potential we had, it was just a matter of going out and doing it. Ball’s bouncing your way, calls going your way and staying together.”