'Winning Ugly' White Sox enjoy SoxFest reunion

989837.png

'Winning Ugly' White Sox enjoy SoxFest reunion

It's been 30 years since the Winning Ugly White Sox lit up summer nights on the South side of Chicago. The stadium they played in has since been demolished, their rookie manager has completed a Hall of Fame career and retired in 2011, and a World Series banner has been hung above the division title the 1983 team earned.

But for this weekend at SoxFest, they were the focus again once more. Tony La Russa, Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle, Roland Hemond, Tom Paciorek and Harold Baines all reunited for two days of panels, stories, and many, many jokes at one another's expense.

"We could outdrink any team in baseball," said former Sox outfielder and broadcaster Tom Paciorek, who then pointed to his old teammate Greg Luzinski and said "And this guy right here was our leader."

Over the crowd's laughter, Luzinski said: "Don't laugh. I'm from Chicago, so you're all in the same boat with me."

Such descriptions of partying might elicit cringes these days, but for the 1983 squad, it was all part of a famous level of team chemistry that included mandatory team parties instituted by their 34 year-old first-time manager Tony La Russa.

"It was really a good thing because it kept the guys together on the road,' La Russa said on Friday night. "They just kept reinforcing 'let's win tomorrow' and then you mixed in a lot of baseball talk when you were all together. It was just really a great atmosphere."

The longtime manager could only spend a night in Chicago before heading out for the funeral of Cardinals legend Stan Musial, but said that All Jerry Reinsdorf had to do was ask to get him to show up to honor what was such a fun year.

The fun was heightened by a raucous home atmosphere, as Comiskey Park saw a nearly 600,000 jump in attendance that year, and topped two million total fans for the first time in franchise history.

"You get 30,000-35,000 people there a night in Comiskey Park," said Luzinski, "Especially with Nancy Faust over there on that organ, she could get that place hopping, and it was a lot of fun. There were teams after a while that didn't want to come in to Comiskey."

Of course, it's a lot easier to have fun and pack the ballpark when the team wins 99 games and claims the division title by 20 games. With their playing careers in the rearview mirror now, the time was ripe for the panel to place the accomplishments of the 1983 club in historical perspective.

"No question it was one of the best teams I've played on the best pitching staff, obviously, starting-wise," said Luzinski. "Tremendous ballclub."

That starting rotation was headed up by two 20-game winners in Richard Dotson and Lamarr Hoyt, that latter of whom won the American League Cy Young that season. Not only did 1983 represent the best year of Dotson and Hoyt's careers, but it also was the last year the team had with hitting coach Charley Lau and scout Loren Babe, as both died of cancer before the 1984 season started.

"We kind of dedicated that season to them," said Paciorek at the Saturday panel discussion, "Why we won 17 games in a row at home, why we came back from that 18-24 start, I think had a lot to do with those guys, because we knew they were fighting a tougher battle than we were by just playing a baseball game."

With that inspiration and a once-in-a-lifetime pitching staff in tow, the White Sox still fell to the Baltimore Orioles three games to one in the American League Championship Series. The franchise wouldn't make it back to the playoffs for ten seasons and by then, Carlton Fisk was the only player left from the 1983 squad.

But any moments of bitterness still present from that defeat and the opportunity at a World Series championship that went by the boards were quickly diffused. A fan asked the panel how come the 1984 team that added Hall of Famer Tom Seaver to the staff could not repeat the magic.

"Well, he wasn't any good," said Paciorek quickly, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. When it came to discussing on one of the most fun seasons of their lives, the players in attendance just did not have much room for regret.

"We were walking away dejected," said Ron Kittle, describing the feeling after the White Sox were eliminated from the playoffs. "But we played hard for the city of Chicago, they rocked the place with two million people that year, we heard 'Na Na Hey Hey', I got to play my rookie year in between Wimpy Paciorek, Bull Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk that was my dream, I watched them when I was a kid and I was just fortunate to be part of that team."

That feeling was clear. 15 minutes after the panel ended, a crew looking to set up the Red Lacquer Room at the Palmerhouse for Sunday's events had amassed near the media entrance, but they were being held up.

"Ron Kittle is still out there signing autographs," one of them noted, before they decided to wheel their gear out toward the back entrance. They must not have seen Luzinski, since he was still out there too.

CSN White Sox Insider Dan Hayes contributed to this story.

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

David Robertson, Nate Jones return to White Sox after WBC victory

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Having experienced a playoff-like atmosphere at the World Baseball Classic, David Robertson and Nate Jones already feel prepared for the regular season. 

The two relievers returned to White Sox camp on Friday morning bearing gold medals from a Team USA WBC title run that concluded on Wednesday night with an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Robertson, who recorded the final three outs of the clinching victory, said he's glad to be back and won't need much of a tune-up to be ready for the April 3 season opener.

"Back up to speed?" Robertson said. "More like slow down and get ready for the season. I'll probably play catch (Friday). I didn't throw (Thursday), I spent the day traveling. Probably play catch today, and be ready to throw (Saturday). If I needed to throw today, I could. I feel like I'm season ready right now."

"It feels good to be back. It's been a long trip doing this WBC, so it's good to be back and relax a little bit. Have a couple days before we start the season."

Both Jones and Robertson appeared four times each for Team USA with similar results. Each allowed a solo home run but nothing else. Jones said he brought his gold medal back to camp because he isn't yet ready to put it in his safety deposit box. His favorite moments of the tournament were brought on by raucous crowds.

"Once you get a crowd chanting USA that was a pretty cool moment," Jones said. "You're proud of representing your country, and once they did that, it all kind of set in, like, ‘Wow, this is happening.'

"It's just pure excitement, everybody going crazy."

Jones and Robertson said they're pleased to have returned to the relative tranquility of White Sox camp after they lived out of a suitcase for the previous 18 days. Both were set to meet with pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Rick Renteria to discuss their upcoming schedule. Jones said he expected to throw a side session on Friday in front of Cooper to have his mechanics reviewed. Robertson last pitched on Wednesday and didn't know when he'd throw again.

"They've been busy, obviously, with Robbie finishing up the last game," Renteria said. "We'll see how the schedule lines up in terms of their usage for the remaining 9-10 days."

[Buy White Sox tickets right here]

Robertson is pretty sure he won't need much work. Whereas the team's closer normally waits until the first week of March to appear in a game, Robertson has pitched in plenty this spring. Each of the last four has had a ton more intensity than any normal Cactus League work.

"It felt like playoff baseball really early in the year," Robertson said. "Just coming from Miami, trying to win a couple days in there was really hard. Fans were really loud. That place was a very intense environment, and it didn't feel like you were the home team at all.

"It felt like (a home game) when we were in San Diego We were the home team there, and when we got to L.A., same thing. Although, I will say that when we were playing the Japanese, it erupted a couple times when they had some big moments in their game. It was just a lot of fun to play in this whole event. It was definitely more than I expected."

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

Jose Quintana gets the Opening Day start for White Sox

 

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Quintana has been named the Opening Day starter — for the White Sox.

While many are surprised he still hasn't been traded, few should be shocked by the news manager Rick Renteria delivered on Friday, when he announced Quintana would pitch the April 3 opener.

With Chris Sale gone to Boston, Quintana, a first-time All-Star in 2016, has been the odds-on favorite to take over as the team's ace. The only question seemed to be whether or not he'd still be in a White Sox uniform when the season began. But the club made it clear Friday that Quintana is their guy and he'll face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of 2017. The only one who seemed a little taken aback about the news is Quintana.

"I was surprised," Quintana said. "I knew I may get the ball for that day, but they didn't say nothing, so you didn't know. I just kept going and doing my workouts and all my stuff. I'm really, really happy with this opportunity. It's huge for me. I can't wait for that day to come.

"I'm excited to have this opportunity. It's a huge honor for me to have the ball for Opening Day the first time in my life. And I think it's a once-in-a-life opportunity."

Asked about the announcement earlier in the week, Renteria said he needed more time. Many speculated that it meant the White Sox were continuing to listen to offers for Quintana, who has drawn constant interest since the team began its rebuild in December.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Quintana, who went 13-12 with a 3.20 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 208 innings last season, has looked fantastic all spring. Pitching in front of more than a dozen scouts on Thursday, Quintana made his first Cactus League appearance in a month and allowed two hits over seven scoreless innings. The left-hander also put on a brilliant performance for Colombia in the World Baseball Classic on March 10 as he retired the first 17 Team USA hitters he faced before allowing a hit.

"He's very happy about it," Renteria said. "He has obviously earned it.

"I don't know if he was surprised as much as he was elated and proud to be given the opportunity to be the Opening Day starter. It's a privilege."

Quintana's resume of consistency made him a clear-cut choice for the nod. He heads into 2017 having pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. In that span, he's produced a 3.32 ERA and 18.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to fangraphs.com. That figure represents the seventh-highest WAR total among all big league pitchers in that span.

Even though he's viewed as the staff ace, Quintana — who potentially has four years and $36.85 million left on his current contract — said he was surprised by the news because the club hadn't yet informed him of the honor.

"It means a lot for me, especially after last year when you make the All-Star team and this year the opportunity to play in the WBC and now you have the opportunity to pitch on Opening Day," Quintana said. "That's a lot of things happening for me now and I'm happy. And really blessed. You just try to do all my things every time.

"Maybe they don't know what it means for me, but it's a big thing."