Trip to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum offers White Sox players perspective

Trip to Negro Leagues Baseball Museum offers White Sox players perspective

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Any time a current major leaguer walks into the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Bob Kendrick likes to provide insight into the hardships endured by the players of yesteryear.

The NLBM president since 2011 and a longtime employee, Kendrick has regaled many current and former big leaguers with tales of legends Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil and the difficult times those players faced to play baseball.

One passage Kendrick often recounts to deliver more awareness is how Paige in 1938 received $1 of meal money per day from a Mexican League club that signed him in the hopes of making a big splash to challenge Major League Baseball, which had yet to be integrated. Paige’s huge payday is the 2017 equivalent of about $16.77 per day and pales with modern big leaguers, who still receive a significantly bigger per diem despite the addition of a full-time chef in the clubhouse for each game. Kendrick views these visits as his chance to help raise awareness and interest in the Museum, which has been open since 1990 and had more than 60,000 visitors last year.

“I think players gain a different perspective,” Kendrick said. “When you do something like they do and make a great living doing it, there’s a tendency to take for granted what you have. But then you come here and witness what these men did for the love of the game, the sacrifices they made, the challenges that they had to overcome to play this game, all of a sudden it gives you a different perspective about just how good things are.”

Tim Anderson, Todd Frazier and Rick Renteria were part of a White Sox contingent that visited the museum located in the historic 18th & Vine district early Tuesday. Whether it’s chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s love of all things Jackie Robinson or Kenny Williams’ team-mandatory trip in 2006, Kendrick said the White Sox have always had a strong relationship with the Negro Leagues museum.

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Anderson — who recently signed an extension that could pay him $50.5 million over the next eight seasons — appreciates the history he has learned with both of his trips to the museum. He also visited last season on the final Kansas City trip in mid-September.

“The museum is really amazing,” Anderson said. “I’m really blessed. For them to have a dollar, and the money we have now, I treasure that and don’t forget where I started from.”

A one-room room facility when it first opened in 1990, the museum moved across the street seven years later into a 10,000-square foot facility. Kendrick said the Museum’s most ardent supporters in the early days were Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones and LaTroy Hawkins, who stopped in when the Minnesota Twins visited Kansas City. Now, roughly 10 teams visit per season, according to Kendrick. He offers players and coaches personal tours because he knows word of mouth is critical for the NLBM’s profile. Bryce Harper provided the Museum a boost last year by posting on Instagram after he and Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker visited.

“It’s always exciting to have an opportunity to show off the museum, particularly to those who make their living in the game of baseball,” Kendrick said. “Most of the athletes we meet are so young and so they don’t have any idea unless they are really, really astute in the history of our sport.

“We need these ballplayers carrying that message and to want to come by and experience the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.”

Frazier shared his experience via Twitter on Tuesday. He took a picture with the statue of fellow third baseman Ray Dandridge, who played for 10 teams in a career that began with the Detroit Stars in 1933 and ended with the Bismarck Barons in 1955. A great average hitter, Dandridge was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987. A second-time visitor himself, Frazier is always impressed when he hears about what Negro Leagues players endured just to keep playing baseball. A storyteller himself, Frazier said he appreciates Kendrick’s yarns and the nicknames he provides.

“The guy’s stories are unbelievable,” Frazier said. “He is a smart human being. He knows everything. The sayings he’s got for everybody, the stories, it felt like I was in that era.”

White Sox rebuild offers 'leeway' for Lucas Giolito after frustrating 2016 season

White Sox rebuild offers 'leeway' for Lucas Giolito after frustrating 2016 season

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Lucas Giolito knows if he had performed better in 2016 he wouldn’t have endured the season from travel hell. 

Instead, the top pitching prospect in baseball struggled with consistency in the big leagues and the Washington Nationals constantly shuffled him around. Giolito — one of three pitchers acquired in the Adam Eaton trade in December and MLB.com’s 11th-ranked prospect — was moved eight different times throughout the Nationals organization last season. 

More irritated by his inability to pitch well for a team in a pennant race, the tall right-hander understands why he spent much of last season on the go. But it’s also one of the main reasons why Giolito, who is likely to begin the 2017 season in the starting rotation at Triple-A Charlotte, is excited for a fresh start with the White Sox.

“It was frustrating because I knew if you get up there and pitch well I can stay, but I didn’t,” Giolito said. “I wanted to help the team win. That’s really all I wanted to do. And all my starts, aside from my debut, which got cut short by the rain, I did not give the team a chance to win. So rightfully so I got sent down. But yeah, it’s frustrating. 

“At the same time, with this club I know there might be a little more leeway. I know they might allow younger guys more time to settle in, at least from what I’ve seen.”

The White Sox have made no secret about their plans to rebuild. Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are four of the seven prospects acquired in December whom the White Sox hope to build around. 

General manager Rick Hahn has made it increasingly clear that player development is the team’s top priority.

“At this point going forward we’re really not going to have anyone in Chicago until they’ve answered any questions we’ve had for them at the minor league level and we feel they’re ready to succeed,” Hahn said last month at SoxFest. 

And once those players arrive, they’ll be given ample opportunities to prove whether or not they belong. The routine will be normal with regular turns in the rotation rather than spot starts here and there. 

The team’s mindset is in stark contrast with Washington, which has been in win-now mode for the past few seasons. Whenever the Nationals called upon Giolito, who hadn’t pitched above Double-A Harrisburg before last June, they needed him to fill in for a rotation that only had three pitchers make more than 25 starts.

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Giolito pitched four scoreless innings in a rain-shortened MLB debut on June 28 and then didn’t pitch again until July 7. With Stephen Strasburg back in the rotation, the Nationals then sent Giolito to Single-A Hagerstown so he could get another turn before the All-Star break. Then it was on to Triple-A Syracuse for one start and back to Washington for another. 

After he struggled in that outing, Giolito spent a month at Syracuse, returned to the bigs to struggle again on Aug. 28 against Colorado, and went back to Triple-A for one more. Finally, Giolito returned to Washington on Sept. 7 and stayed the rest of the season, though he only pitched twice in a month. In six big league games (four starts), Giolito had a 6.75 ERA. 

The up-and-down nature of Giolito’s season prompted MLB.com’s Jim Callis to write: “I also don't think the Nationals handled him very well last season, calling him to Washington on five separate occasions but never letting him take consecutive turns in the rotation, as well as having him change teams nine times.”

Giolito remembers a couple of small planes back and forth from Washington to Syracuse. He also drove a few times because it was so close. 

“All sorts of ways of moving around,” he said.

It’s also treatment that’s normally reserved for a Four-A pitcher who has options to burn rather than a top prospect trying to find stability.

Giolito — who was drafted 16th overall in the 2012 draft out of high school — thought some of his struggles were related to poor mechanics and getting away from what had made him successful. The 6-foot-6 pitcher said he tried to simplify his mechanics this winter in order to allow the ball to leave his hand more freely and easily. 

Giolito is pleased with the results so far. His main goals early in camp have been commanding his fastball low and away to right-hander hitters and learning how to throw his curveball for a called strike.

“It’s coming out very good,” Giolito said. “Much better than last year. I made a lot of positive changes.

“The time in the big leagues was definitely fun. But going up and down a lot can be like a grind. Getting on the plane, doing this, you’re pitching the next day. You have to be able to try and stay level headed and focus on the next day or task at hand. But when you’re moving around a lot it can be difficult.”

David Robertson doing all he can to push trade rumors out of his mind

David Robertson doing all he can to push trade rumors out of his mind

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The reality of his situation isn’t all that pleasant, so David Robertson is doing his best to solely focus on baseball.

Second only to Jose Quintana in the team rumor mill, the White Sox closer said Tuesday morning that the uncertainty surrounding the team’s rebuild hasn’t been easy. Even though spring training has already begun, Robertson, who primarily has been the focus of trade talks with the Washington Nationals, said he realizes anything can happen. So for now Robertson -- who went 5-3 with 37 saves in 44 tries and a 3.47 ERA in 62 games -- wants to keep his attention on preparation for the World Baseball Classic and then on the regular season, wherever he may be.

“It's tough because there's nothing I can really do,” Robertson said. “I can't control anything about it so I just try to put it in the back of my mind. Just come to the field and do the work I need to do and whatever decisions this organization makes is what they're going to do. I only have a choice, I'll end up doing what I want to do, play baseball.”

The rumors of Robertson to Washington haven’t slowed down at all. Earlier this week, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale said dialogue between the two teams has continued up until the edge of spring camp only to have their most recent talks stall again. But the two potential trade partners have held intermittent discussions dating back to December when there was discussion of including Robertson in the trade that sent Adam Eaton east.

Dealing with constantly hearing his name in rumors can’t be easy and both general manager Rick Hahn and manager Rick Renteria understand the human element involved. While Renteria said Tuesday he hasn’t addressed the topic individually with players, he won’t hesitate to if it’s necessary. Renteria addressed his team for the first time before Tuesday’s workout and stressed that his door is open at all times.

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“We’re certainly open to talking about it, personal or otherwise,” Renteria said. “Those are things that for all these guys, they’re professionals. I think right now they’re more focused on getting ready to perform.”

Hahn agrees with Renteria -- being at camp is probably the best distraction. Robertson has another diversion as well as he’s one of four White Sox pitchers participating in the World Baseball Classic, which runs from March 6-22.

“When they are here, they can focus more on doing their job,” Hahn said. “Regardless of the uniform they are wearing, they know how to prepare for a season.

“They are able to a little more easily block out a little more of the outside distractions when they are hear getting ready for their profession. I don’t foresee that being an issue at all.”

It wasn’t until Sale was traded to the Boston Red Sox that Robertson received clarity on which direction the White Sox were headed this winter. Given how the team attempted to piece together its roster in his first two seasons, Robertson half expected more additions and another try in 2017. But all the uncertainty was cast aside at the point Sale was traded.

“I didn't know which direction the organization was going to take but obviously, they kind of set the table by making those trades,” Robertson said. “They're looking to rebuild so either I'm going to be a part of it or I'm going to be a piece that gets moved.”

Robertson, who has two years and $25 million left on his current contract, is excited to pitch for Team USA. The right-hander, who had surgery to clean up a meniscus tear in the offseason, said he’s ahead of his normal throwing schedule. When he returns from that, Robertson can then focus on the regular season.

“What else can I do?” Robertson said. “I'm here to play baseball. I'm going to continue to work on getting better and let the cards fall where they're going to be. I can't do anything about it. I'm just going to try my best to stay here. If I stay here, great. If I get moved, it's their decision.”