White Sox

Cotts and Politte, joined at the hip

659218.png

Cotts and Politte, joined at the hip

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."

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

hahn-pod.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: