The Adam LaRoche retirement fiasco figured to either tear the White Sox apart or bring them closer together. Outside Camelback Ranch, Chris Sale’s blistering takedown of Kenny Williams sounded like an All-Star pitcher daring his boss to trade him.
LaRoche popped up again on Wednesday, posting this message on his Twitter account: “Don’t forget, tomorrow is take your child to work day.” But once that media storm passed in spring training, the White Sox could go back to being the team built on a strong rotation and a lineup anchored by Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier.
A series of low-risk, high-reward moves are paying off, with the White Sox now 16-6 after sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. The Cubs – another big offseason winner – are the only team in the majors with a better record (15-5).
“Digging it,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who wore a pink Mother’s Day edition of his “Try Not To Suck” T-shirt during his media session at Wrigley Field. “I’m really happy for them and their success. I think it’s great for the city. If we could both sustain this kind of play, it could make for a very interesting summer.”
The Cubs were digging themselves so much in Arizona that a coach’s son taking out a lineup card before a Cactus League game almost felt like Maddon’s crew trolling the White Sox (and not what it actually was – a prearranged birthday reward).
But Maddon has deep respect for Robin Ventura and the way the White Sox manager navigated his team through the bizarre LaRoche situation, a player walking away from $13 million because his son would no longer have unrestricted access in the clubhouse.
“I know he went through a tough gig this past spring training,” Maddon said. “I thought he handled it great.”
As an Angels coach in the mid-1990s, Maddon remembered bumping into Ventura and noticing the people skills that made him such a favorite on the South Side.
“Robin Ventura’s a good man,” Maddon said. “I’m walking into the ballpark – (and) I’m just a year-and-a-half, a year in the big leagues – and he happened to be walking in at the same time.
“He greeted me like I had been there for 20 years. He addressed me. And I’ll never forget that.”
This year, Maddon and his old buddies from the Angels joined Ventura for dinner one night in spring training.
“It was like me, (Mike Scioscia), Buddy Black, Ronnie Roenicke and Sandy Koufax,” Maddon said with a smile. “Did I say Sandy Koufax? And then Robin was there, too, because Robin digs wine. And Robin is always like throwing me a good bottle now and then.”
The Cubs and White Sox haven’t both finished with winning records since 2008, when they each won division titles and had all these big, combustible personalities like Lou Piniella, Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano and A.J. Pierzynski.
The Cubs and White Sox will play four straight games on both sides of the city (July 25-28) and we’ll see if they stay hot. But the Bulls and Blackhawks are done, and this year baseball doesn’t have to be a space-filler until the Bears report to training camp.
“When you live in this city and you have that stuff going on, what could possibly beat that?” Maddon said.