2005 was quite a year for late-round draft picks out of junior colleges in Missouri, especially Jefferson College.
That year, Cliff Politte had a career year and ended up with a new ring. Remember that guy?
Politte was born Feb. 27, 1974 in St. Louis. His father, Cliff, pitched in the Cardinals organization from 1959-65. The younger Politte captained the baseball and soccer teams at Vianney High School in St. Louis. In soccer, Politte was a midfielder and was part of two state titles.
Originally, Politte signed to play baseball for Memphis State, but the team wouldn’t agree to his wish to play outfield as well as pitch, so he ended up at Jefferson College.
Drafted by Cardinals in 54th round of 1995 MLB draft, Politte’s spot in the Jefferson rotation was filled by Mark Buehrle, his future White Sox teammate. Politte would pitch in the same game as Buehrle for the White Sox 38 times, including twice in the 2005 World Series.
The 54th round pick ended up the 1997 Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year, going 15-2 with a 2.22 ERA for Prince William (High-A, Carolina League ) and Arkansas (AA). He made the Opening Day roster in 1998.
It was quite a story for Politte to make his first MLB start at Busch Stadium for his hometown Cardinals. He got a no-decision but had a strong effort, going five innings, allowing two hits and a run against the Dodgers. The first hit he allowed was to his future teammate, Paul Konerko; his first strikeout was of former Rookie of the Year Todd Hollandsworth.
Politte earned his first career win in his next start, a 12-11 slugfest at Coors Field. At the plate, he connected for his first career hit on April 23 – off another future teammate, Dustin Hermanson. In eight games in 1998 – all starts - he finished 2-3 with a 6.32 ERA in his first taste of major league action.
The homecoming didn’t last all too long. Politte was traded with Jeff Brantley and Ron Gant to the Phillies for Ricky Botallico and Garrett Stephenson on Nov. 19, 1998. Politte shuttled back and forth between the Phillies and the minors from 1999 through 2001, along the way making what would be his final eight career starts (all in 2000).
In 2002, after making 13 appearances with the Phillies, Politte was sent north of the border to Toronto, in exchange for lefty Dan Plesac. With the Blue Jays, Politte collected his first career major league save July 24 at Baltimore, and finished 2002 with a 3.67 ERA in 68 combined appearances with Philly and Toronto.
Politte had a run as Blue Jays closer in May 2003 where he racked up nine saves. He struggled with inconsistency, finishing the year with a 5.66 ERA to go along with 12 saves, and became a free agent at season's end. He inked a deal with the White Sox on Jan. 7, 2004 – a one-year deal with 2005 club option.
Politte’s first season with the White Sox went well enough even though it ended early. A 4.38 ERA was a little better than league average – it was a high run-scoring environment at a hitter’s park. He got into 54 games and collected 19 holds, but an emergency appendectomy on Sept. 1 cut his season short.
Politte was a key cog for the 2005 White Sox, quickly settling into his role as setup man. Heading into the All-Star break, he had a microscopic 1.02 ERA, second in the majors among all pitchers with 30 or more innings. Only the great Mariano Rivera (1.01) was better. But not even Mo could match his 0.736 WHIP at the time. Politte strung together 20 straight scoreless outings from May 29 to July 17.
He finished the regular season with a sterling 2.00 ERA with 23 holds. He was one of only a few major leaguers to hold both lefties (.182) and righties (.181) under a .200 average. Politte even collected an RBI hit on June 8 at Colorado – something no White Sox reliever had done since Terry Forster in 1972.
Politte made four postseason appearances, tossing a scoreless frame in Game 1 of the ALDS, then collecting a hold in Games 2, 3 and 4 of the World Series. In total, he allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings. He finished 2004 with an appendectomy. He finished 2005 with a World Series ring.
Politte’s luck ran out in 2006. Regression hit hard, as he posted an 8.70 ERA in 30 appearances before the Sox released him on July 20. He signed on with the Indians for 2007 and the Cardinals for 2008 but never made it back to the bigs.
Vianney High School retired Politte’s No. 10 in 2008, and in 2010 both Mark Buehrle and Politte were inducted into the Jefferson College Athletic Hall of Fame. Not bad for guys selected in the 38th and 54th rounds, respectively.
Nowadays, Politte is a sales manager and estimator for Pipe and Ducts Systems in St. Louis.