White Sox

Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

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Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

If everything in life went exactly in a straight line, Phil Humber would not have been flirting with a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Monday night. He would have been doing it for them.

Drafted by the Yankees in the 29th round of the 2001 MLB draft, the Texas native chose to play college ball at Rice University instead.

It would be the first of many twists and turns in the baseball career for Humber, once a cant-miss prospect thought to be a Porsche, who would soon find himself treated like a Pinto.

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Hed help Rice win its first national championship in 2003. Hed be drafted by the Mets in 2004 as the third overall pick, one selection behind Justin Verlander, nine ahead of Cy Young frontrunner Jered Weaver.

He was making baseball look easy. Way too easy.

When I got drafted by the Mets, I kind of just assumed Id make a few starts in the minor leagues and just get my 10-15 year career in the big leagues, Humber said by phone Tuesday. I didnt realize how hard it is to actually get here, and on top of that how much harder it is to stay.

He wouldnt stay long.

Thrown into the fire of a late-September pennant race in 2007, Humber made his first major league start against the Nationals, and gave up five runs in four-plus innings. Humber didnt lose the game, but the Mets eventually did, not to mention a seven-game lead in the final three weeks of the season to the Phillies.

That winter, the Mets lost something else: their faith in their former No. 1 pick.

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Humber was shipped off to Minnesota in the blockbuster trade for Johan Santana. The hot shot prospect who didnt seem to have a ceiling would soon be headed towards baseballs basement.

The Twins would designate him for assignment after one season. The Royals waived him next, followed by the Athletics.

I wasnt having fun with baseball, Humber recalled.

But while pitching winter ball in Puerto Rico in 2009, the light went on for Humber when he finally decided to turn the spotlight off.

I just wanted to go forward and play for me and not think about expectations of being traded for a big-name pitcher or for being a first-round pick that hasnt panned out. I just wanted to play for the fun of the game.

Throwing a no-hitter against the Yankees for six innings? That sounds like fun. But watching the stone-faced Humber coast through one of the toughest lineups in baseball, you wouldnt know it. He looked like a guy spacing out in math class, not throwing a no-no at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.

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I wasnt thinking about who was at the plate and how many hits they had in their careers, Humber said. I was focused on making my pitches and as the game went on, I got more and more confident. When youre confident out there, youre able to really let your ability work. So I think that was the difference.

There was also the advice he received as a 12-year-old from Robert Ellis, a former major-league pitcher (and White Sox draft pick in 1990).

He would tell me, If I walk up and youre pitching, I dont want to be able to tell by looking at you if youre up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs. Thats kind of what Ive always tried to keep in mind. And I think it helps because the other team doesnt know if youre having a good day or bad day by looking at your body language.

Humbers spot in the White Sox rotation is currently a rental. Hes holding down the fort until Jake Peavy is healthy enough to return. But when Humber gets sent to the bullpen or even back down to the minors again, he won't be the shiny new car in the front of the showroom getting all the attention. He'll be the stronger, wiser 28-year-old who got knocked down and battled back.

Now I have a much greater appreciation for where Im at," Humber said. "I dont try to predict the future anymore. I dont try to say, If I do well, am I going to stay? Or if I dont, am I going to get sent down? I just go up there and do the best I can and try to remain grateful for the opportunity and concentrate more on the moment.

Moments like Monday night. From favorite to underdog (or is it Humberdog?). Either way, he's showing he's got plenty of bite.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

Freshly cut Michael Kopech feels 'different energy' around White Sox

On the eve of the most anticipated SoxFest in recent memory, Michael Kopech got a haircut.

He likely won't be the only one sporting a fresh look when the White Sox gather for the annual fan convention this weekend at McCormick Place. But he's probably the only one who had his restyling attended by the local media.

Kopech got his trademark flowing locks clipped off Wednesday as part of a charity event that raised $20,000 for the Ronald McDonald House and White Sox charities, meaning there'll be a noticeable difference the next time he steps on a major league mound. There was bound to be a difference, considering he last pitched in a big league game in September of 2018. But how much of a difference there will be in his pitching style remains to be seen.

Kopech has long been promised as a flamethrower that can touch ungodly speeds like 101, 102 and 103 miles an hour on the radar gun. He'll still be able to do that, he says, but there will be a difference.

"I don't know if I'm going to necessarily be that type of power pitcher again in my career," he said Wednesday. "I think I'm going to be a little bit smarter and cautious about how I pitch. That being said, velocity will always be a part of my game."

We'll have to wait and see exactly how Kopech will attack opposing hitters after his recovery from Tommy John surgery. "Wait and see" will be a theme of at least the early portion of Kopech's 2020 campaign. The White Sox have signaled that he'll be limited in some capacity in an effort not to overwork him — remember that his next major league appearance will be only his fifth — but we don't know what that will look like yet. Will he be part of the rotation, but be skipped at times? Will he pitch out of the bullpen for a little bit? Will he start the season in the minor leagues?

According to Kopech, he doesn't know the plan, either, knowing only that he feels great and will be looking to earn a roster spot in spring training.

"Not really," he said, asked if he's talked with the team about what it has planned for him. "My plan for myself is to be competitive in the spring and give my team a chance to win, and hopefully that's giving myself the best chance I can.

"But for what the team has in store for me, I really don't know those answers. I'm just going to do my best when I get there."

Between the moves Rick Hahn's front office has made this winter and the way so many of the White Sox young, core players broke out in 2019, there are realistic playoff expectations on the South Side for the first time in a long time, with the expectation being that the team will make its long awaited leap out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. Kopech would figure to be a big part of that, still ranked as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. Even with plans to limit his workload, the White Sox would figure to want him to be pitching in meaningful games if they should roll around in August and September, or even October.

Of course, these kinds of expectations are nothing new for these White Sox players, who have long been willing to express their confidence in the organization's bright future. Kopech has talked about wanting to win the 2020 World Series. Eloy Jimenez has talked about being a part of a championship outfield. Lucas Giolito, "sick of losing," has been talking playoffs since the end of last year's 89-loss season. And the freshly extended Luis Robert is talking about winning multiple championships.

This group has always been about setting lofty goals. But now the fan base is buying in to all that, too, and setting its own set of expectations, ones that end with the White Sox reaching the postseason. Kopech can already feel a different vibe surrounding this team, though added that the expectations inside the clubhouse haven't changed from what they've always been.

"We were just talking about that a couple of days ago. We were out playing catch, me, Zack Burdi, Ryan Burr, Grandal was out there. It was that camaraderie, but more so, the underlining competitiveness in all of us. It felt like a different energy, was the word that was used," Kopech said. "We were all pulling in the same direction, which I think is kind of a glimpse to us what the future is going to look like.

"Not to look too far ahead, but I think we all are pulling in the same direction, not that that wasn't the case before. We're all starting to get that taste, sort of speak.

"(Playoff expectations are) what we've put on ourselves, as well. We're always going to want to be a competitive team, and we're going to want to be a competitive team at the highest level and that's to be in the playoffs.

"Those expectations that people are putting on us, we're going to also put on ourselves and try to achieve that."

It's still a bit of an unknown when and in what capacity we'll first see Kopech contributing toward reaching those expectations. But don't adjust your television set when he does make his first appearance. That's him, all right. Just lighter now without all that extra hair.

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Paul Konerko misses out on 2020 Hall of Fame, falls off ballot after receiving 2.5% of vote

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USA Today

Paul Konerko misses out on 2020 Hall of Fame, falls off ballot after receiving 2.5% of vote

Former White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko will not be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2020. Konerko received 2.5% of the vote, less than the 5% needed to remain on the ballot.

Konerko came to Chicago in 1998 and played his first season with the Sox in 1999, hitting .294 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs. The following season, the White Sox made the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Konerko was with the team during their triumphant 2005 World Series win, hitting the first grand slam in White Sox World Series history and giving the Sox the lead 6-4 in Game 2 against the Astros.

Confused and frustrated? You’re not alone. Here's how the multi-step voting process works. Players become eligible to enter the Hall of Fame ballot five years after they’ve retired, if they’ve played a minimum of 10 seasons. From there, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America screening committee votes to determine which players make the ballot. Each voter can vote for 10 players. Players need to achieve at least 5% of the vote to be included on the next year’s ballot. If a player makes the ballot, they then need to achieve 75% of all ballots cast to be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Regardless of the voting, Konerko will always be a White Sox legend.

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