White Sox

Sox Drawer: Remembering Tom Seaver's 300th win

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Sox Drawer: Remembering Tom Seaver's 300th win

Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010
5:36 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Time.

It goes by way too fast.

How else can you describe 25 years passing by, and yet the sights, sounds, and smells from that day remain so present you could swear it all happened last week?

I was reminded of this when I woke up today and thought of Aug. 4, 1985, a date which as I get older speeds further and further behind in my life.

For White Sox fans, it is known as the day Tom Seaver won his 300th game. But for me, its something more. Not just because I was there to watch the game in person, but because of the man who was sitting there beside me.

Maybe he is again.

In the summer of 1985, I had braces on my teeth and baseball on my mind 23 hours a day. The other hour was likely spent thinking about girls, which at the time was a puzzling exercise in teenage futility.

So I mainly stuck with baseball. Its what I knew best.

The Sox in 1985 were a team on its last fumes. Still clinging to the success of 1983 when they won 99 games and the AL West title, players like Britt Burns, Julio Cruz, Rudy Law, Ron Kittle and Tom Paciorek remained on the roster. Two years later, all of them, including manager Tony La Russa, would be gone.

Such inevitable roster moves were of no concern to me back then, especially when my mother made an announcement in the Garfien household, telling me that my grandfather wanted to take me to New York City to watch the White Sox play the Yankees. It was the kind of bulletin that if my life was a TV channel, you would see running in bright red letters at the bottom of the screen:

Breaking News: Garfien headed to NYC to watch White Sox.

My grandfathers name was Joe Garfien. But to me and his eight other grandchildren, he was simply Papa Joe, a man who came to America in 1926. Or was it 1927? He and his mother left behind their home in Austria. Or was it Poland? The geography in Europe kept changing back then. So did Papas year of birth. Details of such trivial facts remained blurred for decades.

But not Papa Joes early memories of watching sports in Chicago.

He saw the great Babe Ruth play at Comiskey Park. He saw Carl Hubbell pitch at Wrigley Field. Name the athlete (Red Grange) or historical figure (Al Capone), Papa Joe saw them live and in the flesh. Now, we were both embarking on a journey together, sharing memories of our own on a special weekend between grandfather and grandson, and our common love for baseball.

Back in July when the trip was planned, we got two tickets for two games: Aug. 3 and Aug. 4. As the weekend drew closer, we became the beneficiaries of an extraordinary coincidence: Tom Seaver, the White Sox 40-year-old pitcher was in line to start on Sunday, Aug. 4, in search of his 300th career victory.

In Chicago, this was a big deal. But in New York, where the former Mets legend would try to make history inside enemy territory, Yankee Stadium, it was even bigger.

You got a sense of the enormity of the event during the Saturday game when a rabid Mets fan hung a massive 50-foot sign over the first-base upper-deck railing that said three simple words:

Tom is God.

Yankees fans were furious. You could hear their displeasure in the profanity-laced tirades that were coming from all angles around us.

But those jeers would soon be replaced with cheers. Don Mattingly, Ron Hassey and future Sox slugger Dan Pasqua all went deep off White Sox starter Bill Long (remember him? I dont). The Sox got pounded 8-4.

Papa Joe and I went back to our hotel disappointed, but looked forward to the Seaver game on Sunday, as well as the festivities planned for Saturday night.

On the plane ride to New York, my grandfather raved about us seeing the Rockettes, the famous dance company known for their sky-high leg kicks that could poke an eye out. But when we arrived at Radio City Music Hall for their show, something wasnt right.

Little kids were everywhere. Were talking 5- and 6-year-olds overdosed on candy, running through the aisles as if they were nervously awaiting the arrival of Big Bird and Kermit the Frog.

Suddenly, the curtain rose, and there they were: the Rockettes! They danced and kicked in perfect unison, much to Papa Joes delight. For five solid minutes they owned the place ... until they exited the stage, and never came back.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rockettes!

It turns out Papas favorite dancers were just the opening act. What everyone came to see that night was something different.

A two-hour Disney cartoon.

I think it was Bambi. I frankly dont remember. My grandfather was asleep by the opening credits. I was out soon after that.

But Sunday, as we headed back to Yankee Stadium for the Seaver game, we were wide awake. Our tickets were in the upper deck on the first-base side, close to where that Mets fan declared his religious love for Tom the day before.

Seaver might have been 40 years old at the time, but that season he was pitching in his prime. He came into the game with an 11-8 record and an ERA under 3.00. And from the very beginning, you knew this was going to be Seavers day, which just so happened to be Phil Rizzuto Day at Yankee Stadium.

So much for that.

Other than an RBI single by Ken Griffey Sr., the Yankees couldnt touch Seaver. At one point, the future Hall of Famer retired 10 batters in a row. The Yankees managed six hits for the game. All singles.

Seaver went the distance, striking out seven, ending the game with a Don Baylor fly-out to Reid Nichols in left.

Win No. 300 was his. This incredible moment between my grandfather and I was ours.

As you get older, you learn that life is rarely that perfect.

Papa Joe would live another 20 years. He passed away in May 2005, missing the White Sox winning the World Series by five months.

Somewhere in the Comcast SportsNet library lives a tape of the Seaver game. Somewhere in my mind lives the memories of a grandfather who always wanted the best for his grandson. I was lucky to have him.

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

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

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USA TODAY

With Astros eliminated, let's rank their free agents by possibility of coming to White Sox

The Houston Astros will not win back-to-back world championships this October.

Eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in Game 5 of the recently concluded ALCS, the rebuilt Astros still remain the model for rebuilding teams like the White Sox. But with their first post-championship season ending without another ring on the fingers of homegrown stars like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, among others, the most pertinent topic involving the Astros when it comes to the White Sox is Astros players now hitting the free-agent market.

There's a number of them, and some are very, very good. The White Sox figure to be more active this winter then they were last offseason, with Rick Hahn already saying the team will be making pitching additions, a no-brainer with Michael Kopech slated to miss the entire 2019 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. And Hahn has said the White Sox will be "opportunistic" when it comes to other types of additions, as well.

So could any of these soon-to-be former Astros land on the South Side? Maybe. Here they are, ranked by such a possibility.

1. Charlie Morton

The White Sox need starting pitchers. Kopech's out until 2020, and James Shields, should the team opt not to bring him back on a new contract, will be a free-agent departure. That's two holes that need filling, and Morton could fill one of them. I know what you're thinking, "Dallas Keuchel is also a free agent, why isn't he No. 1 on this list, you fool?" More on him in a bit. Right now, we're talking about Charlie Morton.

Morton is hardly the most rebuild-friendly pitching option out there at 35 years old. But Morton's been very good for the Astros over the past two seasons, making 55 starts, striking out 364 guys and posting a 3.36 ERA. His fastball velocity is as high as it's been in his 11-year big league career and he's coming off two straight playoff runs, so maybe he could teach these young White Sox a thing or two about playing winning baseball — he did close out Game 7 of the World Series last fall.

The biggest problem might be that he's not too far removed from different results when he played with the Pittsburgh Pirates, when his numbers weren't nearly as good as they got when he went to Houston. Would another change of scenery mean a different kind of performance?

What kind of contract Morton will get on the market remains to be seen, obviously, but it's kind of a mystery at this point, as he's coming off a couple great years but is getting up there in age when it comes to multi-year deals. He could be a fit for the White Sox should they want just a one- or two-year option while they wait for Kopech to return to full strength and for Dylan Cease to make his way to the major leagues. But should this recent success continue, he could be a valuable option on a White Sox team making the transition from rebuilding to contending, too.

2. Marwin Gonzalez

The White Sox have a bit of a quandary in that they are still waiting to find out what they've got in a lot of their young players. With so many prospects and even young players at the major league level yet to fully finish their development, it's tough to say where the holes on future White Sox teams will be. And that's made all the more difficult by the rash of injuries sustained by White Sox prospects in 2018.

A good way to plan for future unknowns is to have a guy you can plug in just about anywhere, and that's what Gonzalez is. During the 2018 regular season, Gonzalez played everywhere on the field besides pitcher and catcher: 73 games in left field, 39 games at shortstop, 32 games at second base, 24 games at first base, three games at third base, two games in center field and one game in right field. He played one game at designated hitter, too, in case you were wondering. He appeared at six different positions in 2017, when he finished in the top 20 in AL MVP voting. That versatility should make him a hot commodity this offseason.

The question marks come from Gonzalez's bat, which was excellent in 2017 but not nearly as good in 2018. After slashing .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBIs for the world-champion Astros in 2017, he got more playing time in 2018 and his numbers dropped to a .247/.324/.409 slash line, 16 homers and 68 RBIs for the AL runners up. So which batch of results would you get if you signed Gonzalez? That's the question facing teams this offseason. (To help assuage fears, however, Gonzalez just wrapped a solid postseason in which he batted .333 with a pair of homers, a pair of doubles and nine RBIs, not to mention a .389 on-base percentage.)

But for a team with as much unwritten future as the White Sox have, wouldn't it be nice to have a plan for every eventuality — and to have it all in the form of one guy? While Manny Machado and Bryce Harper grab all the free-agent headlines this winter, perhaps the White Sox could slip in and convince Gonzalez to help another transition from rebuilding to contending. He was a part of two 100-loss teams in 2012 and 2013 and along for the ride to the top of baseball's mountain. That's some good experience to have.

3. Dallas Keuchel

Now we arrive at Keuchel. Would the soon-to-be 31-year-old former Cy Young winner be a good fit for the rebuilding White Sox? Absolutely he would. Signing him to a long-term deal would not only solve a pitching problem in 2019 but it would provide a safety net should Kopech, Cease or whoever go through the to-be-expected growing pains that young players go through in their first tastes of the major leagues. He would be an anchor of future rotations with plenty of young arms around him.

Signing Keuchel — who has a combined 3.39 ERA and 278 strikeouts over the last two seasons — would be similar to the Cubs' signing of Jon Lester, a proven veteran climbing aboard a team heading toward a bright future, and his experience and talent could help them reach that future faster. Like Gonzalez, he experienced back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2012 and 2013 and also got a World Series ring as the Astros completed their journey from the bottom to the top.

But being a good fit is only half the battle for the White Sox. A lot of other teams, including good ones capable of pitching a win-now roster, are going to be vying for Keuchel's services this winter. And while he might not be the No. 1 starting pitcher on the free-agent market — that's expected to be Clayton Kershaw, if he opts out of his current contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers — he's going to be no lower than the No. 3 starting pitcher on the free-agent market. Most of the contending clubs in the game are likely to have starting pitching on their shopping list, teams that can pitch present-day success and the ability to win a championship in 2019 against the White Sox promise of planned success down the road. And then there's the financials on top of that. Hahn has said the White Sox will have the financial flexibility to do what they need to do, but will it be enough to outbid baseball's biggest spenders?

Keuchel would obviously be a good fit for the White Sox. But the competition is going to be really stiff.

4. Tony Sipp

Sipp, a 35-year-old reliever who White Sox fans might remember from his days as a Cleveland Indian, was excellent for the Astros this season, posting a 1.86 ERA and striking out 42 guys in 38.2 innings during the regular season.

But while the White Sox could use bullpen help — their 4.49 relief ERA ranked 23rd out of 30 major league teams — that performance kind of elevates Sipp from the level of sign-and-flip guys they've acquired in recent seasons. Sipp might not be under the radar enough for the White Sox to take a flier, get a good few months and trade him away for a prospect.

Spending the kind of money Sipp might command on a 35-year-old reliever in a season where you're not expected to compete might not make for a good match.

5. Brian McCann

Yeah, the White Sox don't need Brian McCann.