White Sox

Sox Drawer: What still hurts the Big Hurt?

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Sox Drawer: What still hurts the Big Hurt?

Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
6:46 PM

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Youve seen Frank Thomas hit. Youve seen him run. Youve seen him throw.

Now get ready to see the man cry.

Sunday is Frank Thomas Day at U.S. Cellular Field, an event honoring the White Sox all-time greatest hitter, who gave gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to the franchise for 16 seasons.

Now that hes retired, the blood and sweat are gone. All thats left are the tears.

Im going to try and keep a straight face, but its going to be hard, Thomas said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet. I know the emotions are going to be flowing (on Sunday). Its going to be difficult.

So yes, there is crying in baseball. Its happened to Thomas before, but for an entirely different reason.

The 1994 baseball strike.

The infamous labor catastrophe that abrupty canceled the season might have robbed Thomas and the White Sox of a World Series title. It still hurts the Big Hurt, a gash that remains inside his heart, a wound that might never heal.

It was heartbreaking, because I was at my best that year, Thomas remembers. I had everything rolling. My mind was just in a great place. For that to happen, I had to pick up the pieces just like everybody else. But its been tough to swallow over the last 16 years.

On Aug. 10, the White Sox were in first place, 21 games over .500, predicted by most to be the favorite to represent the American League in the World Series. Besides Thomas, the Sox lineup featured Robin Ventura, Tim Raines, Julio Franco, Lance Johnson, and Ozzie Guillen. The starting rotation had Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez, Wilson Alvarez, and Jason Bere.

That team to me had it all, Thomas said. Hitting, pitching, defense. We were just a very talented bunch, and we had gelled together because of the disappointment of the 1993 playoffs (losing in the ALCS to Toronto in six games). We were ready to go all the way.

And Frank? He wasnt tearing the cover off the ball that season, he consistently severed and slashed it. He was batting .353, with an on-base percentage of .494, the highest since Ted Williams in 1957. He also had 38 homers and 101 RBIs.

But after beating the As in Oakland 2-1, Frank and everyone else were told to pack their bags and go home. The season was over. The league was shutting down.

Frank sat at his locker that night and cried.

I did because I knew it was my last game of the season, and because I knew that I was at my best. I said to myself that night, I dont think I can ever play at that level again, and have everything go my way. The hits were getting through, hitting behind runners, home runs, scoring runs, everything was just right where it needed to be.

It was a tough pill to swallow, about the size of a donut, which would ironically be repeated in 2005, when the White Sox won the World Series with Franks foot strapped to a cast, the slugger lost for the season with a fractured ankle.

He couldnt win, even when the White Sox did.

It was tough, Thomas said. On one side I was so happy for the organization, on the other side I was just torn, because I was sitting there going, How can we finally get to the World Series after all of this, and Im not playing. But this was my heart. This was 16 years of hard work, and I saw this team go from a bottom feeder to the top of the heap and it was such an amazing thing to be through all of that, because a lot of the guys on the team had no idea. (Before) nobody wanted to watch this team, no one wanted to put this team on TV, but to be World Series champions from there, and I was able to be there year in and year out through it all, it made my life.

Today, Franks baseball life is pretty full. Earlier this summer he became an official White Sox ambassador. Hes also spent the season on the set with Bill Melton and I as an analyst on White Sox Pre and Post-Game Live. As much as Id like to think that my presence has been a life altering experience for Frank, and that he will remain with Comcast SportsNet from here to eternity, he has other ideas for his baseball future.

How does manager Frank Thomas sound?

Of course I could manage. I think I could easily manage. I think I would be a great hitting coach, but at this particular time, Im happy with what Im doing, and well see. Working with young guys my last five years in the league, thats all I did day-to-day, was helping young guys with hitting situations, and getting them through tough times.

But now that his playing days are over, there is one goal that has yet to be fulfilled - induction into the Hall of Fame. Hes eligible in 2014.

Its in the back of my mind. Thats a goal of everyone after the first few years in the league and youve had success. Everyone wants to be compared to the greatest who have played in this game. To ever get the opportunity to be a Hall of Famer, I would be overwhelmed and overjoyed and a proud member, because I do know what it takes to get to that level because I put myself through it.

Now if he can only get through Sundays ceremony without weeping. That might be his greatest accomplishment.

Eloy Jimenez is swinging some kind of a hot bat in Triple-A, giving White Sox fans visions of the (near?) future

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USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez is swinging some kind of a hot bat in Triple-A, giving White Sox fans visions of the (near?) future

The White Sox once more dropped to 30 games below .500 on Sunday, providing another reminder that this isn't the season where the team will be competing for a playoff spot or any kind of championship.

But all fans have to do is check the box scores rolling in from Triple-A Charlotte to get another kind of reminder: that a season where the White Sox will be competing for a playoff spot and a championship could be right around the corner.

Eloy Jimenez, the team's top-rated prospect and the No. 2 prospect in baseball, is killing it lately. Since returning from the disabled list in the middle of the month, Jimenez has a .424 batting average and is slugging a jaw-dropping .818 — thanks to three homers and four doubles — in eight games.

These are just the latest superb numbers from Jimenez, who has torn it up all season long, first at Double-A Birmingham and then in Charlotte since his promotion on July 1. Heading into Sunday's game, he was slashing .324/.375/.572 between the two levels. Then he upped those numbers with a base hit in his lone plate appearance as a pinch hitter in Sunday's game.

The only thing that can be seen as a negative for Jimenez this season — and this really isn't too much of one — has been health. While he's avoided the significant injuries that have stolen months of development time away from the likes of Luis Robert, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning, Jake Burger and Micker Adolfo, Jimenez did start the season late with a pec injury and then missed a couple weeks earlier this month with a strained adductor muscle. Judging by the results, neither injury has done much (if anything) to negatively impact his offensive capabilities.

And so with the statistics remaining ridiculously good and getting better, the question that's dogged the White Sox dating back to the end of last season remains: When will Jimenez join the big league roster?

Only the White Sox have the answer to that question at the moment, but it would figure to be some time relatively soon and almost certainly before this season is over. That might not be specific enough for the fans clamoring to watch Jimenez play on the South Side. But take some cues from what general manager Rick Hahn has been saying all season:

First off, the White Sox performance and place in the standings will have no bearing on when Jimenez is promoted. The team will not bring Jimenez up just to inject some life into the final 60 games of the 2018 campaign. Jimenez's development has nothing to do with this team's win-loss record and is completely tied to the team's future, not its present.

Second, Hahn has talked about the benefits of Jimenez receiving at-bats at the Triple-A level and gaining experience facing the kinds of pitchers he didn't face in the lower levels of the minor leagues. He obviously didn't put a number on it, so the argument that Jimenez's 80 plate appearances in 20 games are enough to determine he's big league ready is potentially valid or potentially invalid, depending on what the White Sox have determined they want to see behind the scenes.

Third, Hahn has often said that not everything shows up in box scores. While Jimenez is putting up big numbers, the team is looking for other things that aren't as easy to recognize for those of us who aren't in the player-development business, not to mention those of us who don't even have an MiLB.TV subscription. Hahn said the same thing when Michael Kopech started the season in dominating fashion, and Kopech remains at Triple-A as the White Sox continue to wait for him to reach certain developmental benchmarks.

Fourth, Hahn has pointed to last year's treatment of Yoan Moncada as somewhat of a template for how the White Sox will treat their highest-rated prospects who are close to reaching the majors. Moncada, unlike Jimenez, had a small amount of big league experience before joining the organization in the Chris Sale trade, making his case slightly different. But he, too, was putting up good numbers at Triple-A, with a .282/.377/.447 slash line before his promotion on July 19. Moncada debuted about this time last season after doing well at the Triple-A level, but remember that he played 80 games there after starting the season with Charlotte. Jimenez joined that club in the middle of the season and has played in a quarter of the games that Moncada did before getting the call to make his White Sox debut. Though it's true that Jimenez is putting up significantly more impressive offensive numbers.

So "relatively soon" is perhaps the best we can do right now when trying to predict when Jimenez will reach the South Side. The White Sox have their own checklist when it comes to Jimenez's development, just like they do with every player, and only they will know when he's completed that list.

What is no mystery is how Jimenez is faring at Triple-A. He's swinging a red-hot bat, and few would argue that the numbers don't look major league ready. There's more to it than just the numbers, of course, but it would figure to be a safe bet that White Sox fans will be able to start purchasing Jimenez shirseys before the clock runs out on the 2018 season.

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avisail Garcia returned from his latest disabled-list stint with a bang, smacking a three-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle.

The White Sox right fielder hasn't even played in 20 games since late April, when he went on his first DL trip, which lasted two months. A second, also featuring an injury to his hamstring, made it two weeks between games.

But when he has been able to step to the plate this summer, Garcia has been tremendously productive. He came into Saturday night with a .333/.347/.783 slash line and a whopping eight home runs in the 17 games he played in between his two DL stays. Then he added that homer Saturday night off longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, giving him nine homers in his last 14 games.

Keeping this up could do an awful lot of things for Garcia: It could make his ice-cold start a distant memory, it could prove that last year's All-Star season might not have been a fluke, and it could keep him entrenched in the conversation about the White Sox outfield of the future, giving the team one of those good problems to have when deciding how he would fit into the puzzle alongside top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

But here's another possibility: Has Garcia swung a hot enough bat in his limited action that he could be a trade candidate before this month runs out?

The White Sox don't figure to have too many players who are going to get contending teams worked up into a lather. James Shields, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Xavier Cedeno. Those guys could classify as additions that would bolster teams' depth, but they might not be the attractive upgrades the White Sox were able to trade away last summer.

Garcia, though, could be. He might not slide into the middle of the order for too many contenders, but someone looking for a starting corner outfielder might be enticed by the kind of numbers Garcia has put up in June and July, albeit in a small sample size. Teams would also have to consider his health. He's already been to the disabled list twice this season. Teams would certainly have to be confident he wouldn't return in order to make a deal.

On the White Sox end, Garcia would figure to fetch a far more intriguing return package than the aforementioned pitchers, given that he's still pretty young (27) with one more season of team control after this one.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to Garcia. They could deal him now, deal him later or keep as a part of the rebuild, extending him and making him a featured player on the next contending team on the South Side. But with a lot of significant injuries this year perhaps having an effect on when all those highly rated prospects will finally arrive in the majors — not to mention the disappointing win-loss numbers the big league team has put up this season — perhaps it would make more sense to acquire some rebuild-bolstering pieces.

Of course, it all depends on if there are any deals to be made. Do other teams' front offices like what they've seen from Garcia in this short stretch as much as White Sox fans have? We'll know by the time August rolls around.