White Sox

'Winning Ugly' White Sox enjoy SoxFest reunion

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'Winning Ugly' White Sox enjoy SoxFest reunion

It's been 30 years since the Winning Ugly White Sox lit up summer nights on the South side of Chicago. The stadium they played in has since been demolished, their rookie manager has completed a Hall of Fame career and retired in 2011, and a World Series banner has been hung above the division title the 1983 team earned.

But for this weekend at SoxFest, they were the focus again once more. Tony La Russa, Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle, Roland Hemond, Tom Paciorek and Harold Baines all reunited for two days of panels, stories, and many, many jokes at one another's expense.

"We could outdrink any team in baseball," said former Sox outfielder and broadcaster Tom Paciorek, who then pointed to his old teammate Greg Luzinski and said "And this guy right here was our leader."

Over the crowd's laughter, Luzinski said: "Don't laugh. I'm from Chicago, so you're all in the same boat with me."

Such descriptions of partying might elicit cringes these days, but for the 1983 squad, it was all part of a famous level of team chemistry that included mandatory team parties instituted by their 34 year-old first-time manager Tony La Russa.

"It was really a good thing because it kept the guys together on the road,' La Russa said on Friday night. "They just kept reinforcing 'let's win tomorrow' and then you mixed in a lot of baseball talk when you were all together. It was just really a great atmosphere."

The longtime manager could only spend a night in Chicago before heading out for the funeral of Cardinals legend Stan Musial, but said that All Jerry Reinsdorf had to do was ask to get him to show up to honor what was such a fun year.

The fun was heightened by a raucous home atmosphere, as Comiskey Park saw a nearly 600,000 jump in attendance that year, and topped two million total fans for the first time in franchise history.

"You get 30,000-35,000 people there a night in Comiskey Park," said Luzinski, "Especially with Nancy Faust over there on that organ, she could get that place hopping, and it was a lot of fun. There were teams after a while that didn't want to come in to Comiskey."

Of course, it's a lot easier to have fun and pack the ballpark when the team wins 99 games and claims the division title by 20 games. With their playing careers in the rearview mirror now, the time was ripe for the panel to place the accomplishments of the 1983 club in historical perspective.

"No question it was one of the best teams I've played on the best pitching staff, obviously, starting-wise," said Luzinski. "Tremendous ballclub."

That starting rotation was headed up by two 20-game winners in Richard Dotson and Lamarr Hoyt, that latter of whom won the American League Cy Young that season. Not only did 1983 represent the best year of Dotson and Hoyt's careers, but it also was the last year the team had with hitting coach Charley Lau and scout Loren Babe, as both died of cancer before the 1984 season started.

"We kind of dedicated that season to them," said Paciorek at the Saturday panel discussion, "Why we won 17 games in a row at home, why we came back from that 18-24 start, I think had a lot to do with those guys, because we knew they were fighting a tougher battle than we were by just playing a baseball game."

With that inspiration and a once-in-a-lifetime pitching staff in tow, the White Sox still fell to the Baltimore Orioles three games to one in the American League Championship Series. The franchise wouldn't make it back to the playoffs for ten seasons and by then, Carlton Fisk was the only player left from the 1983 squad.

But any moments of bitterness still present from that defeat and the opportunity at a World Series championship that went by the boards were quickly diffused. A fan asked the panel how come the 1984 team that added Hall of Famer Tom Seaver to the staff could not repeat the magic.

"Well, he wasn't any good," said Paciorek quickly, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. When it came to discussing on one of the most fun seasons of their lives, the players in attendance just did not have much room for regret.

"We were walking away dejected," said Ron Kittle, describing the feeling after the White Sox were eliminated from the playoffs. "But we played hard for the city of Chicago, they rocked the place with two million people that year, we heard 'Na Na Hey Hey', I got to play my rookie year in between Wimpy Paciorek, Bull Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk that was my dream, I watched them when I was a kid and I was just fortunate to be part of that team."

That feeling was clear. 15 minutes after the panel ended, a crew looking to set up the Red Lacquer Room at the Palmerhouse for Sunday's events had amassed near the media entrance, but they were being held up.

"Ron Kittle is still out there signing autographs," one of them noted, before they decided to wheel their gear out toward the back entrance. They must not have seen Luzinski, since he was still out there too.

CSN White Sox Insider Dan Hayes contributed to this story.

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

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USA TODAY

Yoan Moncada's knee will be fine, White Sox say, but what should we make of his roller-coaster first half?

It sounds like Yoan Moncada’s knee is going to be fine.

The immediate future of that knee looked very much in question during the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals, when Moncada crumpled to the ground after getting hit in the knee with a baseball. He was in some pretty significant-looking pain, which after the game the second baseman likened to being hit with a hammer.

But Moncada hopes to play in the White Sox first-half finale Sunday, and manager Rick Renteria isn’t even leaning toward adding a fifth day to Moncada’s All-Star break until he sees how his second baseman feels Sunday.

It ended up being a good forecast for Moncada, who has had the definition of an up-and-down first half of his first full season in the major leagues.

While much of the talk has been about Moncada’s struggles so far this season, he’s actually been hitting very well over the past two weeks, coming into Saturday’s game with a .300/.391/.525 slash line and five extra-base hits, six RBIs and eight runs scored in the previous 10 games.

“I think he’s just being a little more aggressive in the zone early,” Renteria said. “He’s had quite a few really good at-bats over the last 10 days. Even if I think about (Friday), him walking the first three times, working deep counts, continues to be very focused in the zone. I mean, he understands the strike zone as good as anybody I’ve ever seen, regardless of how much time he has or doesn’t have in the big leagues. He’s got a really good idea.

“I think now he’s trying to take advantage of knowing that guys are going to try to come after you early. And if it’s in the zone, fire on that pitch. Get the barrel to it and do what you can.”

It’s a good stretch in a season that has to this point been defined by stretches for Moncada, who just a year ago was the No. 1 prospect in the game. Through the campaign’s first 17 games, his batting average was just barely higher than .200. Then he got hot for next 12 games before hitting the disabled list, which brought his season to a screeching halt. He returned in mid May and watched his batting average drop more than .020 points before the end of the month. In 46 games between May 15 and July 1, Moncada slashed .195/.242/.324. And then things finally reached an upswing in the last two weeks.

None of that tells the entire story, of course, good or bad.

Moncada has had his big moments, and Renteria, for one, continues to rave about Moncada’s mastery of the strike zone. But a look at the offensive averages leaves out other not-so-pretty areas of his game, like his major league leading 130 strikeouts and his 15 fielding errors, the third most in baseball.

Expectations were high for Moncada coming into the season and understandably so as the first-to-arrive major piece of this rebuilding effort. His acquisition in the Chris Sale trade followed by his White Sox debut last summer made his development the main storyline of this season.

So far, things have obviously not lived up to the hype, and Moncada isn’t happy, either, though he’s taking cues from his manager, Renteria, and teammate/mentor/friend, Jose Abreu, and looking at the positives.

“It hasn’t been as good as I wanted it to be,” Moncada said through a team translator on Friday. “But it hasn’t been as bad as you can think. It has been a challenging first half, but I’ve been learning a lot and working. I think the second half is going to be much better.”

Certainly this kind of performance from a young player (remember that Moncada is only 23 years old) isn’t completely unexpected. While he arrived in the majors after tearing up Triple-A, Moncada, as the White Sox brass will remind you, is not a finished product. None of these young players are. And the struggles at the plate and in the field could wind up not as harbingers of doom but simply as growing pains on the way to the big league stardom White Sox fans hope for from Moncada and all the other highly touted youngsters in the organization. Development isn’t linear, as Rick Hahn likes to say, and Moncada was perhaps never destined to improve in such dramatic fashion that it was visibly noticeable to the layman from one day to the next.

But at the same time, fans are understandably irked by repeating mistakes. In just the last handful of games, Moncada added to his strikeout total, made a fielding error that cost the White Sox a run and failed as a base runner to pick up a ball hit to the outfield, getting doubled up for a double play.

Talking specifically about the fielding error, Moncada’s 15th of the season, Renteria explained what happened — Moncada was trying a little too quickly to turn a double play — and that it is another learning moment in a season of them for these White Sox.

“Just something where you end up have to emphasize in a double play situation like that not to get anxious,” Renteria said. “You have to catch the ball first and then feed it to the guy on the other end. It’s not abnormal for young players to try to turn the DP from where they are at. It’s not the case. Receiving the ball fist and then giving the good feed. It’s not unheard of. It happens a lot. They speed it up a little bit.

“You go over it with him a little bit, and he cleans it up. That’s one more experience we can rely upon that didn’t turn out well but we can talk about it and have it run through his mind and see if he can understand exactly what we are talking about. He normally does.”

That’s all part of the development for Moncada, and like great players before him, rookie-year struggles in certain facets can disappear by the following season. Look at Kris Bryant on the other side of town, who led the National League with 199 strikeouts during his rookie season and has watched that number plummet in each season since. Perhaps Moncada will end up with similar results.

There’s been plenty to dislike about Moncada’s first half, but that doesn’t mean the flashes of brilliance weren’t there. Moncada carries the burden of expectations as one of the prospects touted as a main piece of the organization’s bright future. And just because the first half didn’t look like anyone wanted it to doesn’t mean he still can’t get to that point.

And hey, if the second half looks more like the last two weeks, maybe these first-half struggles fade into distant memory.

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Jose Abreu might be starting to pull out of his slump, an example to White Sox young players

Perhaps things are starting to turn around for Jose Abreu.

It seems somewhat counterintuitive that the American League’s starting first baseman in next week’s All-Star Game is having his worst season as a big leaguer. But that’s been the case for Abreu, who after four remarkably productive and consistent seasons with the White Sox entered Friday’s game against the visiting Kansas City Royals with an OPS nearly .140 points below his career average. That’s mostly due to an extended slump in which he slashed .174/.218/.292 between May 27 and Wednesday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But maybe Abreu’s pulling out of his tailspin. He collected a pair of hits in Friday night’s win, including a well-struck home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth. That was his first extra-base knock since a triple on July 1 and his first homer since June 27.

Heck, a single two innings prior was enough to spark jokes from the home dugout, with Abreu’s teammates joking that he should get the team to retrieve the ball as a commemoration of his first hit in what’s seemed like forever.

Wiseguys, eh?

Abreu, always happy to joke around, appreciated the humor. And it’s what the White Sox appreciate about him that might be finally bringing him out of a month and a half of poor results: his work ethic.

Abreu’s commitment to his craft is a repeated talking point for manager Rick Renteria, general manager Rick Hahn and Abreu’s teammates. It’s what they respect most about a guy who put himself in some pretty elite company during his first four years in the major leagues. It’s what makes him a role model to the younger players so critical to this rebuilding effort who have already reached and who have yet reach the South Side.

Abreu’s efforts during this slump and the work he’s done to try to pull himself out of it: another example of what the young White Sox can learn from this veteran leader.

“I’m trying to tell them, to let them know what you need to do when you’re passing through a tough moment,” Abreu said through a team translator after Friday’s game. “Just have confidence in yourself, belief in yourself, belief in the stuff that you are doing and the stuff that brought you here. I think that’s the way.

“That’s the key for you to overcome difficulties and tough moments, have belief in yourself, have confidence in your approach, confidence in your routine, your work. That’s the way to overcome the difficulties, especially at this level.”

None of the current major league White Sox have escaped lengthy stretches of struggles in this developmental season. That includes big pieces of the rebuild like Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson. If they need some pointers on how to get back on track, looking to Abreu for help seems an obvious move, and the guys admit they get advice from Abreu on a regular basis.

Questions about hypothetical deadline and offseason trades will likely follow Abreu to Washington, D.C., next week. After all, if the rebuilding White Sox have a player good enough to start the All-Star Game, why wouldn’t they be interested in moving him for some young pieces?

Well, this kind of thing is why. Abreu is such an example to the young players who will soon make up the vast majority of this roster that the White Sox place a different value on him than other teams might. They see him as an important part of the developmental process for these prospects and young major leaguers. And he’s a good enough player to earn a start in the All-Star Game, which helps the argument that Abreu should be a part of the next White Sox contender.

That’s all to be determined, of course, but Abreu, with his work and his mentorship, is showing his value on a daily basis. And if this is him pulling out of his slump, then that value gets even greater.