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Big questions remain about MLB testing plan, while shower ban worries players

Big questions remain about MLB testing plan, while shower ban worries players

Will testing be frequent enough? Will it be reliable enough? And will the proposed measures for handling a positive test be enough to prevent the coronavirus from spreading throughout the sport?

These are the biggest questions facing Major League Baseball, even after it sent an incredibly detailed list of health-and-safety proposals to the players' union last week.

The rate of testing in the United States is increasing. But it still is not where health experts say it needs to be. And as the league pitches a plan to start a shortened 2020 season in a little over a month, it is suggesting frequent testing but not daily testing, which could put players and all those necessary to stage a season at higher risk of infection.

While many of the health-and-safety proposals would dramatically alter the day-to-day lives of players, perhaps the best ways to combat the spread of the virus — daily tests, nasal swabs, contact tracing and strict social distancing — have been among the least restrictive of the proposals, perhaps with the intention not to further ruffle the feathers of the players, who will need to sign off on these measures and come to an agreement on the financial front if the season is going to be played at all.

Commendably, Major League Baseball says it is committed to conducting tests and other safety measures in a way that does not impact the supplies of the general population fighting the disease outside the walls of a well-financed professional sports league. But that could mean a less-than-ideal testing program for baseball. Without daily testing and with tests that don't reveal a result until 24 hours later, a scenario exists in which an asymptomatic player could easily spread the virus among not just his own teammates but players on opposing teams, potentially exposing dozens before he even knew he was positive.

Similarly worrisome, the league is proposing conducting the majority of its tests using saliva samples (as opposed to the more intrusive nasal swabs), which a health expert told The Athletic's Andy McCullough and Marc Carig is an unreliable method at the moment.

"Saliva testing is in its infancy with this disorder," said Dr. Michael Saag, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "I understand why they want to go there. But I don't know if we're 100 percent at a point where we can trust saliva testing. Maybe by the time that June rolls around we'll be there."

Under the league's proposal, a player who does test positive would be quarantined. But the league would not follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's contact-tracing guidelines, which recommend that anyone who came into contact with an infected person self-isolates for 14 days. The reasons are obvious. Major League Baseball doesn't want to have to shut a team, multiple teams or the sport as a whole down in the middle of the season. The problem is that this is not the best way to prevent the spread of the virus, and without isolating a positive player's teammates, the virus could continue to spread throughout the sport.

When the idea to quarantine the entire season in Arizona was discussed earlier this year, players balked. Understandably, they didn't want to be quarantined away from their families for months. But there were also complaints about their lives being restricted solely to hotel rooms and baseball fields. The league perhaps didn't want to even broach that subject again. While it's encouraging players to practice social distancing while away from the ballpark, be that at home or in the hotel while traveling, it's not mandating they stay in their homes and hotels, like it is for non-player members of teams' traveling parties, who are not to leave their hotels without permission.

That increases the risk of a player becoming infected due to contact with someone in the world at large and then bringing the virus into baseball's more controlled environment.

But allowing players greater freedom to move around in road cities was one of the alterations to the proposals that team executives suggested to The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal on Thursday, with one quoted as saying attempting to restrict players to hotels while on the road would be "really difficult to accomplish."

RELATED: White Sox arm Evan Marshall on MLB talks: Players 'made out to be the bad guys'

While there remain these huge questions about the league's ability to stop the spread of the virus, the players seem more irked by some of the other, perhaps less important proposals, the ones that tweak the game and alter their daily routines in an attempt to ensure a safer environment.

A big one: showers.

Under the league's initial proposals, showers will be one of the many things banned at big league ballparks, along with spitting, high fives, hugs, sunflower seeds, exchanging lineup cards and communal drink dispensers like Gatorade buckets. And while waiting until you get home to shower after a game might not strike as a grand sacrifice, it's weighing heavily on players' minds.

"'We discourage taking showers after games.' And my wife would discourage riding home with me after games," White Sox relief pitcher Evan Marshall told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "Where do you go from there? If we can't take a shower after the game, then is it even safe to be playing?"

Among the suggested alterations to the proposals from team executives Rosenthal reported on, allowing players to shower at the park was among them, along with relaxing the proposed measures asking players not to use indoor batting cages and hydrotherapy pools.

"Not getting to use any of the facilities that help recover our bodies is going to be a problem," current Marlins and former Cubs pitcher Brandon Kintzler told ESPN's Jesse Rogers.

None of this might end up derailing a season, as the economic fight between the league and the union might have the ability to do. But while Major League Baseball showed how serious it was to attempting to ensure a safe environment, these big questions remain. Unfortunately, playing baseball games in the middle of a pandemic and guaranteeing 100 percent safety seem to be mutually exclusive.

"Once you get the (economic) side rolling, all these little things will fall in line," Marshall said on the White Sox Talk Podcast. "Like all the batters having to wear batting gloves and a much more often rotation of baseballs. ... All those things seem like they'll fall in line once we commit to playing and we set a season and a calendar and all that. Those are minor issues."

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White Sox pitchers' greatest hitting performances before universal DH

White Sox pitchers' greatest hitting performances before universal DH

The universal designated hitter is coming in 2020. Of course, the White Sox have had the DH since 1973, but when interleague play was introduced in 1997, there were still a handful of games where the pitchers hit. Now we won’t have even that.

And that’s fine. White Sox pitchers from 1997-present have hit a collective .104/.137/.144 with three home runs, 17 walks and 205 strikeouts in 516 plate appearances. That’s hard to watch. But there have been some fine moments by White Sox pitchers at the plate throughout history.

On April 29, 1901, Frank Shugart hit the first major league home run in White Sox history. He was a shortstop, but the second home run was by pitcher John Skopec the following day. So, believe it or not, there was a time where the White Sox had an equal number of home runs by position players and pitchers. One apiece — after the game on April 30, 1901.

In 1908, Big Ed Walsh had a season for the ages. He went 40-15 while tossing 464 innings, striking out 269 (a White Sox record until Chris Sale broke it) with 42 complete games and 11 shutouts. He even made 17 relief appearances; what more could you ask for?

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Well, on July 4, he hit a home run — one of only three home runs the Sox hit ALL SEASON! Walsh’s round tripper was the team’s first of the season — in Game 68. So, Ed Walsh won 40 games and hit 33.3 percent of the team’s home runs in 1908. That won’t happen again.

On Aug. 31, 1935, the White Sox beat the Indians 5-0. Three of those runs were on a bases-loaded triple by Vern Kennedy in the sixth inning. Of course, that wasn’t the big story. The big story of the game was that Kennedy tossed a no-hitter.

Tommy Byrne had notorious control issues, but he had talent, so the White Sox traded for the 33-year old lefty for 1953 trying to catch lightning in a bottle. The White Sox ended up trading Byrne to Washington in June, but not before he put up one of the stranger statlines in franchise history. Byrne made six starts but only pitched 16 innings. In four of his starts, he failed to make it out of the second inning. He walked 26 in 16 innings and struck out only four. His ERA was a nightmarish 10.13 but he was 2-0!

But that’s not it. He made twice as many appearances as a pinch hitter (12) than he did on the mound (6). And on May 16, 1953 at Yankee Stadium, he dug in to pinch hit in the ninth inning against Ewell “The Whip” Blackwell with the bases loaded and the White Sox trailing 3-1. You probably know where this is going. Yes, Byrne hit the most improbable pinch hit grand slam, one of only eleven in White Sox history, and the only one by a pitcher.

Jack Harshman holds the White Sox record with 16 strikeouts on July 25, 1954, which you may already know. What you may not know is that Harshman was the New York Giants Opening Day starter in 1950 — at first base. With 12 home runs for the White Sox, he’s one of only two pitchers in franchise history with at least 10. And on June 16, 1957, Harshman started against the Washington Senators and was knocked out of the box after allowing six runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Harshman didn't hit a home run but was relieved by Dixie Howell, who hit two of them. It’s the only multi-homer effort by a White Sox pitcher — and it was a reliever. Howell had one other home run in 1957, and it was a walkoff — the only White Sox walk-off homer by a pitcher (excluding pinch hit appearances) — on Sept. 6. The year before, Howell homered in consecutive relief appearances for the White Sox — June 27 vs. Boston and July 1 at Cleveland. Not bad.

Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio and Early Wynn finished 1-2-3 in AL MVP voting in 1959, as the Go-Go Sox went on to the World Series. Fox won the MVP, hitting two home runs and posting a .389 slugging percentage. Meanwhile,  Wynn was third in MVP voting, won the Cy Young Award, matched Fox’s two home runs and .389 slugging percentage.

MORE: Tim Anderson leads growing White Sox toward contention: 'He's a man'

His masterpiece was on May 1, when he tossed a complete game, one-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts. But he also homered for the lone run in the 1-0 victory! And that June 14, he went 4-for-5 with three runs, two doubles and an RBI in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Baltimore. It remains the last four-hit game by a White Sox starting pitcher (Adam LaRoche had four hits in a game where he pitched the ninth inning. It doesn’t really count, but it’s fun to mention).

There have been four pinch hit home runs by White Sox pitchers — Byrne’s grand slam (mentioned earlier), Charlie Barnabe on May 1, 1928, and two by Gary Peters. Peters hit a remarkable 15 home runs for the White Sox, a record 13 as a pitcher and two as a pinch hitter. One of those two was a walk-off blast on July 19, 1964 in the first game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City A’s. Peters also hit one of two grand slams by a White Sox pitcher — three, if you count Byrne’s pinch hit blast. Peters hit his grand salami on Cinco de Mayo in 1968 off the Yankees’ Al Downing.

The other grand slam by a Sox moundsman was by Monty Stratton on June 10, 1938. Tragically, later that year Stratton suffered an accidental gunshot wound which required his leg to be amputated. Monty never made it back to the majors, but made it back to the minors in 1946 and pitched for several more years on a prosthetic. The 1949 movie "The Stratton Story" tells his inspirational tale.

The best single-season batting average in White Sox history (minimum 15 at-bats) is .526 by Terry Forster, a pitcher. Years before David Letterman referred to the big lefty as a “Fat Tub of Goo,” he went 10-for-19 for the White Sox in 1972 — 10 hits and 29 saves in the same season And then of course, the following season, the American League adopted the designated hitter.

What about those three home runs hit by White Sox pitchers in the DH era?

The first was by Jon Garland in Cincinnati on June 18, 2006 off Esteban Yan, who allowed two of the more unlikely home runs in White Sox history. It was Yan who allowed Paul Konerko’s epic inside-the-park homer at Tropicana Field on April 11, 2000.

Next was Mark Buehrle, who homered off Milwaukee’s Braden Looper on June 14, 2009. Of course, Buehrle later tossed a perfect game on July 23 that year. Buehrle in 2009 became the second pitcher in White Sox history to homer and toss a no-hitter in the same season, along with Frank “Piano Mover” Smith in 1905. Smith had two hits, three runs and a walk in his Sept. 6, 1905 no-no.

The most recent home run by a White Sox pitcher was Anthony Ranaudo on July 27, 2016. It was Ranaudo’s first game in a White Sox uniform; he is one of only two pitchers to homer in their White Sox debut, joining Jack Salveson on June 14, 1935. The 6-foot-7 righty is also one of only two AL pitchers ever to homer at Wrigley Field, joining the Tigers’ Daniel Norris on Aug. 19, 2015. Ranaudo was the first White Sox starting pitcher to homer before allowing a hit in a game since Peters on July 14, 1965.

But of course, Ranaudo’s blast was not the greatest moment by a White Sox pitcher in 2016. That of course would be on June 1 at Citi Field in Queens, when Matt Albers doubled to lead off the 13th inning, scored what would be the game-winning run and got the win over the Mets. The moment was immortalized with its own Topps Now card.

If you take 119 years of history, you’re bound to find a few rays of sunshine. Such is the case with White Sox pitchers at the plate. Fortunately, the designated hitter has allowed generations of White Sox fans to enjoy the fine hitting of Harold Baines, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, just to name a few. So, if Major League Baseball wants to implement a universal DH, that’s fine by us.

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Tim Anderson leads growing White Sox toward contention: 'He's a man'

Tim Anderson leads growing White Sox toward contention: 'He's a man'

Growing up.

It's what this rebuild is all about.

When you start building from the bottom, the name of the game is acquiring young, talented players, developing them and watching as they, hopefully, start winning baseball games and, eventually, World Series titles. The White Sox, despite the hype, obviously aren't all the way there just yet, unless I somehow missed a parade.

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But they're getting there. They might be really close. And throughout the roster, players once described as prospects with bright futures have stepped into those futures.

That includes Tim Anderson, who went from a .240 hitter in 2018 to a .335 hitter last year, that batting average high enough to win the big league batting title.

What's next for Anderson remains to be seen — the White Sox and their fans want to see defensive improvement to go along with his big jump at the plate — but the guy running the show is over the moon when it comes to his shortstop and the growing up Anderson's done over the last few years.

"I was watching him a little while ago. Man, he looks so good," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said Friday. "This young man is — he's a man. I think that he's grown so much as a person, as a player. I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for him. I'm very, very confident in the maturity that's transpired over the last few years. He's worked extremely hard. I think, and I still believe, that this kid's an All-Star quality type shortstop.

"When I see him working, I see some things that he does, and every day I'm impressed. I expect a lot out of Timmy. More importantly, Timmy expects a lot out of himself. I know he wants perfection, and he's continuing to grow toward that. But this kid's pretty good, and I will continue to say that for as long as I'm here.

"Timmy's a pretty good Major League Baseball player, and I think he's going to be around for a while."

Anderson sees that growth, too, when he looks around the field, and like plenty of fans and observers, he sees this group of White Sox capable of finally making that jump out of rebuilding mode and into contending mode this year.

"I think we all have matured," he said. "As the years pass by, we have all matured and kind of grown into better players. We all had a great season last year. I think it’s just exciting to see us continue to grow and continue to come together as a team and grow as men.

"I think it’s very cool and we have a chance to basically tighten this bond up for the next couple of years to hopefully do something that’s real special."

That jump was supposed to happen this season. With the young core emerging in a big way in 2019 and Rick Hahn's front office going to work over the offseason, bringing in veterans with winning experience, the rebuild was supposed to start bearing winning fruit back in March.

Then the pandemic brought baseball to a screeching halt.

RELATED: White Sox in playoffs? Tim Anderson: 'Something dope can happen in 60 games'

The game is back, for now at least, with the league-branded "Summer Camp" starting Friday morning on the South Side. Finally, the White Sox were back together, again readying for a season of big expectations.

A lot has changed since March, though, both in baseball and in the world, in general. For the White Sox, the 162-game season they were built for and revved up for in March has been squeezed down to a 60-game schedule in a two-month sprint to the postseason.

The next stage of growth for these White Sox — whose most recent regular-season action was the end of an 89-loss season almost 10 months ago — is learning how to win. They thought they'd have six months to figure it out. Instead, they have two.

"'Learning how to win,' I guess that's a really good way of putting it," Renteria said. "Our guys, they've been growing up together. I've been very fortunate to be here to see them growing up, and they've had an opportunity over the last few years now to experience playing at the major league level, going through some ups and downs, learning what they're capable of doing.

"At the end of the day, their talent has to meet the moment and be prepared for it and allow themselves to trust what they're capable of doing."

Should the state of the pandemic allow the 2020 season to get off the ground — the initial testing results Major League Baseball announced Friday were encouraging, with a positive-test rate of only 1.2 percent — we'll find out exactly what they're capable of doing.

But as mentioned, that growth is still happening all over the roster. Anderson, entering his fifth big league season, has grown up. Even Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada have shed the nasty results from their 2018 seasons to arrive at a much better place. But Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech only have a handful of major league starts under their belts. Eloy Jimenez is entering just his second season. Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal have yet to see a major league pitch. And there's more behind them, with last month's first-round draft pick Garrett Crochet already being described as a potential quick mover to the major leagues.

That's part of the plan, of course, for the window to stay propped open for years while the waves of talent continue to reach the South Side and develop into high-end major league players. And so whether the shortened 2020 season features the White Sox finally reaching the playoffs or not, Hahn sees the value in that big-picture goal as guys keep growing.

"We've got a limited sample here. Let's make the most of it from a development standpoint," he said Friday. "Whether that is young guys getting their major league experience under their belt and dealing with whatever adjustments have to happen throughout the league, or teaching some of the guys who have been around here a little bit longer what it takes to win and playing in an intense environment, given the magnitude of each and every game and, ideally, a pennant race down the stretch that will be compelling. So there's going to be a lot of long-term benefits from getting these guys back out here and playing."

RELATED: Michael Kopech absent from White Sox camp, adding another unknown to 2020

But while the growth continues, there's good reason to finally be excited about the present. Anderson sees what's possible, even in this most unusual of seasons, as he looks to keep evolving while the White Sox start winning.

He's not thrilled with his defense, either — he made a combined 88 errors in his first four major league campaigns — and he's looking to put in the same kind of work that turned his offensive fortunes around last year.

"Nothing came natural. I worked to get to where I’m at. But I’m going to continue to work," he said. "That’s a part of my game that’s definitely lacking. It ain’t too far behind, though. I’m getting to where I need to be.

"I’ll continue to work, I’ll continue to get better. I’m going to continue to learn the game. Each and every day, come to the ballpark ready. As I mature and as I grow, it’s going to continue to get better. You’ll see. You have seen it. All aspects of my game.

"As long as I continue to get better, continue to grow and continue to learn and work hard, that will come along as well."

And he won't say no to another batting title, either. Not that it's Priority No. 1, though.

"Hopefully I can get a ring out of it," he said, "and if the batting title comes again, then cool.

"We’ll see what happens at the end of the 60. Hopefully it’s not just 60."


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