- Gary Miller, MLB commentator
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While the White Sox got the head start on the trade deadline, acquiring a pitcher (Freddy Garcia) and hitter (Carl Everett) who may be better than anyone who actually switches teams by July 31, there's still much to be done on the south side of Chicago. If there are to be October games at U.S. Cellular field, general manager Kenny Williams is going to have to work some more magic and get a leadoff man, at least as far as his manager Ozzie Guillen is concerned.
When asked what tops his wish list, Guillen didn't hesitate to express his desire for an "on-base guy" at the top of his order, while also hoping to light a fire under his current 1-2 hitters, Willie Harris and Juan Uribe. As Ozzie put it, "I've never seen any team in the history of baseball hit more solo home runs than we do." (They came into the weekend leading the majors in that category, with 90.)
He also acknowledged that Uribe's been playing way above even the club's expectations for the first half, considering he wasn't even acquired to be a starting player.
The combination of no true tablesetters, and the huge void created by the simultaneous absences of Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas, two high on-base players, can hardly be filled by Everett or even the current surge of Carlos Lee and continued thump of Paul Konerko. Thomas likely won't be back until mid-September and Ordonez may never play again for the Sox, with free agency looming, a bad knee, and no way to get anything for the injured four-time All-Star, if Williams is unable to sign him.
Williams hired his former teammate, Guillen, to replace the contemplative Jerry Manuel to instill some fire in his talent-laden, but underachieving roster. Unfortunately, Guillen is the most fiery presence in the dugout, and he's yet to find a complimentary equivalent to inspire his team from within. Mike Jackson, a former Twin, and some other veterans in the Sox clubhouse held a team meeting after Tuesday's loss to raise the team's spirits and remind them even if they lost, there were 65 games left and Minnesota has a much harder schedule the rest of the way than Chicago. So far, no spark for the Sox. That's never more glaring than when they go head to head with the rival Twins, an aggressive, spirited team that reflects its manager, Ron Gardenhire. The Central Division leaders have several plus defenders at key positions. By comparison, the Sox not only have several defensive shortcomings, especially with Ordonez out, but they also don't have an extraodinary defensive shortstop like Guillen and it's proving increasingly costly to a club reliant on pitching and low-scoring games.
Jose Valentin may lead all shortstops in home runs, despite missing nearly a month, but he's exclusively a left-handed hitter now and should be platooning, and probably shouldn't be at short. He made baserunning and fielding gaffes against the Twins that directly contributed to Minnesota's sweep in the 10-inning finale Wednesday. Like the rest of the healthy White Sox, outside of Everett, Valentin also suffers from a low on-base percentage. After getting picked off earlier, Valentin dropped a foul pop by Jacque Jones, which Jones followed with a game winning, go-ahead single.
Jones took the hook out of buddy and outfield-mate Torii Hunter's back, who had inexplicably bunted with two on and one out in the 10th inning. Hunter later said "that's how nasty" Shingo Takatsu, the White Sox imported closer is, but no one, supported Torii's method of surprising "Mr. Zero," who threw him out before giving up Jones' mulligan hit. Takatsu was in his second inning, a rarity, and evidence Chicago also needs one more arm in the bullpen.
For his part, Hunter took away an extra-base hit from Timo Perez with a leaping catch in the right-center gap leading off the bottom of the 10th, and set the tone for the sweep, if not the series when he barrel-rolled Sox rookie catcher Jamie Burke with a four-run lead in Monday's opener. The collision with Hunter, a former Arkansas high school
quarterback, sent Burke to the hospital, and Chicago writers to their laptops, and radio hosts to their microphones clamoring for retaliation. Most of it came from U.S. Cellular Field fans who got in Hunter's face in the on-deck circle in his last at-bat, but he got right back in theirs, and far from being intimidated, said it helped him to stay focused, invited security to "take a break" while he's on deck, and any fan who wanted to come on the field to go right ahead, that would be an invitation to a "bullwhipping." Torii said the collision was all instinct, with no malice, and he tried to tell Burke during the next two days, but he didn't get cleared to play from a catscan and other tests until noon on Tuesday, and used Wednesday's pregame to sleep and continue to recover from a mild concussion. Burke, a former Oregon State placekicker himself, got in the game late in a defensive switch, and Hunter cleared the air from the batter's box.
Twins third-base coach Al Newman wasn't sure he'd live, let alone ever be back at U.S. Cellular Field, where he suffered a brain hemorrhage last September, and ended up in a coma in a Chicago hospital for three weeks. In fact, Newman thought he had died when the day he finally woke up, he looked up on the television and saw Gardenhire parading around the Metrodome with his No. 62 jersey during the division-clinching celebration, and figured, they only do that for guys who died. Newman's check-ups are down to one every six months now, and except for a brief scare in spring training with his blood pressure, he's slid right back into his slot in the third-base coach's box. He never let the customary abuse a visiting coach gets from the fans bother him, and even invites it. But now, more often than not, Newman hears cheers of encouragement, even in hostile territory like the south side. His neurosurgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Lorrie, had never been to a baseball game prior to dealing with Newman, but now dons the Twins hat Newman gave him, and has gotten to 35th and Shields three times this season, Minnesota winning each time. Tuesday night he brought along all
the nurses that worked with Newman during his illness, but of course, Newman doesn't remember any of them.
Newman is still spooked by the Westin Hotel, where the Twins still stay on their visits to Chicago, despite former Twin Quinton McCracken's father dying there, as well as the Cardinals' Darryl Kile. Newman said he couldn't sleep at all Monday, and not much Tuesday either, worrying he may fall asleep and not wake up. He gets flashbacks of brain activity from the three weeks he was asleep to the world, and has no idea how to process them. The other thing he found hard to process was the boxes upon boxes of well wishes and letters he got when he finally got home, intending to answer all of them with the help of his mother, but finally conceded a posted gratitude on the Internet was the only human solution. About the only other residual mental effect the Twins coach suffers from is that if he has to relieve himself during a game, he often forgets to zip his pants, no matter how often the players remind him, and they do, knowing the fans in the stands wouldn't hesitate to point out the dress code violation.
No question it's the national pastime when we continue to see seemingly out-of-place entertainers spending a summer day taking in a ballgame. Last week it was none other than Valerie Bertinelli, (Barbra Cooper) on the field during batting practice at Wrigley Field. The former "One Day at a Time" star, has been on tour with her former husband's namesake band, Van Halen, this summer, along with their son Wolfgang. Although some of the players had barely been born by the time her long-running series went off the air in 1984, most of them were beside themselves at the sight of the actress and rockstar wife around the cage with her son. Uncle Alex Van Halen was also in the entourage, which reportedly included Eddie, although no official sightings of the guitar impresario were chronicled. Valerie signed a few autographs, and marveled at the attention she got from the Cubs and Reds players who she said were very "cute," but, "mere children." There were a few fans in the stands who had the T-shirt from the concert at the United Center the night before, and although they said Van Halen has never been better, they seemed more excited to know Bertinelli was upstairs catching a Cubs game. Earlier in the month, the actress had made her first-ever visit to Fenway Park when the band was in Boston, and was now making her and her son's initial pilgrimage to Clark and Addison, most notably,
"because of the history." Wolfgang, looking like a perfect blend of mother and father, had a Cubs hat over his flowing locks, but had given up baseball after T-ball because he was "getting hit too much" while batting. Having spent much of her childhood in New Orleans, Valerie acknowledged her only true sports allegiance is to the Saints.
No one was more overwhelmed by meeting Bertinelli than the Reds' Sean Casey, who almost burst in enthusiasm at meeting Bill Buckner on the same day. Perhaps the most active autograph collector among current players, I asked Casey if he got Buckner's to add to his firstbasemen collection and he said, "No, I froze man! I could barely speak, let along remember to ask him to sign something. I couldn't believe I was taking a picture with Bill Buckner!" That's why everyone
loves "The Mayor," Sean Casey. No one chats up a visitor to first base the way Casey does, but Buckner said he did his share of gabbing. Did he ever get anyone picked off? As a matter of fact ... good friend George Brett made it to first with Buckner playing the bag, and while he was catching up with Brett and asking where they'd be going out to eat that night and other pleasantries, he added, "and one more thing George, you're out," as he tagged him. Seems the Hall of Famer never learned, getting picked off after his 3,000th hit as well.
Buckner, all the way in from Idaho for his second "attempt" at "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," won his only batting title with Chicago, and as one who lived through those dark ages of the 70's around Wrigley Field, I know that next to Bruce Sutter and one big bopper summer from Dave Kingman, Buckner, who wore No. 22, was the only reason to root for the northsiders in that era. Asked what comes back to him as he looked out across the field from his skybox with his wife Jody and daughter Christen, who hadn't even been born, and Buckner didn't hesitate to say 1977. The Cubs were picked to finish last, and came out of the All-Star break with the lead, only to fade of course, but Buckner vividly recalls the euphoria of the fans that summer while they were in the lead. After retiring, Buckner stayed around the game -- which included hitting coach stints with the Blue Jays and White Sox -- but he's been out of the game since 1997, and limits his instruction to his son Bobby's teams in Idaho.
Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.
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