Optimism abounds on Opening Day to an absolutely absurd degree. A 162-game season is all about beating everyone over the head with hard truths for six months until they become ingrained, and none of that work has begun yet. For example, the Houston Astros are currently leading the AL West, and own the tiebreaker over the Texas Rangers to boot. Theatre of the Absurd!
But how to get everyone excited about the White Sox? The most I can promise you is they should be around, doing things, being competent, not getting swept most of the time. What I can do today, is conclusively show that whatever your doubts about every Opening Day starter, the White Sox have done worse…and recently!
Current: Chris Sale
It’s easy to feel good about this one. Sale, 24, is an uber-talented young ace signed on to lead the starting rotation for the foreseeable future. It’s also a step up from last year, when John Danks was the pretty talented young de-facto ace signed on to lead the starting rotation for the foreseeable future.
Much, much worse:All the guys who started during the first Bush Presidency
Jaime Navarro’s back-to-back tours of duty on Opening Day ’97 & ’98 are the obvious and horrifying choice. K/BB ratios aren’t supposed to be under 1.00, Jaime, otherwise they’d be BB/K ratios! Duh!
But at least he offered stability. The White Sox ended the 1980’s cycling through Ricky Horton, Jerry Reuss and Melido Perez for Opening Day starters before Jack McDowell came along. Neither Horton or Reuss even finished out the year with the club, and Perez got the nod after finishing the previous year with an ERA+ of 76. Later he was part of trade package that brought in Steve Sax.
Current: Tyler Flowers
He is not A.J. Pierzynski, and will probably never be a plus-hitter do his countless strikeouts. What’s not to hate, amiright, 89% of White Sox fans?
Much, much worse:Charlie O’Brien
Maybe the reason the White Sox didn’t want to re-up with an aging catcher this offseason because they remember how the idea of following up the Ron Karkovice era with a mixture of Chad Kreuter and 38 year-old Charlie O’Brien (who grabbed the Opening Day start) went. Maybe O’Brien’s .262/.303/.390 line seems alright, but remember again the nature of MLB offense in 1998.
Current: Paul Konerko
He’s old, but lovable. Konerko’s making his 12th-straight Opening Day start at the position, and his wrist is all in one piece again.
Much, much worse: Greg Norton
The 1998 White Sox started Norton–he of the 64 career MLB plate appearances at the time–at 1st base on Opening Day. Over the season, he would split time with recently convicted spousal abuser Wil Cordero. How can anyone be cynical about this current team, when the 1998 White Sox managed to win 80 games somehow?
Current: Gordon Beckham
Going into his fourth-straight year as the full-time starting second basemen, Beckham is continuing to demonstrate how low the standards are for offense at up-the-middle defensive positions are, especially if that defense is relatively commendable. If nothing else, he’s useful as a point of reference.
Much, much worse: Steve Sax
Chris Getz is a competitor for sure, and Willie Harris wasn’t much good, but in each case the White Sox were simply giving the most qualified keystone in the organization a shot. At this moment, when everyone is lamenting another summer with Gordon and the low expectations he brings, it’s a good time to remember how much hope there was for Steve Sax in 1992. They traded second round draft pick Bob Wickman for him! Sax hit .236/.290/.317 in ’92 and fielded like time had caught up with him and was yanking on his jersey.
Current: Jeff Keppinger
Keppinger might be alright? He’s never played…well any position on a full-time basis and might not do well facing all the right-handed pitching life is going to throw at him, but he’s not….
Much, much worse: Everybody
…Chris Snopek or Craig Wilson or Josh Fields or Mark Teahen or Brent Morel. This position is a graveyard and there’s no need for reminders. Robin Ventura was fantastic at the hot corner for this team and all he got was a mangled leg and a high-anxiety job that he may or may not enjoy.
Current: Alexei Ramirez
Alexei Ramirez is a defensive whiz, but is coming off of his worst offensive season. Since offense is the only thing anyone can really measure effectively and his approach comes off as undisciplined, attitudes toward Alexei are not as positive as they probably should be.
Much, much worse:When Jimmy Carter talked about malaise he was just talking about White Sox shortstops
The end of Ozzie Guillen era was rough, Mike Caruso: Year 2 was definitely a trying time for everyone, but let’s go back to 1977. This is a time period where the White Sox begin a stretch of five different Opening Day shortstops in five years, and seven in nine. This is a period of time where the organization couldn’t find a half-decent answer to “How do we replace Bucky Dent?” When Bill Almon slap-hit .301/.341/.375 in 1981 to actually earn a second-go-round, the Sox showed a lot of restraint by not erecting a 60-foot statue in his honor and signing his first-born son to a 10-year contract.
Current: Dayan Viciedo
Dayan needs to learn to hit right-handers and take a walk in order to stave off intense offensive lean years for a franchise currently dependent on senior citizens. Also, he sure as hell isn’t standing out in left field because the team just loves his arm that much. But at least there’s potential here.
Much, much worse: Carlton Fisk. Yes, Carlton Fisk
Juan Pierre was an easy target for criticism (and I think I got it all out of my system), and injuries made Opening Day left fielders out of Pablo Ozuna (2007) and Cory Snyder (1991). But all of these selections were received more warmly than Tony La Russa’s experiment to put 38 year-old Carlton Fisk out there. From the Chicago Tribune archives, back when Ed Sherman was on staff, here’s Fisk’s feelings on the switch:
"“Ain’t much to do out there,” Fisk said. “I was out there for six innings and touched the ball twice.”What`s the toughest part of playing left field?“Staying awake,” Fisk said.Does he feel comfortable in left yet?“I don`t know if I`ll ever feel comfortable out there,” Fisk replied."
Young Joel Skinner not being able to hit a barn door if he was leaning against it didn’t help make the change stick.
Current: Alejandro De Aza
Shame on the person who raises a voice to criticize Alejandro De Aza
Much, much worse: Googly Woo
The full-blown acceptance of De Aza is born out of the White Sox’ historical struggles at the position. There’s a litany of forgettable names, but nothing puts it in starker relief than this:
On Opening Day 1999, Darrin Jackson was in center field for the White Sox
On Opening Day 2000, Darrin Jackson was in the announcer booth for the White Sox.
Current: Alex Rios
Rios competed hard for the honor of “Worst offensive season ever” in 2011, then nabbed up MVP votes (From Mark Gonzales) in 2012. Variety is the spice of life.
Much, much worse: Mike Huff
Between Quentin, Dye, Ordonez, Calderon and Baines, the Sox have had success stocking this position. But after an overly raw Sammy Sosa flopped in the early ’90s, the Sox turned to Mike Huff in 1992. He hit .209/.273/.252, but certainly did his part in convincing the franchise they needed to sign Ellis Burks in free agency.
Current: Adam Dunn
Dunn still has booming power and is trying to rejigger his plate approach at 32 to stave off the mounting strikeout totals that threaten to eat his career. No concerns to be had at all, really.
Much, much worse: Chris Sabo
Sabo’s rec specs can be charming, but not when they’re squeezed onto a cheap replacement for Julio Franco, who only bolted to Japan due to the labor strike that Jerry Reinsdorf exacerbated. Sabo only appeared in 20 games, had his role usurped by John Kruk (signed in May), and was released in June. At least Dunn’s acquisition was sound in theory, and not a cheaped-out Mark Kotsay-like half-solution. Nothing signalled The Bad Part of the ’90’s for the White Sox like Sabo.
In conclusion, remember two things this season:
- The White Sox could always do worse, because their recent history is vibrant and rich enough that they have already done far worse at every position.
- If the franchise ever constructs another runaway preseason favorite for the division title, please help me campaign for “White Sox Baseball: Sound, in theory” to be their official slogan