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WSI News - Season Features

 

Ivan Calderon Remembered

   

By Mark Liptak


Ivan Calderon


The classic Ivan Calderon:  unbuttoned collar, gold chain, and going deep at Old Comiskey Park.

2003 has been a year White Sox fans and the White Sox family would just as soon forget. It was a year marked by the September collapse of a team many picked to easily win the A.L. Central, compounding that collapse was the fact that the Cubs came within five outs of making the World Series and that the off season has produced nothing but player losses with only the acquisition of Juan Uribe to sooth the pain.

Off the field the Sox family had already lost former players Dave DeBusschere and Earl Battey but fate still had one final dagger to throw at White Sox fans with the stunning news that former left fielder Ivan Calderon was murdered in Loiza, Puerto Rico on December 27th.

According to wire service reports witnesses said Calderon was in a store when two people entered and without saying a word, shot the former Sox player multiple times in the back. Ivan was 41.

Calderon was something of an enigma because he was immensely talented as a player and could do things that a man of his size 6-1, 210 pounds shouldn’t have been able to do. He could hit for power, run extremely well, steal bases and bunt but he was also injury prone partially because he let himself get out of shape and suffered hand, wrist and shoulder injuries.

Ivan broke into the major leagues in 1984 with the Mariners and was acquired by the Sox on June 26, 1986 as the player to be named later in the Scott Bradley deal.

Calderon immediately had a break out season in 1987 with 28 home runs, 83 RBI’s, 93 runs scored, 10 steals and a .293 average. His 1988 season ended in late July when he had surgery to repair a damaged left shoulder. He bounced back strongly in 1989 with 14 home runs, 87 RBI’s, a .286 average and seven steals. Then came the magical 1990 season both for him and for the White Sox.

Most experts pegged the Sox to finish dead last in the Western Division but the team became the feel good story in baseball, winning 94 games in the final season at the original Comiskey Park. Ivan played a major part in that miracle leading the club with 74 RBI’s. He added 44 doubles, 14 home runs and an incredible 32 steals while hitting .273. Ivan also showed his versatility and an acute baseball sense by not only dropping down numerous sacrifice and suicide bunts despite usually batting 3rd or 4th but also by his brilliant defensive play in the outfield.

Among his highlights in a season full of them were the following:

* On April 29th in a game the Sox would win 10-3 over Toronto, Ivan stopped at 3rd base on a fly ball to right hit by Ron Kittle. Calderon duped the Jays Tony Fernandez into thinking he was going to stay there. When the relay thrown came in and Fernandez turned his back, Ivan immediately broke for home on a delayed attempt and scored without a throw.

* On May 5th in a game at Kansas City, Calderon robbed Bob Boone by catching a sinking line drive. It helped Eric King pick up a 6-0 shutout win.

* On May 26th at Detroit, in a close game the Sox were leading 5-4, Calderon, on his own, dropped a perfect bunt down the 3rd base line. One can still hear "Hawk" Harrelson on the call...’Look at this...look at this! A bunt by Calderon... not in time, Lance Johnson scores and it’s a 6-4 Sox lead.’ The Sox would go on to win the game 10-4 with Ivan doubling home two insurance runs later on.

* On June 6th at Seattle on the rock hard surface of the Kingdome, Calderon robbed Brian Giles when he picked his sinking line drive just before hitting the surface. As he did it, his glove caught on the playing field jerking his surgically repaired left shoulder. The Sox medical staff immediately rushed out to see how bad he was hurt but fortunately for him it wasn’t separated. The Sox would win the game 5-0 behind Melido Perez.

*On June 25th at Anaheim Calderon ended the game throwing out "Chili" Davis when he tried to score on a single by Luis Polonia. It preserved the Sox 2-0 win.

And finally the one play that assistant sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and Sox author Bob Vanderberg said he immediately thought of when he heard the news that Ivan had died. It happened on June 29th at Comiskey Park against the Yankees. With the Sox nursing a 1-0 lead before a big crowd, Don Mattingly led off the 9th inning smoking a Bobby Thigpen pitch into the gap in left center field. Out of nowhere, Calderon, running to his left, and with full extension speared the ball robbing Mattingly of a lead off double. Thiggy would hold the lead and the Sox moved into first place.

Some of his former teammates had reactions to the tragic news.

Ron Kittle was vacationing in Florida but said, "I remember Ivan always wore large gold chains and necklaces. He enjoyed life and made sure he had as much fun as he could. He had some talent but I thought he enjoyed his free time more then actually playing. But he was a gamer when it was game time and he did play hard."

Donn Pall remembered a play Ivan made, oddly enough in a game that didn’t count. "I didn’t know him that well but I do remember he made an outstanding catch in a game against the Cubs in that old yearly Crosstown Classic series. It probably saved the game for us. I don’t remember what park it was in but afterwards I went up to him and said how much I appreciated the fact that he tried so hard to make that catch especially because in an exhibition game you’d think guys wouldn’t care."

Ironically enough it was Pall who was traded to Philadelphia in August 1993 to make room for Calderon, who the Sox reacquired for the stretch run. As Pall told WSI in his interview it was the ‘worst moment of my career’ knowing that the Sox were headed to the playoffs but that he, a South Side native and passionate Sox fan growing up, wasn’t going to be there with them. The other irony is that Ivan wasn’t even put on the post season roster after hitting only .115 in 26 at bats.

After that 1990 season Calderon was dealt to Montreal for Tim Raines where he had his final good year hitting .300 with 19 home runs, 75 RBI’s and 31 stolen bases. From there he went to Boston to start the 93 season before being sent back to the Sox.

In the White Sox 1990 media guide it states that he was married and had two children.

Ivan Calderon’s White Sox Statistics:

Year     G     AB     R     H     2B    3B    HR     RBI     SB     .AVG

1986       13   33     3     10      2       1     0         2         0      .303

1987     144  542   93   159    38       2   28        83       10      .293

1988      73   264   40     56    14       0   14        35         4      .212

1989    157   622    83  178     34       9  14        87          7      .286

1990    158   607    85  178     44       2  14        74        32      .273

Hey Sox Fans!
Hear a pair of
Ivan Calderon's hitting exploits
with our beloved White Sox!
Get a free RealAudio player here.

July 15, 1990.  Ivan Calderon rips an RBI double into the gap completing a four game sweep of the Yankees in style. The Sox come from behind to win the game 8-5. Tom Seaver calls the action. Courtesy: WPIX-TV. 
Let Me Hear It!

September 19, 1990.  The Sox rout the A’s 8-2 before a national weeknight TV audience. Ivan Calderon is the 3rd Sox player to go deep on the night taking a Todd Burns pitch out of the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. Chris Berman was on hand with the play by play. Courtesy: ESPN.
Let Me Hear It!


Editor's Note:  Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work.  He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana) and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years.  "Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population.  

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