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WSI News - News Watch

White Sox working to end baserunning blunders

By Jimmy Greenfield,

That didn't scare you? Well, try this one.

The 2001 Chicago White Sox on the base paths.

Yep, it was frightening at times last year to watch as blunder after baserunning blunder turned opportunity into agony. Sox fans were left scratching their heads and asking their 12-year-old kids, "Weren't you taught not to do that just last week?"

There was Carlos Lee trying to steal third base with two outs (something he did at least twice), and Josh Paul getting thrown out at third trying to stretch a double into a triple in the late innings of a one-run game, among other elementary errors.

If last season's problems made an impression on anybody it was White Sox general manager Ken Williams. Even though he was never bothered by aggressive baserunning -- which he said the Sox will continue to preach this season -- it was obvious to all that a change was in order.

"It was a challenge at the beginning but we all agreed that it was important and it was going to be a primary objective of this Spring Training," White Sox director of conditioning Steve Odgers said.

What Odgers is talking about is a fundamental change in organizational thinking, the result of offseason conversations Williams held with Odgers, manager Jerry Manuel, third base coach Wallace Johnson, and first base coach Gary Pettis, who also serves as a baserunning coach.

They collectively decided what was needed was to spend more time running in baseball situations, beginning with the first week of Spring Training. This meant the end of the shuttle run, a camp staple that became widely known after Manuel and Frank Thomas butted heads over Thomas' refusal to run the shuttle during camp two years ago.

Instead of the grueling shuttle, Odgers put in place a schedule of running the bases several times a week designed to incrementally bring the team up to speed, so to speak.

Odgers estimated that the Sox have been spending 3 or 4 times as much time running bases during the first month of training camp, which may have been the cause of an abundance of hamstring injuries.

Sandy Alomar, Jr., Kelly Wunsch, Aaron Rowand, Ray Durham and Mark Johnson have all missed time with strained hamstrings, but none seem serious.

"We've had guys that come in and are sore," Odgers said. "We've had a couple of hamstring strains. In Spring Training we're going to have that. We expect our players to work hard and that's what we're asking of them. The key to that is having them all ready, healthy, fit and ready to compete April 1. That's what we're really making progress towards."

One of the most interesting sights during Spring Training games is that of players running sprints in the outfield while the games are going on. There have been fewer of those this season for the White Sox.

Odgers has preferred that the players head to back fields and spend time running the bases in as close to a simulated situation as they can create. This includes sprinting to first and taking a big turn; heading from first to third, and also going from second to home.

"I've got no problem with it," Thomas said. "I'd rather run the bases than all the extra running that we (used to) do. When you run those 80-yard sprints you're not really getting anything out of it but when you're running the bases you're actually getting your timing right."

Last week during a Cactus League game Thomas blooped a ball down the line in right field and without missing a beat turned the corner at first base and slid into second for a double. That play, he said, was exactly what the coaching staff has been preaching all spring.

"That's just getting out of the game what you can," Thomas said. "Most guys don't come running out of the box and that's what we're working on right now. Running full speed until you need to stop, and yesterday I didn't stop. Especially with two outs. Now there are two outs with a man on second instead of two outs with a man on first.

"That's the kind of aggressiveness we're going to be doing all year here. That's why Jerry's trying to get our legs in shape."

The absence of Thomas for most of last season was a major factor in the Sox production dropping from a Major League-best 978 runs scored in 2000 to just 798 runs last season. A healthy Thomas will undoubtedly lead to more offense, according to Pettis.

"Because of what we went through last year we had to try to force the issue sometimes," Pettis said. "We had so many guys injured that it may have looked like a bad baserunning play to some but we were playing shorthanded. You take Frank Thomas out of a lineup, a guy that drove in 100 runs, scored 100 runs, hit 40 home runs, had 100 walks, that's a lot to try to make up for.

"Because of what we had given our guys to do last year some guys may or may not have used the green light wisely. I think they'll be better for it this year."

They better be. The Sox are heading into the season with a pitching staff littered with question marks, which may put even more pressure on the offense. But make no mistake, there still may be mistakes.

"Sometimes you're going to get caught, but for the most part we are going to take the chance," said Williams.

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