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WSI News - News Watch

Bad start last year behind Clayton

March 27th, from the Associated Press

Royce Clayton couldn't have gotten off to a rockier start with the Chicago White Sox.

Acquired in December 2000 to upgrade Chicago's defense, he displaced the popular Jose Valentin at shortstop. Then Clayton started last season in such a horrid offensive slump that he became the poster boy for everything wrong with the struggling White Sox.

And he got zero sympathy from the fans. When he got a hit to boost his batting average from .099, they mocked him with chants of ``M-V-P! M-V-P!''

``It was tough,'' Clayton admits now. ``But I look at it as something to draw back on in a positive way. I overcame a pretty tough situation. I didn't give up.''

It took a while, but Clayton eventually found his hitting stroke. After falling below .100 on May 23, he batted a team-best .323 after the All-Star break and ended up at a respectable .263.

He also finished with 60 RBIs, third best in his career, as the White Sox rebounded from their horrible start to finish third in the AL Central.

``It's easy just to concede to the lack of success and give in, say, 'OK, this is going to be a bad season,''' he said. ``I didn't do that, and neither did the team. We persevered through a rough start.''

As impressive as his offensive turnaround was, though, Clayton was even prouder of the stellar defense he played the entire season. After committing a career-high 25 errors in 1999 and following it with 16 in 2000, he made just seven last year.

His .988 fielding percentage was the best ever for a White Sox shortstop, breaking the .983 mark Ron Hansen set in 1963. It also was second-best among AL shortstops last season, trailing only Cleveland's Omar Vizquel.

``It was a breakthrough year for me defensively, to make seven errors despite the fact I started off so bad offensively,'' he said. ``I was able to separate the two and that's very difficult for some young players and even veteran players.''

While his teammates might have appreciated Clayton's defense, fans were more concerned with what he wasn't doing at the plate. Hit with a rash of injuries to key players, the defending AL Central champs fell 15 games below .500 by May 24.

Frustrated, fans focused on Clayton's woes. He was booed almost every time he stepped to the plate in the first half of the season -- and that was by Chicago's own fans.

``I don't like that to happen to anyone,'' batting coach Gary Ward said. ``He came out and battled each and every day no matter how the fans reacted to him, and he ended up having a pretty good year.''

While the constant razzing might have gotten to some players, Clayton ignored it.

This, after all, was the guy who had to replace Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith in St. Louis.

``That's the most important part, maintaining your mental stability,'' Clayton said. ``I don't think there's too many things you could throw my way that's going to stop me from achieving what I and this team have set out to do.''

He's confident his struggles of last year are behind him. He's hitting .355 this spring, with 10 RBIs and four stolen bases. When he went 0-for-1 Monday, it was the first time in 19 exhibition games he hadn't gotten at least one hit.

With his game back on track, Clayton can focus all of his attention on his ultimate goal -- a World Series championship.

``I'd love to go to the World Series and win it. That's what you strap on the uniform for,'' he said. ``Even though I've had a lot of adversity in my career, I've enjoyed it. It's been good.''


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