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WSI News - Season Features

'01 Post Mortem

It wasn't the disaster it could have been, but it certainly wasn't pretty.  The one good thing that has come of the 2001 season is that it is finally over.

Interestingly enough, Jerry Manuel couldn't let go of the 2001 mess he helped create without placing the blame squarely on the players.  Paul Sullivan reported in Monday's Chicago Tribune that Manuel went on an "uncharacteristic" tirade after Sunday's loss to the Twins.  Manuel placed the blame for this year's disappointing performance on player greed.

Manuel reportedly said, "Everything is based on money.  A guy has got his money and he says, 'OK, now I'm satisfied, [even] if you tell me my role is limited.' Now he gets to that role and it's like, 'No, I'm not [satisfied.]' But that's baseball."

Manuel didn't identify any Sox players who fit this description.  Jose Canseco griped about not getting enough playing time shortly after he was signed.  Chris Singleton didn't get a lot of playing time for a couple of months while Manuel and Lenny (aka Sox GM Kenny Williams) experimented with Julio Ramirez, who looked like a little leaguer against major league pitching.  Herbert Perry was under-utilized at third base, but he wasn't complaining in July when he appeared at a luncheon I attended.  Jose Valentin was kept in the lineup for the most part, but played out of position all year.  So just who was Manuel talking about?

Manuel did clarify exactly what was sticking in his craw.  To him the villains were those players who claimed they never understood what their role was with this team.  Well, Jerry that could have been several players, and they would have been absolutely right. 

Take for example Chris Singleton.  It took two months before Manuel figured out that Singleton was the best center fielder on the team.  Granted, Singleton had a bad season in 2000, but he was injured much of the year with a hip flexor injury and a dislocated finger.  Neither injury responded well as Singleton went out and tried to do his job every day.

His reward was an experiment to put Jose Valentin or Julio Ramirez in center field in his place.  It wasn't until the month of May was nearly over that Manuel apparently realized that Ramirez never was going to make it to the halfway mark to the Mendoza Line.  Singleton ended up being one of the top hitters on the club in 2001, finishing the season just under .300.

Paul Konerko, according to Sullivan, placed a lot of the blame on poor
clubhouse chemistry.  There was a lot of talk last year about how the players would pick each other up, that there were no cliques.  Sox management, though, thought that some fine tuning was necessary, and brought in two key players, David Wells and Royce Clayton.

It's hard to say whether either of these acquisitions changed the atmosphere of the clubhouse.  Wells comments about Frank Thomas not playing hurt might have backfired when it was discovered that Thomas needed season-ending surgery.  At any rate, Wells was gone before the All-Star break with his own injury.

As far as Clayton's presence is concerned, his griping about not getting enough playing time (was he one of the players about whom Manuel was talking?) when he was hitting just over .100 may or may not have affected the clubhouse.  However, Clayton has a reputation that preceded him, and it isn't good.  He griped about Ozzie Smith getting too much playing time when Smith was on his farewell tour.  There were stories that the Texas Rangers weren't all that unhappy about unloading him. 

Whoever or whatever was to blame, Sullivan quotes Manuel as acknowledging
the mix just didn't work out. 

"It's like you've got a pot of gumbo," he said,"but you've got the wrong stuff in there to make it taste right.  Gumbo is my favorite dish, but you have to have the right stuff in there."

Here's one hypothesis:  Mike Sirotka was an acknowledged team leader.  Maybe, just maybe, trading him to Toronto did the same thing to team chemistry that removing a key species does to a fragile ecosystem.  The whole thing just collapsed.

Manuel's response to Sullivan regarding Royce Clayton's possible return was really strange.  When asked if he wanted Clayton to return, Manuel responded, "A lot depends on what surrounds him.  It's too hard to say he didn't fulfill what we thought he would fulfill, because he did. He ended up hitting .270 and playing outstanding shortstop, the best shortstop I've seen since I've been here."

The part about what surrounds Clayton was fascinating.  Most of the time, that phrase refers to the baggage a particular player brings along with him, such as creating a devisive atmosphere.  The other interesting part is that when further pressed after this statement, Manuel would not say that he wants Clayton back.  Maybe he recognizes was that all of Clayton's production occurred after the slumping bats of Clayton, Ramirez, and Harold Baines had effectively eliminated the Sox from the division race by mid-May.
                                 --------------------------
Speaking of Baines, he still has yet to read the handwriting on the wall.  When asked if he wanted to play next year, he acknowledged that "if the phone rings, I'll answer it."  The ungraceful retirement of Baines (assuming that no GM is stupid enough to think he can still hit) stands in stark contrast to that of Cal Ripken who knew when to hang them up.

This was brought into sharp focus on a trip to the Metrodome this past weekend.  Over the course of the two days we spent there, the Coca-Cola ad
featuring Ripken and his daughter must have been played 50 times.  Since I
called for Baines to retire in May, I've inserted myself into the role played by Ripkens daughter for the ad that should have played at Comiskey Park this year.

(Video):  Shot of Baines standing in the Comiskey Park Infield.  

(Audio):  Highlights of Baines's career.  Audio is interrupted by the calling of a plaintive voice.

Hal:  Harold?  Harold!

[Baines, startled, lookes toward the voice calling him.]

Hal:  Are you ready to go?

Harold:  NO!  NEVER!  YOU CAN'T MAKE ME LEAVE!  I STILL HAVE IT IN ME!  I CAN STILL HIT .300 AND HIT 20 HOMERS!  I'M NOT LEAVING UNTIL I HAVE MY 3000 HITS AND 500 HOMERS!

(Video):  50 Comiskey Park security guards rush in from off camera and carry
Baines off the field as Baines continues screaming that he's not ready to
quit.


Editor's Note:  Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old.  For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL.  Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and Buster T. Beagle.  The views expressed by Hal are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, wife Lee, or Buster T. Beagle.


 
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