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Jerry_Manuel
08-02-2001, 01:17 PM
Paul Ladewski Commentary
Foulke feels the future closing in
Thursday, August 2, 2001


There are surer things than White Sox supersaver Keith Foulke in the world. The sunrise and tax day, for instance.

But Foulke's 24 saves in 26 tries aren't too shabby, either.

By most accounts, Foulke is a swell guy to have in the clubhouse, too. Asked about the more hitter-friendly Comiskey Park earlier this season, he replied with typical deadpan, "I don't give up enough home runs as it is, I guess. I should be good for 20 this year."

But if you want to turn a smile upside down, then go ahead, just mention the future to him. The response is likely to be daggers.

"I'm not in a very good mood right now," Foulke will tell you.

It seems that good moods at Comiskey Park are harder to find than sober Cubs fans this summer.

Only months after they grabbed the torch from Cleveland in the Central Division, the White Sox have been a disappointment of Navy Pier-sized proportions.

Sandy Alomar Jr. got old and Royce Clayton turned out to be a Corvair. The two guys they couldn't afford to lose Frank Thomas and David Wells, a.k.a. The Big Hurt and The Bigger Hurt spent more time in injury rehab than on the field. So many pitchers came down with bum backs and sore shoulders that Billy Pierce was thisclose to a comeback.

Fact is, only one person could have saved the White Sox this season. His name is Dr. Frank Jobe.

To a man, the veterans are convinced that this season is more of a fluke than the last one. Now they want another chance to prove it. Except that the higher-priced guys such as Foulke and Paul Konerko believe they may take the fall for something that is out of their control, and that's what has them peeved off these dog days.

"It shouldn't be held against us that we've had all these injuries," Konerko said. "If Frank had been healthy, there's no doubt that he would have made a difference in a few games. Then we would at least be in the thick of the wild-card race."

In other words, forget The Kids Can Play, Part Deux.

"Keep the core together and, yeah, we can win again," Foulke said. "Is that what it's supposed to be about?"

That means Foulke, Konerko, Thomas, Ray Durham, Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez and Jose Valentin stay put. Add a stud starter to young guns Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Kip Wells in the rotation, throw in a few healthy breaks and the 2000 Central Division champions could return.

Maybe even better.

"It's out of my control, but if the same guys come back and they stay healthy, we have a championship team here," said Valentin, ever the voice of reason.

To judge by some of the long faces in the clubhouse, there's reason to believe that won't happen.

Take Foulke. Boy, wouldn't a bunch of teams just love to next winter?

Based on his performance, Foulke expects something better than the two-year, $3.2-million extension that teammate Bob Howry signed recently. After all, Foulke ranks among the top five in games, saves and save percentage in the American League.

"He has done a great job for us," Valentin said. "He is one of the best closers in the league. We really need him."

Without him, the Sox become the Kansas City Royals.

But rather than make Foulke an offer that he can't refuse, the front office has decided to yank his chain instead. Not that he is surprised about its laid-back approach. The way Foulke figures it, when he was awarded $3.1 million at salary arbitration last winter, team management believed he moved too far ahead of the curve.

If the two sides fail to agree on a contract extension, Foulke can almost double his salary at the arbitration table next off-season. Otherwise, in Howry, the front office has a much cheaper alternative. "A good contract is the result of good performance," Foulke said between clenched teeth. "I could care less what they do about that."

Then there's Konerko, who with one year left on a two-year, $6.1 million contract, senses that the clubhouse walls have started to close on him.

In first baseman-designated hitter Jeff Liefer, who turns 27 later this month, the front office has a far less costly option. Trouble is, while Konerko is a proven 25-home run, 90-RBI guy, not to mention two years younger, Liefer is a dice roll at this point.

"I like it here," Konerko said. "I want to stay here." Then he takes a look at the corner of the room, where the lockers of James Baldwin and David Wells stand empty like a hint of things to come. "But I may not have one of those soon," he said.