Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Time For A Change?

 It's always weird seeing a long time player for the first time in another team's uniform. That's especially true when the player was drafted and groomed in the farm system and became a fan favorite or a genuine superstar when he was with your team.

As a kid, this sad event is devastating. As an adult, it's uncommon if a player stays with the same team for his entire career. Thirty years ago, I would probably would spend a few days sulking and lamenting my favorite teams for being so stupid. What did they ever know? That guy they just traded away for the players I've never even heard of was the best guy on the team. I had one foot stuck in the past and the other planted firmly in the present. I had not the inclination nor the fortitude to see the future.

In a kid's mind, if you traded away a player he liked, you had better get some amazing talent in return. Ron Kittle was a pretty big deal in Chicago in the mid-eighties. Sure, he hadn't duplicated his amazing Rookie of the Year season, but he wasn't the worst player out there. He could still be counted on for a thrill. Kittle was part of a trade that sent Joel Skinner and Wayne Tolleson to the Yankees for Ron Hassey, Carlos Martinez and Bill Lindsey. It wasn't exactly a trade that set the world on fire. Carlos Martinez was the last stop-gap before Frank Thomas and I remember Joel Skinner on the Indians more than I do on the Yankees.

Harold Baines was so loved in Chicago that his uniform number was retired by the White Sox after nine and a half years of a twenty-two year career. People were genuinely mad at the deal. It brought a pitcher that couldn't get anyone out, a strikeout artist (at the plate, not on the mound), and a former Sox infielder. On the plus side, it got rid of milquetoast Fred Manrique. I was actually happy about that part in 1989. That was the ONLY part I was happy about.

A few years later, that pitcher who couldn't get anyone out in his debut, got everyone out in his Sox debut. Wilson Alvarez had an ERA of infinity after two starts, his second career start was a no-hitter. The strikeout artist never learned not to strikeout, but learned to steal and run hard in the outfield. He learned to homer, among other things on the north side of Chicago. Scott Fletcher was at his usual Fletchery self. Harold came back to the White Sox as a player, two different times and is a World Champion coach.

Magglio Ordonez was one of the reasons I came back into baseball's full embrace after the '94 strike. I'll admit that I wasn't 100% committed to the MLB after the best shot for a White Sox/Expos World Series was flushed down the tubes. Seeing Maggs play in 1997 and 1998 convinced me to get on board with baseball again.

If it wasn't for a unfortunate knee injury to Maggs and a broken ankle for Frank Thomas, Ordonez may have had a championship ring with the White Sox in 2004. That season had great consequences for the shape of the team and a little rebuilding was done, some of it questionable. It worked out for the White Sox in 2005 and Maggs made it to the World Series in 2006. Ordonez carved out a nice career in Detroit, and let his hair down a bit. It's still a little weird seeing him in a Tiger uniform, even after all this time.

It's not like Frank Thomas would ever go somewhere else. Oh wait. He totally did. The White Sox got Jim Thome to replace the oft-injured Frank Thomas and Frank went to Oakland, where he revitalized his career and eventually hit his 500th homer with... Toronto, before coming back to Oakland, before joining the White Sox on the analyst side.

If any player was harder to see in another uniform, it was Frank Thomas. The man hit 448 home runs with Chicago. Paul Konerko is only twenty-one homers away from tying Frank, but even with one more season, that may be wishful thinking. Frank had sixteen of nineteen years with the White Sox.It's hard to see him as anything else, even though there were still big moments for Thomas in other uniforms.

Changing teams for some players is like changing underwear. Just ask Octavio Dotel, who holds the record for playing for the most MLB teams. Thirteen teams in all. And he's a free agent, mystery team number fourteen. He snatched it from Mike Morgan, Matt Stairs and Ron Villone.

It's still weird seeing a long time team player with a new franchise. It's not as jarring as it used to be for me. It does make collecting a bit more challenging. I do have to make sure that the Frank Thomas cards I collect are with the White Sox and not the A's or Jays. I saw a recent card of Ron Kittle on the Yankees. Magglio is just as likely to be featured as a Tiger on a card. Harold Baines could be on an Orioles card for all I know. Even an Indian card.

All these possibilities. It's a pretty exciting time to be a collector.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post--both nostalgic yet still on the mark. And though they had another rough season last year, I still manage to enjoy listening to those WGN commentators cover the White Sox games.

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