White Sox try to prove '90 success wasn't a fluke

April 23, 1991|By Tracy Ringolsby | Tracy Ringolsby,Dallas Morning News

CHICAGO -- While the Chicago White Sox christened the new Comiskey Park last week with the most lopsided home-opening loss in their history, the wrecking crews were busy across 35th Street, tearing down the old Comiskey.

Demolition of the White Sox's home for the past 81 years is expected to be completed by the All-Star break.

The White Sox, meanwhile, are trying to tear down an an age-old baseball axiom. They are out to prove their dramatic turnaround in 1990 -- a 25-victory improvement over 1989 -- was more than a one-year quick fix.

The task won't be as simple as knocking down brick walls. Getting their first victory in the new Comiskey -- which came Sunday in their third attempt over Detroit, 5-4 -- was a struggle in itself.

But it also was a reminder of the resilience of this team. The only major league team that was not shut out at home in 1990, the White Sox took the field Sunday with lingering memories of that 16-0 loss to Detroit in Thursday's Comiskey debut, and a 2-1, 12-inning loss to the Tigers on Saturday. Then they saw their relief ace -- Bobby Thigpen -- fail Sunday. He blew a 3-1, eighth-inning lead during a stint in which he gave up a game-tying, two-run home run to Cecil Fielder.

It took Rob Deer's drop of a Scott Fletcher fly ball with two outs in the ninth for the tying run to score. Then Lance Johnson delivered the game-winning single, and Chicago had the inaugural victory to celebrate.


"You aren't going to see panic in this clubhouse over times like this," said Thigpen, who saved a major league-record 57 games in 1990. "We're going to be embarrassed at times. Thursday was an embarrassment. But we know we're a good team, and we know those days aren't going to be very often."

They were more frequent in the past. After winning the AL West title in 1983, the White Sox stumbled to finishes of fifth place or lower in four of the next five seasons. Three times they lost at least 90 games, including 1989, when they went 69-92 and finished last.

The White Sox, however, surprised folks in 1990. They were the closest thing Oakland had to a challenger in the AL West. They finished second with a 94-68 record.

Now comes Chicago's challenge.

Since the advent of divisional play in 1969, only six of the 18 other teams that made 20-victory improvements from one season to the next have avoided stumbling below .500 the next year.

It is a history Chicago can't ignore. Seems every time they try to talk about the good of 1990 some cynic points out the pitfall of Chicago's predecessors, but . . .

"I can't go by stats," manager Jeff Torborg said. "If I did that, we shouldn't have been where we were last year with such a young team. We certainly didn't overwhelm anybody last year. We're a team that has to scratch and claw. It's the only way this team knows how to play."

This is a team that showed all


that improvement last year while scoring fewer runs than it did in 1989. While the White Sox were ninth in the AL, scoring 682 runs, they did finish second in the league with a 3.61 ERA. Jack McDowell and Greg Hibbard tied for the club lead in victories at 14. Bob Welch of Oakland won 27 games himself and combined with Dave Stewart to give the A's a 1-2 starting punch that won 49.

Ivan Calderon, traded during the winter, led the Sox with 74 RBIs. Mark McGwire led Oakland with 108 and Jose Canseco had 101. Carlton Fisk led the White Sox with 18 home runs. McGwire had 39 for Oakland, Canseco 37.

"If we had five guys who had career years, the type you would figure they could never match, I'd be concerned," Torborg said. "But we didn't. We had solid years with young players who figure to get better. We had eight guys with 50 or more RBIs, even if nobody had 75. Everybody did their little part."

The White Sox were only the sixth team in 21 years to win 90 games in a season with a roster that averages less than 26 years of age. Long-term success came for the five others, including a 1971 Oakland team that won three consecutive world championships (1972-74).

"This is the first time since I've been here that we have had the luxury of being respected," Thigpen said. "It helps you mentally. In the past, we'd lose a couple [of] games and we'd be written off. This year, we know it's part of a long season, where things turn around in a hurry."

Unlike so many of the predecessors -- such as the 1986 Texas Rangers, who went from a Cinderella team to an also-ran in 1987 -- the White Sox didn't sit quietly during the winter, basking in the excitement of the summer of '90.

General manager Larry Himes, the man who put the rebuilding process in place, was fired because owner Jerry Reinsdorf said Chicago needed someone to "take us the next step." Ron Schueler was hired.

He filled needs for a leadoff hitter by acquiring Tim Raines, for a power hitter off the bench with the addition of Cory Snyder, and for veteran stability for the rotation with the signing of free-agent Charlie Hough.

"I didn't come in here to rebuild this team," Schueler said. "But I knew we had to do some things to take the next step. We couldn't be satisfied. We wanted to address the areas we felt needed improvement."

Those moves, in themselves, made the holdover White Sox feel better about their situation.

"In my first five years here we'd struggle during the season, and then do nothing," shortstop Ozzie Guillen said. "It was tough to come to the park every day and look forward because nothing changed. Now we can come to the park every day and have fun. It's too early to say we're going to win [the division], but we know we can put up numbers and have a good season."

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