I have never bothered God or my saints to ask them for anything related to baseball because as I’ve said on many occasions, none of them have played the sport. I ask them for good health for myself and for my family, wisdom to make the best decisions, wellbeing for my friends and the best for humanity. That is enough to keep me happy. Nonetheless, there is an exception to every rule and so before this last road trip that took us to the West coast, I asked God to keep the White Sox away from all the negative things that happened to us on our last road trip to Boston, New York and Minnesota. It was more of a plea than a request. Please God, don’t let us have a terrible road trip like the last one, which practically took us out of contention and put us against the wall when it came to our goal of claiming the title in the American League Central Division, which we won with much effort last year.
We obviously dug ourselves into the deep hole that we are currently in. The inconsistency that we have talked about all season has manifested itself during these last few months. After suddenly taking three out of four games against Boston and winning series against the Yankees, Tampa and the Angels, right away we lost to Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City. Without taking credit away from the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball, any team that aspires to win a championship has to battle against teams with winning records and crush those under .500 and out of contention. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do that and the result is our current position in the standings.
It is true that as I write this column, we are still alive mathematically, which some faithful fans pointed out in their messages. They calculated how many wins we need combined with Tigers losses in order to surpass or tie the division leaders before the last game of the regular season. The optimism of some fans is truly incredible and contagious with all of their analysis and encouraging messages. I cannot thank them enough for all the affection and positive energy that they send in each one of their e-mails. But in reality, our mission is simply to win, win and win. There’s no alternative. We must go out on the field every day with the goal of winning in mind, without paying attention to the results of other teams. If we get to the series against Detroit with a difference of only a few games, then we can dream of a miracle. If not, lets pack our things and “head out, it’s getting late,” as Joey Cora would say.
In any case, I want to reiterate that I hold myself responsible for all the blame if we don’t get to where we want to be. Although I don’t pitch, bat or run the bases, when I took this job I made a commitment to get the team to play well and we haven’t done that. I understand that the expectations of the fans, the front office, the coaches and the players are many, especially because we are convinced that we have the talent and the material to win many games. But as I’ve always said, in the end what matters is the work that takes place on the field. We’ll see what happens in the next few days.
For now, let’s answer some of your questions and messages.
Julio Jacome of Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, writes to opine that the recent White Sox trades involving Jim Thome and Jose Contreras were not good because the players we received in return have not helped us this year. He also thinks it was a mistake to acquire an outfielder like Alex Rios when what we really needed, according to Julio, is a second baseman that is more effective than Chris Getz. He ended his e-mail by saying that he is not convinced by Gordon Beckham.
It’s a matter of opinion, Julio. Personally, I think Alex Rios is going to help this organization a lot, although you are right to point out that down the stretch he hasn’t contributed much. As for Thome and Contreras, I think their departures did not affect our chances of competing for the title. Thome, a true baseball gentleman, accepted a trade to the Dodgers because his career is coming to an end and he dreams of winning a World Series ring before he retires. Obviously, the California team seems to have a better chance than we do of playing in the Fall Classic. As for Contreras, I think he needed a change of scenery and as his number one fan, Francisco Aguiar, points out, he’ll probably fare better in Colorado. Personally, I wish him the best of success because as I’ve always said, Jose is a great person, serious and hard-working with an unrivaled human touch.
Juan Carlos Martin of Miami writes to congratulate us for the moves that sent Thome to Los Angeles and Contreras to Colorado. That’s baseball. There are all kinds of opinions. Juan Carlos also says that the bad performance by the White Sox this year is not my fault and that I shouldn’t be embarrassed. I must correct him, however, because I get paid to make the team play well and if I don’t achieve that it means that I’m not doing my job well. It’s that simple.
Frank Abel Villalonga writes to us from La Habana to ask if there is a possibility that we will give Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez an opportunity to return to the White Sox. Frank points out that since the team rewarded Freddy Garcia’s contribution to the 2005 championship by giving him a chance to pitch with the team again, “El Duque” should be given the same consideration. I will pass along the message to our scouts so that they can evaluate Hernandez’s performance in the minor leagues. They would be the ones who would let General Manager Kenny Williams know whether or not we should sign him. In any case, you can never have too much pitching in this game.
Victor Saldivia of Valencia asks if I would be interested in managing another team besides the White Sox and if I currently see any team in the big leagues that conforms to my philosophy, which was called “Small Ball” in 2005 and I renamed “Smart Ball.” By that I mean that, rather than doing the “little things,” it’s more of game based on intelligence. Honestly, I wish I could manage the White Sox until I am over 100 years oldand have to be transported to the stadium in a wheel chair. I can’t see myself managing another team. However, I have always liked the way the Minnesota Twins play. They are the famous “piranhas,” who never seem to be in the postseason predictions of analysts but are always relevant because they do their job and play an aggressive, intelligent kind of baseball.
Along the same lines, Julio Acosta of Barcelona, Venezuela, wants to know if managing the Tiburones (Sharks) of La Guaira in Venezuela’s professional baseball league is among my goals. It is not, Julio, but it would be an honor and a dream come true to have that privilege. The Tiburones were the first team that gave me an opportunity to play professional baseball and I will always be grateful for that. My relationship with the team’s founder, Pedro Padron Panza, goes beyond that of owner and player. Panza and my family have established a very close friendship. I also have a great relationship with the new owners and my three sons are die-hard La Guaira fans, but managing during the off-season is not in my plans for the time being.
Victor Lapenta of Guyana asks if coaches in the organization are also promoted on September 1 when the Major League rosters expand from 25 players to 40. Yes, Victor, some coaches also are called up. As you yourself pointed out, they are responsible for overseeing the performance of the call-ups, but in the case of the White Sox, I try to get them involved in all team activities so that they can participate in all areas and give their opinions on different aspects of the game. In Venezuela we say four eyes can see better then two; therefore their input is always welcome.
William Ochoa of Salt Lake City says he has noticed a lack of intensity and aggressiveness in our last few games. What can I say, William? When a team is losing, everything seems horrible. Everything. But I can guarantee that it is not due to a lack of desire or of lost motivation or anything like that. The baseball season is really very long. There are 162 games, which demand physical and mental conditions that are difficult to maintain. That obviously goes for all the teams, but not everyone deals with it in the same way. When a team generates many expectations, which was our case this year, the effort and the mental fatigue is even greater. I suppose some of that could be going on, but I can guarantee everyone here goes out to battle with the same intensity, especially because we still hope for the miracle of winning the title, as difficult as it may seem.
Miguel Angel Barrios of San Francisco wants to know if my controversial statements are a result of ire or if I make them to get publicity. Miguel Angel adds that sometimes my statements are exaggerated, considering that baseball is a sport followed by children and young adults. Well Miguel Angel, first of all I must tell you that for publicity I only say and record what I am told by my commercial clients. I do not make statements, controversial or not, in order to get the attention of the media or to divert attention away from criticisms against my players as it has been suggested. I say what I feel even if sometimes I have to recant or apologize. I don’t know if that is good or bad, but it is how I have always been and what has allowed me to get to where I am right now. Fortunately, there are those “beeps” that keep children from hearing some of my more famous phrases.
Dimas Nieto of Barquisimeto points out that our defense is weak this year and asks if we plan to hire Omar Vizquel for the 2010 season. Certainly defense has been our Achilles heel and we are among the teams with the most errors in the Majors, although we’ve improved as of late. As for Omar, the truth is that we tried to sign him for the 2005 season when he decided to go instead to San Francisco, where he was being offered a three-year contract compared to the two-year contract the White Sox presented. For 2010, we have already decided that our shortstop will be Alexei Ramirez, who has improved considerably by playing the position. Perhaps I put extra pressure on him myself when I remarked, before the season started, that the Chicago fans would forget all about Ozzie Guillen when they saw Alexei play shortstop. My bad.
Carlos Sanchez of Rubio, Venezuela wants to know if we still have a chance of winning the division. Well Carlos, as I said at the beginning of the column, mathematically speaking we are still alive, but we have to win a lot of games. I can assure you that while we have even the slimmest of hopes, everyone here is going to go out there and battle and that no one is going to give up or wave the white flag. We shall see.
And now that I have picked up the phone to contact God, I am going to ask him for much health and wellbeing for all of those who during this first season of columns spent a few minutes of their time to share their opinions, concerns, doubts and words of optimism with me. This is the last column of this series for the 2009 season and I want to especially thank Raul Corro and Eduardo Menda Osorio of Caracas, Osmar Cardenas of Maracaibo, Gerardo Rangel of South Australia, Rafael Vergara of El Tocuyo, Pedro Luis Cova Salom of Guyana and Orlando Figueroa of Carora. I wish them and all those who have written to me throughout the course of these last six months the best of luck. Keep rooting for the White Sox!