Embarrassed. That is how we should all feel after these first games against the Red Sox and the Yankees in their home fields. We knew the 10-day road trip would be difficult, but not even in my worst nightmare did I imagine we would have a 1-5 record in the first six games. When we have won, we have won as a team. Now we must all face these defeats with the same embarrassment because every one of us shares in the responsibility. I am embarrassed and I question myself, thinking I am not doing the right things to earn the salary I am paid to make this team competitive and a fighter. I question myself and I am ashamed for not devising a lineup that produces runs to win, and for not putting the right pitcher on the mound to get outs. And if anyone on this team does not feel the same shame that I do, then I think he chose the wrong job.
As I write this column it is Saturday night in New York and a bitter taste lingers in my mouth from the loss to the Yankees by a score of 10-0. A game in which your team has more errors than hits has to be an embarrassment. I think even the kids that are playing in the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania played better that day than we did. The worst part is that I know our squad is better than what we have shown on the field in these first six games as the visiting team. Last Monday, when we began the road trip in Boston, Armando Talavera, a Venezuelan journalist based in New York, asked me my opinion on the White Sox. I answered, “I have the team to be a World Series champion.” I suppose that Armando must be thinking about recommending I see a psychiatrist to cure my delusions of grandeur. But it’s the truth. On paper, we have the talent and the material to be champions, but we need to execute.
I have never considered myself a loser and much less a pessimist, but if you ask me right now, I think we are in a difficult situation because we put ourselves in it. We know where the mountain summit is, and we have the desire to reach it, but it seems like our legs are not strong enough to get us there. At least that seems to be the case after losing those series against the Yankees and the Red Sox. On Monday we begin the last series of the road trip at the Metrodome where the Twins appear to be unbeatable. I imagine it will be a good opportunity to show we are still alive, we still have desires and that we are still in the race for the division title that we won last year with so many sacrifices.
Before I begin responding to some of your questions and comments, I want to take this opportunity to tell you that reading your positive and encouraging messages is, most of the time, a way to regain optimism in difficult moments like this one. Thank you for your loyalty and for your support.
Ben Morgan of Lincoln, Nebraska, wrote in English to ask me a question I have asked myself hundreds of times without finding an answer! Why does our offense shut down when it faces a young pitcher for the first time? Honestly, Ben, I don’t know. We know the pitcher always has an advantage over the batter who, as you point out, adapts himself and makes adjustments with each at-bat. The pitcher certainly has control of the situation, not only because he has the ball in his hand, but because he knows what pitch he is going to throw and if it will be a curve, a fastball, a changeup or a slider. He knows what speed he is going to throw at, from what height, and at what distance from the plate – high, low, inside or outside. In other words, the batter is standing at home plate with his bat in his hand, preparing to make contact with a sphere that could be coming in at 70 or 100 miles per hour, without knowing if it is going to break to one side, drop, etc. He only has a few seconds to make a decision. When the batter is unfamiliar with the pitcher, he becomes the most vulnerable of hitters because he does not know his opponent’s repertoire. But it has been that way since baseball was invented and by the second or third at-bat, the hitter should have a better understanding of the situation and make the necessary adjustments to be successful. This problem has been very costly to us this year, but I insist that I don’t know why.
Guillermo Rada of Cumana, Venezuela, says he is intrigued by what happened last year with Javier Vazquez, who is having a successful season with the Atlanta Braves. Guillermo wants to know if I put him on the spot for what he calls “poor emotional strength.” I can tell you, Guillermo, that I met Javier when I was a coach with the Montreal Expos and I always liked his attitude on the mound and his human touch. Last year he had several opportunities to help this team in crucial games and unfortunately he couldn’t get the job done. That happens in baseball.
Perhaps it was a bad year, something that everyone goes through in their careers. Personally I wish him the best of luck because as he himself said, with what he has earned up until this point he will be able to live peacefully when he retires and he will be able to spend time happily with his family.
Dr. Julio Antonio Machillanda of Porlamar, Venezuela, is one of many fans who’ve written to make comments about Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras. On this list are names such as Frank Abel Villalonga of Havana, Alfredo Valle of Tenerife, Orlando Garcia of Naples, Roberto Trujillo de Santa Cruz of Tenerife, Jorge Amaro and several others.
Oddly enough, Francisco Aguiar of Tampa, who has on several occasions sent me messages accusing me of mistreating Contreras, of not using him correctly, of not knowing when to replace him and a long list of other objections, did not write this time. Last week, a journalist in Boston asked me if Jose would start another game for Chicago. I replied that I have three kids and that I would love to live to see my grandchildren. I would not like to die prematurely of a heart attack. Nonetheless, Contreras started against the Yankees on Saturday because we simply did not have a better option. If you ask me why he’s experiencing this disaster, I must respond I do not know because it is safe to say that Contreras is a hard worker and a warrior. Some of you, in your e-mails, say that you know him from his days in Cuba and that the problem can be a lack of concentration, that he is not throwing underarm, that he is not using the forkball and a whole slew of other explanations. I, more than anyone, continue to hope that Jose will regain the form he had in 2005 when he helped us become World Series champions, especially now that we need him urgently. Let’s see what happens.
Jonathan Gallegos of Bogota also offered his opinion on Contreras and wonders why I waited so long to take him out of the game when the Red Sox scored six runs off of him in one inning. In addition to pointing out that sometimes I talk too much, something that should not surprise anyone, Jonathan offers some suggestions as to how to manage the team. Well Jonathan, I am going to repeat what I have said several times in my career. The farther you are from the field, the more intelligent you feel. Those who watch the games from the stands see everything clearly and know more than the managers and the 5 or 6 coaches in the dugout. I once said I was going to provide every fan with a cell phone so that they could call me and tell me what to do before plays and not afterwards, which is usually the case. There are many things that the fans are not aware of that influence decisions. Explaining them all would be enough to fill a book. But thanks anyways for taking a few minutes of your time to share your opinion with me.
Liz Pinto of Valencia, Venezuela, comments on the great year that Cleveland Santeliz is having with the Birmingham Barons, our Class-AA affiliate and wants to know what I think about my fellow countryman. Liz is not the only person following Santeliz, whom I described in a previous column as “a great kid with a good attitude to pitch.” Part of his success comes from staying healthy. He has been regarded as having great talent since he was signed, but the injuries had not allowed
him to prove it.
He is one of the Venezuelan players who are opening doors for themselves in our farm system and one of the players that I hope will be in the big leagues soon so that I can answer all those who ask me, on a weekly basis, why there aren’t more Venezuelan players on the White Sox if Ozzie Guillen is the manager. I hope a few are on their way.
Many also wrote in these last two weeks to comment on the addition of Freddy Garcia to our roster. Some of the questions and comments arrived before Freddy debuted with our uniform this year while others came after his second start. Elio Barroso of Charallaves, Jesus Ramos of Santa Teresa del Tuy, Roysbelk Garcia of Cua, Eliel Padrino and Reinaldo Perez of Caracas, Yubin Rios of Maracaibo, Thomas Enrique Perez Ramos, Victor Lapenta, Miguel Saldivia and many others are on the list. In an interview that appeared last Saturday in the Chicago Sun-Times, Freddy admitted that for the first time in two years he feels truly healthy and has no pain in his pitching arm. I think his start in Boston showed that. That day, Freddy proved he is in Chicago not because he married my wife’s niece, or because Kenny Williams has a charity and wants to show his appreciation to all whose who helped us win the World Series in 2005. Freddy is here because he underwent a physical showed that his shoulder was healthy and because he looked good in his minor league starts. Is he going to win all of his starts from now on? I don’t think so, but surely he is going to help, and I hope he helps enough to be considered next year when in theory we will have 4 set starters (Buehrle, Danks, Floyd and Peavy) and there will be a fifth spot up for grabs. But that is a topic for another day because for now we are focused on 2009 and on our fight to get to the postseason, for which we will need Freddy’s help.
Dario Sanchez of Valencia, Venezuela, asked me if I consider myself a member of what he calls “the new generation of Major League managers.” Well, I suppose so because aside from being a young manager in comparison to most of the current big league skippers, I also belong to a generation that has no choice but to see the game differently from how it has been viewed in the recent past.
I imagine you have guessed by now I am referring to the “steroid era” and other banned substances. This new generation that I belong to must revert to an intelligent game, one that does not depend on homeruns and is based on good defense, speed on the bases, timely plays and, of course, good pitching. I suppose that is what we will see in the next few years and the manager who makes those adjustments first is going to have an advantage over his rivals.
Marvin Jose Gomez Hernandez of Cabimas ,Venezula, wants to know if my warning that I would pay back with the same token if other teams kept plunking my players was a way of motivating my team to be more aggressive in all aspects of the game. No, in reality it was just a warning to opposing teams. A manager must protect his players in all aspects of the game and it is not acceptable that while the Chicago White Sox are the team whose pitchers have hit the least number of opposing batters in the majors, that our players are third in being hit. Someone once said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” And it certainly wasn’t me who said it!
Emison Soto of Maracaibo, Venezuela, wants to know who is in charge of evaluating young talent in our country. Emison, our scout is Amador Arias.
Professor Miguel Antonio Narvaez of San Carlos in the state of Cojedes in Venezuela writes to ask my help with starting a baseball academy in that region. Jean Carlos Viloria of Chichiriviche makes a similar request for a little league team in that town, located in the state of Falcon. If it were up to me, I would be starting baseball teams all over the world, in part to show my gratitude for all this sport has meant in my life. Nonetheless, the foundation that my wife oversees in Venezuela has decided to allocate the few resources we have to children’s health, which is just as important or even more important than sports. This foundation, by the way, does not make fixed contributions to any institution, but it also has no expenses because those who help Ibis in her work do so free of charge. No one is paid a single penny. Our occasional funds come from events that we organize ourselves (autograph signings, auctions of items from the Major Leagues, etc.) that unfortunately, in the last few years we have not been able to have because of my multiple commitments. Nonetheless, every year we seek help in order to honor our commitment to the Association of Parents of Children with Cancer, to whom we donate more than 350 Christmas gifts. More importantly, we attend their Christmas party. Thank God that there are entities like Polar and Tiburones of La Guaira that help us keep serving this organization that does such extraordinary work. I promise when we have more resources I will consider your requests.
Rafael Garcia of Margarita, Venezuela, sent me a list of Venezuelan players who belong to other teams and asked me which ones I would like to have in Chicago. Although I am not the person who hires players, certainly on Rafael’s list there are names that any manager would want on his roster. Nonetheless, they have all made commitments to their respective organizations, which are not likely to let them go because of their quality. Venezuelan players are more and more sought-after in this market, which should fill baseball lovers in their country with pride.
Two questions from the “Wild West.” Angel Rivera of Tucson, Arizona, solicits my opinion about Puerto Rican Alex Rios. Well Angel, I think Alex is going to help us a lot although he has not yet reached his full potential. I think he is still adjusting. And Carlos Castillo of El Plano, Texas, asks why we did not walk Mike Lowell intentionally in the game against Boston that Jose Contreras lost. According to Carlos, Contreras was nervous. Imagine that! From Texas, you knew that Contreras, a veteran of a thousand battles in Cuba, was nervous and that Lowell was going to hit a home run off of him. It’s true that the farther you get from the field, the more intelligent people are.
Ramiro Perez of Orlando, Florida, asks what my relationship is like with the Chicago media. The best way to find out, Ramiro, is to go online and look at the different newspapers in the city. I think you will come to the same conclusion that I have: that the press treats me very well.
Ender Elias Chaparro Camargo is a boy from Marcaibo, a town in the Venezuelan state of Zulia, who is in the United States representing the team from the Coquivacoa League in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. As I write I am not sure how our team is doing in the event, but nonetheless I wish Ender and his teammates the best of luck and I hope that they will take full advantage of this experience, which will be an unforgettable one in their lives. Who knows, maybe in the future I will run into many of them in the Major Leagues.
Leonardo Ferrero, also of Maracaibo, wants to know if any of my sons are playing professional baseball at the moment and why Jake Peavy’s debut has taken so long. Leonardo, my middle son, Oney, played in the minor leagues for a couple of years but now he works in Chicago’s front office. My youngest, Ozney, is 17 years old. He is in his last year of high school and dreams about playing professionally. We shall see.
That’s all the answers for today. There are a few questions remaining that I will try to answer in my next column, but I cannot say good-bye before expressing my gratitude for all the messages, comments, opinions and criticisms. All are welcome. Special greetings go out to Raul Avilan, Johars Jimenez, Gladys Perez, Yole Mata and Roman Orive of Caracas, Cesar Reyes and his family from Vargas, Wilmer Aponte of Turmero, Michael Gamez of Chicago, Orlando Rafael Figueroa Reyes of Carora, Rafael Garcia of Margarita, Juan Carlos Marin of Miami, Rafael Paez of Los Teques, Francisco Gar
cia of La Asunción and the many other people who honored me with their attention.
Check back in two weeks, when I hope to be writing with one foot in the postseason!
Thanks to this column I have received messages from places I love like Barquisimiento, Los Teques and Valencia in my homeland of Venezuela, and places I am close to like Skokie and Bolingbrook in Illinois. And from places as remote as Africa, Honduras and Cuba.
In all corners of the world there are White Sox fans who send me positive messages, concerns, worries, opinions and, obviously, questions about the team and baseball in general.
To think back 25 years when I was just starting in professional baseball, I had many difficulties then trying to communicate with my family. I remember having to save money for phone calls and waiting until odd hours of the night to get the best rates.
Now, the youngsters in the minors have different ways to keep in contact with their loved ones. From far away now, players can talk with their families when they have a good or bad day.
Really, communication is so important in all areas of life.
A couple of weeks ago I called a meeting with my players and my message was very simple and to the point: either play better or the general manager Kenny Williams will be obligated to make some trades. It was that simple.
Honestly I would like keep this group of players for the rest of the season because, as I have said many times, I am convinced that we have the talent to compete and win.
It seems that message was received, although it is too early to claim victory, because there is still plenty of baseball to be played.
But we have played better, and we have been able to win more often.
Can we keep this rhythm until September? I hope so, although through the course of this season we have had ups and down that have left me more than a little confused.
At the moment of writing this column we just finished a four game series with the Royals, ending a seven-game road trip where we went 5-2.
That trip started 13 straight games against our division rivals. Before the All-Star break we finish with three games against Cleveland at home and three against the Twins at Metrodome.
The big question that I get from the majority of the fans that write-in is whether we have what it takes to compete for the division title. My response is the same: Yes, and these next few games against the division rivals will be key.
What will Kenny Williams do before the non-waiver trade deadline? Only Kenny really knows, but that will also depend on how well our team plays this month.
I have never asked him for a specific player for the second half, not in 2005 and not last year when we won the division. Luckily, Kenny has been able to find the right piece each time to help us win.
We hope it happens again this season.
Now some questions:
Kelvin from Puerto Rico wants to know which is the best team in the American League and why. Well Kelvin, personally I think Boston is the team to beat because their pitching is the deepest in the league. They have good starters and their bullpen has done an excellent job, and don’t forget that too many experts, pitching is 70 percent of the game.
Jesus, from Caracas, asked my opinion of interleague games and which Venezuelan we have in the system that will soon make the jump to the majors.
Without a doubt the interleague games are a good idea for Major League Baseball, because it lets fans see players that might not come through their town otherwise. Before interleague play a fan in Pittsburgh would not get a chance to see Derek Jeter play unless there was a Pirates-Yankees World Series. It is also fun to see some of “turn back the clock” series. This happened a few weeks ago when the White Sox and the Dodgers faced each other, marking the 50th anniversary of the World Series in 1959. I am sure a lot of people enjoyed that series, especially with the presence of players like Luis Aparicio, Billy Pierce, Jim McAnany, Jim Landis and Jim Rivera.
I have always said, though, that the teams in the American League are at a disadvantage in these games, because we lose a hitter when we play in the National League parks. The National League teams though have the advantage of adding a hitter when they play in our park. But, I insist, that it is a good idea.
In terms of a Venezuelans that are on the verge of coming up to the big leagues, I have bad news Jesus, since it doesn’t look like there are any right now, but there may be some in the near future.
That lets me respond to Walter, from Valencia in Venezuela, who asked me about Clevelan Santeliz.
Clevelan is a great kid and is having his best season since he signed with the White Sox, in part, because of limited activity this winter during the Venezuelan League. This year Santeliz is playing with the Birmingham Barons in Double AA and he has shown great potential because he has stayed healthy. I think this is the best shape he has been in. In terms of his attitude, he is not afraid, doesn’t give in to pressure and has guts. If you watch him in Spring Training you will see him always rooting on his teammates, no matter who they are.
Neomar, from Caracas, asks me about my compatriot. He wants to know the chances of Freddy Garcia coming back to the Majors.
I haven’t had a chance to speak with Freddy lately, but my three kids are constantly keeping me up to date on his rehabilitation. If Freddy is able to regain the strength in his shoulder, then anything is possible. Right now Freddy is with Bartolo Colon in Glendale, Arizona working hard to see if he can come back and help us in the second half. Me, more than anyone, would love to be able to count on Freddy in the second half.
Rafael, de Los Teques, asks how I see the development of Venezuelan baseball.
I think our baseball is at its peak, because we have a lot of talent that is developing in organizations in the Major Leagues. At this rate we will shortly be side-by-side with the Dominican Republic. Soon we will see stars riding the bench in international tournaments, because we have so much talent. In terms of the future, it will depend on these players and their desire to play in their country and to pass on their knowledge. It is also important for the government to support the healthy competition that is our professional baseball.
Noe, from Chicago, asks me why we aren’t playing more “small ball” give that we have several fast players.
Noe, we are working on that. It is true that we have speedy players, but we also have players with a lot of power who are capable of changing a game with one swing of the bat. But we are working on it and our recent results are a sure indicator that we are able to win without the long ball.
Tirso, of Skokie, wants to know my opinion of what Frank Thomas accomplished in his career now that news of Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez has broken about their steroid use.
I think Frank Thomas should be a first ballot Hall-of-Famer. His numbers rank up there with some of the best hitters ever and he deserves to be in Cooperstown next to the greats of the game.
Eduardo, of Sarasota, Florida, asks me if I think Alexei can hit 20 home runs this season.
Without a doubt, I think he can do that.
Hannah, of Naperville, Illinois, wants to know about Jim Thome’s future in 2010.
There are still a lot of hits in Jim Thome’s bat, but it is up to Jim how many more years he wants to play. Those who share a clubhouse with Jim are witnesses to his work ethic. He is constantly prepping himself so he stays in the best shape possible. It is not easy on his knees and legs to support that physique that lets him hit some of those mammoth home runs. I think if he keeps working hard like he has and if he still wants to play, then he will be out there. In terms of him playing with the White Sox, I have no idea what type of team I will have next year. For now we are concentrating on 2009.
Karen Aparicio writes in from Maracaibo to wish me luck and to thank me for the comments I made recently regarding her father, the immortal Luis Aparicio.. Karen, thanks to you for having a
father like Luis who is an example for all Venezuelans, the only one in the Hall of Fame and an inspiration for all of us who decided to play professional baseball.
Alvaro, of Bolingbrook, wants to know who my idol was growing up.
David Concepcion is my baseball idol and that is the reason I wear number 13 on my back. Luckily, I have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with him. I have been really lucky to have him and Luis Aparicio and Chico Carrasquel at my side during my first game as manager at U.S. Cellular Field. Like David has been my idol since I was young, Roberto Clemente has been the player I have most admired in baseball. Not only because he was such a great player, but because of his dedication to mankind.
Finally, Antonio Miguel, from San Juan de Morros in Venezuela, wants to know the differences I see between this team and the 2005 team that won the World Series. Pitching. That is the big difference. In 2005 we had a foursome of strong starters that were able to combine to pitch four complete games in a row in the postseason. But besides that we had a bullpen that matured as the season went on. It had a combination of veterans like Cliff Politte and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, along with young studs like Neal Cotts and Bobby Jenks. Obviously winning a title was a team effort and every player contributed as some point during the season, but pitching was the key. In 2009, we have good arms that should turn into stars very soon, but currently are in the learning process.
Once again I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all your questions and I reiterate the thanks for all the positive comments I have received from all corners of the world. I hope you keep supporting the White Sox, and keep writing in to find out directly from me what is happening with our team. It will always be a pleasure reading these comments and opinions, and even the criticism. Go Sox.