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!
More than once I have emphasized the need to reduce the number of defensive errors because they result in more work for the pitchers. As I write this column, the White Sox lead the American League in errors. Although our opponents don’t always score runs as a result, defensive errors force the pitcher to throw more pitches, which can limit the number of innings he throws. This can be very serious.
For this home stretch, we need all of our pitchers, both starters and relievers, to pitch effectively for as long as possible. For that they need help from our offense, but also from our defense. Pitchers seem larger than life when they have a solid team backing them from the first through the final inning.
Speaking of good outings, Freddy Garcia and Jake Peavy had great starts with the Charlotte Knights, our Triple-A affiliate, were very good. Freddy went 6.0 innings and although he took the loss, he allowed only two runs and struck out nine. Peavy also showed that he will be a big help when he joins our pitching staff. In 3.0 innings against Pawtucket, an affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, he allowed only one hit, walked one batter and recorded five strikeouts. Three of them came when he struck out the side in the first inning.
If Freddy and Peavy pitch according to their credentials, count the White Sox in the race for the American League Central title. It’s important, of course, that the rest of the players continue to do their jobs in terms of producing runs. To that end, the addition of Alex Rios should add great depth to the outfield and a respectable bat that should strengthen our lineup.
Anyway, there is a month and a half left in the season. The team’s management has made the necessary moves to strengthen our roster and our destiny is still in our hands. We hope to continue receiving support from our fans in Chicago and will keep giving our all on the field until the very end. Hopefully we’ll be battling in October to the satisfaction of our fans.
Now for some answers.
Angel Ramon Deonice of Carupano, Venezuela asks what motivated the White Sox to release Scott Podsednik in 2007 only to rehire him in 2009. Although I have said in the past that I have nothing to do with signings, I’d like to remind Angel Ramon that during the last two years that Podsednik was with us, his playing time was limited due to injuries. From there, the team decided to let him go. After the Colorado Rockies opted not to sign him for the 2009 season, Scott was willing to go to the minors to prove that he was in excellent health. If you take into account the trouble we had finding a leadoff hitter, you will understand why we re-signed him. I can honestly tell you that without Podsednik in our lineup we would not be contending for the division title.
Arturo Fadragas, a Cuban resident of Chicago, wants to know if his fellow countryman Jose Contreras is finished as a pitcher and if he figures in the White Sox’s plans for 2010.
Arturo is not the only Cuban who inquires about Contreras. Every week I get messages giving me suggestions as to how to deal with him, on what advice I should give him and how to support him. Some request that I order him to throw this pitch or that pitch at this or that angle. The truth is that upon his return from Charlotte, Contreras looked great and won some very important games. But his most recent starts have been a disaster, as Dr. Julio Antonio Machillanda of Porlamar points out. I really don’t know if it’s a lack of concentration or a lack of command of his best pitches, but the truth is that Jose is in the rotation right now because there is no other available option. His future with the White Sox will depend on what he does on the mound. Personally I hope that he gets out of this funk not only so that he can help us in the home stretch but because he is a hard worker and an excellent person.
Rafael Loretto of Valle La Pascua and Luis Manuel Ferrer Torres of Caracas ask about the famous “Guerrilla” of the 1980s with the Tiburones (Sharks) of La Guaira. At some point I will discuss this in the column that I write in Venezuela, but I will mention that, contrary to what has been said, the term “guerrilla” does not mean that the players played like hardened warriors but that there was much discord in the clubhouse among some of the players. So and so did not speak to so and so, so and so did not have a relationship with so and so, so and so hated so and so. Nonetheless, once the umpire said, “play ball,” the internal “warfare” did not keep the players from playing like professionals or from devoting themselves, body and soul, to the quest for victory. The result is known by Venezuelan fans, especially fans of los Tiburones of La Guaira.
Carlos Andrade of Maracay asks when Bartolo Colon will be ready to pitch for the White Sox. Carlos, I really don’t know and by the way, if you see him in Maracay, please give him my regards.
Marco Antonio Bonilla of San Diego, California, asks how many games I think Jake Peavy can win for the White Sox this year. Honestly, Marco Antonio, I hope he wins enough games to help us win the division title and the World Series. I would be satisfied with that.
Your question allows me to answer those who, like Wenceslao Moreno of Maracaibo, Oswaldo Peroza of Valencia and Juan Martin of Miami, wonder if it was a good idea to bring aboard an injured Peavy. Personally I think it was, not only because of the games he can win this year, but because of the message it sends to the team and to the Chicago fans. Peavy and Alex Rios, another acquisition for the second half of the season, have contracts that guarantee that they will remain in Chicago for several more years. This means that Kenny Williams is set on building a competitive team, not only for 2009, but for a long time. It’s true, as Martin points out, that we gave up valuable prospects, but in baseball you have to give something good to get something of equal value. Time will tell if it was a good decision, but right now it seems excellent.
Rafael Escalante of Valencia asks me if I would like to end my career with the White Sox. Definitely! I would like to be here for another 20 years or as long as my body can take it. However, the day that my work is poor or that I can no longer help the team win, they should send me home without contemplation. I hope I have grandchildren by then so I can drive them crazy!
An annoyed Victor Saldivia Simanca of Valencia wrote to complain that I have not responded to any of his questions. Although I was sure I had discussed his messages in previous columns, I nonetheless want to reiterate my appreciation. Your letters, more than questions, contain analysis and opinions that I respect although I may not always agree with them. For example, in one letter you suggest that Freddy was a warrior but that even warriors must meet their end. In your opinion, Freddy’s end has come. I hope that is not the case and that he can contribute this year. In any case, thank you for sharing your thoughts on the White Sox and Venezuelan baseball with me and for the advice you provided in your last message.
By the way, many encouraging messages have been sent to Freddy Garcia via this column and I will definitely pass those along to him. Like I said at the beginning, his starts in the minor leagues have been very good and we can only hope that he will exhibit that same intensity in the big leagues and show why he earned the nickname “Big Game Freddy.” In response to Hector Natera of Guayana, Anibal Contreras of Santa Teresa, Jaifre Gutierrez of Maracay, and Royer Cegarra and Juvenal Briceno of Caracas, who asked when Freddy will be back in the majors, based on what we has shown us up until now, it is likely that he will be back earlier than we expected. In conclusion, I want to respond to Jose Sanchez of Punto Fijo, who asked why we signed Freddy if we already traded him once. Well Jose, first of all, everyone deserves a second chance, especially Freddy, who achieved so many good things with this organization. But more important
ly, it was because we think that he can still help us win games. Let’s see how things go for him.
Pepin Hernandez of Tenerife, Spain, asks if there is tension on the bench between our American and Latin American players. Pepin brings up the incident between Alexei and Pierzynski in one of our games. Even in the best families sometimes there are arguments, Pepin, and that does not mean that there are problems. The team’s friendly atmosphere is the main weapon that allows us to battle as one. Remember that there are 25 players and 8 coaches each with a distinct personality. But the desire to win unites us and makes us a family in which each member protects the others regardless of whether they are rookies or veterans. Incidents and differences will always be present but in the end, after each storm, the sun rises once again.
Ramses Valladaras, a child from Ocumare de Tuy, writes to tell me about his dream of becoming a professional ballplayer and to send me many positive messages. Ramses, the key to achieving your dreams is to work hard and persevere. As you know, I too was born in Ocumare del Tuy and although many people didn’t think I was tall enough or strong enough or whatever to play professional baseball, thanks to my efforts I got to where I got. If I was able to do it, you can too, but it will depend on your perseverance and hard work. Hopefully I can be your manager in the big leagues one day.
Jose Jimenez, also of Ocumare del Tuy, writes to suggest that I build a baseball stadium in that town where I was born although, as Jose recalls, I was not raised there. If it were in my power, it is likely that I would build baseball stadiums in all the towns of Venezuela for children and young people to play sports and stay away from vices. But as I have said in the past, that task lies with the authorities, with the governors and mayors. They are the ones who are truly responsible for the health and wellbeing of the town that elected them. The Guillen Foundation unfortunately does not have the resources for an investment of that magnitude, which is why we use the little that we collect to help children and young people with health problems. My advice is that you demand that the authorities keep their promises and that they prioritize sport, which is the best way to combat poverty and delinquency.
Carlos Venot of Caracas and Carlos Ovalles of Mariara, Carabobo, asked when my contract with the White Sox expires and if I have received offers to manage other teams. Carlos, I should be in Chicago until 2012, which is the last year on my current contract. The rest of the teams cannot make me offers because it would be illegal, but I really hope to finish my career in this city.
Leonardo Araujo of Caracas wants to know which position on our team is the weakest and needs immediate attention. Well, Leonardo, the starting pitching needs to be more consistent if we aspire to make it to the postseason. The starters have done a good job, but have been unpredictable. In general, our defense needs to improve because the errors are hurting our pitchers. I reiterate that with the material we have we can be champions, but we need to do our job properly at every position.
Alejo Manriquez of Maturin suggests that we try to acquire Pablo Sandoval from the San Francisco Giants. Alejo, “Kung Fu Panda” has a long ways to go before becoming a free agent and I doubt that the Giants would be willing to trade him right now.
Angel Ramon Utrera Ovalles of San Juan de los Morros in Guarico brings me joy with his optimism. He asks what the White Sox’s rotation will look like for the postseason. I hope God hears you, Angel Ramon. First we have to get to the postseason before we think about rotations. If that is the case, I would welcome the headache that would result from having to choose four starters among an effective Burhle, Floyd, Danks, Contreras, Peavy and Freddy. The best four would be given the responsibility of guiding us to the title.
Maikel Ferreras, of Ciudad Bolivar, asks me three questions: What recommendations do I give to players who are starting their careers? That they work hard and never give up. What is, in my opinion, the best Venezuelan player right now? It’s impossible to answer, Maikel, because there are too many that are really good. And, why aren’t there more Venezuelans on the White Sox? Although I have addressed this in previous columns, you should know that in the minor leagues there are approximately a dozen of our fellow countrymen making strides towards the big leagues. Little by little, since I arrived in 2004, the number of Venezuelans that have been signed by our scouts has increased. Before then it was difficult to compete with Dominican Republic in signing talent, but we are on the right track.
Esteban Armando Marquez of La Guaira clearly has not read any of my other columns because he asks if there is a possibility that I will manage the Tiburones in the Venezuelan tournament. Although I usually “never say never,” the problem is that those are the months that I devote to my family. As long as I am working in the Major Leagues from February to October, it is impossible to think about managing in the Venezuelan baseball league even if I wanted to. That is not in my plans for the time being.
Angel Esnaldo Lopez of Santa Lucia wants to know if I have been asked to manage Team Venezuela in the two World Baseball Classics that have taken place. Angel, no I have not, because the event’s rules prohibit the participation of Major League managers. In the first tournament they asked me for advice, which I provided with much love, but they ignored me almost completely.
Well, that’s enough for today. Once again, I apologize to those who wrote to me and didn’t receive responses due to a lack of time. My sincere gratitude goes out to those who sent encouraging messages and their congratulations for our work. I would like to mention Tito Barrera, Randy Roy Ramirez, Neji Hyuga, Sergio Sequera and Hendrick Espiona of Maracaibo, Jose Alberto Soterano, Charle Rondon, Haydee Matey, Raul Castellanos and Newlson Gomez of Caracas, Douglas Mendoza of Miami, Yazmany Monarrez of Mexico, Raul Rojas of Charallaves, Jairo Parra of Barinas, Edwin Salinas of Anaco, Andres Avelino Faneite, Cesar Pirona and Alejandro Leon of Valencia, Geraro Prior Harris of Colombia, Santiago Quinto and Olivia Ortega of Maracay, Alberth Chirinos of Coro, Lino Bravo of Fort Lauderdale, Ricardo Olivero of Highwood, Illinois, Yorman Armas of Los Teques, Nelson Caraspe of Valle de La Pascua, José Montero of Cabimas and the hundreds of people who took a few minutes of their precious time to share something with me through whitesox.com.
A million thanks to everyone and keep following and supporting the White Sox!