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!
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!