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2 chicago White Sox
Lars Anderson
March 27, 2000
The promising young Sox are poised to start putting the hurt on their opponents
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March 27, 2000

2 Chicago White Sox

The promising young Sox are poised to start putting the hurt on their opponents

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By the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

1999 record: 75-86 (second in AL Central)

Batting average

.277 (8)

Opponents' batting average

.283 (11)

Runs scored

777 (10)

ERA

4.92 (7)

Home runs

162 (10)

Fielding percentage

.977 (14)

It's the most distinctive sound on the South Side of Chicago, a collision of wood and rawhide that's music to the ears of everyone in the White Sox' organization. To sample it, you don't even need to watch Magglio Ordo�ez take batting practice; all you have to do is listen. "I've been over 50 feet away, talking to another person, and I'll be able to tell when Magglio is in the cage," says manager Jerry Manuel. "He destroys the ball."

Meet the future of the White Sox. Ordo�ez, 26, led Chicago in home runs (30), RBIs (117) and total bases (318) last season and was the second-youngest player at the 1999 All-Star Game. Chicago is still a year away from having the juice to catch Cleveland, but thanks to the development of Ordo�ez and a young, talented pitching staff, the gap is closing. "If everything went right for us and the Indians stumbled a little this season," says Manuel, "then maybe we could catch them. But they would have to stumble."

For the White Sox to be dangerous, the club needs Frank Thomas to rebound from his career-low .265 in 1998. Last season he had personal major league lows in home runs and RBIs, and at one point in September he got so fed up that he refused to enter a game as a pinch hitter. Thomas left his home in Chicago during the off-season to spend a few months in Santa Monica, Calif., where he worked out with a personal trainer in the mornings and ran on the beach in the afternoons. He also hired Walt Hriniak, the White Sox' hitting coach when Thomas arrived in Chicago in '90, to be his private tutor. Hriniak, who now coaches high school baseball in Boston, met with Thomas a few times this winter and will be on call all season. "Golfers and tennis players sometimes need to refine their swings, and I do too," says Thomas. "I'm trying to get the basic mechanics back."

Thomas already seems to have something else back: his smile. Though he and Manuel clashed early in spring training after Thomas said he couldn't participate in a fitness drill because he was injured, the two subsequently worked out their differences in a two-hour, heart-to-heart meeting. Thomas now says he's willing to be a clubhouse leader, something he has never been but precisely what this callow team needs. "I want guys to come to me," says Thomas. "We can grow into a very good team if we all work together."

If Thomas, who's only 31, can regain his old form, the White Sox will have a potent offense. Leadoff hitter and second baseman Ray Durham, 28, is that rare player who can run (34 stolen bases last year) and drive in runs (60 RBIs). Centerfielder Chris Singleton, 27, led all major league rookies with a .300 batting average, and first baseman Paul Konerko, 24, hit for both average (.294) and power (24 homers).

Last year the weak links in the batting order—and in the field—were shortstop Mike Caruso and third baseman Greg Norton. They combined to hit a mere .252, drive in only 85 runs and commit 51 errors; the latter two figures were the worst among AL shortstop-third base combos. That's why Chicago acquired the reliable Jose Valentin from the Brewers in the off-season and why Manuel says his Opening Day third baseman will be the more sure-handed Craig Wilson. If the new left side is simply adequate on defense and at the plate, it will be a substantial improvement. "We've got a lot of ground ball pitchers, so we can't give away outs," says Manuel.

James Baldwin is considered the White Sox' No. 1 starter, but he's hardly a dominating pitcher: Over the last three seasons he's 37-34 with an ERA of 5.22. The steadiest member of Chicago's rotation last year was the 28-year-old southpaw Mike Sirotka, who could have won 16 games, but in 10 of his starts the Sox scored two runs or fewer. Manuel is counting on Jim Parque, 24, and Kip Wells, 22, to become the anchors of the rotation. Their bullpen counterparts are setup man Keith Foulke, 27, and Bobby Howry, 26. Last season Foulke led big league relievers in strikeouts (123) and was second in ERA (2.22). He has one of the game's best changeups and is teaching the pitch to Howry, who was sixth in the league in saves last season.

"Realistically, we know we're a year away," says Howry, "but I wouldn't want to be on any other team in baseball because we're going to be great."

Ordo�ez is already there. His short, quick, powerful swing is similar to that of the Mariners' Edgar Martinez. Whenever he stepped into the cage at Chicago's spring training complex in Tucson, he attracted a crowd of teammates wanting to hear his BP symphony. "There's no reason I won't be an All-Star for many years to come," says Ordo�ez. "I wasn't intimidated playing in that game and being around all those great players. I felt like I belonged."

It may not be long before his teammates know the feeling.

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