Baldwin never played for New York, but in a rocky five-year career he has served up five home runs to the Bombers. That was Baldwin's legacy—great stuff, nice guy, more bombs than Demi Moore. Last year, while going 12-13 with a 5.10 ERA, Baldwin allowed 34. Although he has given up 12 this season, there has been a difference, Chicago manager Jerry Manuel insists. "Now when he gives them up, it's not in key situations," says Manuel. "He isn't walking guys like he used to, so a terrible three-run homer is just a solo shot. Our offense can overcome that."
From home runs hit (52 through 55 games in 1999, 76 over the same number of games in 2000) to runs scored (263-312), the White Sox are a far more dangerous club than they were a year ago. Much of mat has to do with the revival of Thomas, a two-time MVP who, distracted last year by a divorce, a sore right ankle and nonstop bickering with the Chicago press, had career lows with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs. Through Sunday he was tied for 14th in the league with a .328 average. More important, says Durham, "the big guy's got a smile back on his face."
In '97, Thomas was devastated by the demolition of the Sox. He wasn't thrilled after the '98 season either, when Belle was allowed to leave for the Baltimore Orioles and Ventura signed on with the New York Mets. Slowly but surely, however, Thomas has embraced Schueler's plan. Was that the Big Hurt, of all people, bobbing and grooving in the clubhouse, waving his arms in the air to a Mystikal CD before a recent Baldwin start? Was that Thomas wearing a poofy black wig that mimicked Baldwin's mini-'fro? "Frank sees he can be the leader on this team," says Schueler, "and I think he likes that."
A second leader is Valentin. Last season Chicago pitchers did everything in their power to avoid giving up grounders to short, where Mike Caruso—another of the six players in the trade with the Giants—fielded balls with the dexterity of a one-armed waitress. It wasn't just that Caruso was error-prone (35 miscues in 1998 and 24 in '99). He also tended to err in crucial situations. With 13 errors at week's end, tied for the league high for shortstops, Valentin is no Omar Vizquel, but he has above-average range, a strong arm and a quiet confidence. Plus, he has seven home runs and 29 RBIs. "There's nothing better than knowing you have a guy behind you who can take care of things," says lefthander Mike Sirotka. "Jose makes some errors, but when we need a big stop or a clutch play, he's there."
The injury-prone Valentin spent the first six years of his career with Milwaukee, which offered him a $100,000 bonus to stay home and avoid getting hurt instead of playing winter ball in Puerto Rico. For two years the Brewers requested that Valentin take the off-season off; for two years Valentin played. "I saw it this way," says Valentin, a soon-to-be free agent. "I could make $100,000, a nice amount of money. Or I could play in my home, have fun, be with my friends and, most important, become a better player. My highest value comes if I'm a very good player. That's how I'll be happy and make more money."
Valentin says he wants to be happy and make more money—as a member of the White Sox. "This is the place to play," he says. "The team is being built the right way. We're on the rise."
Three years after his purge began, Schueler can amble through the clubhouse with a smile on his face. It's nice to be right.
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