- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Another of Holcomb's moves was to hire Announcer Harry Caray. Caray brings to baseball the revivalist sounds of Marjoe as well as a wardrobe Mick Jagger might have worn—had he performed in the '30s. "Harry is one of those announcers you either love or despise," says Holcomb. "He gives everybody hell and there doesn't seem to be anything anybody can do about it."
Each Wednesday afternoon Caray takes his microphones into the center-field bleachers to broadcast the game surrounded by an adoring audience constantly hounding him with questions. Last week Harry, sweating profusely, did his play-by-play in a pair of pink double-knit shorts, knee-length, black support hose, white shoes and—in the late innings—no shirt. One of the questions asked of him was why Dick Allen seems incapable of hitting a homer after nine p.m.
Of all the nonsensical baseball statistics in recent seasons, Allen and his Nine O'clock Shadow is one of the most absurd—and most fascinating. Allen's 30 home runs break down to 17 hit during day games, five at twilight and eight at night. Of those last eight, all have come prior to nine p.m., on his first or second times at bat. One evening last week he put on a fine display of his pre-nine p.m. prowess. The biggest night crowd in nine years, 42,001, jammed White Sox Park for Dick Allen Mug Night. Each youngster under 14 accompanied by an adult was given a plastic drinking cup with two pictures of Allen on it. As the real Allen mug made its first appearance at bat in the bottom of the first, the organist played Jesus Christ Superstar and the crowd roared. The Sox trailed Boston 1-0 at the time, but Chicago had two base runners. On the second pitch from Sonny Siebert, Allen pounded a majestically high home run over the fence in center field. The next time he came to bat it was still before nine p.m., and Siebert gave him a timely walk. For Allen, it was his 79th base on balls.
In the past few weeks Allen, who leads the American League with his 30 homers and 87 RBIs and ranks third in batting with a .313 average, has been moving in the direction of the triple crown won most recently by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, Frank Robinson in 1966 and Mickey Mantle in 1956. " Dick Allen is the best player in the American League and maybe in all of baseball," says Tanner.
The manager also feels that the Cy Young Award should be voted to Wood, who has won 21 games to lead the majors. Over one stretch Wood started 10 games in 30 days and already he has pitched 286? innings.
For years Wood struggled along in the Boston and Pittsburgh organizations with a fastball and a curve as his primary pitches. They were, quite plainly, not good enough. "I had fooled around with the knuckleball from time to time," he says. "Still I wouldn't use it as an out-pitch. I always wanted to know more about it. In the spring of 1966 I was one of the first men cut by the Pirates and thought about quitting baseball, but my wife encouraged me to try one more time. I went to Columbus, and the following fall the White Sox bought me. Eddie Stanky was managing the team at that time, and the first day of spring training he told me I was not going to start or be used in long relief, but work as the mop-up man. Hoyt Wilhelm was with the White Sox then and I went to him right away and asked him if he would explain more to me about the knuckler. We both gripped it the same way. He kept helping me and helping me and I began to build up confidence in it. Now I throw it maybe 80% of the time."
Unlike some knuckleball pitchers, Wood is able to get the pitch consistently over the plate. Last season he walked only one out of every 21 batters he faced. "I try to challenge the hitter with the knuckler," he says. "I get it over and if they are good enough to hit it, O.K. I'm not after a lot of strikeouts. The job is much easier when you can get the leadoff man with one pitch rather than stringing it out to 3 and 2."
Growing up in New England, Wood remembered when Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, the present Sox pitching coach, worked with two days' rest. Because he is willing to do the same, the White Sox use basically a three-man starting rotation, with Stan Bahnsen and Tom Bradley following Wood. "I don't tell them they have to pitch with two days' rest, I ask them," says Tanner. "One of my theories of managing is that instead of having old, hard-line rules, you have 25 different rules for 25 different players. One of the biggest jobs a manager has is to keep the pressure off the players as much as he possibly can. The season is long, and it has to be fun to play the game well. Look, if a player makes a physical mistake I will never criticize him. When a pitcher hangs a curve and somebody hits a homer off him some managers will jump all over him. I find that style absurd. How could anyone think the guy wanted to give up the homer?
"I find it thrilling to watch major league players perform at their best. When Dick Allen digs into that batter's box it's just a world with Allen and the pitcher in it. The concentration and physical action is such that when Allen misses a pitch I often hear him screech with the effort he has put into swinging."
Chicago's resurgence comes at a time when the American League most needs it. In order for it to be able to compete for publicity and money with the National League, it needs vibrant franchises in New York and Chicago as well as in California. And the White Sox and their park have been sources of concern for a long time.