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SOME LIKE IT HOT
Frank Deford
August 22, 1983
Chicago's pitchers do for sure. After a frigid start they warmer up right along with the weather and led the Sox to first place in the American League West. Part II of a series
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August 22, 1983

Some Like It Hot

Chicago's pitchers do for sure. After a frigid start they warmer up right along with the weather and led the Sox to first place in the American League West. Part II of a series

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But wait a minute now. Forty? If you read the first installment about these Chicago hurlers, you surely recall that Koosman turned 39 on Dec. 23. But here he is 40, in midsummer. "I don't know where I lost a year," he says, drawing on a Tareyton. "I kept seeing where I was 37 when I was 38 and 38 when I was 39, but what did it matter? But 40 means something." Forty is in. In June, Koosman pitched a game against The 300 Winner, who is 44. Thoughtfully, Koosman left some false teeth on the mound for his elderly opponent—"right in the hole where he strides"—but The 300 Winner is not amused by middle-aged junior high pranks.

Anyway, set free by the unvarnished truth about his age, Koosman went over to play pluck, which is a card game something like bridge, "only easier, so ballplayers can manage it," Koosman explains.

Most of the Chicago moundsmen do not, like Koosman, mainly just bring it. "Our pitching staff doesn't overpower hitters," Duncan says. "That's not our style. It's a control staff."

This was a truism repeated oft in the spring, when the Chisox pitchers paced Chicago to the cellar. Perhaps you will recall that, when last we saw the staff, LaMarr Hoyt had just thrown a slider down and away to open the season. The Sox lost that game. The next night, Jim Kern, their elongated closer, came in to relieve Floyd Bannister. The third man he faced tapped one near the mound, and Kern made the throw to first off-balance. Catcher Carlton Fisk, Pudge, came out. "You O.K., Jim?" he asked. "It looked like you grimaced when you threw that."

Kern said he was fine, but after he missed with a couple of pitches to the next hitter, he decided to "step on it." Halfway through the pitch, Kern felt the most excruciating pain of his life. All the way to the dugouts they could hear his arm. It went pop. Kern fell to his knees, although he doesn't remember that. The ball went 30 feet over the batter's head, although he doesn't remember that. All he remembers is that suddenly he found himself walking behind' the mound toward second base, cradling his elbow in his glove. Somehow he had ripped the tendons and muscles clear away from the bone. Just throwing. The doctor said he had heard of people like wrestlers doing that to other wrestlers, but he had never heard of a human being doing it to himself. "Another first for good old-fashioned Jim Kern," says Jim Kern.

The White Sox lost that game, too. The next night, Richard Dotson pitching, they lost again and Texas had a sweep. Also, if you recall, the Sox' young left-handed ace, Britt Burns, had gone on the disabled list a couple of days before, felled by a virus he caught in his shoulder from the air conditioning in his motel room. One series into the season and the Sox had lost all three games and two of their best hurlers.

But life goes on, and another one of the Chicago pitchers chose these dark days to embark on his own personal journey of marital bliss. This was Kevin Hickey, the southpaw spot reliever: Hic Man, freckled, with the map of Ireland on his face, the erstwhile softball star who grew up in the veritable shadow of Comiskey Park, where he still lives. He was planning on being engaged all season with autumn nuptials. But his fiancée, Terri, lived way out in the suburbs, and Hic Man wanted her "in the neighborhood." So they got married just before the season started, and after the Chisox lost the three games (and their closer) in Texas, T-Bone seized on the happy bridegroom as reason enough for a party. It was a whale of a party, too, the sort that stretches ligaments, and two days later in Detroit, Dennis Lamp, replacing Burns in The Rotation, finally got Chicago its first win. As for the newlywed, Hickey had the best beginning on the staff—five saves the first month.

The next Chisox team party—paid for by the accumulated petty fines—was on July 17 in Cleveland, and this time the Pale Hose were rampaging (at least as that term applies in the AL Waste, where .500 sends shivers up grown men's spines). But poor Hickey had disappeared. He hadn't had a save in well over two months, and he hadn't pitched but 2⅔ innings—bad innings—in three weeks. Gallows humor prevailed. "Well," said DH Greg Luzinski, The Bull, when La Russa finally give Hic Man another chance, "now you're down to only $20,000 an inning."

"Gee, Kevin," Hoyt hollered, "when did they call you back up?"

Luckily, Hickey was undaunted. "Me frustrated? Never," he snapped. Just to be sure, he gave up smoking, 2 p.m., EDT, July 18.

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