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THE BAD NEWS BEARS OF KAMINSKEY PARK
Frank Deford
May 19, 1980
Also known as the White Sox of Comiskey Park in Chicago, they're a ragtag outfit that's living the high life in the American League West
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May 19, 1980

The Bad News Bears Of Kaminskey Park

Also known as the White Sox of Comiskey Park in Chicago, they're a ragtag outfit that's living the high life in the American League West

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This behavior is perceived as standoffish by a few players, nettling them, but the Chisox scufflers are hardly a team that can afford finger-pointing. Dissension and backbiting can only surface as virtues with the well off—early Oakland, the Martin Yankees. Chicago waffled last year under the uncertain direction of Manager Don Kessinger, the former Cubbie who was hired in the forlorn hope that he might win over a few North Side fans; the players also got the wrong signals from a couple of self-centered veterans, since dispatched. Every team has a persona of its own, and LaRussa, a goal-oriented scuffler, could show the way for this crowd. Pro sports is a high-low poker game now, and the trick is to gather a team that knows it is either 1) overpowering or 2) undervalued—witness the last two American League champions, the Yankees and the Orioles.

Bruce Kimm is a catcher who got trapped in the Detroit system. He was too smart for his own good, and the Tigers preferred to keep him Triple A, nurturing their young pitchers. The White Sox drafted him to look after their kids, to call their games, to show them when to bring it in tight, to intimidate. "I collect guys like this," Veeck says. The other night, with a runner on second, even with the count 3-2, Kimm, at bat, gave himself up, grounding to the right and moving the runner up. The scufflers knew what he had done. When he got back to the dugout, they got up for him. As if on cue, Pryor, the next batter, produced the sacrifice fly.

Ed Farmer is suddenly the most effective reliever in the league—three wins, eight saves. But he has been in seven organizations. He made the majors as long as nine years ago, a 21-year-old kid ordered to bring heat. His arm went, and by 1975 he couldn't win at Union Laguda, Mexico, the last stop.

Farmer quit the game and was operated on. It was his wife, Barbara, who made him get back in shape. "She told me she'd given up her career as an actress to have our baby, and she wasn't going to watch me give up mine when I didn't have an excuse," he says. Out driving, she would stop the car and make him run home. Farmer taught himself a curve, and decided he had the disposition to be a reliever. "I told a kid on this team who isn't playing much about my past," Farmer says. "I told him: you can't ever look back at what you were."

As recently as 1977, Outfielder Bobby Molinaro was ready to quit and become a dealer in Vegas. He had a lead on a solid $20,000 job at the Golden Nugget. He had been knocking around the Tiger farms since 1968, when he had been a certified phenom, hailed as the successor to Al Kaline. In the end, only a complicated paperwork error and the new free-agent laws freed him for a chance at the majors. He gave Chicago one good year, but last spring Kessinger sent him back to the minors, to Iowa. He just dug in again and hit .328.

"When I was down at Iowa last year, Thad Bosley [now a Sox outfielder] used to ask me, 'How do you do this, Bobby? How do you play like this after all these years?' " Molinaro said. "I don't know. I give so much to this game. I never got married. How is any woman going to understand? All the moving around. Lots of times I couldn't sleep. I had to take pills. And all I ever wanted was just the one thing: a chance to fail up here. It's taken me 12 years to get here, playing every day. The great thing is...." He stopped, scratching his head. Sometimes ballplayers really do use in speech the stock phrases they have read for so long in the sports pages; life follows clich�. Molinaro said, "What's great is, I know that what I do every day is going to dictate how well this club fares this year."

At present, Bobby Molinaro is hitting .364, fourth best in the league, and his team is two games out.

The portsiders While it is an accident that the Chisox ended up with so many lefthanders, the wealth of good young pitchers is no coincidence. When Veeck took over the club in '76, he lacked a number of advantages, notably money and athletes. Consciously, then, the decision was made to draft pitchers, because, as every mother's son knows, pitching is 75% of baseball. Or 80% or 90%. Only last year did the organization—headed by the cagey Roland Hemond—turn to selecting the "skill positions" up the middle. The result is that the pitchers are a couple of years ahead of the hitters, the best of whom are in Double A on what is known in the trade as a "prospect club"—at league-leading Glens Falls, N.Y. in the Eastern League.

The other reason the Chisox sought out pitchers was that Veeck had hired the Wizard of Waxahachie, or Paul Richards, as he is sometimes known. Richards, 71, is a master at developing pitchers, most prominently the fabled Kiddie Corps of Baltimore, which he managed 20 years ago: Pappas, Walker, Estrada, Barber, Fisher. The vu in Chi is overwhelmingly d�j�. Richards specializes in teaching the slip pitch, which is what you call a change-up if you are a very good wizard. Richards also has a name for people. He calls everybody "boy," including the venerable Veeck. He scares the wits out of folks.

Last Thursday, Chicago's top new portsider, a 6'5", 20-year-old named Britt Burns (1.62 ERA, 3-2, six walks in 39 innings), was messing around with the Royals, mixing it up, moving it in and out, dropping down occasionally for a lefthander, but poor LaRussa was fretting, pacing in the dugout, as Burns threw 110...120...130 pitches. Richards was 1,000 miles away, but LaRussa could feel his glare. Boy, don't you let my boys throw too many pitches.

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