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The line that divides the past and the future is West 35th Street in Chicago. Or so it is for the White Sox, whose inglorious history is baked into the giant white birthday cake that is 80-year-old Comiskey Park. The future is across the street at the new Comiskey Park, an elegant work-in-progress already decorated in graffiti with the words GO CUBS.
And the present? That's it in the crosswalk, dashing through traffic: The White Sox, 1990 version, are a team on the move. In the American League West, the division that the South Siders perennially finish on the south side of, the Sox, at week's end, had sprinted to a 20-13 record, second behind the world champion Oakland Athletics. (This will come as news to many in Chicago, including one member of the Sox bullpen.) The team's swift start may or may not have to do with the mere four months of baseball that remain at the condemned Comiskey. It has everything to do with baseball's youngest roster, the one that will fill programs for years to come at the new park, which opens on Opening Day of next season.
But what of this season? How exactly have the White Sox, who won 69 games to finish last in 1989, been beating the double-knit pants off their betters? "To be honest," says designated hitter Ron Kittle, "I'd have probably bet the house that we wouldn't be."
Well, you are. What of it?
"I'm as lost as you are," says 22-year-old reliever Scott Radinsky.
"You guys are what, 19-10?" he was asked last week.
"I have no idea what our record is," Radinsky replied.
"I love it," says Sox general manager Larry Himes. "I love that! He doesn't know what our record is! These young guys don't know we were picked for last. They come up and think they'll win every night. I've been here four years, and it's the first time the feeling is we expect to win."
Himes is regularly receiving glad-handers in his box above Comiskey these days. Last summer he would have been wise to wear a side arm to the park. On July 29 he traded beloved rightfielder- DH Harold Baines (and throw-in infielder Fred Manrique) to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Scott Fletcher, rightfielder Sammy Sosa and minor league pitcher Wilson Alvarez. The fans revolted—or, more accurately, those few still following the White Sox in July put up what fuss they could. Now, however, while Baines, 31, was struggling with a .228 average in Texas, Sosa, 21, was revealing himself to be the prototype of the White Sox player of the '90s: young, fast and nearly flawless afield. It is almost incidental that he was batting .271 through Sunday as the Sox leadoff hitter. "We knew he was very good," says Himes. "We didn't know it would come so quickly."
He should have. The lineup that Himes and his staff have assembled does everything quickly. At week's end, shortstop Ozzie Guillen, he of the .351 batting average, and centerfielder Lance Johnson (.294) had eight stolen bases apiece. Sosa had stolen six. Even 42-year-old catcher Carlton Fisk had three. Only Rickey Henderson's A's had stolen more in the American League. Though Henderson is not exactly looking over his shoulder, he may have raised an eyebrow on May 16, when Chicago leftfielder Ivan Calderon, all 218 power-hitting pounds of him, swiped three bases to match his career high of 10, fourth best in the league.