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On Aug. 2, Pitcher Alex Fernandez, who was 20 at the time, and first baseman Frank Thomas, 22, started for the Chicago White Sox in a game against the Brewers at Milwaukee's County Stadium. Each player was making his major league debut and was understandably nervous. Between them, Fernandez and Thomas, both of whom had been called up that day from the Double A Birmingham Barons, had less than two years of minor league experience.
With Chicago ahead 3-2 after seven innings, White Sox manager Jeff Torborg approached Fernandez in the dugout and told him, "That's all for today, son. Well done."
"But Skip," replied Fernandez, who had given up only five hits, "I can get them out."
Torborg folded his arms and gazed at the sky. "I'm sure you can," he said, "but Barry Jones and Bobby Thigpen out there in the bullpen can, too."
Fernandez departed, and Jones came in. He promptly gave up the tying run. Torborg didn't forget that.
In all, Fernandez, who in May had been pitching to junior college hitters, started 13 times for the White Sox in 1990, going 5-5 with a 3.80 ERA and establishing himself in the rotation. "The talk was that I was young and inexperienced," says Fernandez. "Jeff gave me confidence by letting me battle my way out of situations."
Thomas was similarly precocious. After going hitless in his first game—"jitters," he says—he drove in the winning run with a triple the next day and never looked back. At season's end his batting average was .330, the highest since 1942 by a White Sox player with at least 200 plate appearances. "From day one, both of them seemed as if they belonged here," says Torborg. "They're special."
What happened to Fernandez and Thomas is not unheard of. Young players break into the big leagues every year. Downright startling, however, was how young Fernandez and Thomas were, how they were called up before September and how little time they needed to make a splash. Moreover, Chicago was not alone in experiencing this baby boon.
Five days after Thomas and Fernandez debuted, Brian McRae, a 22-year-old centerfielder for the Double A Memphis Chicks, who were playing on the road in Huntsville, Ala., was awakened at 7 a.m. by a pounding on his door. "It was Jeff Cox, my manager," says McRae, who had been up until after four. "He tells me I'm going to Kansas City, to the big leagues. I had brought no clothes with me to Huntsville except jeans and T-shirts, and now all I have time to do is catch the plane. I get to Kansas City and go straight from the airport to batting practice. I'm dead tired. Everything's happening so fast, my head is spinning. I can't even call anyone to say I'm in the big leagues. I look at the lineup, and I see that I'm playing. My first time up, I get behind 0-2. I was standing there thinking, I'm in the big leagues and I'm 0-2. Snap out of it! I worked the count even and tripled, and then I wasn't tired anymore."
On Aug. 29 outfielder Juan Gonzalez was called up by the Texas Rangers. In truth, he shouldn't have been surprised. In 128 games with the Triple A Oklahoma City 89ers last season, Gonzalez led the American Association in home runs (29), RBIs (101) and total bases (252) and was named the league's MVP. What's more, at 20 he was the youngest player in the American Association.