Random Box Score: April 1, 1997

Random Box Score: April 1, 1997

Prized free agent makes big splash in team debut

As the rumors continue to swirl surrounding the pursuit of free agent superstars Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, it’s worthwhile to pause…take a moment…and reflect on a game from the annals of White Sox history.

Today, we’re traveling back to Opening Day, 1997. This season-opening series featured arguably the two biggest names in free agency from the previous offseason — Roger Clemens and Albert Belle — squaring off against one another, not to mention a reigning Cy Young winner against a two-time MVP. Who would prove victorious, and take the first step(s) towards fulfilling their fans’ lofty expectations of October baseball?

Cultural trivia and baseball miscellany

In the wide world of music and film, two very different works were currently atop the charts. Over the airwaves, the number one spot was Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down, Puff Daddy’s debut album: it would spend six weeks in the one position before it was overtaken by Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize. On the big screen, it was Jim Carrey starring in Liar, Liar which sat in the top slot: ultimately the movie would gross $181 million, finishing in fourth for the year (behind The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Men in Black, and Titanic).

In baseball the big news of the day, of course, was that it was Opening Day. 1996 had just seen the Yankees win the first of their Core Four World Series, and the Bronx Bombers were well on their way to another dynasty. Unique to the 1997 season was the introduction of interleague play (the Sox went 8-7 that year, winning series against the Cubs, Reds, and Astros while losing series to the Cardinals and Pirates).

And lastly, looking ahead a few months to the June draft, the Sox took Jason Dellaero at 15th overall (one ahead of Lance Berkman). A few other Sox-centric names you might remember from that draft: Aaron Myette, Jim Parque, and Rocky Biddle.

Umpires for this game

  • HP: Jim McKean

McKean had an outstanding career as an umpire, working from 1973 until 2001, with three World Series and three All-Star games. Uniquely, he oversaw ten no-hitters.

  • 1B: Tim Hendry

Tim Hendry had a 23-year career as an umpire, from 1977-1999. Hendry saw action in the 1990 World Series as well as the 1983 and 1995 All-Star games.

  • 2B: John Hirschbeck

Hirschbeck was an umpire from 1984, only recently retiring following the 2016 season. Hirschbeck appeared in five World Series and three All-Star games but is perhaps more remembered (okay, maybe just by me) for a dispute with Roberto Alomar during the 1996 season over a third strike call, which eventually led to a confrontation between the two the next day in the Orioles’ clubhouse.

  • 3B: Jim Joyce

Joyce umpired from 1987-2016, also retiring after that season. Joyce worked three All-Star games and three World Series, but is notorious for a wrong call at first base that cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game:

The Lineups

Chicago White SoxToronto Blue Jays
Tony Phillips, RFOtis Nixon, CF
Dave Martinez, CFCarlos Garcia, 2B
Frank Thomas, 1BOrlando Merced, RF
Albert Belle, LFJoe Carter, 1B
Harold Baines, DHEd Sprague, 3B
Chris Snopek, 3BCarlos Delgado, DH
Ray Durham, 2BBenito Santiago, C
Ron Karkovice, CShawn Green, LF
Ozzie Guillen, SSAlex Gonzalez, SS
Jaime Navarro, SPPat Hentgen, SP

Play by Play

Taking the mound for the Blue Jays was the reigning American League Cy Young winner, Pat Hentgen. Hentgen was coming off a terrific 1996 campaign which saw him go 20-10 with 3.22 ERA (8.6 bWAR, though he would also be worth almost six wins during the 1997 season, too), but the Sox were able to get things going early. Tony Phillips led off the season with a single, and after Dave Martinez flew out to center, Frank Thomas smacked a single to right to give the Sox runners at first and second for prized-acquisition Albert Belle. Belle didn’t disappoint, doubling down the right field line to score Phillips and give the Sox a quick lead. Harold Baines then continued the hit parade, singling in Thomas, and it was 2-0 quicker than you could say “Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer”.

The Blue Jays would get on the board off of Sox starter Jamie Navarro in the second. Navarro (whose disappointing tenure with the Sox at least ultimately netted them Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin) was able to work around a wild first when he walked two, but gave up a dinger to Carlos Delgado the next inning which cut the lead in half, 2-1. Then, in the third the Blue Jays took the lead after Navarro exhibited yet more problems with his control. Otis Nixon led off with a single, but Navarro then issued back-to-back wild pitches to advance the Jays’ speedy center fielder to third. After Carlos Garcia struck out, Orlando Garcia singled through the right side to knot the game at 2. World Series hero Joe Carter reached on an E5, and after Ed Sprague flew out to center, Carlos Delgado got his second RBI of the day with a single that he dumped into left.

While Hentgen continued to suppress the Sox’ offense, the Blue Jays continued to pound Navarro. In the fourth, Alex Gonzalez hit a dinger out to left to make it 4-2 in favor of Toronto, then the Jays tacked on another in the sixth. Shawn Green singled to start the inning, and moved to second on a passed ball. A productive groundout by Alex Gonzalez advanced Green to third and after Otis Nixon walked, the Sox weren’t able to turn two on a ground ball to second by Carlos Garcia. 5-2, Blue Jays.

The seventh was quiet for both teams (Navarro was replaced by Al Levine), but the Sox were finally able to tag Hentgen for two more runs in the eighth. Frank Thomas singled to begin the inning, and Albert Belle once again came through, blasting a homer out to left and getting the Sox within a run, 5-4.

While the Sox couldn’t muster additional runs in the eighth, they were able to tie it up in the ninth. Mike Timlin replaced Pat Hentgen and promptly hung a slider to Norberto Martin (on in replacement of Ron Karkovice): Martin took it over the left-field wall to make it 5-5. Tony Castillo pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for the Sox, and so the crowd of 40, 299 was treated to some free baseball.

After two quick outs, Ray Durham worked a walk against Dan Plesac. Durham was a favorite of mine for his speed, and the next play is a good example of why. With Durham running on the next pitch, Tony Pena hit a ground ball that barely trickled through the infield: the team’s second baseman was able to score on this grounder all the way from first and it put the Sox in front, 6-5. While the Sox weren’t able to add an insurance run, closer Roberto Hernandez made sure they wouldn’t need it: a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th sealed the first victory of the season for the White Sox.

Link to game here

***

All in all, the 1997 season was a disappointment (at least on the team level) for both the White Sox and the Blue Jays. The Jays’ big offseason acquisition in Roger Clemens worked to perfection as The Rocket had one of the finest seasons of his career: the first of back-to-back Cy Youngs, a 21-7 record, to the tune of a 2.05 ERA. The Blue Jays finished 76-86, though, fifth in the AL East. Manager Cito Gaston was fired near the end of the season and replaced by Tim Johnson. Johnson was then replaced by Jim Fregosi (after the weird Vietnam War story thing), then Buck Martinez…then Carlos Tosca…it was the beginning of the team’s descent into playoff-less wilderness.

Unlike Clemens for the Jays, Albert Belle was a bit of a disappointment in 1997. A down (for him) year saw him hit .274/.332/.491 with *just* 30 dingers. Obviously, for White Sox fans, the biggest disappointment was the White Flag trade over the summer. Just 3.5 games back of the Indians, Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez, and Danny Darwin were shipped off to the Giants for minor leaguers, including Keith Foulke and Bob Howry. Ultimately, this didn’t hurt the Sox all that much as they made it back to the playoffs in 2000, and the rest is history (including a run of fun teams that I’d pretty much kill for, these days).

Random Box Score White Sox record: 8-4

Sources consulted

  • Baseball Reference
  • Billboard Hot 100
  • Chicago Tribune
  • IMDB
  • New York Times
  • Playback.fm
  • Sports Illustrated
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As Cirensica
Member

Thanks for this. Always a joy.

Man, those Jays and the White Sox teams were so good. I can’t believe the Jays ended up 10 games under .500. Although I wasn’t living in Canada yet, I was a huge fan of Carlos Delgado. He was a beast.

Current Jays and current White Sox teams look incredibly awful when compare to the rosters you refer to in your article. Awful I said? More like clown teams.

lil jimmy
Member

Roger Clemens. If I recall correctly, this is the start of steroid enhanced Roger Clemons.

MrTopaz
Member

This was also the era of that commercial he did where he talked about how hard he worked out, and illustrated such by grinding his fist into a barrel of rice in what appeared to be an unused stable. That’s really my clearest memory of Clemens pre Yankees.

asinwreck
Member

That season started with such optimism.

Albert Belle and Frank Thomas in the same lineup? With Tony Phillips and Robin Ventura? Let the runs begin!

According to Phil Rogers (yes, I know), Clemens wanted to go to the Sox. Had the Sox signed both of the marquee free agents that year…they still would have had to deal with Ventura’s injury, there still would be holes in the rotation (after Clemens and Alvarez), and they still would have Terry Bevington leading the unsuccessful charge toward a .500 record.

Good box score to present as we dream of the Sox signing Machado and Harper.

ParisSox
Member

I’d forgotten about Bevington.  Trading star players instead of firing the bad manager.  Foreshadowing, eh. 

Patrick Nolan
Editor

I’ll always remember Otis Nixon for Tom Paciorek saying, “This Nixon is a crook”, when reading the lineups.

SonOfCron
Member

Has it been mentioned yet that the Twins signed Nelson Cruz? I consider this a positive, since he was linked to the Sox pretty frequently this offseason and now we can’t waste the money on him.

dansomeone
Member

They signed your father too.

karkovice squad
Member

The Yankees signed Tulowitzki because of course they did.

karkovice squad
Member

Conflicting reports about whether the Sox have made at least a 10-year offer to Harper or aren’t willing to go past 7 for either him or Machado.

MrStealYoBase
Member

I don’t think either report means anything. Just more smoke and mirrors in the negotiation. I’ll give it til the end of next week for Machado to sign and the details of the White Sox offer to become public.

Marty34
Member

With the new TV deal being only 5 years, not offering 10-year deals makes sense.

karkovice squad
Member

Not offering 10 years only makes sense if the goal is collusion by owners to drive down players’ share of revenue. Or if they plan on paying $45m+/yr instead.

yolmers gatorade
Member

I could see that for Harper but Machado I think will pretty much have the same value in 10 years or close to it.

Smclean09
Member

Why exactly?
Miggy, Hanley, Tulo. Three all star guys on the left side of the infield that I immediately think of having a big dropoff between their 26 year old season to their mid 30s

yolmers gatorade
Member

Because he isn’t huge like Miggy. Not that familiar with the other two. I think athletes with oversized bodies break down. Machado is athletic, but he seem proportional and not completely dependent on his athleticism as opposed to his skill.

Trooper Galactus
Member

If any of us could accurately project player health as they aged, we’d be in demand by every major sports team in the world.

Smclean09
Member

I’m not questioning it outright just the premise that he is more likely to age well compared to Harper. Machado is still a large human being and, while in shape now, so was Hanley before he wasnt.

karkovice squad
Member

As far as it goes, Fangraphs had a decent article about there being good odds Machado ages worse than Harper. Machado’s already lost a step from his knee surgeries, Harper hasn’t and is the better overall baserunner. Harper’s approach at the plate is somewhat likely to age better, probably giving him a higher floor.

Machado’s got the edge in position which gives more margin for cushioning his decline, off-setting some of the difference in approach. It might also indicate an edge in lateral agility and acceleration, evening out the athleticism comparison.

Point is, though, all of that should be an afterthought to what they’re projected to do during the first half of their contracts.

Smclean09
Member

And the guy who had a 460 OBP last year is dependent on his athleticism? I think if anything you can count on Harper to continue to give you above average production even from the DH spot, and in turn is the safer bet as he ages. But regardless it’s a crapshoot

dansomeone
Member

If the Sox sign Machado and he provides them with 8 seasons comparable to Miggy from age 26 to 33 then I will be very pleased.

karkovice squad
Member

If the Sox get 5 elite years, I’d be ecstatic. If they get 3-4 I’ll consider it par.

I assume they’d have multiple consecutive postseason appearances.

Smclean09
Member

Yes. I just didnt understand why he was assuming one player would have the same value 10 years later. My assumption was it had something to do with the position

karkovice squad
Member

Bottom line is that both @yolmers-gatorade & @Smclean09 could use a refresher on why good free agents get long-term deals in baseball.

Teams aren’t expecting the players to be elite talents at the end. They agree to the years because it’s like getting a loan from the player. The team avoids having to pay full-freight on the early years which improves their cash flow. They also be benefit from inflation since dollars at the end aren’t worth as much as dollars at the beginning. And there’s the opportunity to trade the player before the end of the deal so they don’t get stuck with what’s left on the tab, anyway.

In return, players get as much long-term certainty as their NTCs and 10/5 rights allow. (And the ancillary benefit of reduced supply in the free agent market.)

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