03.21.05

Playing Small Ball With The ChiSox

Posted in Baseball at 7:07 pm by

Sportsline’s Scott Miller on Ozzie Guillen, manufacturing runs and the death of conventional logic.

You’ve heard all about the optimism of spring, and how teams think anything is possible at this time of season?

How about the White Sox figuring they can simply hit the delete key on all kinds of statistical data that says their home ballpark is a terrific place to hit home runs?

It’s all right there in black and white: Ever since owner Jerry Reinsdorf moved in the fences following the 2000 season, the Park Formerly Known as Comiskey has served up home runs like the creepy neighborhood bachelor dishes out pickup lines.

Last year, there were an average of 3.4 home runs per game in Chicago’s South Side ballpark — easily the most in the American League.

Over the past five seasons, slugger Frank Thomas (above) has cranked 99 home runs at home … compared with 36 on the road.

So, really? The White Sox don’t play in a home run park?

“To me, our pitching and our defense weren’t strong enough (last year),” Guillen says. “Now we can win games 3-2 with a squeeze. Last year, it never went through my mind to squeeze.”

This is all relevant right now because the Sox, the AL’s lovable perennial underachievers, said farewell over the winter to slugging outfielders Carlos Lee (31 home runs, 99 RBI) and Magglio Ordonez (who had averaged 32 homers and 118 RBI in the five seasons before losing most of 2004 to a knee injury).

In their place they brought in Scott Podsednik, the former Milwaukee Brewer who swiped 70 bags last season — but has just 22 career homers in 327 major-league games. And they hired outfielder Jermaine Dye, who had 23 homers last season. And they re-signed Carl Everett, whose best days were several years ago.

And now, a team that bashed a franchise-record 242 home runs last season has re-made itself into a small-ball style club that will hit-and-run, bunt and work at being much more aggressive on the bases.

A team that joined the New York Yankees in becoming the only clubs in baseball history to belt 200 or more homers in each of five consecutive seasons will stage a throwback, back to the days of the fast-running, light-hitting Go Go Sox of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the 1950s.

Guillen, who encouraged general manager Kenny Williams to follow this plan, jokes about asking the stadium operations folks to blow off fireworks when the Sox successfully execute a squeeze bunt rather than when they belt a home run in ’05.

But make no mistake: To Guillen, this is no joking matter.

“In Chicago, everything is power every year,” Guillen says. “Home run, home run, home run. But every year, second place, second place, second place.

Guillen says he would rather have six players capable of hitting 20 homers than three who can hit 40 because “it’s still 120 home runs, but you put those three 40-homer guys out there, there probably will be a lot of solo home runs. You put those six out there and there are going to be a lot of home runs with guys on base.”

The always excitable White Sox manager is really revved up this year, because while many look at his team and wonder where all the runs are going to come from, Guillen looks at it, thinks back to last year and wonders how it can help but win.

“Since the home run era has come up in baseball, everybody forgot how to play the game,” Guillen says. “I think everybody thinks that whoever hits the most home runs, that’s who’s going to win the game.”

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