Couch: Early White Sox Run Has Been Tons Of Fun

You could almost hear baseball’s analytic geeks laughing at the Chicago White Sox. They had a guy running through the third-base coach’s stop sign, trying to score the winning run. He was thrown out at the plate. You don’t try to take an extra base. Ever. It’s not worth it. Just camp out on third and wait for someone else to hit a home run.

Lesson learned?

Nope. A minute later, 256-pound Jose Abreu was on third, wearing bandages on his face from a collision with another player two days earlier. And when the ball got six or eight feet away from Kansas City’s catcher Sunday, Abreu took off. CHARGE! You were waiting for the collision that would send the catcher flying into the third row. Instead, Abreu slid around the back of the plate, neatly reached back over the catcher’s glove, and tagged the plate. The White Sox won 4-3.

The White Sox have a 28-year-old rookie catcher who can’t catch … and is headed for rookie of the year. They released a pitcher who every team in baseball then passed on, so they brought him back, and he threw a no-hitter. They have the worst hitter in baseball getting four hits in one night. They have an enormous home run hitter/MVP, who wins a game with a nifty, agile slide. They also have a 76-year-old manager who doesn’t know the rules of baseball.

And one more thing: They have the best record in the Major Leagues. Yes, that’s a little like saying they’re the world’s tallest midget, but the truth is, the White Sox are a blast.

No one who thinks baseball moves should be decided by an Excel spreadsheet thinks Abreu should have tried to score Sunday.

“He knows,’’ White Sox manager Tony La Russa said, “‘If I can score, we win.’’’

Yeah, I should point something out here. La Russa has a terrible habit of starting a quote sounding as if he’s about to say something prophetic and clever. And then, he sort of. . .peters. . . out.

But whatever, when you’re 24-15 — and no one else is — and your own fans think you shouldn’t be the manager, that probably doesn’t matter to you. Yes, the season is still early, as we’re about to hit the one-quarter mark, but consider that the Sox’ biggest threat was supposed to be the Minnesota Twins, who are in last place, 10½ games out. The AL Central is already a two-team race with Cleveland, which is 2½ games back.

It’s going to be funny when they have to wake La Russa up from a nap to tell him he’s the manager of the year. He’ll be 77 by then.

So far, the fun has mostly centered around Yermin Mercedes, the 28-year-old backup catcher, used mostly as a designated hitter. They call him the Yerminator. Mercedes bounced around the minors for a decade, and the Sox picked him up a few years ago in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, meaning he wasn’t even protected on someone’s minor league roster.

He now leads the American League with a .358 batting average. He swings at terrible pitches and hits all of them anyway. A nearby restaurant has named a hamburger after him. And a local brewery created the Rule 5 Draft beer in his honor.

He’s a cult hero.

Pitcher Carlos Rodon isn’t far behind. The Sox released him and then reclaimed him after no one else wanted him. He is now 5-1 with a 1.47 ERA and a no-hitter. Then, there’s Billy Hamilton, who runs fast but can’t hit. Here’s a headline last week at CBSSports.com:

“White Sox’ Billy Hamilton erupts for four-hit night.’’

I’m still waiting to wake up and find out that that never really happened.

The key here is that the Sox have the best starting pitching in baseball, by far. And their starters go seven deep, meaning they could have two injuries and not lose a thing.

The biggest question is still La Russa. Sox fans are micromanaging his decisions, but he isn’t micromanaging his team. He did leave one pitcher in too long while he was still learning who his players are and what they can do. And he did have the embarrassing moment where he put a pitcher on second base to start extra innings because he didn’t know the rules said he could have put Abreu out there.
But the concern was that this young, freewheeling team would lose its joy under grumpy old La Russa. So far, that’s not happening.

The best part about it is that La Russa scoffs at the game’s obsession with analytics and goes by what he calls “observational analytics,’’ meaning he’ll do whatever the hell he wants based on instincts.

Basically, analytics says you win only with home runs and not to waste time stealing bases, dropping bunts, advancing runners and other things that make the game interesting.

Well, the Sox are 27th out of 30 in home runs, but third in the league in batting average and fifth in runs scored

That’s not supposed to be possible, is it? I’m sure some analytics geek would have an explanation, but I’d rather get one from La Russa.

Someone should ask him after his nap.

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

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  1. Only franchise to have a majority of its starting lineup banned for life for corruption

    Only franchise to forfeit game on account of fan riot

    Only franchise to have its own fans indicted for felony battery on an opposing team’s base coach during a game.

    Yeah, they’re all class.

    Tons of fun.

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