23 YEARS AGO TODAY: MICHAEL JORDAN JOINS THE SOX

imageOn this date in 1994, Michael Jordan made his late father’s dream come true.

On Feb. 7, 1994, the White Sox signed Jordan — whho hadn’t played baseball since his senior year in high school — as a free agent and gave him a non-roster invitation to spring training.

After retiring from the NBA following three titles and three MVPs with the Bulls, Jordan began working out with White Sox trainer Herm Schneider at Comiskey Park in December.

On the day he signed with the Sox, Jordan went through a baseball workout in front of the media at the Illinois Institute of Technology  in the shadows of Comiskey Park.

Jordan was inked as an outfielder and was assigned No. 45. His trademark 23 was taken — by Robin Ventura!

“I chose to try to play baseball just to see if I could,” Jordan said at the time. “I’m not doing it as a distraction and I’m not doing it as a media hog or looking for the media exposure from it. It’s one of the wishes my father had and I had as a kid.”

With his every move being scrutinized by fans, media and the baseball world, Jordan went through an exhaustive crash course on the game at the Sox spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla.

Jordan hit .150 in 13 Grapefruit League games before being assigned to the White Sox minor league camp on March 21st.

Things didn’t get much easier with the minor leaguers as Jordan’s .154 average showed. The White Sox placed Jordan on Double-A Birmingham’s roster on March 31st.

He got a taste of the big time when he started in right field for the Sox  April 7th against the Cubs before 37,825 at Wrigley Field in maybe the greatest atmosphere ever for an exhibition game.

Under an enthusiastic microscope, Jordan went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs as the Sox remained unbeaten against the Cubs since the resumption of the crosstown rivalry in 1984 with a 4-4 tie. Jordan touched relievers Dave Otto and Chuck Crim for hits but was also charged with an error in right field.

With the Barons and manager Terry Francona, Jordan hit .202 with three homers, 51 RBI, 30 steals and a league-leading 11 errors in the outfield as Birmingham played to record crowds in the Southern League throughout the season. Jordan continued his dream after the season in the Arizona Fall League and instructional league.

Jordan went to spring training in 1995 but he retired on March 10.

Whether he didn’t want to get mixed up in the contentious labor situation going on at the time (he was listed in the Sox “replacement” players 1995 media guide) or he had grown tired of the criticism (Sports Illustrated put him on a cover flailing at a baseball and told him to “Bag It) or he just wanted to play basketball again, Jordan walked away from baseball quicker than he had picked it up.

It should be pointed out — despite SI’s proclamation — there WAS hope for MJ as a baseball player. After all, the guy hit .202 in Double-A, which one veteran coach calls the “men’s league” when it comes to minor leaguers, AFTER NOT PLAYING BASEBALL SINCE HIS HIGH SCHOOL DAYS.

In addition, it was obvious that Jordan was improving with experience, time and coaching.

Eight days after bolting the Sox, Jordan announced his return to the NBA with a press release that simply said: “I’m back.”

Three NBA titles later, the most prominent minor leaguer ever had cemented his status as the greatest basketball player ever.

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TODAY IN 1923: THE LEGEND OF BAREHAND BABE

The most unusual moment of Babe Ruth’s larger-than-life career may have occurred at Comiskey Park.

This moment didn’t involve a home run, a called shot or even … a glove!

On this date in 1923 Babe’s powerhouse Yankees were doing what they usually did back then — swamping the White Sox.

With the “Bronx Bombers” winning 16-5 in the ninth, a dog wandered onto the field at Comiskey Park. Babe tried to clear the field by throwing his mitt at the dog but the pooch grabbed the leather and took off.

At that point, the White Sox Paul Castner lofted a fly ball to left. With no glove, Babe’s only option was to snare the aerial barehanded.

And that’s exactly what he did.

MAX SURKONT: THE SOX FIRST FAT SIGNAL

On the 95th anniversary of his birth, here’s a look back at one White Sox player who was singled out because of his heft.

Before there was Bobby Jenks, there was Max Surkont.

The portly (by standards of the day) Surkont -– like Jenks — was once summoned from the bullpen by a manager using the “wide” sign.

Surkont, listed by baseballreference.com at 6-foot-1, 195-pounds, led the 1949 Sox with 49 appearances.

While Ozzie Guillen affectionately used the signal to ID Jenks in the 2005 World Series, there was no jolliness attached to Surkont’s beef.

“Sox release Surkont and his appetite” blared the Tribune headline of Feb. 5, 1950 in recapping the Surkont’s demotion to the minors the previous day.

The Tribune reported Surkont’s “tendency toward heft not only handicapped the righthander, but sometimes was a source of family embarrassment, according to accounts.”

One such source was manager’s Jack Onslow using the “fat signal” to bring in Surkont from the pen.

Surkont asked for a halt to the practice because it offended his wife. Said the Tribune, “The situation, however, did not cause Max to stay away from the chuckwagon and that’s the main reason he’s departed.”

The 27-year old Surkont was 3-5 with a 4.78 ERA for the 1949 Sox wearing No. 16, the number Ted Lyons made famous.

When he was shipped to Sacramento after that season, he was never seen by the Sox again.

Happily, the same can’t be said for the “fat signal.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY NOLAN RYAN, YOU BIG BULLY

The most famous image of birthday boy Nolan Ryan and the White Sox is Ryan delivering what he called “noogies” to Robin Ventura in an Aug. 4, 1993 brawl in Texas.

There was one time, though, where Ryan was nowhere to be found when he was the epicenter of a White Sox-Rangers donnybrook. In fact, in the aftermath of that fracas, Hawk Harrelson was frantically calling out Ryan on the air.

It was this sequence of events that changed my perception of Ryan from a tough-talkin’ Texan to a classic bully.

The date was Aug. 17, 1990 and the Sox and Rangers were playing a doubleheader in Texas.

The fact that the American League West rivals were even involved in a twinbill was a source of contention.

The two-for-one was necessitated by a rainout IN CHICAGO the previous Sunday at Comiskey Park. On the Rangers last trip into Chicago, the teams waited a grueling eight hours while the rain fell before the game was called.

According to reports of the day, the White Sox wanted Texas to return to Comiskey Park the following Thursday on an off day for both clubs. The Rangers refused and so the tense standoff began.

By the time the game, scheduled to start at 1:35 p.m., was finally postponed in the early evening only 200 or so of the 30,000 expected were still on hand as a long rainy weekend came to a merciful end.

That rain delay/rain out, purported to be the longest in big league history, came on the heels of a White Sox cuffing of Ryan.

On one of the final rollicking Saturday nights at the old park, the Sox defeated Ryan and the Rangers 5-1 in Game 2 to finish off a doubleheader sweep.

Adding to the sweetness of the win was that Craig Grebeck and Ozzie Guillen, who together probably didn’t weigh as much as Ryan, hit back-to-back home runs off the future Hall of Famer in a four-run second inning which sent Comiskey Park into a frenzy.

The home run was the first of Grebeck’s career and the back-to-back dingers were the last at Comiskey Park.

That was the backdrop as the Sox and the Rangers met in Arlington, Texas for a twi-night doubleheader on Aug. 17.

Ryan started Game 1 and it was sunny so picking up Ryan’s 100 mph heater in the late afternoon brightness had to be a challenge.

While he was striking out Sox batters left and right, Ryan drilled Grebeck in the second inning.

I recall the outrage I felt watching that, thinking that the big bad Ryan had picked on the Sox smallest player. That outrage grew when there was some talk that (I don’t recall if it was on the broadcast or in the wake of it all) Ryan was peeved that a Sox player – I think it was Scott Fletcher — asked the umpire to check the ball after a Ryan pitch.

What a baby. Fletcher, Guillen and Grebeck had gotten under Ryan’s skin. Good thing Nolan didn’t have an issue with the Comiskey Park resin bag that season or the bat boy would have been in a world of hurt.

Three innings later, with two outs and no one on, Sox starter Greg Hibbard drilled Steve Buechele igniting a brouhaha.

Buechele charged the mound and the benches cleared. As far as baseball bouts go, this was a good one most likely because of the acrimony that had accrued over the prior few weeks.

As I recall when the players were unpiled and started to retreat to their dugouts, Ryan strolled onto the field.

And Hawk went nuts.

Since this was 1990 and his first year back with the Sox in his second tenure as a broadcaster, this may have been the first the now-famous Hawk rave outs which have most recently been directed at Jay Mariotti and Joe West.

I am paraphrasing but Hawk yelled as Ryan sauntered out of the dugout, “OH, HERE’S RYAN! HAVE SOME CLASS, RYAN! HAVE SOME CLASS!”

It was great.

Of course, Ryan was insane that day, which added to my frustration with him. He fanned 15 in 10 innings proving there was no need to pick on Grebeck and Fletcher but he got no decision in a 1-0 Texas win.

Here are some other times the White Sox got Ryan’s goat:

May 11, 1973: Mike Andrews’ two-run double in the first inning KO’d Ryan in the White Sox 7-4 win over the Angels in Anaheim. Ryan gave up five runs on four hits with one walk while retiring just one batter for the second-shortest start of his career to that point.

June 20, 1973: Luis Alvarado’s single broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh as the White Sox topped the Angels and Ryan 8-3 before 19,142 at Comiskey Park. Pat Kelly launched a two-run homer to put the Sox up 5-2 and, after an out and a walk, Ryan, who gave up 10 hits, was sent to the showers.

May 17, 1978: The White Sox battered Ryan for 10 hits, including two-run homers from Bill Nahorodny and Jorge Orta, in a 9-6 win over the Angels before 13,676 at Comiskey Park. Eric Soderholm had two RBIs as Steve Stone pitched eight innings for his second win.

Sept. 28, 1978: The White Sox KO’d Ryan in the first inning after the gave up four runs on four hits in just two-thirds of an inning in Anaheim. Soderholm’s two-run homer finished Ryan’s night. The Angels took Ryan off the hook with a five run first of their own and ultimately won the game.

Sept. 11, 1979: The Sox knocked out Ryan, who retired just one batter, in the first inning with five runs in an 8-7 win over the Angels before 6,859 at Comiskey Park. Ryan left after surrendering a homer to Jim Morrison. Chet Lemon and Claudell Washington also had RBIs while the other run scored on a Ryan wild pitch. The Angels took Ryan off the hook with five in the third but the Sox regained the lead in their third on an RBI by Mike Colbern. The Angels tied the game again in the sixth but the Sox took the lead for good (finally!) in the sixth on Alan Bannister’s single. Ed Farmer restored order on the mound with 3.2 shutout innings of relief to get the win.

June 8, 1989: Harold Baines hit two homers and Ivan Calderon and Ron Kittle each went deep once off Ryan in the White Sox 11-7 loss at Texas. The four homers were the most Ryan would surrender in a game in his Hall of Fame career.

A (TOM) TERRIFIC PICKUP

On this date in 1984 (Jan. 23), much to the chagrin of the New York Mets, their fans and the man himself, the White Sox selected iconic pitcher Tom Seaver as compensation for losing a “Type A” free agent.

  
The Mets had only themselves to blame for losing the future Hall of Famer in the compensation pool that was part of the settlement in the 1981 strike.

The Mets left Seaver unprotected figuring no one would pick a 39-year old right-hander who had gone 9-14 in 1983 with a hefty salary. The White Sox had a pick in this draft for losing pitcher Dennis Lamp to free agency following the 1983 season.

So crushed was Seaver by this, he couldn’t get through a farewell press conference he had requested a few days after the transaction was completed and the Sox had signed Seaver to a multi-year contract.

Had the Mets done their homework, they would have known White Sox general manager Roland Hemond had a move like this in him.

A year earlier, Hemond had toyed with selecting Cub pitcher Ferguson Jenkins in the same “compensation pool draft.” The White Sox didn’t take Jenkins but did wind up making a blockbuster deal with the Cubs that left Cub general manager Dallas Green saying he was “relieved.”

There was no swap this time and Seaver joined a powerhouse Sox rotation that featured LaMarr Hoyt, Floyd Bannister, Richard Dotson and Britt Burns.

While he had misgivings about leaving the Mets, a team he had rejoined for the 1983 campaign, Seaver eventually warmed to his first American League home. “Tom Terriffic” spoke fondly of his days with the White Sox and his association with Carlton Fisk during and after his legendary career.

“I’ve enjoyed my time in Chicago and the experience working with the players, especially Carlton Fisk,” Seaver said prior to the 1986 season. “I have certainly enjoyed the last two years on this ballclub and I think Chicago is a great baseball town.”

Seaver had two excellent seasons with the White Sox. He went 15-11 with a 3.95 ERA in 1984 and 16-11 with a 3.17 ERA in 1985.

The highlight of Seaver’s tenure with the White Sox came on Aug. 4, 1985 when he won logged his 300th victory with a complete game effort at Yankee Stadium.

Seaver’s time in Chicago came to an end on June 29, 1986 when he was dealt by general manager Ken Harrelson to the Boston Red Sox for utilityman Steve Lyons.

Seaver was 33-28 with a 3.67 ERA in 81 outings (79 starts) with 17 complete games and five shutouts with the Sox.

Seaver’s numbers could have been markedly better with the Sox considering he was on the losing end of a shutout a total of six times in 1984 and 1985 and he left with a lead that the bullpen blew six times in 1984.

SOX WIN GAME, LOSE POPCORN MACHINE

Now is as good a time as any to recall the time a popcorn machine caused a delay in a White Sox game.

It is National Popcorn Day after all.

On June 7, 1974, the White Sox 8-6 win over the Boston Red Sox was delayed when a popcorn machine caught fire in a storage room under the first base stands at Comiskey Park.

The incident was a hardly a popcorn fart of a fire.

The smoky blaze delayed the contest 70 minutes in the eighth inning. 3,000 fans took refuge on the field and milled around peacefully while 75 firemen using 22 pieces of equipment battled the fire. According to Chicago Tribune reports of the day, 14 persons were sent to Mercy Hospital for smoke inhalation.

There was plenty to see in this one for the 15,173 on hand before their popcorn got singed.

Even without the fire, this one was pretty noteworthy for a mid-June game, especially in retrospect.

Consider:

*Dick Allen launched a home run of at least 425-feet into the left-centerfield upper deck. The three-run blast came in the third inning off Reggie Cleveland.

*Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk, his batterymate Bill Lee and their manager Darrell Johnson were ejected in the fifth inning for arguing a call at home.

*Jim Kaat got the win making a rare relief appearance. He picked off Dwight Evans while facing his first batter in the fifth inning.

*Bill Melton scored the tying run on an error and Jorge Orta forced home Ron Santo with the go-ahead run in the Sox three-run fifth inning which featured no hits.

*Pitcher Joe Henderson, the uncle of Red Sox 1986 American League Championship Series/World Series hero Dave Henderson, made his big league debut for the White Sox. The right-hander gave up four earned runs and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning despite being staked to a lead.

*Others who played in this one for the White Sox were Bucky Dent, Ed Herrmann, Carlos May and Terry Forster. Others toiling in this one for Boston were Carl Yastrzemski, Bernie Carbo, Rick Burleson and Diego Segui.

 

KUIPER’S SOX CAREER GOES DOWN THE DUANE

47 years ago today, the White Sox spent their first round pick in the regular phase of the January draft on junior college shortstop Duane Kuiper.

The Sox used the fifth overall pick of the draft on Kuiper, who was at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College, but couldn’t sign him.

The native of Racine, Wis., spurned the Sox as he had after being drafted by the Yankees in 1968 and the Seattle Pilots in 1969.

This wouldn’t be the last time Kuiper would turn down a suitor.

The left-handed hitter was picked by Cincinnati in June of 1970 and the Boston in June 1971 but he turned them down, too.

Kuiper finally signed with Cleveland after the Indians made him their first round pick (21st overall) out of Southern Illinois in the January 1972 draft. Kuiper went on to have a productive big league career as a second baseman with the Indians and Giants.

 

Duane Kuiper: One that got away
 
The sure-handed Kuiper would have looked good in the Sox infield in the mid- and late-1970s. He hit .271 with one home runs and 262 RBIs over his 12 year big league career.

Kuiper hit the only home run of his big league career off the White Sox Steve Stone on Aug. 29, 1977 in Cleveland. This was a fact broadcaster Harry Caray would rib Stone about throughout their time together on Cub telecasts.

The Kuiper draft was a horrendous one for the Sox.

None of the 16 picks made it to the big leagues with the Sox and the only other player aside from Kuiper, currently a popular broadcaster with the Giants, to reach the “show” was catcher John Tamargo.

The Sox picked Tamargo in the fourth round of the secondary phase of this draft out of Miami Dade North Community College but couldn’t sign him. Tamargo ultimately signed with St. Louis in 1973 and went on to play 135 games for the Cardinals, Giants and Expos between 1976 and 1980.

Kuiper’s lone big league home run: https://youtu.be/CysFeS4ZVB4

White Sox nuggets