It’s Thursday, and the White Sox are off today, so as I sat at my desk this morning and aimlessly scrolled through social media out of sheer boredom, I saw the usual and now seemingly obligatory “Throwback Thursday” posts, and I figured, heck why not throw my hat into the ring. Difference being, I’m not going to toss a picture of myself from the past up on social media, instead I’m going to lead us on a walk down memory.
The White Sox are in the midst of a youth takeover throughout the system that will eventually in the next couple of years spill over onto the major-league roster and define White Sox baseball as we know it, and we will be saying to ourselves in the not-so-distant future, “boy these kids can play.”
If you were a White Sox fan before the year 2000, then you have already said those words, or read them on a poster on your wall. That’s because this isn’t the first youth movement in White Sox history, not even the first in the new Comiskey Park era of White Sox baseball.
Back in the year 2000 (I know it seems like eons ago at this point) the Chicago White Sox were comprised of a group of youngsters that included the likes of Magglio Ordonez, Mike Sirotka, Carlos Lee, Chris Singleton, Jim Parque, and James Baldwin. All of whom were still in their twenties at the time, in fact the club only featured a handful of regulars that had by that point crossed the age of 30.
That team was coming off of a 75-86 record in 1999, and was expected to produce another mediocre summer of Chicago baseball on the south side. Instead, Jerry Manuel‘s kids had a treat in store for White Sox fans in what would become known as the year of the “The Kids Can Play” White Sox.
After dropping the season opener and the following ballgame to the Texas Rangers the White Sox began the 2000 season at 0-2, looking like the club that many expected them to be. That was until the White Sox went on to win 17 of their remaining 23 games in the month of April, finishing up the month with a record of 19-8. As the calendar turned to the month of May the 19-8 White Sox held a two game lead in the American League Central division, thanks in large part to a 4-0 start from starting pitcher James Baldwin and a record-setting offensive attack.
The White Sox broke the Major League record for runs scored in the month of April by scoring 181 runs as a team, surpassing the Texas Rangers mark during the 1998 season when they scored 180 runs in the month of April.
Comiskey Park in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images)
April also saw another piece of history as White Sox shortstop Jose Valentin became the fifth player in White Sox history to hit for the cycle. The fourth player was Chris Singleton in 1999, but on April 27, 2000 it was Valentin who accomplished the feat. Valentin singled in the first inning, doubled in the second inning, tripled in the third inning and homered in the eighth inning as he completed the “natural” cycle in a White Sox 13-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Comiskey Park.
The month of April was not all good though, as the White Sox and Tigers would take part in one of the more memorable pair of brawls in MLB history on April 22, 2000. After Sox starter Jim Parque hit Tigers third-baseman Jim Palmer, Palmer charged the mound and the first of two bench-clearing brawls ensued. In all, 16 players were suspended, three coaches were suspended, and it remains one of the largest mass suspensions in the history of baseball. The suspensions totaled 82 games, and White Sox reliever Keith Foulke received five stitches under his left eye as a result of the fights. Managers Phil Garner and Jerry Manuel were each suspended for eight games after the fights.
The White Sox would come back down to earth in May dropping eight of their first 10 games including a three game sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals plated 28 runs in those three games, and after dropping two of three to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway in their next series, the White Sox saw their record fall to 19-15 and their lead in the AL Central was just one half game.
The White Sox would stumble through the majority of the month of May, ending the month with a 13-14 mark as they opened the month of June with a 30-22 record. As they often say of baseball teams in the mid-west region, when the weather heats up, so will the bats. The White Sox were as hot as the Chicago summer air in June, posting a 20-7 record while scoring 183 runs. The White Sox would win or split every one of their series in June until they finally dropped two out of three to the Minnesota Twins from June 27-29. That would be the only series loss in their best month of the season. Four of their eight series victories were sweeps in the month of June.
The White Sox opened the month of July with a 50-29 record, 10.5 games up in the American League Central Division. They would also end the month of July with the same lead in the division and a 64-41 record after finishing up the month of July with a 14-12 record. July boasted quite a few monumental moments in White Sox history. The White Sox brought the fireworks early for their July 4 match-up with the Kansas City Royals when Ray Durham and Jose Valentin hit back to back home runs to lead off the ballgame, becoming the first duo to do so since Boze Berger and Mike Kreevich on September 2, 1937.
The White Sox would eventually lose the ballgame to the Royals by a score of 10-7, snapping a 12-game road winning streak, the longest road winning streak in baseball since the 1984 Detroit Tigers won 17 consecutive road games to open the 1984 campaign.
On July 14, The Big Hurt, Frank Thomas drove in his franchise-record 1,116th RBI in a losing effort to the St. Louis Cardinals at Comiskey Park. The previous record holder was Luke Appling, who accomplished the feat in 2,422 games, while it took Thomas only 1,459 games to break the record.
On July 16, 2000 after James Baldwin tossed eight innings of work against the Milwaukee Brewers, and left the ballgame with the White Sox leading 11-4, a 21-year old southpaw made his major-league debut. That southpaw was none other than Mark Buehrle, who would allow one run in the ninth inning as the White Sox defeated the Brewers.
Three days later Buehrle would make the first start of his major-league career against the division rival Minnesota Twins at the Hubert H. Humphrey Dome. Buehrle would allow two runs on six hits over the course of seven innings as the White Sox downed the Twins 3-2 for Buehrle’s first career victory.
The White Sox played better than .500 baseball for the third consecutive month in August, posting a 15-13 record as they opened the final month of the regular season with a record of 79-54 and a seven game lead in the American League Central over the Cleveland Indians. On September 20, 2000 in a game against the Detroit Tigers, the White Sox would score their 925th run of the season, breaking the franchise record for most runs scored in a single season. The previous record was 920, set by the 1936 White Sox.
The kids would see the fruits of their labors come to fruition on September 24, despite dropping an extra innings affair to the Minnesota Twins at the Humphrey Dome, the club clinched the American League Central Division Title with just over a week left in the season, marking the first time that the White Sox made a playoff appearance since the 1993 season.
The White Sox would finish the season with a 95-67 record, five games ahead of the 90-72 Cleveland Indians, setting up a date with the Seattle Mariners (91-71) in the divisional round of the 2000 MLB playoffs.
The White Sox were an offensively charged team in 2000, led by a core of regular starters that included six players under the age of 30, with none being older than the age of 32 (Frank Thomas). The White Sox had five players with 20 or more home runs, led by slugger Frank Thomas (43). Magglio Ordonez (32) Paul Konerko (21), Jose Valentin (25) and Carlos Lee (24) joined the big hurt in that category as the White Sox mashed 216 home runs as a team during the 2000 season.
All nine regular starting positional players (Mark Johnson, Paul Konerko, Ray Durham, Jose Valentin, Herbert Perry, Carlos Lee, Chris Singleton, Magglio Ordonez and Frank Thomas) hit at least 10 home runs. Every regular except catcher Mark Johnson drove in at least 60 runs on the campaign, with both Ordonez and Thomas breaking the 100 RBI plateu.
The White Sox pitching and defense were not as great, not even close, and were eventually the downfall of the club. While the pitchers posted good win-loss records, those were largely attributed to their record setting offensive output. The defense committed the fourth most errors in the American League, and their fielding percentage was ranked 12th out of 14 AL clubs. The pitching staff wasn’t much better, allowing an average of 5.37 runs per game to opposing offenses during the 2000 season.
Manager Jerry Manuel was voted the American League Manager of the Year in 2000, while Frank Thomas finished second in the American League MVP voting behind Jason Giambi of the Oakland Athletics. Kelly Wunsch finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting as well. Magglio Ordonez and Ray Durham were both selected to the All-Star Game as reserves in 2000, and starting pitcher James Baldwin made a relief appearance and notched the victory for the AL All-Stars at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia on July 11.
The White Sox would open the divisional round of the playoffs at home against the Seattle Mariners, winners of 91 games, but losers of the American League West division title by merely one half game. The Mariners featured an explosive offense much like the Chicago White Sox, with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson featured in their lineup.
In game one of the 2000 ALDS, Jim Parque of the White Sox matched-up against Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners. Parque was in trouble from the jump in game one, falling behind 2-0 after one inning on an RBI-single by Alex Rodriguez and a run scoring force out by first-baseman John Olerud. Joe Oliver, Edgar Martinez and John Olerud would homer in the ballgame as the Mariners went on to take a 1-0 lead in the series as they dropped the White Sox 7-4 in front of 45,000 plus in attendance at Comiskey Park.
Game two was closer, but still lacking the results that the home crowed had hoped for as the M’s beat the White Sox 5-2 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series as it shifted westbound to Seattle. Mike Sirotka was on the losing end of game two, which saw Jay Buhner break a 2-2 tie in the top of the fourth inning with a solo home run. The Mariners would tack on two more, one coming in the fifth and the final coming in the ninth inning.
Game three was the closest of the trio as both offenses struggled to get anything going for much of the ballgame, with both clubs tied at one run each heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. In the bottom of the ninth inning John Olerud singled and advanced to second base on a ball that hit the pitcher. Legendary speedster Rickey Henderson pinch-ran for Olerud and eventually scored the game winning run on a bunt by Carlos Guillen that fell beyond the outstretched glove of a diving Frank Thomas, wrapping up the series sweep for the Mariners.
While the 2000 season ended in disappointment in the form of an opening round exit in the first round of the MLB Postseason, the 2000 campaign, the original “The Kids Can Play” season was one of the most exciting summers in my life as a White Sox fan, and cemented my White Sox fandom forever.
If that type of excitement is what is on the horizon for the current White Sox, then we should all be in for an era of White Sox Baseball that we will never forget.