22 years. That’s how long it’s been since a White Sox player has been voted by fans to start in the All-Star Game. Jose Abreu has managed to end that streak with his selection as the starting first baseman for the American League All-Stars this year. While Jose’s numbers have dipped due to a slump recently, his All-Star selection is still significant because of what it represents.
It represents national recognition for Jose Abreu. A recognition that Abreu is a special and rare talent, and deserves to be celebrated. It’s something that has been happening since Abreu came over from Cuba in 2014. But the All-Star vote feels as though it is official recognition of the fact that Abreu has officially cemented himself as one of the greatest White Sox players ever. Because Abreu did not leave Cuba until he was 27, his time with the team will be shorter than almost everyone else we discuss in this article. But with the relative lack of time Abreu has had to carve out his legacy with the team, what he has been able to do in his short time is nothing short of amazing.
For a team that has experienced relatively little success as a franchise, first base has consistently been a highlight for the team. Some of the greatest names in White Sox history have manned the position over the years. From Dick Allen and “Beltin” Bill Melton in the 70’s, to Frank Thomas and Paul Konerko in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s. Despite The Big Hurt playing 16 Hall-of-Fame seasons in Chicago, and Paul Konerko staring on the championship team in 2005, Abreu has managed to place himself alongside the two legendary first basemen on the White Sox Mount Rushmore of first basemen.
Side-by-side comparisons of the numbers are unfair here. Jose will never have the time to reach Frank Thomas’ White Sox franchise record 448 home runs. He won’t get anything near 2,500 hits like Paul Konerko and Nellie Fox did. Jose will never finish number one in any career statistic for the White Sox, but his current placement on those lists is still incredibly impressive. Especially when you consider he will likely be on the team through at least the end of this year and will have time to continue climbing the ranks.
He stands 11th on the White Sox home run list with 136, likely to pass Ron Kittle this year for 10th on the list. His .296 career batting average currently has him sitting 14th on the Sox list, but a turn around from his recent slump could vault him even higher. While Jose’s first four and a half seasons have been impressive by themselves, but when you realize the company he keeps historically, it becomes even more surprising.
As a member of an irrelevant 2014 White Sox team, Jose belted 36 home runs with 107 RBI’s, all a compliment to his .317 batting average. What fans didn’t realize, was this would start of a historic streak for Abreu, not just in White Sox lore, but in baseball lore. Abreu joined Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only three players to reach at least 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in, in each of their first four seasons. Pretty good company to keep.
Being the latest in a long line of elite first baseman and his record-breaking first four years with the team are not the only way Jose has left a permanent mark. “Pito” is the latest player to carry on a long and proud White Sox tradition of successful players from Cuba. His predecessors range from all-time fan favorite Minnie Minoso all the way to Alexai Ramirez. In between those two players on the list of beloved Cuban White Sox, a pair of 2005 heroes reside in Jose Contreras, and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. When Jose leaves the team, he will pass the torch to Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert.
Abreu’s relationship with Moncada has been well documented. When Moncada was called up last season and flew into Chicago from Charlotte, Abreu was the one who was waiting for Moncada at the airport. As Moncada struggled through his first few months on the South Side, Jose gifted Moncada some lighter bats. He thought the bats would speed up Moncada’s swing, and Moncada’s numbers took off. Moncada has not been shy in his praise for Abreu and what the first baseman means to him as a mentor and leader.
“He’s always giving me advice on what to do. what not to do. About baseball and off the field. And that’s important. I’m a young guy, and he’s a veteran. He knows better.”
Entering his fifth season with the team, it was well documented that Jose had truly embraced his role as an elder statesman and leader in a rebuilding clubhouse. He entered the season in nearly the best shape of his life, and has been vocal about improving his english in order to better communicate with everyone that comes into the locker room. Rick Renteria has said on multiple occasions that Abreu is an invaluable member of the locker room.
Perhaps most impressive about the numbers, leadership, and work ethic that Jose has demonstrated during his time on the team, is the perseverance to do it on some of the most frustrating and least competitive Sox teams in recent memory. The high water mark for wins during Jose’s time on the team is 78. With win totals of 73, 76, and 67 accounting for his other years, and of course the 30-61 campaign he is enduring this year. But despite never having played on a winning team, Jose maintains his work ethic and production. Finally being rewarded with his second All-Star selection, and the first via fan vote for the Sox in 22 years.
It’s hard to quantify just how much Jose deserves this honor. It’s also hard to put into words how much it means for the Sox, during one of the most trying seasons in team history.
So my personal advice? For one night on July 17th, don’t worry about prospect injuries, the team’s record or trade rumors. Sit back and watch one of the best players to ever don a White Sox uniform represent his adopted city on a national stage. And for a moment, step back and appreciate just how much Jose Abreu has meant to this team, and the fact he truly is, a White Sox legend.
Follow David Wildman on Twitter— Feature Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast / AP