08/23/10 1:30 PM ET
White Sox trying to recapture magic of '83
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Be more like the 1983 White Sox.
Yes, this year's crew shows a striking similarity to the squad from 27 years ago, just two years into the ownership regime of Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn.
A promising campaign appeared over before it really started courtesy of a 16-24 record on May 26, 1983, and a 25-31 mark on June 11, leaving the team in fifth place and seven games out of first. If that shaky resume sounds familiar, it's because Ozzie Guillen's current group experienced a similar and equally surprising dismal opening.
From the roots of their 24-33 misstep and a 9 1/2-game deficit in the American League Central after a home loss to Detroit on June 8, the 2010 White Sox valiantly fought back to claim a 3 1/2-game lead in the division as recently as July 20. But here's where the comparison between the two teams takes a temporary turn for the worse.
In 1983, the White Sox procured sole possession of the American League West's top spot with a victory over Toronto on July 25 and never gave up control. The 2010 White Sox enter this week's six-game homestand against baseball's worst and best, the Orioles and Yankees, respectively, trailing the Twins by five. They need a strong 38-game finishing kick to match accomplishments set by the Tony La Russa-led squad from three decades ago.
"This year is not over yet. That's how I look at it," said Reinsdorf, when asked recently by MLB.com to compare these teams holding the common bad first legs and then virtually unblemished middles. "In '83, once we started winning, we never stopped. This has been different."
Different, not so much in the sense of the 2010 White Sox putting together a 28-8 run to hold that July division lead at 3 1/2 games. That run compares on a smaller scale to the 1983 team's amazing 59-26 stretch after the All Star Break.
But since their 4-0 home whitewash of the Mariners one month ago, this year's White Sox have played below-.500 baseball, at 15-16, and have a 5-11 mark in their past 16. For the 1983 group, arriving in first produced a 50-17 cruise to a 20-game division win.
"We have struggled since we finished that 26-5 run," Reinsdorf said. "Plus, in '83, nobody but us was winning in that division. Nobody else played at .500."
Reinsdorf's memory remains spot on.
Kansas City stood as the White Sox closest competitor in 1983, posting a 79-83 record for its second-place finish. The White Sox dominance, coupled with the struggles of six AL West opponents, gave the South Siders 55-23 numbers within the division.
That success included a 12-1 mark against Seattle, comparable to this year's 9-1 dominance over the Mariners. But their 2010 division record isn't nearly as impressive.
With four consecutive intradivision series losses to the Twins, Tigers, Twins and Royals, the White Sox have a 24-29 ledger against the AL Central. The franchise has never reached the playoffs when finishing under .500 in its division.
Starting pitching became a prime cause of the White Sox slow start this season, with a 5.20 ERA weighing the team down in early June. The rotation's 34-15 record, 3.18 ERA and 50 quality starts in the past 68 games emerged as the backbone of the exciting comeback.
"Pitching turned everything around for both teams," said Greg Walker, a reserve first baseman with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs in 1983, and the current team's hitting coach. "Everybody looked at that 1983 team as really gutty, coming up with clutch hits.
"Well, it's easy to get those when your pitchers are shutting people out and you are winning games with low scores. Our starting pitching in 1983 was phenomenal, especially in the second half."
LaMarr Hoyt, Floyd Bannister and Richard Dotson, currently the pitching coach for the White Sox Triple-A affiliate in Charlotte, were nearly unbeatable after the 1983 All-Star Game played at old Comiskey Park. And that's not just some turn of a phrase.
Between Cy Young-winning Hoyt (15-2), Dotson (14-2) and Bannister (13-1), the rotation core finished at 42-5 in the second half. The trio posted a mind-boggling 32-2 record with a 2.41 ERA and 14 complete games over the final two months of that division-winning season.
"You talk about relentless," said LaRussa, who went on to win World Series titles in Oakland and St. Louis after this playoff appearance in Chicago. "We [went from] 16 wins in late May to 99, that's relentless. I just know that [the 2010 White Sox] made up a lot of ground in a hurry. We started ours in late May. Theirs was later."
"It was an extremely strong clubhouse," said Walker of the '83 team. "It was a great mix of veterans that had won before and young guys that were just happy to be here but they drug us along with them. There are similarities. Both are pitching-based teams and had some power and speed to manufacture runs."
Unfortunately for the 1983 team, the first franchise playoff entrant since '59, the turnaround did not carry into the postseason. Baltimore captured the AL crown in four games over the White Sox and went on to down the Phillies in five for the World Series title.
For the 2010 squad to complete a full comeback like its predecessor, it needs to avoid giving away games. On six occasions in the second half, the bullpen has blown leads in the seventh inning or later and eventually lost. Four of those losses came in the opposition's last at-bat.
A strong showing against the first-place Twins at U.S. Cellular Field from Sept. 14-16 will help the cause, and the White Sox close the campaign with 16 of their final 22 games at home, where they are 11 games over .500 entering Tuesday's series opener with the Orioles.
Ultimately, the White Sox want their remarkable resurgence to lead to an on-field celebration, like the one on Sept. 17, 1983, when Harold Baines' sacrifice fly scored Julio Cruz with the division-winning run at home against Seattle.
"I don't care when we clinch it," said Reinsdorf of his 2010 playoff pursuers, "as long as we clinch it."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.