3/29/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Sale adds to legend with first Opening Day start
Having burst onto scene, lefty tries to cement place among elite
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Turing 24 on Saturday, with just two years and 61 days of big league service time, the legend of Chris Sale seems a bit too underdeveloped to be told -- no matter how talented a pitcher he is.
But allow White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams to begin the story, opening on how this Lakeland, Fla., native went from a starter for Florida Gulf Coast University to the White Sox top pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft to a part of the Major League bullpen in just over three months.
The tale, or legend, if you will, begins with Williams in his U.S. Cellular Field war room before the Draft, with tape of Sale pitching on the video board and another unnamed White Sox big league left-hander working in the bullpen with pitching coach Don Cooper on the afternoon leading up to a regular-season game.
W: Sale L: Shields SV: Reed
"We needed bullpen help if you recall, we needed a left-hander," said Williams, recounting the process outside the White Sox clubhouse. "I'm looking down at the work being done in the bullpen, I'm looking back at the screen, I'm looking at the bullpen, I'm looking at the screen.
"I tell [White Sox director of amateur scouting] Doug Laumann, I said, 'Listen, if we take this kid, if that's the ultimate decision and you are worried about signing him, I think I have a carrot that would entice him.' I said at that time, 'He's better than the guy we have on the team right now in the bullpen.'
"'He hasn't been throwing but once he gets back throwing, I will take him and put him in our bullpen right now,'" said Williams, laughing as he recalled the doubts shown by his staff, and later Sale himself. "They looked at me like I was kidding at first. So, it took me a while to convince everyone I'm not kidding. They ended up taking him, and I said, 'Congratulations, Chris. How quickly can you get ready?'"
Sale was selected 13th overall on June 7, 2010, and on Aug. 4, Williams stayed true to his word by promoting him from Triple-A Charlotte following 11 relief appearances between the Knights and Class A Winston-Salem. He proved to be a force out of the bullpen, a run that ended a little over one year later only because Sale joined the 2012 starting rotation.
On the heels of his 17 wins, 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts posted over 192 innings in his rotation debut, Sale makes his first career Opening Day start on Monday at home against the Royals. He does so with a five-year, $32.5 million extension in tow, along with two option years that could stretch the deal to $60 million.
If this is a dream for the affable Sale, he certainly doesn't want to wake up any time soon.
To truly understand the legend of Sale, one has to move past his funky delivery that leaves some outside the organization worried about his long-term durability. Take a right past his 2012 All-Star selection and sixth-place finish in the American League Cy Young race. Forget about his devastating slider or a changeup that Williams believes will make Sale an even better starter than last year once he puts it back into his repertoire at full strength.
This tale actually begins like much baseball folklore, with a son loving the game and a father, Allen Sale, providing him the utmost in support.
"Up until I got up to college, he might have missed a handful of games. He was there every step of the way," said Sale, who is a married father of one. "Even Little League, he would stay for four innings and show up late to a meeting for work so he didn't miss the whole thing.
Chicago White Sox
|Projected Opening Day lineup|
|1||CF||Alejandro De Aza|
"He built a mound in the backyard. Once the weekends came, we were always at the park playing, working on picks at first, fly balls in the outfield, hitting. He's probably a little upset that I didn't become a hitter just because I can't even imagine starting to count all the baseballs he must have thrown to me throughout the years."
Sale's grandfather, Harold, was given the nickname "Streamline" by none other than Joker Marchant, whose name sits on the Detroit Tigers' Spring Training facility. Allen points out that when his dad went into the paratroopers, he was 6-foot-4 and weighed 145 pounds and was told by his commander that he was the only person who ever jumped out of an airplane and went up.
As a competitive swimmer, Allen checked in at 6-foot-3 and 158 pounds, referring to himself humorously as "the tubby one." In high school, Christopher, as his father calls him, weighed 153 pounds and stood at 6-foot-5 and was measured at 6-foot-6 1/2 and 163 pounds on the day he signed with the White Sox. So, that 180 pounds Sale reportedly now carries on his frame makes him the family behemoth.
Swimming instruction for Allen began when he was four years old, and he realized how important it was for his son to get the same sort of early tutelage when he showed the ability to consistently throw strikes at age seven or eight. Providing assistance to his son didn't stop as Sale got older, with the two talking every day as the pitcher mulled the recent contract extension.
"He never said yes or no, as hard as it was," Chris said of his father's advice. "He always left it up to me. He's kind of let me be an independent person since high school. He kind of let me do my own things and figure things out on my own."
"My father has made a pretty good living. So, he would ask me, 'How much money does this person make or that person? Put this in perspective,'" Allen Sale said. "I explained it to him in a way where he could get his hands around how much money this was because there was no way for him to grasp that amount of money or half that amount of money."
Not only did he grasp it, but Chris is more than ready to earn his keep.
Williams always intended to have Sale in the rotation, part of the promise he made when Sale signed so quickly. He was almost apologetic when Sale stayed in the bullpen in 2011, but Sale understood.
This Sale legend continues on Monday in front of friends, family and fans. On what is forecast as a cold-ish Chicago spring day, Sale hopes the Royals won't disrupt this next chapter to be told.
"You still haven't seen the best of what he has to offer," said Williams, pausing with an understated smile. "He's done well for us."