Mike Sirotka was one of my favorite pitchers to toe the rubber for the White Sox. He is most well known for being the pitcher Kenny Williams dealt to the Blue Jays to acquire David Wells. Sirotka though, never threw a game for the Blue Jays. He never threw in a Major League game again. His legacy as the key piece in "Shoulder Gate" was cemented.
That shouldn't be his White Sox legacy though. Sirotka was a bright spot in an otherwise dark very dark era in White Sox starting pitching. Drafted by the Sox in the 15th round of 1993, Sirotka moved quickly through the lower minor leagues. By 1995, he was getting his first Major League experience. He started 6 games for the Sox that season, and performed pretty well going 1-2 with a 4.19. Sirotka would be up and down between the White Sox and Nashville (then the AAA affiliate) during 1996 and 1997. He went 7-5 for Nashville in each of those seasons and finished with a AAA ERA of 3.30.
In 1998*, Sirotka got his first full year in with the Sox and went 14-15 with a 5.06 ERA in 211 2/3 innings. Showing how bad the Sox pitching was at the time, Sirotka had the lowest ERA of the 6 starters. (Jim Parque- 5.10, James Baldwin- 5.32, Scott Eyre- 5.38, Jaime Navarro- 6.36 and Jason Bere- 6.45).
In 1999, the Sox decided to go with "The Kids" as we got our first look at Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee in White Sox uniforms. Sirotka again proved to be the ace of the staff as he went 11-13 with a 4.00 ERA. While that number looks a little big now, '99 was the height of the steroid era and that 4.00 ERA was good for 8th best in the American League. (Pedro Martinez led with a 2.07 and David Cone was 2nd with a 3.44). Sirotka also finished in the top 10 in WAR for American League pitchers, with a 4.0. By the way, if he had that 4.00 ERA in 2011, it would have been good for 25th in the league, tied with Bartolo Colon.
Sirotka really started to find his groove in 2000. He went 15-10 with a 3.79 ERA as the White Sox came out of nowhere to win the AL Central and have the most wins (95) in the league. Unfortunately, by the time the playoffs came around, Parque, Cal Eldred, James Baldwin and Sirotka all had bad arms. Sirotka had to leave the last regular season game he would ever pitch on September 28th after 3 innings due to a "twinge" in his elbow.
When game 2 of the playoffs came around though, Sirotka stepped up and took the ball when the Sox didn't have any other options. He threw 5 2/3 innings against he Mariners and gave up 3 runs in the eventual 5-2 loss to Lou Piniella's bunch. It would be the final time that Sirotka would ever pitch in the Major Leagues. I was at the game and gave him a big ovation for having the balls to go out there. Maybe if he didn't, he would have pitched again. **
After the season, the Sox strangely enough let Sirotka pitch in the Japan vs. MLB All Star tour. He ended up throwing 6 innings in the far east. That offseason, Kenny Williams took over as G.M. of the White Sox. On January 14th of 2001, Williams shipped Sirotka and 3 other players for David Wells. At the time it seemed like a pretty big trade. Sirotka was a 29 year old ace and Wells just had an All Star season in which he won 20 games and finished 3rd in the Cy Young voting.
Sirotka was tested out by Blue Jays doctors and they found nothing wrong. Then they tested him again and found a tear in his labrum. Toronto GM, Gord Ash would protest to Bud Selig that the trade should either be reversed or the Blue Jays should get more compensation. Selig sided with the White Sox.
It wasn't a big win for the Sox though. Tubby Wells went 5-7 with a 4.47 ERA in just over 100 innings in his only season on the South Side. Mark Buehrle gives him credit for mentoring him, so I guess that counts for something.
Sirotka would spend 2 seasons on the Blue Jays disabled list before signing with the Cubs in 2003. There he would be part of the best simulated game rotation ever with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. After experiencing shoulder inflammation in one of those games he was shut down and left baseball. He had this to say that spring training to Teddy Greenstein:
"I wish I had made a better decision not to go to Japan and I wish they would have protected me a little better," he said of the Sox. "I never thought throwing six innings in Japan would have had this effect on my career, but it is what it is."
Since injuries took his baseball career, Sirotka has become involved in a few business ventures. He owns Just Like Home Properties, LLC a real estate business in the Phoenix area and was awarded a franchise of The Joint, a chiropractic clinic.
Even though Sirotka ended his career with a record of 45-42 with a 4.31 ERA, he will always have a fan in me. I wonder how good he could have been if he took (and the Sox gave) him the time needed to recover.
* That 1998 team with no starting pitcher with an ERA under 5.00 won 80 games- 1 more than the 2011 Sox did- mostly due to the amazing season Albert Belle had.