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Building a Champion: Cliff Politte

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Cliff Politte was drafted in the 54th round of the 1995 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. To put that in perspective, the first year player draft only features 50 rounds now. -- He was obviously not regarded as much of a pro prospect coming out of Jefferson Junior College, which also produced White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle, mostly because of his small size. I heard him say in an interview that he was drafted as a favor to someone in the St. Louis organization, but an internet search yielded nothing, and my memory fails me as to the exact circumstances.

The Cardinals were rewarded for their friendly favor, as Politte went on to climb the St. Louis system rapidly, showcasing a surprising fastball while making all of his appearances as a starter. He reached the big leagues in 1998, but struggled to get major league hitters out.

Later that year, Cliff was traded along with South Side Sox' favorite BBTN commentator Jeff Brantley to the Philadelphia Phillies. There, Politte would spend a year between the pen and rotation on the Phillies AA team, before he got his first real taste of the big leagues in 2000. Up to this point in his career, Politte was used much more often as a starter than as a reliever, but in 2001 Philly used exclusively out of the pen, and were rewarded with a 2.42 ERA, though he was used sparingly.

The following year saw Politte traded to Toronto for CSN Cubs Post Game host Dan Plesac. He pitched well enough in Toronto (.99 WHIP) for them to declare Politte the closer heading into 2003. The closer's role was not kind to Politte. He was demoted around the All-Star break, and posted a dismal 5.66 ERA. With Politte having a poor season, and about to get more expensive entering his second year of arbitration, the Blue Jays non-tendered him.

Kenny Williams and the White Sox saw some value in Politte and signed him to a 1 year deal, with an option in 2004. Politte was nothing special for the Sox in '04, posting about league average numbers for a reliever. He missed about a month late in the year due to a burst appendix, but returned to pitch in the final series of the season.

It appeared as if the Sox had a decision to make. Politte was nothing more than a league average reliever, and was due a 500K raise if the Sox picked up his option. Kenny Williams, who loves cost certainty in his pitchers, negotiated a new deal with Politte that would guarantee him another year, but saved the Sox about 300K in '05. At the time, I was upset at the deal. I didn't see the need to lock up a guy who was a essentially a league average reliever to a multi-year deal.

In retrospect, with the money being handed out to average relievers at free-agency, the deal was another shrewd move by Williams. He got Politte to take less money than he would have made at arbitration, and locked him up for his first year of free agency.

Politte went on to be one of the most effective relievers in the American League in '05, and was a key member of the White Sox World Series Champion team.

I don't think we can expect another dominant season out of Politte. He'd be hard-pressed to match the control he featured in the first half of '05. One thing is for sure, he will not close games. He has stated publicly that it takes a special type of person to be on the mound for those last few outs, and he doesn't feel that he is cut out for it. -- I think we can all agree with him. Remember the circumstances of the picture above?