2013 is a year of White Sox anniversaries. It is the 30th anniversary of "Winning Ugly." But another anniversary is getting lost in the celebration of Tony LaRussa, Harold Baines, Ron Kittle, and Julio Cruz.
Twenty years ago, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Bo Jackson, and Jack McDowell led the White Sox to their second – and final – AL West title.
It’s high time the 1993 White Sox got some love.
First, if you’re in your late 20s/early 30s, they are "our" team. I was too young to remember the 1983 team. People talked about them. By the early 90s the basements and closets of seemingly every bungalow in Beverly had a piece of memorabilia from the 1983 squad. They were relics of an ancient time. I was alive in 1983, but my memories aren’t that good.
1983 was a blip in an undistinguished couple of decades. The following year, the Sox slid back into the same old mediocrity.
The bad years that followed 1983 led to some good drafts. Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and Alex Fernandez were all products of the Sox farm system. Wilson Alvarez came over in the Harold Baines trade (Baines and Fred Manrique for Sammy Sosa, Alvarez, and Scott Fletcher. George W. Bush got robbed). Hawk Harrelson’s most maligned pickup, Jose DeLeon, was flipped to the St. Louis Cardinals for Lance Johnson.
In 1990, the pieces started to come together. The Sox won 94 games, good enough for second place behind the Oakland A’s. The team regressed somewhat in 1991, winning 87 games. The Sox won 86 games in 1992. In 1993, the pitching staff that made the A’s the team of the late 80’s had been disbanded. The Minnesota Twins would kick off a stretch of bad that would not end until 2001.
The path was clear for the Sox to grab the brass ring.
GM Ron Schueler had assembled quite a cast to back up their young nucleus of Thomas, Ventura, McDowell, Alvarez, and Hernandez.
Ellis Burks signed a one-year deal with the White Sox after five injury-plagued seasons in Boston. Tim Raines had left field locked down. Ozzie Guillen and Joey Cora played up the middle. George Bell was the DH. Ron Karkovice and Carton Fisk were behind the dish. Mike LaValliere, who missed tagging Sid Bream the previous October, was signed after he was released by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The bullpen was anchored by closer Roberto Hernandez (the actual Roberto Hernandez, not the former Fausto Carmona).
The X-Factor was Bo Jackson. Bo was signed to a three-year, incentive-laden contract by the White Sox in 1991, just after he injured his hip in an NFL playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Bo missed all of 1992 as he rehabbed from hip replacement surgery. By January of 1993, he was jogging again. Jackson was raring to go. He attended SoxFest in February. He was one of the first to arrive to training camp in Sarasota, Florida.
Ozzie Guillen was also on the comeback trail. He suffered a season-ending knee injury the previous April, and he was back on the field after a long recovery.
Carlton Fisk was on the opposite end of the spectrum. He was reaching the end of his career, signing one-year contracts filled with incentives. His relationship with Jerry Reinsdorf had turned ice-cold. The 40-man roster was filled, and Fisk was offered a minor-league deal. After months of holding out, Fisk finally signed in March. Schueler promised to make room on the roster so Fisk could start on Opening Day. He was on pace to break the record for games caught. But it was obvious that his time with the Sox was coming to an end.
The Sox started the season by winning two of three from the Twins at the Metrodome. They lost the home opener to the Yankees on April 9, 11-6. But the lasting memory from that opening day was Bo Jackson hitting a solo home run in his first at-bat after rehab.
On June 22, 1993, Carlton Fisk broke the record for games caught. The 3-2 win over the Texas Rangers also represented the day the Sox were in first place for good.
Six days later, Fisk was released…while the team was in Cleveland. Here’s the account from Joey Reaves in the Tribune:
"Fisk didn't even know it Monday afternoon, when he was summoned to General Manager Ron Schueler's 13th-floor hotel suite.
Never mind that Fisk, by his own admission, was having trouble playing up to the level of major-league competition at age 45. Or that 22 consecutive runners had stolen against him. Or that just about everyone who watched him try to play this year knew his career was over."
That night, the players wore the number "72" in tribute – it was on their eye black…it was written on hats and gloves and batting helmets.
The emotional hangover from Fisk’s release did not derail the Sox. After playing tag with the Texas Rangers for most of the year, the Sox hit the afterburners on July 7 and never looked back.
The ’93 season will also be known for a little incident between Robin Ventura and Nolan Ryan. It happened on Aug. 4:
George W. Bush was also in the stands that night. Later, he said he thought about running on to the field, but thought better of it when he saw Bo Jackson charging out of the White Sox dugout.
On Sept. 27, 1993 … the Sox clinched. Just like 1983, the Sox clinched the AL West title with a 4-2 win over the Seattle Mariners. Bo Jackson’s three-run homer in the sixth made the difference.
Unlike the 1983 White Sox, the team showed some life in the ALCS. They dropped the first two games to Toronto at Comiskey Park. But Chicago came roaring back in Toronto, winning the next two at the Skydome. The Sox lost Game 5 in Toronto, setting up a do-or-die Game 6 in Chicago.
Dave Stewart and Alex Fernandez went toe-to-toe for most of the game. The Blue Jays took a 3-2 lead into the top of the ninth. Manager Gene Lamont pulled Kirk McCaskill for Scott Radinsky, who promptly gave up a home run to Devon White. Joe Carter hit a single, and John Olerud reached on an error. Paul Molitor’s bases-clearing triple off of Roberto Hernandez was the final nail in the coffin.
The White Sox would never compete for the AL West crown. Realignment put the team in the newly formed AL Central. The rivalries with the Rangers and Mariners would be a thing of the past.
The Sox would not repeat in 1994. The strike ended the season in August, as the team had a one-game lead over the surging Cleveland Indians. The pitching staff that carried the Sox to the playoffs in 1993 imploded by the time baseball returned in 1995. The Sox wouldn’t return to the playoffs until 2000, and they would not return to the ALCS until 2005.
1993 is a turning point, and a lost opportunity. It was a turning point in that the dark days of the '70s and late '80s were gone for good. Going forward, the Sox were good. They were not good enough.
Unfortunately, a team that contained Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Alex Fernandez, Jack McDowell, and Wilson Alvarez deserved to make the playoffs more than once. ’93 was the only year they lived up to their potential.