The White Sox’ decision to suspend Chris Sale five games for cutting up the team’s 1976 throwback uniforms seems more divisive among fans than it should be, although I understand why. At this point, the front office has little credibility with the larger fan base. Robin Ventura has none. The Condor is one of the few things that’s consistently enjoyable about following this franchise. When it comes to intraoffice squabbles, the non-players are operating from a deficit.
But even with that in mind, management ultimately prevails. It’s evident when reducing their cases to their simplest argument, then seeing if degrees make a difference.
Sale’s side: As Grant Brisbee put it in his "unwritten rules" series, "One of the best pitchers in baseball didn't want to wear a jersey, so he make sure he didn't have to. Seems reasonable when you put it like that."
Management’s side: The White Sox had to suspend Sale, if only to establish a precedent against a player imposing his will against management by the blade.
Management wins the day here, no "buts" about it. If Sale’s slasher escapades warranted a mere slap on the wrist, what’s to stop Todd Frazier from taking the lineup card from Rick Renteria at knifepoint when Ventura wants to give him a day off? You may as well relocate the Sox from Chicago to a barge on international waters after that.
That said, management is losing the war, if only because there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of actual management otherwise. This is the second time this season the White Sox have become a national fascination for people who don’t follow baseball. L’Affaire LaRoche reached far-away places like Australia and People Magazine, and Saler the Tailor is hot on its trail. It’s a soap opera with plot lines the Kardashians would reject.
Given that this team is better at building gapers’ blocks than winning streaks, it’s a good time to call into question what a Robin Ventura does. In defending the decision to retain Ventura after three consecutive losing seasons,Rick Hahn said:
"Any manager … you’re going to have some tactical disagreements between 7 and 10 o’clock at night," Hahn said. "We’ve been able to talk through the specific issues and understand the rationale behind them. A big part of the managerial job happens in the other 21 hours, and Robin’s strength is in that communication and in the environment he creates to maximize (players’) abilities."
According to the rough timeline constructed from the outside, Sale went to work with his knife around 4 p.m. Likewise, the LaRoche thing blew up within Ventura’s supposed area of strength.
The White Sox are on a course for their fourth consecutive losing season, during which they’ve made national headlines twice for childish revolts while wasting a 23-10 start in between. This is not all Ventura’s fault, but this is the kind of stuff that would happen if the White Sox hired me, a guy who is undoubtedly and thoroughly unqualified and inept, to manage. It should be easier to differentiate these scenarios. (In Ventura’s defense, Sale probably would’ve cut apart my clothes, too.)
At this point, it’s easy to see this as management engendering little respect from somebody who thinks he deserves better, which is why this looks like the Sale-Sox relationship has reached its breaking point from the outside. As Brisbee put it:
The discontent has to be absolutely festering. Whatever ticked him off in the first place is a seed, and the plant is Little Shop of Horrors by now. This isn’t a sharp rebuke, a tongue lashing in front of the whole team. This is a screw-you that’s hard to calculate. It doesn’t matter if it’s deserved or not. There was nothing ambiguous about it.
But as we know, the White Sox absolutely can keep going like this if Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t want anybody to go. The White Sox haven’t made the playoffs since 2008 and haven’t posted a winning season since 2012, and Ozzie Guillen is the only significant casualty, mostly because he made Reinsdorf choose between him and Kenny Williams as he orchestrated an exit to Miami while theoretically managing the White Sox.
That’s what it takes, this hasn’t reached that point yet. When Hahn says this is independent of trade rumors, he still doesn’t want to sell Sale and Sale doesn’t want to be traded, I can see that as more than posturing. Granted, it’s what posturing would sound like, because this incident shouldn’t be allowed to lower his price. The Colorado Rockies aren’t in a position to add Sale, but Carlos Gonzalez’s comment sums up how bad other teams should want to:
"If I'm playing with Chris Sale, I want him to pitch," Carlos Gonzalez said. "If he wants to play with no shirt, we play with no shirt."— Nick Groke (@nickgroke) July 24, 2016
Likewise, the response from Sale’s agent, B.B. Abbott, can be read a couple of ways:
"I honestly don't think there are fences to mend," Abbott said. "He has been with the organization since he was drafted. The entire organization knows the fiber of Chris Sale. They understand the passion and fierce competitive nature. If they are on board with prioritizing winning, there will not be an issue at all."
The last sentence can be interpreted as a dig. According to Jon "Heavy Wool" Heyman’s wake-of post, Sale’s side characterized the rampage as backlash against a team that was more mindful of marketing than winning. Moreover, Hahn didn’t paint Sale as particularly regretful. The way Hahn described it:
"We had a very candid conversation about his thoughts on the matter, and what led to his actions and his exchanges with our staff members down there. I was very candid with him about our point of view about the events and the appropriateness of his behavior and his comments. We both expressed remorse that it got to this point. At that point last night, I think Chris stood by his actions."
So if you take that quote from Sale’s agent as a way to poke the White Sox into a trade without demanding one, you could be right. Yet the stuff that comes before is worth keying on, because the White Sox are weird enough that they could move on without repairing underlying issues.
Hell, Sale is, too. Most of the time, he’s a gentleman who is a good teammate and great with kids. Yet he also has a documented history of blind rage, even when management has nothing to do with it. Considering the White Sox drafted and developed him, maybe he’s the product of a dysfunctional family, but they’re still family dammit, and they’re not the kind of people who go to counseling (they can’t say the C-word without italicizing it). Fistfights over the Thanksgiving turkey are just part of the fabric.
The course of the White Sox’ season shows that they don’t have any natural forces pulling them toward normal, healthy or stable with the current leadership they have in place. Now we'll find out what's weirder -- Sale going, or Sale staying. Whichever happens, assume it's the unusual course of action.