In the ceaseless debate of old school vs. new school, José Abreu has found himself in the crosshairs. Old school, exhibit A Ozzie Guillén, B Frank Thomas, C Stone Pony, D the huddled masses yearning for a simpler baseball card get increasingly garrulous with each run-batted-in.
But the point that new school wishes to make is that measuring Abreu by RBIs unnecessarily reduces him. He’s a run-driver, yes, but a producer, leader, defender, hitter, clutch bat, clubhouse papa ...
Abreu is part tranquilo, part mentecato — and fully beloved by teammates, opponents and fans alike.
And after a second straight August Player of the Month award, Pito’s proven he stops at nothing when the stretch run rears itself.
Traditionally excelling in the month, it mattered not how he hit in years prior to 2020, when the White Stockings finally pulled up into contention. A season ago, as Chicago streaked toward its first postseason in 12 years, Abreu tilted the diamond with seven homers, 28 RBIs, 79 total bases in 28 games, a slash of .330/.374/.687 dribbling toward an eye-popping 1.061 OPS.
Now a year later, with the White Sox again ensconced in first and having even less motivation to dig deep with a division already in hand, Abreu mocked the lack of apparent urgency and essentially matched those marks: 10 homers, 25 RBIs, 74 total bases in 28 games, a slash of .330/.382/.661 for a 1.043 OPS.
Without Pito, the White Sox are arroz sin frijoles. La jardinera sin pollo. Maduros en mal estado. The meal is not fit for eating, much less white-glove servicing.
The White Sox August with Mal Tiempo storming the batter’s box? A gentle breeze of 16-12, as the Chicago 9 won in spite of themselves, languidly strolling to season’s end.
Without Abreu’s steady hand and daily appearance in the clubhouse, dugout and No. 3 station in the batting order? Mayhem. Loss of limb. Bus crashes. No talk of magic numbers. Perhaps not 0-28, but more 28 than 0.
What’s more, there is no player on the team that the White Sox rally harder for. When yet another ball whizzes so close to Pito’s noggin he can smell dead cattle, teammates loosen lips and commence to wag and bark, bite and rile. A month ago, Tony La Russa himself infamously scooted onto field after Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez called for one too many pills up and in at the hometown hero.
La Russa may never live his geriatric shuffle down, but nor would he want to, praising Pito’s punctuality and production to alto cielo.
“Come heck or high water, José finds his way into that lineup, and he’s ready for the toughest situations,” La Russa told reporters last month. “You don’t get RBIs just because you go to bat 600 times. It’s a skill. And he’s one of the elite run producers in the history of the game.”
Abreu’s predilection for his uncle’s soft guitar plucking earned him his lasting nickname, “Pito.” As a rookie, Abreu listened to the captain he would supplant, Paul Konerko, ping la tala in the clubhouse before games, just as he’d done two decades earlier in Cienfuegos.
No one on the South Side of Chicago, or in South-Central Cuba, listens for such dulcet tones from Abreu. They are accosted by crack of bat, thunder off of outfield walls, dives at first base, and exhortations from the dugout. This quiet man — it was the ultimate in mellow, Alexei Ramírez, who dubbed Abreu “tranquilo,” after all — wields a hammer of the gods.
Whether the White Sox are destined for another quick October exit or a parade for millions by Halloween, it will be Pito who carries them.
Apéndice: Career Monthly Splits