Rejoice, White Sox fans, for it is finally over. The 2016 season that started out with a bang and went out with a very long fizzle has now officially been laid to rest for a whole week.
Of course, the entire idea of needing to rejoice because this season is “finally over” brings us back to the initial issue with the season itself — 2016 was a massive disaster that no one saw coming.
From Adam LaRoche grabbing national media headlines in March, to waving the white flag at the end of July, bright and quirky moments such as the Matt Albers Game, to the addition of Tim Anderson to the major league roster, 2016 was spanned the range of emotions for White Sox fans.
But there were just too many telltale and strange occurrences throughout the season, more than I’ve ever seen squeezed into a single year, as a White Sox fan. So in case some of you have forgotten just how strange this season was at 35th and Shields, let’s take a look back on my top seven oddest moments.
Fans should have sensed right away that things were going to get a little weird this season when the White Sox were grabbing national headlines and exploding the Twitterverse before Opening Day. Adam LaRoche’s abrupt decision to retire came as a shock to baseball, but what came as even more of a shock was the reason behind his retirement. After being told he was no longer allowed to bring his son, Drake, to the clubhouse, LaRoche decided to call it quits on March 16th. After Adam Eaton‘s comments that the White Sox lost a “leader” in Drake and Chris Sale‘s claim that the team was “bold-faced lied to by someone we were suppose to trust”, fears emerged of not only a division in the clubhouse, but also that a front office vs. players war was about to ensue before a pitch had even been thrown in 2016.
White Sox acquire James Shields, DFA Mat Latos
I think we can all agree that Mat Latos was simply terrible. Just like the rest of the South side crew, he started off hot, giving the White Sox hope that Don Cooper’s pitching magic was able to salvage a player many felt was dead on arrival. But as the calendar changed from April to May, things went south for Latos, who started six more games in a pinstripe uniform to the tune of a 7.62 ERA in 31 innings pitched. This problem needed to be solved.
Alas! James Shields, aka “Big Game James!” failed to provide a respite after coming over in a major trade. Shields had struggled a bit after hitting a sudden rough patch in San Diego, and the White Sox front office thought they could possibly capitalize on this tiny blip on Shields’ radar to get a discount and have Cooper do the rest. If this was 2009, perhaps that logic would have held up. As it was, and the White Sox sent failed starter Erik Johnson (who recently underwent Tommy John surgery) and infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. to San Diego for Shields. The Padres even threw in $22 million of Shields salary, what a bargain!
Wrong. The struggles Shields endured during his final days in San Diego were more foreshadowing than blips on the radar, and his struggles became even worse as the dingers sailed farther in a smaller ballpark (31 in 114.1 innings). Somehow, Mat Latos and his 4.62 ERA on the season seemed like that one person whose phone number you wish you hadn’t thrown away…
Veteran leadership was the guise under which the acquisition of 37-year-old shortstop Jimmy Rollins was sold to the White Sox fan base. It took the famed shortstop of yesteryear 41 games before the Sox brass realized that his .221/.295/.329 slash line were not sufficient among a lineup that also included names such as Dioner Navarro and Avisail Garcia and their less than stellar offensive marks. Rollins may certainly have brought veteran leadership, wisdom, and experience to the clubhouse, but batting him–often at the top of the order–in more than a handful of games for the first two months of the season didn’t slow the Sox slide down from their hot start. Hey, at least we can all go get Jimmy Rollins Sox shirseys on the clearance rack though, right?
The Justin Morneau Thing
Yes, it’s a thing because on June 9th, when the White Sox began to realize that they were at the crossroads of “We Can Get Out of This Slump Avenue” and “This Season Is Over If We Don’t Move Quickly Lane”, they decided to sign a 35-year old, banged-up first baseman in Justin Morneau. Sounds bad already, but there was more! He wouldn’t even be able to join the team after rehabbing from an injury (Sounding even better!) until after the All-Star Break.
Morneau was the red flag that was waved before the white one was later unfurled. He was everything the White Sox aim for, and a symbol of everything wrong with this team’s idea of fixing a poor situation. Some felt a twinge of hope that perhaps by some unbounded miracle Morneau would play the way he did when he was 25 because baseball can be magical sometimes, but others saw the White Sox take the wrong turn at the crossroads.
Matt Davidson, Charlie Tilson, and the barrage of ruined major league debuts
The White Sox were already having a weird season injury-wise, after Jason Coats‘ bloody outfield collision during his debut, and catcher Kevan Smith being placed on the disabled before even officially appearing in a single game, but the worst two of all certainly had to be Charlie Tilson and Matt Davidson‘s debuts.
Davidson has been in the White Sox system for a very long time. After posting strong power numbers and lackluster performances in all other aspects of the game for parts of three seasons, his status as future star third basemen fizzled, and has remained dormant for quite some time. Davidson finally made his debut with the White Sox on June 30th, and while running the bases in his first major league game, he fractured his foot. Goodbye season, goodbye Matt Davidson.
Tilson, who was originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, was traded to the White Sox for reliever Zach Duke at the 2016 trade deadline. Tilson made his major league debut with the White Sox on Aug. 2, and right after collecting his first major league hit in the third inning, two innings later he curiously fell over while chasing a liner to the gap. The effort had torn his left hamstring, requiring season-ending surgery.
“I can’t even imagine,” Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “This is a dream. He gets called up, gets a hit in his first at-bat and after that it all gets taken away from you for a while. It’s tough. All the guys on the team, as much as you want to put it out of your mind, you feel for the kid.”
One can only find so many ways to say “bizarre,” and this season exhausted them all.
“We’re mired in mediocrity”
Unforgettable is probably the word I would use to describe how I felt the moment I read this quote from the only person in which I still had unwavering faith in the White Sox organization, general manager Rick Hahn. It was just before the trade deadline, and the White Sox still had over two months of a season of baseball left to play, yet the only person for which myself and many others looked to for direction through the murkiness of 2016 had found a way to eloquently dress up the phrase “It’s over.” I’d known for a while, much like many Sox fans, that the season was nearly over. The hope still hung by a thread though. But Hahn’s words on that afternoon cut that frayed little thread for me — with half of a season of baseball left to play. White Sox fans didn’t know how or what to feel, and despondency quickly took the place of hope on the South side.
Chris Sale cuts up an entire team’s jerseys a few hours before first pitch
After a week that felt as though it had lasted a decade in the lives of White Sox fans, another bizarre moment occurred. ESPN updates lit up phone screens across the city as Chris Sale abruptly left the White Sox clubhouse an hour before his scheduled start. Coming less than one week after Hahn’s white flag waving comments sparked conversations on whether Sale would be moved at the deadline or not, and days before the deadline, this moment felt as though the thin walls of sanity still propped up at 35th & Shields and around Sox fandom during these perilous times were crumbling down.
For a time during his inexplicable absence from the clubhouse, it seemed he must have been traded, confirming the dire situation long feared: that the organization really had to trade their franchise player. But, as it turned out, Sale simply had a meltdown, and destroyed the entire team’s uniforms just before the start of the game because they were “uncomfortable”. Just when folks thought things couldn’t get any weirder for the White Sox, they did.
White Sox fans have suffered their share of heartbreak over the last decade, but it’s safe to say that 2016 has provided them with a vast array of reasons to feel like this year was unique. From a 23-10 start to Guaranteed Rate Field… 2016 saw everything. Bring it on, 2017! It can’t get much weirder than this (But it still can).