Chris Sale had a tremendous impact on the White Sox organization. Drafting him in the first round of the 2010 MLB Draft was a buried treasure in a trove of horrible first round failures for more than a decade. He quickly established himself as the ace of a 2012 staff that nearly limped into the postseason. While he went on to improve even more over the next four seasons, reaching the All-Star Game in each of them, he never got any closer to a playoff game. Frustration boiled within him and the organization, pushing Rick Hahn to take advantage of Sale’s incredible value and trade him to a contending team in the Boston Red Sox. That signified another step for the White Sox, jumpstarting their rebuilding efforts.
While there were certainly ups and downs with Sale, particularly when his desire to win caused him to have insane reactions to outside factors, the majority of his time spent on the south side of Chicago was utter bliss. As the White Sox turmoiled and struggled to find their way in the years following the slow departure of each member of the 2005 World Series champion team, fan attendance struggled. Often the stadium was barely half-filled, but that was never the case when Sale took the mound. He captivated an audience, and he brought a talent unlike almost any other that has donned a White Sox uniform.
Mark Buehrle’s smile and success despite lacking overwhelming stuff endeared fans. Jack McDowell’s impressive run of three tremendous seasons culminating in a Cy Young Award was thrilling. Jose Quintana’s quiet demeanor and work ethic as he went from a nobody to the front of the White Sox rotation has been a point of pride. Sale didn’t quite exemplify any one of those feelings. As he tore through hitters with his high velocity and wicked slider, he was at times endearing. Other times he was frustrating, thrilling, and pride-inducing. He was high-octane with a clear drive to win ballgames. Naturally, that desire manifested itself in both good and attributes, which some White Sox fans have admired while others have despised.
What remains true about Sale is that he is one of the best starting pitchers to ever wear a White Sox uniform. In his five seasons as a starter, he was an All-Star every single year while only missing out on the top five in Cy Young voting once (sixth in 2012). During that time he pitched 1,015 ⅔ innings and posted a 3.04 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 27.7 percent strikeout rate. He was durability and intensity all rolled into one as year after year he put himself among the best pitchers in the American League. No other pitcher in White Sox history has had a season where he pitched at least 200 innings while striking out more than nine per 9 IP while maintaining an ERA below 3.50. Sale did it three times in his five seasons. His longevity and consistency for a pitcher with such violent stuff is unlike any other.
This season, he has managed to get even better. Just as he did during a portion of his 2015 campaign, he struck out 10 or more batters in eight straight starts. He’s also holding a 2.34 ERA and 36.7 percent strikeout rate. Thanks to a dramatic decrease in home runs (only five allowed this season), he’s on track for his best season yet. While it’s disappointing that he never managed to win a Cy Young in Chicago, it would be fitting for the man who cares exponentially more about team results than personal accolades to win his first Cy Young award with a team that should reach the postseason.
As Sale makes his return to Chicago today, it’s fun to remember the success that he had in black and white. The circumstances surrounding his trade were unfortunate, but they have led to a dawn of White Sox prospects that may just provide the next impressive core of talent on the south side. Sale’s impact on the organization was easy to see when he was mowing down hitters left and right while donning a White Sox uniform (except for that one uniform he really didn’t like).
That impact may not be easy to see anymore, but it will certainly be felt as Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech make their way through the farm system. Sale gave fans a lot for which to be thankful. As a parting gift, his talent allowed us to receive some new young faces to fall in love with. His return to the mound in Chicago will be an emotional one for many fans. For me, there is no love lost. I’m thankful for the experiences that Sale gave me as a fan. I’m thankful for the joy he brought every five days even when the team seemed to be incapable of providing any joy at all.
Lead Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports