A Conversation With: Shane Riordan

Baseball’s Opening Day this year was a bummer, to say the least. Mostly because, well, there was no baseball. I’m like a lot of us who find great comfort in the game of baseball, and everything else it represents. Changing of the seasons, the weather getting warmer, and the smell of grilled onions on the concourse at Guaranteed Rate Field, are just a few of those comforts I had taken for granted. Well, I mean it’s still been getting warmer outside, and the seasons will change, and I still made bratwurst and grilled onions in my apartment on Opening Day, but nothing is really the same these days, is it?

I mention all of this because a week later, sports postponements, like the MLB season being delayed, just don’t seem nearly as troubling as they did a week ago. That’s not to say I’m not bummed out about it, but so much more has risen to the surface regarding our world’s new (hopefully) temporary reality. Millions of people are losing their jobs, the numbers of COVID-19 related illnesses and deaths are rising, and the deeper you dive into the daily news, the more sadness you’ll find. Even as I write this piece, just today, longtime White Sox radio play-by-play man Ed Farmer passed away. 

All of that said, and I know it’s a lot, the last few weeks have shown me lots of beautiful things, too. I’ve seen more than ever people finding the importance in communicating with one another. I’ve had virtual happy hours and hangouts with friends, including some great conversations that we may not have had otherwise. My birthday was a couple days ago, and my lovely girlfriend even set up a Zoom call with my entire family, which was touching as hell. In the absence of normality, I’ve learned to appreciate what I had always taken for granted. 

We are all human, and I know it sounds cliché, but in these extremely unprecedented, times, we have to be there for each other to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. That means responsibly social distancing for one, but also reaching out to our loved ones, and really anyone who you think might need it. I’ve needed it, and fortunately I’ve had a beautiful group of people to talk to. Please try to take a few minutes out of each day to reach out to those you care about. I promise you it will help us through all of this madness. 

Circling back to where we started, on Opening Day, I had the absolute joy of speaking with Shane Riordan from 670 The Score. It was his birthday, and he took some time out of his day to chat. Shane is truly one of the coolest people I’ve ever spoken to. He’s one of a kind, and to say he works at 670 The Score in the operations department is really only scratching the surface. He’s a masterful chef, specializing in meats, and if you don’t follow him on Instagram, go do that now @shanesmeat. You will not regret it.

A few weeks ago, he even started raising money on Venmo and sending it to people who need some financial help during this crisis, which is just fantastic.

He’s hilarious, and has so many passions outside of the sports world. I had a great time talking to him, and I think you’ll enjoy our chat as well. After you read the edited transcript below, listen to the full conversation included at the top of the page. 

Stay safe, keep in touch with your loved ones, and please enjoy my chat with the tremendous Shane Riordan. 

Sam Sherman: What have you been up to since the start of the quarantine?

Shane Riordan: I’ve been trying to not watch The Circle on Netflix for the longest time, because I watched one episode, and it was insufferable, and cringy, and everything just seemed so planned, but when my roommates go to bed at night, I turn it on in the living room. I got outed the other day. I put a video of my dog on my Instagram story, and you can hear it in the background, and I got called out from everybody for talking shit about the show, and then watching it when they go to sleep.

I’ve also been reading a little bit. I was always a big reader in high school, just novels and stuff. I don’t really read sports books and I’m not a big sports guy outside of work and baseball, but I’ve been reading some novels. I’ve been into a collection of essays by David Sedaris called Calypso.

Doesn’t The Circle have a Brazilian spin-off, too?

I don’t know about Brazil, but I think it started in the U.K., and then they just brought Americans to the same place they were shooting it. The funny thing is when they zoom out and do wide and geographical shots, they’re showing Chicago, but it’s in a building in the U.K. The other night they were showing a cityscape and it was Pittsburgh; you’re not pulling a fast one on anybody, we know where it’s at.

It’s like on those Chicago PD or Chicago Fire shows where they’ll drive from one side of the city to another in like five minutes when it would really take a half-hour.

Yeah, exactly, the hospital is supposed to be on the far west side, but they’re having lunch in the Signature Room.

Speaking of reality TV, I forgot, are you a Bachelor fan?

I had a podcast with a guy who was on a season of either Bachelor in Paradise, or the Bachelorette, I can’t remember. I watched a couple seasons, but I like Bachelor in Paradise.

OK, so I had never really given it a shot, but I got into in with the last season of Bachelor in Paradise, and I ended up watching this last season of The Bachelor with my girlfriend and roommate, and it seemed like, from what I had heard from longtime Bachelor fans, that this was a terrible season.

Oh, it was horrible.

Yeah,, I mean for the first few episodes it was fun, but by the last couple, it just became dreadful. I enjoyed some of the drama and whatnot, but I feel like that had to have been bad even for longtime fans.

Yeah, I think I watched the first four or five episodes, and then I just had to stop. Victoria is smoking hot, I liked her, and I definitely follow her on Instagram still. Usually with The Bachelor, the first few episodes are great with the introductions and then the final with the tell-all. It’s cool drama to follow, but it’s just so mind-numbing. I have other mindless television shows that I prefer to watch over that, It’s just so goddamn long. They were doing like two episodes a week at two hours each. Who has time for that? I mean, now I guess we all do.

I’m a former Score marketing intern, so I was handing out the flyers, walking in the parades, doing all of that. What was your path to ultimately working in operations at The Score?

It takes a little while to get to me working at The Score. I started college at Holy Cross in South Bend, Ind. I thought I was going to be the next Rudy, I didn’t have the grades to get into Notre Dame out of high school, but I thought I’d be that. Then I realized that South Bend sucks, and nobody should be in South Bend for any extended period of time.

I transferred to Columbia College in Chicago after three semesters in South Bend, got into the radio program, and tried to find an internship on my own. I emailed Mitch Rosen (Operations Director, The Score) without going through Columbia’s internship coordinators or anything like that. Mitch interviewed me, and gave me an internship, and I went back to Columbia and said, “Hey I’ve got this internship” and they just flat-out turned it down. They said we have requirements for you to start an internship, you’ve got to have X amount of credits and X amount of classes. Fuck that, that’s part of the problem with our current upper education system, the fact that a radio station deems somebody ready, but then because of educational requirements … whatever, that’s just rehashing stuff for me. So, I go back to Mitch and say, never mind you’ve got to start interviewing more people, Columbia’s not letting me do it.

I went back to Columbia and ended up starting an internship at Total Traffic Network, reporting at Cubs and White Sox games. I’m still 20 years old and I’m in these clubhouses getting audio and streaming it to stations in southern Illinois and Indiana that still cover the teams but can’t afford to send a reporter. I worked one season as an intern, and then I worked for them for a full year.

From there, you have to start supplementing your income a little bit like everybody does in the early stages of this industry. I worked a job at Starbucks, I worked at Best Buy, I worked as a bar bouncer just to support what I wanted my career to be. You have to pay those dues, but the problem is, you have to tell those retail jobs you have to call off sometimes like a day or two before because the job that I want to be my career needs me for something, and that’s priority. At first, they say that’s OK, but after it happens so many times, they tell you you’re kind of out of here now, aren’t you? I was working at Best Buy, and Kristin Decker who was an executive producer at WGN Radio came in because she needed to get her computer fixed or something like that. I recognized her voice because I was a P1 for WGN, and I said I’m in radio at Columbia, what are the chances you guys are hiring over there? She said not really, but she could bring me in and get me an interview with somebody.

I went and I interviewed with Kristin, Stephanie Menendez and Todd Manley, and they gave me a gig working for The Game when that had launched, and then about a month later, The Game went away. But then I said, well, I don’t want to leave, I want to stay at WGN. I interviewed for other jobs there, and ended up getting a Blackhawks producer job, and from there I got moved up to executive producer of the Dean Richards Show and then the Amy Guth Show on the weekends. Even though I was getting kind of tired of working weekends and Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, I did that for a year-and-a-half.

Then I got a call from Mitch Rosen one day and he said we’re hiring part-timers, do you want to come over here? I did that two years, executive producing Cubs and Bulls games, basically just doing every single thing I can to become irreplaceable for Mitch Rosen and Brendan McCaffrey (former Score sports director). When Brendan left for Sirius XM NFL in New York, I stepped up into his job. It was formerly called sports director, and now it’s just called operations, just a broader term.

I love stories like that, especially hearing from people in the sports media world, and the paths they had to take. It’s easy to look at lots of those jobs and say how great they look, but not everyone realizes the path it takes to get there. What is your day-to-day look like working in operations?

I’m basically there to support the on-air staff, and support Mitch, and anything the air staff needs. It’s a lot of scheduling, and mini-projects like with the Cubs Radio Network, trying to plan out content and events. I work in marketing and promotions, while still editing lots of audio, and booking guests for the shows. I’m there to support all of the shows, producers, staff and talent.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, pretty much all sports have been postponed. What is sports radio, or specifically The Score, when you take away sports?

The Score has always been personality-driven radio. We’ve always had talent here, and all you’ve got to do is turn on the microphone and let them go. That’s what we have now, top to bottom. From Les Grobstein at midnight on the overnight, to Mully and Haugh, to Dan and Connor, to Laurence, to Mac and Parkins to Joe Ostrowski to Spiegel, to Julie to Maggie, to all these people make up a dynamic on-air team. [This interview took place before the layoffs that eliminated postions like Connor McKnight’s and Julie DiCaro’s.

These are people who are willing to pull their weight, and others’ weight when they can’t handle it. It’s been very challenging to plan out this content. We still have to worry about the demographic. It’s a sports demographic, and how far over the non-sports line can you go and still retain a listener? Just like in the Great Depression when people went to go see movies as an escape, we’re an escape. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, people just want to know in this age of fluctuation and worry that we’re a constant for them. They can still turn on the radio and get exactly what they would have if they weren’t in quarantine.

You mentioned earlier that you have a lot of hobbies outside of sports, probably most notably, Shane’s Meat. What is the story behind Shane’s Meat?

I was cooking a lot of meat, and Julia Lepidi (who hosts the night show at B96) came into my office one day and was like, why isn’t your Instagram handle just Shane’s Meat? I said I don’t know why it’s not, but we should probably change that right now. Everybody’s got to have a brand, right?

I find myself pretty insufferable most of the time, a lot of people attest to that and say the same thing, but if you’re not known for something in this age of social media, and you don’t have some kind of association to your name, then you’re invisible and you’re nothing. I’ve got to prepare myself for new media, and this ever-changing industry. I’m not always going to be working in the operations department at The Score. There’s a next step, another move for me, I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know when that is, but you just have to always be ready for something. If I find something I’m passionate about, it’s like the old saying, if you love your job you never work a day in your life, and that’s where I’m at right now.

If I can couple sports media with cooking content and music, it makes waking up every day fun. Also, there’s a crossover with our demographic. Our demo is men, ages 25-54. Men 25-54 love grilling, learning new things, barbecuing, listening to music and making dinner when they’re done working so they don’t have to think about work anymore. It’s the same thing for me. I monitor sports news on social media, but when I get home, I put my stuff down, turn on some music and make dinner, and that’s how I unwind. It’s stupid not to try and monetize that and turn it into content for other people to enjoy.

Well, you’re definitely good at it and the brand is strong.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

I love seeing people on Twitter sending you photos of different foods that they’ve cooked, as if to get your approval or feedback. It’s been fun to see your following grow more and more over time.

Thank you. It’s hard not to blow those people up, by the way. I get so many tweets that I don’t respond to because it’s just trash, they do such a bad job, but you don’t want to ruin somebody’s spirit.

My girlfriend and I will scroll through Instagram and see people post pictures of the food they’ve made, and while it’s fine for people like you to post their food, there’s so many people who post pictures of bacon and eggs that don’t even look very good, and we wonder what the point of even posting that is.

Exactly, as you’re saying that I’m thinking of like four people in my head that do the same thing daily. Why are you posting your trash-ass food?

I also want to talk about your presentation. It’s one thing for food to taste good, but the way you make it look is beautiful as well. When did you start taking that part seriously?

That’s something that I’ve always not really been that good at until I started learning about color contrast and garnishes, and how to light something. I’m looking at my Instagram feed now as we’re talking, and there’s just a bad white plate with a pile of steak on it, not arranged in any certain way. Then I started throwing some asparagus on there, and it contrasted with the brown and the green and maybe there’s a little sauce on the side. Then it’s photographed from above instead of an angle, and there’s focus and a drizzle of hot sauce or something like that. Anybody can cook decent food and put in on a plate, but if you can make it look like something you’d want, even if it doesn’t taste good, that’s the goal. The presentation is what makes a difference and might draw an eye where the eye doesn’t always go.

I feel like I’ve always either just prepared or eaten dinner right when I see your food posts, and I’m like, shit I’d rather eat that.

Yeah, I know what you mean.

You were invited to the Score House this year. (670 The Score hosts and producers rented a house in Arizona for a week during spring training) While I know there has to be stories you can’t share; did anything happen this year that you can tell us that we may not have seen on social media?

We were pretty open about the things that can be shared. I don’t think people understand that we legitimately had a very good time with each other. This is 12 grown men in one house for six days. Nobody got tired of anyone there, and Bernstein was drunk every night, and we still weren’t tired of him, and he’ll be the first to admit that he was. It may not come off on the air all the time, but we all get along very well, and that’s rare. You put sports media, or media people in general together, and everyone’s trying to one-up the next guy, and that doesn’t happen at The Score, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. We all got along so well, and it’s a trip I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. It was a great learning experience and we all got along, and I hope that came across to the listener.

All right now, a few White Sox-specific questions. What’s the best thing about White Sox fans?

The dedication of White Sox fans lately has really restored my faith in this fan base. It’s a resilient fan base, it’s a fan base right now that doesn’t give a flying fuck about what the national baseball audience thinks of us. This is a team that’s going to surprise a hell of a lot of people, and I’m glad to be a fan from day one and not a bandwagoner. What I have noticed is this fan base is welcoming of bandwagoners: Bring on anyone who wants to support this team, if we ever get to play again, bring them in and support this fun, young baseball team. I think about the resilience and the restored faith, even after having eaten shit as a fan for the last 12 to 13 years. Even though it might be smaller than others, it packs a punch.

How about the worst thing about Sox fans?

Stop caring about the Cubs. It’s annoying. I don’t care about the Cubs, I don’t care what my Cub fan friends think about the White Sox. I’m worried about the Twins, Indians, Royals and Tigers. I don’t care about the Cubs, and I don’t care about their stupid fans.

I agree, and hopefully when baseball returns, the White Sox will have a better product on the field for fans to support.  

Yeah, that’s what happens. When you’re a fan of a good baseball team, you can stop caring about the Cubs.

Although Cub fans still seem to care a lot about low attendance at Sox games …

Oh, of course they do.

OK, so you’re a country music fan. It took me a long time to get into country, but like any other genre of music, there’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff. Have you always been a country fan, or was it an acquired taste?

Yeah, day one. My first concert was Garth Brooks’ 1992 tour. I wasn’t a year old and my parents took me to see him. I’ve always been an outlaw, old-school country fan. One of my better friends is the marketing and promotions director for US99, so we go to all the shows that the station puts on. I can tolerate Top 40 country, like the Florida Georgia Line country, but I don’t really like it because the country I associate myself with is storytelling country music. Like Jason Isbell songs, every one of those three or four-minute songs can be turned into a movie. That’s what I love about Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, and guys like Cody Jinks and Chris Stapleton. These are stories and they put real effort into writing them, not just singing about jumping up and down on a pickup truck bed by the lake with a beer in your hand. I understand there’s a market for that, obviously it’s huge and those are the songs of the summer everywhere you go, but it’s just not my market. You can get behind it when you’re drunk, and everyone is signing along to a Luke Bryan song or a Florida Georgia Line song when you’re tanked, but I like the storytelling of my brand of country music.

What’s one album that you don’t think I’ve ever heard, but you think I should check out?

There’s a band called Houndmouth, and the record is Little Neon Limelight from 2015. That’s like the combo between folk and kind of country, but also XRT-ish, Mt. Joy-ish music, but still kind of twangy. They’re huge in Austin. I think they’re all from Austin, so kind of fits in that hipster music. I would check that out.


A Conversation With: Chuck Garfien

I am just about to turn 27, and I feel like there have been a few people I’ve always been aware of throughout my existence. This could technically apply to family or friends, but I’m not really talking about them. I’m thinking more about people like Mr. Whitchurch, one of my neighbors growing up, who used to walk his dog, a golden retriever he called the Mayor, every single day.

I recently found out two things on a visit to my parent’s house. The first was that Mr. Whitchurch is still alive, which, to be honest, I was surprised about, but that’s only because he’s one of those people that when I was young, he was very old, and I guess now he’s just older? But good for him, he’s still kicking, and walking the Mayor around the block. Oh, and the second thing is I learned that there have been at least three Mayors in my lifetime, I always thought it was the same dog, but I was wrong. There has never been a time in my life that I wasn’t aware of Mr. Whitchurch’s existence.

So, what does any of that have to do with Chuck Garfien? Well, Chuck Garfien is another one of those people.

I’ve never not known about him. I remember years ago watching one of the White Sox post game shows and telling my dad that I liked “that guy” not knowing who Garfien was by name, but always seeing his face associated with White Sox baseball.

Garfien has been covering the White Sox for NBC Sports Chicago since 2004. I was 11 in 2004, and can’t say I remember a whole lot from before then, so for all intents and purposes, Chuck Garfien has been around for as long as I can remember. I always liked him because he was and is a prominent Chicago media figure who actually talked about the White Sox, and while there are a few more now, when I was growing up that just wasn’t very common. On paper, the newly rejuvenated White Sox should be getting more local and national media attention over the next few years, but one man has been covering and talking about this team through the good, the bad and the very ugly. Here’s my conversation with that man: The Bruce Springsteen-loving, USC-graduating, White Sox-hyping, and all-around great guy, Chuck Garfien.

SS: Where were you when you heard that the start of the baseball season was going to be delayed?

CHUCK GARFIEN: The White Sox were off that day at spring training, so I was sitting on the couch at the place I was renting in Arizona basically bracing for the news to come out that they were going to halt spring training and delay the regular season. They simply had to. The NBA had just announced that their season was suspended. I felt like it was only a matter of time before MLB would do the same thing. Then came the news. And here we are.

What has been the overall vibe you’ve felt from the players you’ve spoken to regarding the news of the last couple weeks?

I had Lucas Giolito on the White Sox Talk Podcast a few days after the news broke. Not knowing when baseball will return, he said he had dialed everything back as if it was January and spring training hadn’t even started yet. Players seem to have put their baseball preparations in reverse, and are hoping to maintain some form of status quo so that when they get word that baseball is coming back they can ramp up from there.

It’s definitely an unsettling time for everyone. Nobody knows where this is going or when we’ll have a baseball season. Some are still doing work at Camelback Ranch, while many players have left Arizona to return to their homes. Not being able to work out at local gyms is a challenge, but it sounds like they’re all doing whatever it takes to get their work in.

What have the last couple weeks been like for you, as someone whose day-to-day life is so involved with sports? 

It’s definitely different. Something I’ve never experienced before. The same with everyone who’s reading this. Very unique times. Without games to cover and almost zero baseball news to report, I’ve had to take a sharp left turn in how I cover the White Sox. I’ve continued to put a lot of my energy into the podcast. With all the changes we’ve had to make in our daily lives, I look at the podcast as a safe place for White Sox fans to go when they want to be distracted or to just feel normal again. I’ve had Jason Benetti on several of the podcasts. We’ve talked about everything from what we’re doing to pass the time to a weird dream I had about Hawk Harrelson. This week we spoke with Bob Comstock, our broadcasting teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, who had a tremendous impact on our careers at a very young age. He also tells the story about taking a student to Disco Demolition. Mr. Comstock was a really cool dude.

I’ve also been doing interviews and shows on Zoom, which has done wonders for all of us, keeping people connected during this time. Because we can’t use our studio in Chicago, we’re actually starting to do shows on Zoom from our homes.

And without games to broadcast, NBC Sports Chicago is filling a huge void for all of us, re-airing 70 games from the 2005 championship season every single day, starting on Opening Day. Not only will this be fun for those of us who experienced that special season, but a whole other generation of White Sox fans who are younger than 20 will get to see and feel for the first time what all the hoopla was all about.

I might be the last person to ever watch it, but I just started The Wire since I’ve been working from home. Is there anything you have done, or are planning to do, with potentially a little extra time on your hands? 

I’ve been catching up on the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Laughter is good for the soul and Larry David has done it again. This is one of his best seasons ever.

I really enjoy your in-game interaction with the fans. I’d imagine putting yourself right in the heart of the crowd can lead to some strange encounters as well. What is the most bizarre fan interaction you’ve had?

I don’t know if I would call any of my fan interactions bizarre. A better word might be “unexpected.” Every time I go into the crowd, I keep an open mind. I’m not always sure who or what I’m going to find. Every White Sox fan has a story to tell, and you never know what that story is going to be until you start talking with them.

There was the fan who had around 100 autographs on the neon White Sox jersey he always wears to the park and he refused to wash it (why would you, right?). There’s the couple that got engaged at the game while the White Sox were down big to the Tigers. I just wanted to talk to them about their engagement, why he popped the question that night, etc. The White Sox were down 10-4 at the time, but as soon as I went over to interview them, the team suddenly went on this huge rally. Jason and Steve wouldn’t let me leave them until the inning ended. They scored five runs and eventually came back to win on a Tim Anderson walk-off home run.

Going into the stands and interacting with White Sox fans is just as much fun for me as covering the actual White Sox team. I can’t wait to be back doing that again!

What’s the best thing about White Sox fans?

Their passion. You can see it on their faces. It’s in their blood. It runs deep.

What’s the worst thing about White Sox fans?

There’s no worst thing. I’ll just say the worst thing is not having a good team to root for, not having a team of players you believe in and want to invest your time, money and energy in. That’s not the case with this team. They’re talented, fun and want to do something special.

While it looks like brighter days are ahead for the White Sox, you’ve covered this team through some pretty treacherous stretches. How do you balance the need to maintain professional relationships with the players, coaches, and members of the organization that you cover, while also having to at times criticize either poor play or decision-making? 

It’s a fine line you have to walk. You want to find that authentic place, somewhere in the middle between being overly critical and being a homer. Players and coaches know that I have a job to do, but they also want me to be fair. Guys are going to have bad games, bad weeks, bad months, bad years. When that happens, I won’t ignore it. I won’t sugarcoat their struggles, but I’m not going to act like a carnival barker screaming that the White Sox need to run a player out of town. I’m just not like that. These guys are human beings. Baseball is a tough sport. I give the players rope, especially early in the season. Remember how bad Yolmer Sánchez was defensively at the start of last season? He ended up winning a Gold Glove.

When I was a kid, my dad used to play one of four things every night while I was going to sleep: The Clash, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello, and of course, Bruce Springsteen. That became the foundation for my musical taste, with Springsteen being at the very top. I know you’re a Springsteen die-hard, so how did you become a fan?

Well, your dad has impeccable taste in music. That’s for sure. When I was a teenager, Springsteen came out with the Born in the USA album, which was immensely popular. You’d turn on the radio, watch MTV and Springsteen would be there. That opened the door for me. But I didn’t really discover him and become a die-hard fan until college, when I started listening to his live bootlegs. That’s where you really hear the essence of Springsteen: the power, energy, fun, excitement, storytelling, and you understand the meaning of what Springsteen is all about. It sticks to your bones. I could go on and on about Bruce. One thing about Bruce that I really connect with is his passion and dedication to his work. He gives all of himself to his music. I do the same for my job, and for White Sox fans.

Top three Springsteen albums? 

This seems to change every few years, depending on where I am in my life. As we sit here right now, here’s my top three:

1. Darkness on the Edge of Town
2. The River
3. Born to Run

Other than Springsteen, what’s one song or album that you’ve been listening to a lot lately? 

I’ve been all over the map lately. Everything from “Texas Sun” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges to “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck.

What’s an album you don’t think I’ve ever heard, but I should check out ASAP? 

I’ve been telling people for years about Shuggie Otis. Get the album “Inspiration Information.” His music will fill up your room (or your headphones) and take you to a happy place.

Last week I interviewed 670 The Score producer, Herb Lawrence, and he said he thought Scarface is the most overrated movie of all time. Thoughts? 

I haven’t really given this much thought. But considering I saw “Scarface” in high school and haven’t felt the need to ever watch it again, Herb might be onto something.

When friends from out of town say they are visiting Chicago, and ask for food recommendations, what do you tell them?

Depends on the people and what kind of food they like. Generally, you can’t go wrong with Chicago staples like Manny’s Deli, Portillo’s, Smoke Daddy, Farm Bar and Aurelio’s Pizza (I grew up on it in Homewood).

What’s something that most people get wrong about Chicago?

The wind. People who have never been here think they’re going to get off an airplane and be swept away by a mammoth wind gust. In truth, Chicago is called the Windy City, not because of the wind, but because of the hot air coming from our politicians.

You’re going on a weekend trip to anywhere in the world, where are you going, and who are you taking? Pick five, living or dead/current or former, from these categories:

Place Barcelona, San Diego, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Cape Town (really long weekend)

Member of the E Street Band (not named Bruce) Clarence Clemons, Max Weinberg, Steve Van Zandt, Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent.

White Sox player Frank Thomas, Ozzie Guillén, Mark Buehrle, Chet Lemon, Jim Thome

Actor or Actress Robert Redford, Bill Murray, Leslie Nielsen, Albert Brooks, Gilda Radner

USC athlete Reggie Bush, Keyshawn Johnson, Harold Miner, Cheryl Miller, Fred Lynn

A Conversation With: Herb Lawrence


Way back in 2015, I was a marketing and promotions intern for 670 The Score. That turned into a part-time social media role, where I was tasked to run the infancy of their Instagram account. Now I work in outside sales for a safety clothing manufacturer, so that internship didn’t parlay into a grand career in social media marketing. That being said, having been a pretty avid Score listener through my youth, the internship allowed me to have a few interactions with the hosts and producers I grew up listening to. Just about all the host and producer interactions I had were pleasant, but the majority of people didn’t go out of their way to interact with the interns other than a hallway head nod.

 (One time, Dan Bernstein walked into the room the interns worked out of, and silently admired the moon for about five minutes before walking out, I don’t know why, but I’ll never forget that.)

Herb Lawrence was one of those rare few who interacted with us. I’ve always appreciated anyone who goes out of their way to be friendly and helpful to people who can’t help them with anything. While I didn’t see him all that often, Herb was always engaging and kind with everyone at the station.

He’s also simply one of the best sports personalities we have in this city. While I don’t agree with his every take, the one thing you know you’re getting with Herb is no bullshit. He doesn’t pander, and he speaks the truth even if it goes against the grain. Actually, especially if it goes against the grain.

You know him and love his as the executive producer of the Laurence Holmes Show, and now co-host of the fantastic Locked on White Sox Podcast alongside fellow Score producer Chris Tannehill. Ladies and gentlemen, my conversation with the incomparable Herb Lawrence.

(Note: This interview was conducted prior to COVID-19 sports-related cancellations and postponements.)

SS: How confident are you on a scale of 1-10 about the 2020 season, with Opening Day right around the corner?

HERB LAWRENCE: I’m pretty sure the White Sox will compete all season long and it will be much more thrilling than infuriating. Not picking them for the division, but I don’t think that the Indians or the Twins are that much better.

Something I’ve always respected about your White Sox opinions, and to a larger extent, all of your sports opinions, is that you call it like you see it more than almost anyone I know. You give credit when and where credit is due, but you’ll call out bullshit like no other. With that in mind, how can we fairly judge the job done by a front office that has both made fools of themselves and done a few good things recently? I guess that’s a long way of asking: Can we trust this front office? 

First, Thanks for the compliment. Second, they did a fantastic job this offseason, as I didn’t think they would field a competent team much less a team that’s ready to compete. They’ve learned their lesson from past failures and have grown. I trust them now.

This has seemingly been the fan narrative since the start of, and even before the rebuild, but why do you think it is that “good” moves seem to be attributed to Rick Hahn, while the “bad” ones seem to be pinned on Kenny Williams, and can you ever see this changing?

The media and fans have set it up as such, and it’s not right. Kenny isn’t as smooth as Rick when it comes to dealing with the media and fans, so he takes the lion’s share of blame because they just don’t like him. Rick is more personable, so he gets a pass despite not producing a winning season at all in his GM tenure. They don’t seem to have a problem with it publicly [so] it won’t change. 

Earliest White Sox memory? 

Robin Ventura hitting the walk-off grand slam [against Texas on July 31, 1991] and Frank Thomas picking him up over his shoulder. Get chills just thinking about it now.

I don’t know why, but I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry about a White Sox game than when Jim Thome hit a walk-off home run against Matt Thornton in 2010. This was a regular season game, that if I recall, had no real implications other than an August loss, but it has always stuck out for me. What is your “Jim Thome walks off the Sox in August irrational anger moment,” if you have one?

Not specifically, but every single time I saw Ricky Renteria bat A.J. Reed fourth in the lineup in 2019. Just looked it up, he did it four times and the last one was on August 1 and he was sent to the minors later that day. Cleanup hitter to off the team makes zero sense. 

Will White Sox fans ever stop caring about the Cubs? Years ago, I tweeted out something like “Sox win, Cubs lose, great day” and you and Tim Baffoe justifiably called me out for it. I’m older and wiser now, but it seems like lots of Sox fans can’t stop thinking about the Cubs. 

It’s part of some fans’ experience and I never really got into it. Doesn’t make me a better fan, but I just think rooting against them and cheering for the Indians in the World Series was some of the weirdest stuff that I saw. I get that we don’t get the love that the Cubs do, but that’s not the team’s fault and certainly not the Cubs fans’, either. Hating on them when we play makes sense, or if they ever wise up and put them in the same division, but until them cheering for the Cubs to lose is a tough look.

Best thing about White Sox fans? 

Die-hard. This franchise has giving us fans plenty of reasons to abandon them, and yet we are still here. The Yankees and Sox have played the exact amount of years and the Yankees have nine times the championships. We have only seen five playoff appearances (1983, 1993, 2000, 2005, 2008) in our lifetimes (if you’ve seen six, god bless) and we are still here believing that times will get better for the team we love. There’s no more loyal fan base in the history of the league.

Worst thing about White Sox fans? 

Our inferiority complex. We need to not feel like we are beneath any fan base just because our favorite team hasn’t performed as well as it should. Being a fan of a bad franchise is a badge of honor, not a scarlet letter.

Do you believe in the idea that this season can still be considered a success through player development and a higher win total even if the Sox miss out on the playoffs? 

Indeed. I don’t expect them to win the Central but know that they’ll be right there at the end. It’s because the development of these young players that I feel confident about the team’s record. 

What album or song have you been listening to the most lately? 

“Waves” by JSMN, it’s just a stone cold jam that Salif Crookboys was dancing to last year I’m on IG and I haven’t stopped listening since.

What’s an album you don’t think I’ve ever heard, but I should check out ASAP? 

The Foreign Exchange, Love in Flying Colors. Great album by them, as they put it all together and is my favorite from them.

Most overrated movie of all time? 

Scarface. I don’t even think that movie is particularly good. Watched it once and didn’t get why everyone was so over the moon about it.

Most underrated T.V. show of all time? 

Sons of Anarchy. It doesn’t get the love that its contemporary shows like Breaking Bad, The Wire or Mad Men get, but it is right up there with them.

You’re going on a weekend trip to anywhere in the world, where are you going, and who are you taking? Pick 5, living or dead/current or former, from these categories:

Place San Diego (of course)

670 the Score employee Chris Tannehill

White Sox player José Valentín

Actor or Actress Nia Long

Musician Jamiroquai

Illini athlete Kevin Turner

What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?

Pequods. The food is always on point, and it’s always worth the wait.

What’s something that most people get wrong about Chicago? 

That it is dangerous. Love this city, and yeah, there might be pockets of violence, but we’re not here just shooting at each other. Media’s fear of young black males plays into this, as if you look up the homicide/shootings for big cities it isn’t close to the top. 

How far is Illinois getting in the tournament this year? 

The early-season losses to Miami and Mizzery give me pause to pick them for a long run but also this tourney is wide open so I’m gonna say win the first game and lose a close game to a higher-ranked team in the second round.













A Conversation With: Billy Pierce

Ascent to superstardom: Pierce pitched his way out of arm trouble here in 1954 and began his ascent to a Hall of Fame-caliber career. (Acme Wire Photo)

I first got to know Billy Pierce in the summer of 2002 when I contacted him to do an interview. He was warm and generous over the phone, and from there a friendship developed. We’d talk a few times a year, I’d call him on his birthday, and whenever I got back to Chicago I’d usually hook up with him and his wife Gloria, who opened their home in Lamont to me. When he passed away in July 2015 and I got the news, I was completely shocked. I never knew Bill was even sick. Doing his obituary was literally one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done; it’s hard to type when your eyes are filled with tears. Simply put, Billy was one of the nicest people I ever had the pleasure to meet, and his baseball accomplishments speak for themselves. Here is the interview that started the relationship. Rest in peace, my friend.

Billy Pierce … just saying the name evokes memories of another time in America.

It was a time when baseball was the national pastime, when the White Sox didn’t play second fiddle to anyone, especially in their own city. It was a time when the players actually cared (especially about winning), when owners actually tried to do their best to win instead of making excuses about profit margins, and when kids all over the country could recite the starting lineups of most teams in baseball just as easily as their math tables.

It was a time when even the worst teams like Washington and Kansas City had players of the caliber of Harmon Killebrew, Roy Sievers and Roger Maris.

Billy Pierce was right in the middle of it.

Despite being small in size, “Billy the Kid” proved he was among the best pitchers in baseball, and did it consistently for more than 10 years. The list of his accomplishments could go on forever but we’ll only highlight some of them, especially for fans who never saw him play:

  • Won 186 games with the White Sox from 1949-1961 (211 overall)
  • Had 11 years of double-digit wins (12 overall)
  • 20-game winner in 1956 and 1957
  • Threw 35 shutouts (38 overall)
  • Had 19 saves (38 overall)
  • Led the American League in complete games in 1956, 1957 and 1958 (193 in his career)
  • Led the American League in ERA in 1955 (1.97; career ERA of 3.27)
  • Led the American League in strikeouts in 1953 (186; had 1,999 in his career)
  • Threw four one-hitters, including losing a perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning (1958)
  • Seven-time All-Star, and the only Sox pitcher to ever start an All-Star Game multiple times (1953, 1955, 1956)
  • Sports Illustrated cover boy in May 1957
  • Sport magazine cover boy for October 1957

Pierce was also respected as a genuine good guy who always had time for the fans. He treated everyone the same, whether it was then Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley (who had front-row season tickets right next to the Sox dugout) or the local grocer.

Pierce never embarrassed himself, the White Sox organization or the city of Chicago. His No. 19 was retired by the club in 1987.

Nobody ever had an unkind word for him:

“Billy was the first guy we ever got in a trade. He was a winning pitcher, a mainstay as we were building a championship club. When he’d pitch against Whitey Ford, you could sell the seats 25 times over. That’s how many fans wanted to see him pitch.” – Former White Sox owner Chuck Comiskey.

“That little guy had more courage per ounce than any ballplayer I ever saw. You didn’t need a relief pitcher when he pitched. If he had a one-run lead going into the seventh or eighth inning, the ball game was over.”–former White Sox GM Frank “Trader” Lane.

Mark Liptak: Billy, you were born and raised in Detroit. How did your involvement with baseball begin?

Billy Pierce: Like with most kids in those days we played in the schoolyards, played in the alley, played all the time. Nothing was organized, we just played. The old clichés are true: When we broke a bat, we’d nail it back together. When the ball blew apart, we’d wrap tape around it and keep playing, even though the ball looked like a football. We’d play wherever we could. If we couldn’t play baseball, we’d play softball. We just had fun playing. It wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 that I finally played on an organized team.

When did you realize you were good and could perhaps play at the pro level?

Playing in the pros never entered my mind. I played a lot, and was pretty good. You know how when kids get together and play, they choose up sides? I was always one of the first kids picked. I was a first baseman when I was 14, and the kid who was a pitcher on our team left and went to another club because they had better-looking uniforms. We were only about a week from starting play in our league and I threw hard, so I became the pitcher.

I was wild in those days! When I was in high school the scouts came around to see me, but I wanted to be a doctor. My dad was a pharmacist and I took a lot of classes to get ready for medical school. I had a scholarship, but I thought I’d try to play for two or three years and if it didn’t work out I’d use the scholarship and go back to school.

You only spent a few years in the minors, and suddenly you were a hometown kid playing for the hometown team. How did it feel the first time you pitched in the big leagues?

It was very exciting. It was in Boston, I’ll never forget it. I was 18 years old. The bullpen in those days was a long way away from the mound, and as I walked in our right fielder, center fielder and second baseman were shouting encouragement to me as I passed them. In those days, the veterans weren’t that hard on us rookies. [Pierce made his debut on June 1, 1945. He threw 3 ⅓ innings, allowing only one hit with four strikeouts. His catcher was his future manager, Paul Richards.]

You spent two years with the Tigers, and then on Nov. 10, 1948 you were traded to the White Sox for catcher Aaron Robinson. How did you hear about it and how did you feel?

I was at my girlfriend’s house, she’s now my wife, and we heard it over the radio. A DJ came on with a sports bulletin that said I was traded to Chicago. I wasn’t very happy about it, because it was just in the paper about two weeks before that the Tigers were going to rebuild and give all of us kids a chance to play. I did not want to go to either Chicago or Philadelphia. It’s not that I didn’t like Chicago, but in those days the stockyards were going full force and when you played in Comiskey Park, especially at night, the smell was unbelievable! It turned out to be a great break for me … the Sox had lost like a hundred games the year before and they were going to give everybody a chance.

In 1951 Paul Richards took over as manager, you had your first winning season, and the Sox started to take off. What was it about Richards that helped you personally and the team?

Paul was the best teaching manager I ever had anywhere, without question. Frank Lane made all the trades and brought the players in, guys like myself, and Nellie Fox, but Richards was always working with us. Paul for example, changed the bat that Nellie was using to that bottle style and turned him into a great hitter. [Pierce and Fox were roommates for 11 seasons with the Sox.]

Richards left to take over the Baltimore franchise but your career continued to prosper under Marty Marion, an underrated manager. What was it like to play for him?

Very good. I was surprised when he was left out and the Sox replaced him, because we played well under him. He wasn’t as good a teacher as Paul was, but then nobody was, but he was still very, very good.

Your career continued to roll along, culminating with the pennant year of 1959. For the city and the team it was the pinnacle of success, but for you personally, it wasn’t your best season. You missed six weeks with a hip injury and when it came time for the World Series, manager Al Lopez passed you over for a starting assignment. Older Sox fans still insist, if you start Game 2 instead of Bob Shaw, and win, the Sox take the Series. How difficult was that for you being relegated to only four innings of relief work?

It was very tough. It was a real hard thing. I appeared in three games and pitched well, but it was a disappointment. I still wanted the Sox to win, after all they were my teammates, but I was very glad when it was over. Let’s put it this way, I left town pretty quickly to try to forget about it all.

Did that affect your relationship with Lopez, and what did you think of him as a manager?

Al was a real good manager. His record shows that. He was a solid percentage baseball guy. I honestly think the controversy affected Al more than me. I wasn’t the culprit; all I could do was what he told me. He had to listen to the fans who wanted me to pitch, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

Still, clinching the pennant had to be exciting.

It was tremendous, the crowd that we had at Midway Airport! The toughest part about the trip was getting back home because so many people were out. I remember Earl Torgeson and I were in a cab and we were going down Garfield Boulevard, it had to be one or two o’clock in the morning, and fans were everywhere. They had flares lit up on the front lawns, everyone was outside their homes talking and celebrating.

Billy Pierce’s 1959 White Sox jersey. (Mark Liptak)

After the 1961 season you were traded to the Giants for pitchers Eddie Fisher, Dom Zanni and outfielder Bob Farley. As a Chicago baseball institution, were you shocked by what happened or did you look at it as a fresh start with a good San Francisco team?

Truthfully the way things were going the last few seasons, I expected it. All I did was ask [then-GM] Ed Short that if something happened that he please call me first before he told the media. Remember, the last time I was traded I heard about it over the radio. Short did call me one day and said he made a deal with San Francisco. I thanked him for letting me know, and that was it. I was really worried about how I was going to tell my son about it. He was nine or 10 at the time and grew up around Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox and the guys. So my wife and I told him, and he looked up and said ‘Great, now I get to meet Willie Mays!’ So that was it, we got his seal of approval and moved on.

You at least finally got a chance to start in the 1962 World Series against your old friends, the Yankees. Did you at least get a measure of personal satisfaction out of that?

Without question. That whole period coming so late in my career … the playoff games against the Dodgers and then the World Series with the Yankees was very special. It was an exciting 10-day period especially, like I said, because it came so late for me. [In the NL playoff series, Pierce shut out the Dodgers 8-0 in Game 1, beating Sandy Koufax, then saved the pennant-clinching Game 3. In the World Series he started two games, winning Game 6 over Whitey Ford, 5-2. In 15 postseason innings, Pierce allowed eight hits and four runs.]

The 1962 pitching rubber from Candlestick Park, given to Billy Pierce. (Mark Liptak)

After the 1964 season and with 18 years of service, you retired. Was that an easy decision for you?

After the 1963 season I decided with my wife that the 1964 season would be it. In the fall of 1963 we moved to Chicago, where we’ve been ever since. This is where we wanted to be. Once I had made up my mind to retire, it was easy to accept. I was very willing to leave. It was much easier because it was on my terms.

Looking back Billy, which year was your best season?

I’d have to say 1955. I led the league that year in ERA at 1.97. It had been like 20 years since anybody ended a season with an ERA under two. I only went 15-10 that season, but I lost four games by the score of 1-0. I think I pitched as well as I did in 1956 when I won 20 games, but I just didn’t get some breaks. I also think that was my best year because in 1954 I was a little sore, so in 1955 the Sox gave me a little most rest between starts.

Game balls collected during Billy Pierce’s 20-win season in 1957. (Mark Liptak)

What was your best pitch and how hard did you throw?

I wish I could tell you. I know I read where Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams both said I threw very hard, but we didn’t have radar guns in those days. At first my best pitch was my fastball, but then about 1953 to 1955, I developed a good slider. A real, hard slider that would break in on guys six or seven inches. It would dart in on fellows.

Today many scouts simply look at how fast kids throw, but pitching is more than just raw speed, isn’t it?

Without a doubt. Speed is important, certainly that would be the first thing I looked for, but you’ve got to have some movement on a pitch. A straight fastball doesn’t do you any good; you have to have some natural movement on it. You also have to stay ahead of hitters. If you keep falling behind 2-0 in a count, you’re going to get hurt.

What was the secret to your success, especially for a guy your size?

“At em’” balls! [laughing]. Seriously, I worked hard when I pitched. I never believed in that approach where you’ve got to pace yourself. The first inning was just as important as the others. I also felt I had to get the weak hitters out. You couldn’t afford to give up hits to the eighth- or ninth-place hitters … those three, four and five guys were just too good to come up with guys on base.

Billy I’d like to talk about some of your individual accomplishments. You were named to seven All-Star teams, started three, appeared in four and pitched 10 ⅔ innings giving up four runs. This was when playing in the All-Star game meant something, and you were facing the best hitters in the game.

It did. You basically pitched three innings. They’ve changed that philosophy over the years. It wasn’t considered an exhibition game back then, you played to win, and you took it seriously. Just being there was an honor. I remember the 1953 game, my wife was in the hospital, and my son had just been born. I was starting the All-Star game in Cincinnati thinking about both of them. What a gift. I also remember the 1955 game in Milwaukee. Mickey Mantle hit a ball into the trees outside of the stadium.

You also threw four one-hitters, the best remembered on the night of June 27, 1958. You took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Senators. You got the first two outs, then gave up a double just fair to a guy named Ed Fitzgerald. What goes through a pitcher’s mind when he gets that close to the ultimate game?

At the time, I didn’t think it was that important. I was a team guy, and we wound up winning the game. Sure, I wanted to get him out. He was a first-ball, fastball hitter. We threw him a low breaking ball that he hit off the end of the bat. I won the game [3-0], though, and that was more important to me at the time. Over the years however, I’ve had so many people tell me they were listening to the game on the radio or were at the park watching, that I’ve wanted that one pitch back more now than I ever did then.

You also threw one-hitters on June 15, 1950 (Yankees), April 16, 1953 (Browns) and June 11, 1959 (at Washington). Do you remember anything specific about those games, like who got the hit and in what inning?

The Yankees game, I remembered it rained a couple of times. Billy Johnson got a single to right field in the fifth inning. The St. Louis game, a guy named Bobby Young got a hit, a double I think, to right-center, in the seventh. I don’t remember anything at all about the game at Washington. Whoever got the hit must have done it very early in the game.[Senators hitter Ron Samford doubled to left in the third inning.]

How did you pitch to a friend of yours, Ted Williams

VERY carefully! He would absolutely kill a fastball. And if you should make him look bad on a swing he’d grab his cap and pull it down tighter — you better be careful on your next pitch. I faced a lot of great hitters, but I don’t know of anybody who was better. He’s the only guy I know, who, when he came up to bat, the other guys would be watching him from the dugout and not going inside or using the restroom. I know he didn’t get along with the media, but he was well-liked by the players. He was always helping guys, whether it was his teammates or guys on the other club.

Billy from talking with you and from everything that I’ve read or heard about you, you are a very modest man. What would it mean to you and your family for you to get a call from Cooperstown saying you are now in the Hall of Fame?

It would be a tremendous thrill, the culmination of my life, no question about it. My family and I would appreciate it very much. You have no way of knowing how the people vote; I’m sure all of them have their favorites, so we’ll just have to see.

Wrap up your career for me, will you?

I had a wonderful career. The fans in Chicago couldn’t have been nicer to me and my family. I am very thankful to them.


A Conversation With: Ken Berry

Tension makes a tangle: Ken Berry was part of several first-division twists and turns during his White Sox years. (Sports Illustrated)

He showed himself to be a worthy successor to Jim Landis in the White Sox galaxy of center fielders. His nickname was “The Bandit” because of his ability to rob opponents of sure home runs by vaulting himself onto the center field fence in Comiskey Park, stretching higher still and taking away blasts that seemed destined for the back of the bullpens.

Later in life, Ken Berry would become a noted minor league manager, working with such promising youngsters as John Elway, Robin Ventura, Alex Fernandez and Frank Thomas. And if a major league career spanning 1962 through 1975 wasn’t enough, along with an All-Star appearance and two Gold Gloves, Berry then found himself working in the movies, as fate pointed his way towards a technical advisor position in the baseball film “Eight Men Out.”

Throw in two of the greatest pennant races in White Sox history, and you have quite a story to tell.

Ken told that story from his Kansas home on a Tuesday morning. I found him to be extremely insightful about baseball (possibly because he managed, he was strong in his opinions as to how to play the game) and sure of his White Sox memories, from managers like Al Lopez, Eddie Stanky and Chuck Tanner to a dreadful week in late September 1967.

Yes indeed, it’s quite a story!

Mark Liptak: Ken, how did this love affair begin between you and baseball? I imagine you played it a lot as a kid growing up in Kansas.

Ken Berry: I had played Little League baseball and then American Legion ball. It was only about 25 games a year, not like the 40 or 50 games traveling teams play today. We made it to the regional tournament in Oklahoma City one year, but we were beat by a team with former Yankee great Allie Reynolds’ son on it. Had we won that game, we would have gone to the World Series. I started out as a third baseman and had good speed. I was a wide receiver in football.

By the time you were in college (at what is now Wichita State University), the Sox apparently were very interested in you. Tell us about how you were scouted, and how you signed. And wasn’t Ted Lyons part of the Sox contingent that scouted you?

Ted had come up from Louisiana to watch me play. It was really the only time that I was aware that someone was interested in me for baseball. I had a scholarship to play football in college, like I said I was a wide receiver, and the San Diego Chargers of the old AFL knew about me. But this was the first time for baseball.

You signed with the Sox, worked your way up the minor league system, and made your major league debut on Sept. 9, 1962 in Chicago against the Washington Senators. The Sox won 3-2 in 11 innings, you went 1-for-3. What more do you remember from your first day on the field? (Berry’s first major league hit came in the fifth inning, when he singled to center off of Senators pitcher Bob Baird.)

I don’t remember much, except that the first time I came up to bat I remember shaking badly. I didn’t play much the first few years [Berry appeared in three games in 1962, going 2-for-6.] I was 20 years old at the time, and it just didn’t hit me that I was playing in the major leagues. I guess I just felt that it was my turn.

I do remember Comiskey Park, though. It was big, and it was very tough for hitters to see in those days. Back then you had this gigantic scoreboard. It had all the team names on it, numbers, lights and so on. Light would reflect off it, [making] it was hard to see at the plate. It wasn’t like the backdrops they have today. Also fans could sit in the bleachers then, it wasn’t empty or with a black background like today.

In 1963 and 1964 you were called up late, getting into a total of 16 games. You knocked out your first major league home run in Kansas City on Sept. 25, 1964 as the Sox routed the A’s, 11-3. Do you remember it? (Berry connected in the second inning for a three-run shot off K.C.’s John O’Donoghue.)

No I don’t. I thought I hit it off Catfish Hunter. I used to like to hit off him because he was always around the plate. His attitude was “here it is … try to hit it if you can.”

1964 was the year of the great chase, as the Sox desperately tried to catch the Yankees and clinch the pennant. They would fall short by a single game, and despite winning 98 games on the season would be shut out of the World Series. The Sox won their final nine straight games to close the season out. Talk us through say that final week, and what was the mood in the locker room like when New York finally clinched on the next-to-last day of the season.

I think I played every game down the stretch, which surprised me. Jim Landis had been there for years, and he had been through the pressure. I hit very well in that stretch. Les Moss, my manager in Indianapolis, changed the position of my hands a little bit and I had a good year. (Berry hit .375 in those 12 games, going 12-for-32 with a double, a home run, five walks and four RBIs.)

I remember the Yankees closed out the season with the Indians, who had talked about how they were ready to beat them. Instead, New York won the first two games and won the pennant. The furthest thing from my mind at that time was getting to play in a World Series. I just wanted to play well right then. (The Yankees beat Cleveland 5-2 and 8-3, clinching the title after Saturday’s win.)

1965 was your first full season with the Sox, as on Jan. 20, 1965 the Sox, Indians and A’s were part of a three-way deal sending Landis and Mike Hershberger to Kansas City and Cam Carreon to Cleveland. In return the Sox got back John Romano, Tommy Agee and Tommy John. That year you led the league in game appearances, games started, games finished, put outs and innings played but you only hit .217. Was it just that you were having a hard time adjusting to quality major league pitching?

No, I had hurt my neck playing football when I was 14 making a tackle. For some reason that injury flared up that spring. My neck muscles spasmed and I couldn’t turn my head. I had to turn my body when trying to catch a fly ball; I couldn’t turn my neck the first half of the season. I literally played those games and innings without being able to turn my head. I finally found a Japanese gentleman who lived in Oak Park, I think, and he used muscle interruption therapy to relax the muscles in my neck. The second half of the season I felt better, and hit around .240.

That was a tough year, because I’d always had success in athletics. Also hurting me was the fact that I got an ulcer from the pressure being put on me by [GM] Ed Short. Short kept threatening me, saying he was going to send me down to the minors if I didn’t start playing better. I was hurt. It’s not like I wanted to struggle.

You had known Sox manager Al Lopez  for a number of seasons when you were at spring training, but this was the first time you got to see him on an everyday basis. What kind of man was he, what kind of manager was he?

Al was extremely professional. He and his coaching staff were very close; they’d play golf all the time and knew each other well. He played the percentages, and with the type of pitching staffs that we had, he’d play for one run. We didn’t hit and run or use the delayed steal, for example. We weren’t very aggressive. We did a lot of taking when the count was 3-1. I’m not saying he was wrong, considering the quality of the guys we had on the pitching staff that was probably the right thing to do. But that’s not the way I liked to play, and that’s not what I did when I managed.

The Sox had another fabulous season, finishing second with 95 wins. But some considered the season disappointing given that you guys started off by winning 22 of your first 30 games. Injuries played a part, as both Gary Peters and Juan Pizarro went down, but Lopez also missed time with a stomach ailment in June that season, didn’t he? I imagine the uncertainty with Al didn’t help matters.

Actually, Lopez being sick really wasn’t that big of a distraction because his guys like Tony Cuccinello and Don Gutteridge knew exactly what Al wanted to do. The continuity was still there. The injuries to Peters and Pizarro are what hurt us. When you lose two pitchers who were that good, that really hurt us. We missed the quality starts they gave us.

The other big story that season involved so-called frozen baseballs, a charge made that August by Tigers pitcher Hank Aguirre. Any truth to those accusations?

I didn’t know anything about that aspect. What I did know is how they tailored Comiskey Park to our team, and that really hurt me and the other hitters.

I’ve heard for years from people about how I led the team in batting in 1967 at .241, along with Don Buford. What the fans don’t realize though is that with the pitching staff we had, the park was tailored towards them. The infield grass was kept high so that our infielders could get the balls, our pitchers were basically ground-ball type guys, and the area around home plate was always a swamp. When you stepped in, you could see the water seep up around your spikes. We weren’t that bad of hitters … it’s just that it was very difficult to get ground balls through our infield.

I remember one day, I hit three curve balls hard off Gary Bell and every single one of them hit that area around home plate and died. I don’t think I could hit a ball any harder, yet I had nothing to show for it. That was frustrating. Bell made all three plays and he was laughing as I ran down the line.

For a few reasons, including health, Lopez resigned as White Sox manager in November 1965. He was replaced by Eddie Stanky, which was akin (as Sox historian Rich Lindberg wrote) to letting Al Capone take over the town again. I guess the best place to start is by asking your take on the differences between Al and Eddie.

This is an easy question. The differences were like night and day. Eddie was extremely aggressive as a manager. He always wanted us to put the pressure on the other team. He used the bunt a lot, the hit and run, the delayed steal … we had four or five guys who could run, and we stole a lot of bases.

Eddie had a rule that you tag on every fly ball, at least make a bluff. He wanted to get the opposition to throw the ball around. He’d teach us things like how to try to knock the glove off the opponent when they were going to tag you. There’s a way to do it without being blatant about it and getting the umpire to call you out automatically.

He wanted to win, and he expected you to have the same attitude. I didn’t have a problem with him because I knew that’s the way he was. If you were hurt and couldn’t play, Eddie would take it personally. I was in the trainer’s room one time; I had a bad back. Charlie Saad, our trainer, was working on me trying to get it loose. Eddie came over to see how I was and I told him I didn’t know if I could play. Eddie looked at me and called me a dog. That’s the way he was.

I’d run through a wall for him though, he taught me a lot, and was very thorough about the game. He always said, “You only get 27 outs in a game, so don’t waste them.” When I became a manager myself and looked back at the type of manager Eddie was, I’d say I learned 80% of on-field, aggressive baseball stuff from him. I also learned another 20% of stuff on how not to treat people from him.

When Eddie would do things like his famous “strip tease” act in April 1966 or his comments about Carl Yastrzemski in June 1967, how much tougher did it make it for the Sox players to win games against guys who were upset by his actions? [In April 1966, Stanky launched a verbal tirade at Detroit News sportswriter Watson Spoelstra afterSpoelstra asked what kind of pitch Sox relief pitcher Bob Locker threw to Gates Brown in a key situation. In addition to the verbal rampage, Stanky ripped his uniform top to shreds and threw his spikes against the clubhouse wall. In June 1967, Stanky was quoted as saying about Yaz “he may be an All-Star from the neck down, but in my book he’s a moody ballplayer … and I don’t like moody ballplayers.”]

It didn’t make a difference to me. A lot of the guys would laugh about it. Eddie just didn’t like “Yaz” for some reason. Eddie could be that way. If he didn’t like you, he’d do anything he could to get into your head. I’m sure there were times when Eddie regretted something he said or done, but he wasn’t going to show any weaknesses by apologizing for it.

With all this as a backdrop, the 1967 season started with the Sox considered also-rans, yet somehow you guys won. A 10-game winning streak started on April 30 vaulted the team into first place, where you basically stayed through mid-August. Considering the talent on teams like the Red Sox, Tigers and Twins, the long ball potential they had, how did the White Sox keep winning games?

We won because of pitching, speed and defense. Every team that you mentioned hit about .260 or better that year and when you look at the guys they had, they had lineups than us. We hit about .230 as a team, but we made up for it by doing the little things to win games.

Personally you started to blossom that year: You had a 20-game hitting streak and started playing the kind of outfield defense that earned you the nickname of The Bandit for your ability to rob guys of home runs. Was it simply the fact that now you were comfortable in the major leagues?

During that 20-game hitting streak, everything I hit fell in. Didn’t matter if it was a line drive or a blooper, they all fell in. That happens sometimes. I never really understood hitting until after I retired and started playing slo-pitch softball. In that sport you have to wait for the pitch, keep your weight back, things like that. When I played in the majors I had a lot of bad habits. I had bad balance, I dove into balls and had poor recognition on pitches. I used to be an aggressive hitter, I was uncomfortable having two strikes on me so often I’d swing early in the count [and] sometimes they weren’t the best pitches.

That year you were named to the All-Star team for the game in Anaheim. What was that experience like for you?

It wasn’t a good one. I was hitting above .300 when the players voted for the team, but by the time the game came around I was down to around .255 or so. I finished fourth in the player voting for outfielders but Orioles manager Hank Bauer, who had the team that year, said he wasn’t going to pick me despite the player vote.

It turned out that right before the break we played the Orioles. Tom Phoebus threw me a pitch that I hit for a home run and as I was rounding the bases I yelled, “take that, Bauer!” In that same series Frank Robinson, who was going to be in the game, took out Al Weis trying to break up a double play. Weis suffered a torn ACL and was through for the season but Robinson got hit in the head when he made contact with Al and had double vision for a long time, so he was out of the [All-Star] game. Then that Sunday, Al Kaline popped up in a key situation and broke his hand when he punched the water cooler, so he was out of the [All-Star] game. When that happened, Bauer said he’d take me.

The game itself started in twilight, and nobody at the plate could see anything. I’m sitting there on the bench watching guys like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Tony Oliva and Harmon Killebrew just strike out. I don’t think the fans wanted to see an All-Star Game where the pitchers just struck everyone out. [That game went 15 innings, with the National League winning 2-1 on a home run by Tony Perez. Both pitching staffs combined for 30 strikeouts!] Finally in the last of the 15th, Bauer says to grab a bat. I go up there against Tom Seaver, and he strikes me out on three pitches to end the game.

Ken it was right there going into the final week of the season. The Sox trailed Minnesota by a game and closed the season with the A’s and the Senators. The World Series was so close Sox fans could taste it. Even opponents like Mike Andrews of the Red Sox told me that he and his teammates saw who the Sox were going to play and said it was all over. The trouble was, in reality it was all over for the Sox, who dropped all five games and saw their chances blown away in a 1-0 loss to Washington on the last Friday of the year. It’s been a long time, but I know you have to remember that week.

We went into that last week running out of gas. Stanky didn’t substitute, so we played every inning of every game. Maybe we were just worn out. The other thing was that, yes, Kansas City and Washington were the two worst teams, but they had some good young players who were coming up. They were impressive, and you have to give them credit. We also didn’t play well defensively, making three or four errors. [In the doubleheader loss to the A’s on Wednesday, September 27 the Sox made three errors, leading to three unearned runs.]

The other thing I remember was that when we came home to face the Senators, we still had a chance to win the pennant but in the stands there were only like 13,000 or 14,000 people. We should have had 40,000 or so to help cheer us on. It was just a downward spiral.” [The Sox came home for a weekend series with Washington. The Friday night game on September 29 drew 12,665. The Sox lost 1-0 and were eliminated.]

Some of your teammates on that club have told me they still haven’t gotten over the shock of seeing the pennant slip away like that. Over the years, did you ever wonder “what if?”

I don’t deal with that a whole lot. The only time I ever thought “what if” was when I think that maybe I should have done something like invite Al Kaline out for a cup of coffee and talk about hitting. Spend some time with some of the great hitters I played against. Maybe if I did that, I could have picked up some things and been a much better hitter. That wasn’t my nature, however. I just never did that.”

The collapse came the following year, and from 1968-70 despite having talented guys like you, Ed Herrmann, Luis Aparicio, Joe Horlen, Peters and John, the Sox were awful. Why couldn’t those teams win?

Look at the guys the Sox traded: Weis, Don Buford, Agee, Tommy McCraw, all the guys who could run. The trades completely changed the team around. The Sox completely lost their aggressiveness.

I remember one game I was sitting right next to the manager. We had a guy on first and the hitter was ahead in the count 2-1 or 3-1. I said, “Boy this would be a great spot for a hit-and-run.” The manager looked at me and said, “Oh noooo. The hitter might miss and the runner could get thrown out at second.” Right there was the problem. The Sox played boring, lackluster baseball, just waiting to get beat.

You had some personal success, though. In 1970, you hit .276 and won your first Gold Glove. Sox fans of that time remember you against the center field fence vaulting high to grab what should have been home runs. Was that something you actually practiced?

I worked on those leaping catches every single day. Every day I practiced stealing home runs. During batting practice, I’d clear out the other guys from center field and start working. I’d throw my hat down to give me an idea of where I started from and I’d just start going after fly balls. After I’d make the catch I could see how far I went to get them and that gave me an idea of what I could do in a game.”

Probably the greatest catch I ever made came when I was with the Angels. We were in Baltimore and Terry Crowley, a strong left-handed hitter, drove a ball in the gap. Andy Messersmith was pitching, it was late in the game and the Orioles had a couple guys on base. The fence in Baltimore was like the one in Comiskey Park, a chain link one with green slats covering it. I ran and leaped and got my spike in the fence and vaulted up about nine feet high. I made the catch with my arm, glove, head and upper body going over the fence then snapping back on to the field. Somehow I held on to the ball. I wish I had that video.

You know, I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for a long time. One time I was watching ESPN baseball with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Miller reminded Morgan that late in his career he played some outfield and asked what it was like. Morgan said, “It wasn’t like being at second base. You could relax out there.” I was sitting at home and started shaking my head. When I played center field, I was responsible for my other two outfielders as far as positioning them. I had to know who was hitting. I had to know what my pitchers were going to throw them. When I was in Comiskey Park, I’d have to keep checking the wind because it would often shift or swirl. I had to always be ready. Yet Morgan said you could “relax” when you played the outfield.

One of the most bizarre plays you’d ever want to see took place on Sept. 18, 1971, and you were involved in it as a member of the Angels. It took place in Comiskey Park, on a hit off the bat of Carlos May. I was sitting near Harry Caray in the center field bleachers when it happened. It took place in the first inning, with the bases loaded. Tom Murphy was the pitcher. Will you take it from there?

I was playing left field, and Mickey Rivers was in center that day. Carlos sliced a ball down the line and it was tailing away from me. I left my feet to try to make a diving catch but missed. I hit the turf really hard and got shook up a little. By the time Mickey got to the ball everyone scored. It wasn’t one of my prouder moments; in fact I’ve been trying to forget it! [laughing]. That’s one of those lessons: If you are going to dive for the ball, you sure better get a glove on it.” [Berry was replaced immediately after the play. His spot was taken by Tony Gonzales.]

You also had the chance to manage in the minor leagues for a number of years. You had John Elway when you were with the Yankees. You managed for the Padres, and also the White Sox, in Birmingham. Can you list some of the kids you had the chance to work with who later went on to the South Side?

That was the year our Birmingham team was like a runaway train. We just beat everyone in the league. We won 14 in a row at one point. I had guys like Robin Ventura, Matt Merullo, Rich Amaral, Frank Thomas and Craig Grebeck.

Our style was to be aggressive; that’s what I learned from Eddie Stanky. We did a lot of things like hit-and-run, steal bases, move guys along. I had a little problem, though, because I couldn’t figure out who should be my cleanup hitter. None of the guys I had really fit. Finally I came up with the idea of having Grebeck hit cleanup. (Yes, that’s 5´8´´, 160-pound Craig Grebeck!) It worked out perfectly because Craig could do so many things with the bat. He’d get the sacrifice fly, hit a ground ball to get the guy over, come up with the big two out hit. He had something like 87 RBIs that year and was the MVP. He had such a big heart, and when he played with the Sox I thought he was the best utility guy in the league because he could play three infield positions and play them very well.

ML: I’d like to zero in on Frank. Even from his first few days in the majors, he had an uncanny ability to be able to hit the ball hard and far, but also he had an incredible ability to draw walks, to work a pitcher and know the strike zone. You played against Hall-of-Famers like Al Kaline, Tony Oliva, Harmon Killebrew and Yastrzemski. As a hitter how does Frank compare with those greats?

Don’t forget, he was such a big man that he had a big strike zone. He hit with a little bit of a crouch, and it was remarkable the knowledge he had of the strike zone. The last thing I told him when he was called up was “don’t stop hitting the ball to center field.” With him, he had such power, that he could do that and the ball would still go 450-500 feet. Also doing that let you see the ball just a little longer to tell the type of pitch it was.

You also got the opportunity to be the technical advisor on the baseball movie, “Eight Men Out,” directed by John Sayles. How did you get that chance?

I was managing in Appleton, Wis. for the Royals. The Twins farm club was being managed by a friend of mine, Don Leppert. We had a good season, but they had an outstanding June draft, and those guys were assigned to that team and they caught us for the league title at the end. They won something like 13 in a row.

Anyway Leppert calls me after it’s over and asks me what I’m doing in the offseason. I told him just going back home. He asked if I’d like to help on a movie. He was in charge of the Twins instructional league and couldn’t help on this picture. So he gave me the number of the person to call, I did, and got to be technical advisor on “Eight Men Out.” It took about two months, and I had a great time.

Some of the actors involved in that movie, especially Charlie Sheen, had been around the game all their life and had played it competitively. I’d imagine you could tell fairly quickly who could play and who couldn’t. Was their anybody else besides Sheen who impressed you that way? [Sheen, while attending Yale University, was the last cut from the baseball team his freshmen year. He was a pitcher, and later used that experience playing Ricky Vaughn in the movie “Major League.”]

D.B. Sweeney knew what he was doing. He had a good idea of how to play the game. John Cusack was pretty athletic, it’s just that era-wise he wasn’t quite right. He was trying to do a lot of things that just didn’t happen on a ball field in the 1920s. He did make some athletic stops at third base in the movie, he’d just dive fully extended and make the catch. I was hitting those balls to him off camera with a fungo bat, and I was hitting them good.

I enjoyed working with John Sayles. He was a good director. He’d give me the scenes that we needed to shoot, and we’d work on them. I remember one where Sheen had to make a catch, then hit the unpadded portion of the park we were shooting in. [The game scenes were filmed in Indianapolis where the White Sox had their top farm team for many years. Berry himself played there in 1963 and 1964.] I showed Charlie how to make the catch and then spin into the wall so that he really wasn’t hitting it that hard. So we did the shot, and Charlie unfortunately forgot about spinning and just slammed right into it. He also tore up his leg pretty good when he caught it on a piece that was sticking out from the door. One other thing about Charlie stands out: I was throwing the ball, and he had to dive and make the catch. On one play, he did it fully extended, directly over his head. Just remarkable. It was something like Willie Mays did in the World Series.

You also got the chance for a small, on-camera speaking part in the film. What’s the story behind that? (Towards the end of the movie, as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is playing under an assumed name in a minor league game, a fan heckles him over his lack of intelligence. After Jackson belts a triple, while standing on third base he gives it right back to the fan. That fan was Berry!)

I was actually supposed to play the part of the thug that threatens to kill Lefty Williams’ wife if he doesn’t throw the last game. So I practiced the role and had it down right, when the girl in charge of casting said that she wanted to make a change. She said that hearing my voice every day during filming made her think the part of the heckler was the right one.”

So I started working on that, and felt I had it OK. One day Sayles comes up to me and says, “Are you ready?” He also said that because it was late in the day and the sun was going down it had to be done in one take. You talk about pressure! So we got into position, I had called up a friend of mine Dick Kenworthy, who lived in the area and asked him, “You want to be in a movie?” He was sitting right next to me in the scene. [Kenworthy played for the Sox in 1962 and from 1964 through the 1968 seasons. His best year was 1967 as he had four doubles, a triple and four home runs in 97 at bats.] So we did it, and I was so proud that I was actually able to do it in one take.

Your son Layne was in the Sox minor league system at one time. He spent time with you while you were working on the movie, right?

He was around seven when that movie was being made. I’d hit balls to him on the field during the day and he make diving catches. Some balls almost knocked him down, but that’s where he caught the bug for the game. He’d make a nice catch, and the people watching the movie being made would start applauding. He liked hearing that sound.

Over a decade, counting your minor league days in the White Sox system, can you wrap up that entire experience for me?

I had some great years and great memories in Chicago. I was so fortunate to play under the Sox managers I did, because they all gave me something that I could use later when I became a manager myself. Al Lopez was part of the old guard and I learned working the percentages from him, Eddie Stanky taught me a lot about the game and the aggressive style that I think wins in baseball, and Chuck Tanner, who was only my manager for about a month, taught me how to be a player’s manager. He and Roland Hemond were exactly the type of people the Sox needed, at the right time.

It wasn’t easy, and I went through some tough times with the Sox, but that’s part of life. Baseball can drive you crazy at times! The fans were good to me, and I appreciate the fact that they still remember “The Bandit.”


A Conversation With: Wilbur Wood

He is a member of a very select fraternity. It’s a fraternity that goes beyond the usual small fraternity of former major league baseball players. It’s so small that you can count the members on both hands, if that.

That fraternity is composed of former pitchers who excelled as both starter and relievers.

Think about it. How many pitchers can you name who did well in both roles? A few immediately come to mind: Dennis Eckersley, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, John Smoltz and Hoyt Wilhelm, but many fans don’t know that Wilbur Wood was both a league-leading relief pitcher and a league-leading starter in his days with the Sox.

Wood’s White Sox career spanned from 1967 through 1978, and during it he was a key part of three of the most memorable White Sox teams in club history.

1967 Wood was a part of the deep bullpen the Sox had, as the “Near Miss” White Sox had the World Series squarely in their sights until a disastrous final week.

1972 Wood was the lead starter on the 1972 “Outhouse or Penthouse” White Sox [Note: That phrase was authored by Sox outfielder Rick Reichardt when talking about the surprising season.] Those Sox battled the Oakland A’s down to the final week for the Western Division championship. If not for the back injury to third baseman Bill Melton, the A’s dynasty of the 70’s might never have happened.

1977 Wood was also a spot starter on the 1977 “South Side Hit Men” Sox club that smashed all existing team hitting records and has carried on as the baseball version of the 1985 Chicago Bears.

Wilbur was one of the most popular Chicago athletes in the 70’s in part because he wasn’t 6´5´´, with a body by Adonis. Wilbur looked like your Uncle Butch or Cousin George. He was an everyman. And all Sox fans could relate to a guy who didn’t look like a sculpted god yet somehow found a way to consistently get major league hitters out again and again.

Wilbur was a three-time All-Star, a four-time 20-game winner, and recorded 57 saves and 163 wins in his career with the White Sox. He was named the 1968 American League Fireman of the Year, and in 1972 was both the American League Pitcher of the Year and the left-handed starting pitcher on The Sporting News American League All-Star team.

Wood led the American League in 33 different categories during his playing days, most of them in the good column. Among them were leading the league in appearances, games started, games finished, innings pitched (including a mind-blowing 376 innings pitched in 1972!), batters faced, wins and getting hitters to ground into double plays.

He had consecutive scoreless inning streaks of 29 in 1973 and 27 ⅔ in 1972. He tossed three complete-game two-hitters, with two of those taking 11 innings. He also added nine complete-game three-hitters. Wood started both ends of a double header twice [Note: Once because of rain that allowed an off-day. Wilbur finished the suspended game against Cleveland that began on May 26, 1973, then after a 30-minute break, began the regularly-scheduled game. This happened on May 28, 1973] and was named to the White Sox All-Century team.

There will never be another pitcher like Wilbur Wood.

When I spoke with Wilbur the topics were varied, from how and why he learned to throw the knuckleball, to how he became a starting pitcher and his initial reluctance to do so, to the pennant races of 1967, 1972 and 1977, his relationship with Eddie Stanky and Chuck Tanner, pitching so many innings and stories of his teammates during those great days.

He’s a unique man with a unique story.

Mark Liptak: Wilbur, you came to the Sox on Oct. 12, 1966. Juan Pizarro was the player eventually sent to the Pirates for you. Why don’t we start about how you found out about the deal and your reaction to it?

Wibur Wood: I actually found out about it from a friend. I was at home and got a call from someone saying they heard it over the radio! I guess it was later in the day that I got a call from the White Sox letting me know about it.

Your career was floundering with both the Red Sox and the Pirates, but then in 1967 (51 games, four wins, four saves and an ERA of 2.45) suddenly it all turned around. How did that happen? 

I had spent parts of seven years in the big leagues, and as my record showed things weren’t going that well. I was signed as a fastball/curve ball pitcher and did very well with those in the minor leagues, but they just weren’t good enough for the majors. I’d be fine for three or four innings, but after I went through the batting order once I’d start to get hit. I just decided to junk my curve and everything else and go 100% with the knuckleball. I actually had thrown that pitch a long time; I started using it back in high school and semipro ball. Sometimes I’d still throw a fastball to get the hitter’s timing off ,but that was only once in a while.

Hoyt Wilhelm and Eddie Fisher were already on the Sox at that time and they threw the knuckleball a lot. Did they teach you anything about it that you didn’t know?

We’d talk more about the finer points of the pitch. It’s funny, but all knuckleballers tend to throw the pitch the same way. I recently spoke with Tim Wakefield at a charity golf tournament, and he held the pitch the same way I did, which is the same way Hoyt and Eddie did.

How was your knuckleball different from Hoyt’s and Eddie’s?

My pitch had a tendency to break down and away from right-handed hitters. Eddie’s had a tendency to break down and in to them. Hoyt’s was unpredictable: When he threw it, it could go all over the strike zone.

The wind could change how the pitch was moving as well. The area around home plate in most of the stadiums that I pitched was where the wind would blow after it bounced off the stands, or in some parks like the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota, just come right in and bounce the pitch around. A knuckleball acts by having the wind push against the seams.

I always used to feel sorry for White Sox catchers. Guys like J.C. Martin, Gerry McNertney, Ed Herrmann. It had to be rough trying to catch not one, not two, but three different knuckleball pitchers.

Well remember that the guys who caught us on the Sox, and I’d mention Pete Varney as well, they came up through the Sox system and in spring training they’d catch us. In the spring, because you have so many pitchers in camp, you’d bring in just about every catcher in the organization. So these guys had a chance to see [knuckleballs] for three years or so. Then when they made the Sox, they were used to it. Now if guys came in from somewhere else like in a trade, and never saw that pitch before, it would be tough.

Hawk Harrelson has commented on the fact that he didn’t understand why more pitchers don’t try learning that pitch. He mentioned it might really help guys who are struggling, or coming off an arm injury. When you pitched, Wilhelm, Fisher, Phil and Joe Niekro and Jim Bouton, among others, threw the knuckler. Any thoughts on why the knuckleball has become a lost art? 

See, if you are trying to learn the pitch because you’ve had an injury, it’s too late. I used to get a lot of calls when I was playing from pitchers who got hurt, and they’d ask about throwing it. The knuckleball isn’t something that’s learned overnight. I threw it for years, from when I was in high school. It takes that long to get used to it. What major league organization is going to give a pitcher three or four years to master the pitch?

That 1967 season was the season the Sox almost won the pennant. It’s been a long time, but I imagine the disappointment of that final week (where the Sox lost all five games to the lowly A’s and Senators) still remains.

That was my first good year in the major leagues, and I remember getting caught up in all of it. We were right there until the last week.

[The Sox closed the 1967 season with two games in Kansas City and three at home to Washington — the two worst teams in the league. After sweeping Cleveland that weekend, the Sox flew to Kansas City where they were off Monday. Tuesday’s game was rained out, and they played a doubleheader Wednesday night. The Sox were actually off for three days, because they last played Sunday afternoon — unheard of in a pennant race. Chicago lost both games, and then were off again Thursday before hosting the Senators. The White Sox were beat 1-0, eliminated from the four-team pennant race, then played flat and lost both weekend games to finish the season.]

One thing I particularly remember from 1967 was after manager Eddie Stanky made those comments about Carl Yastrzemski. [On June 5 before a series in Chicago, Stanky commented that Yastrzemski “May be an All-Star from the neck down, but in my book he’s a moody ballplayer. And I don’t like moody ballplayers.”] We went into Boston and played them in a big series. Every tomato in the city of Boston was in Fenway Park, and when Eddie went out to change pitchers the fans let him have it … and he couldn’t dodge them all! I was sitting in the bullpen laughing my ass off watching it.

You were a quick study with the knuckleball, because by 1970 you were one of the top relief pitchers in all of baseball, including your stellar season in 1968. [In 1968, Wood led the league with 88 appearances, with 13 wins, 16 saves and an ERA of 1.87 for a team that won just 67 games. Wood also saved 15 games in 1969 and 21 games in 1970, both for terrible teams.] Why do you think you were able to pick up the nuances of that pitch the way you did where others couldn’t?

I was fortunate because I was always able to throw strikes with the knuckleball. That was my biggest asset. I was always around the plate. Eddie (Herrmann) never even had to put down a sign, he knew what I was going to throw, I knew what I was going to throw, and the fans knew what I was going to throw.

In the 1970s when Carlton Fisk was with the Red Sox and we’d play them, I’d scream at him from the mound because he’d waste so much time. I’d yell, “Get in the box; I’m throwing a god damn knuckleball, not a fastball. You know it!” I mean why prolong the agony, right? [laughing]

The White Sox fell on miserable times in the late 1960s and 1970. They lost more games in that three-year period than at any other time in franchise history. The Sox lost 106 games in 1970 alone. It had to be agony going to the park every day. I don’t know how you guys kept your sanity!

It was awful. I’ll tell you how bad it was. The only games that I ever wanted to come into were games where I could pick up a save. I never wanted to go into games where the score was tied, because I knew, and everybody on the team knew, that we’d find some way to lose the game. We had no chance. The pitchers knew it and the position players knew it.

Joe Horlen told me about his 1971 spring training injury, which caused him to miss most of the season. But that’s only half of the story, because as a direct result of his injury Chuck Tanner began considering the option of making you a starting pitcher. I have heard you were against the move but for the sake of the team decided to give it a try. Why the initial opposition?

That was a strange situation, because even before the injury I was almost traded. It’s true; the Sox had a deal in place with Washington. I was going to be traded for Darold Knowles. But I was holding out that year. I was fighting for more money, and I never signed a contract. So the trade was null and void. It was pretty apparent that Chuck didn’t want me in the bullpen. He wanted hard-throwing guys, and we had players like Terry Forster and “Goose” Gossage coming up, so I became a starter. Roland Hemond said this one time, and it’s true: “Sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.”

As a pitcher, can you talk a little about the differences in preparation between starting and coming in to finish games?

I enjoyed pitching in relief, because I knew when I went to the park that there was a chance I’d get in the game. When you are a starting pitcher, you pitch — then sit for three or four days. I used to take ground balls in the infield on days when I wasn’t pitching just to keep busy, and I’d run a little bit, but sitting around just wasn’t for me.

The 1971 season was the start of an incredible run of success for you. (42 starts, seven shutouts, a save, 334 innings pitched, 210 strikeouts, 22 wins and an amazing ERA of 1.91.) A lot of folks felt that you should have won the Cy Young because you threw a very unpredictable pitch, a knuckleball, whereas Vida Blue, who did win the honor, had a conventional arsenal of pitches. Did you think you had a chance to win the award, and how did you feel about that season? (Wood never faced Blue head-to-head that season. Wood finished third in the voting, behind Blue and Mickey Lolich.)

Honestly, I didn’t think about the Cy Young back in those days. At the time, it wasn’t that important to me. Looking back, would I have liked to have won it? Sure.

I’d imagine that by the end of the year, you were comfortable starting games.

I was a little apprehensive at first doing this, it was just like before any game you’re always a little nervous. But when you start having success you get comfortable, and I had success starting right away. I was tickled pink that things turned out the way they did.

The Sox made great strides from the disaster of 1970 to 1971, but heading into the 1972 season did you expect the team to be as good as it was, even with Dick Allen on board?

I thought in the spring that we’d have a pretty good team because the guys weren’t selfish. They did what they had to do to win games. I knew that we’d win games, but I didn’t know how many. As far as Dick, he made all the difference in the world. He was a tremendous hitter. [Strike-shortened 1972 saw the Sox win 87 games and finish 5 ½ games behind the eventual World Champion A’s. Allen would win the AL MVP and narrowly miss winning the Triple Crown. He finished with a .308 batting average, 37 home runs and 113 RBIs.]

By June 4, 1972, the date of the famous “Dick Allen Chili-Dog Game” against the Yankees (in a doubleheader nightcap with New York the White Sox trailed 4-2 with two on and two out in the ninth. Tanner wanted Allen to pinch-hit but he was eating a chili dog. He wolfed down his snack, getting chili all over his jersey. On the third pitch from Sparky Lyle, Allen blasted a three-run, game-winning home run.), the Sox were an amazing 18-2 at home. As a guy who occasionally gave up some long fly balls, I’d imagine you enjoyed playing in a pitcher’s park. 

Oh, absolutely. I loved pitching in Comiskey Park. It had a big outfield, and gave you room for a mistake. I’d spin one and a guy would hit it, yet most of the time our outfielders were able to run it down because they had the room to get to balls in the gaps.

You were selected for your second All-Star Game, and in this one you actually pitched. How was that experience for you? (In the 1971 game at Detroit ,neither Wood nor teammate Melton appeared. In the 1972 game in Atlanta, Wilbur pitched two innings, allowing one run on two hits with a strikeout, as the National League won 4-3, in 10 innings.)

It was a great experience for me. Just a lot of fun. I’d gone the year before, but it was a great thrill to actually be able to participate in one of these.

Wilbur, you pitched a lot of great games, but to me this was your best with the Sox. On Sunday, Aug. 12, 1972 in Oakland, the Sox had cut a seemingly safe A’s lead of 8 ½ games down to one. The White Sox had split the first two games of this huge series, and you took the mound against Blue Moon Odom. Two hours and forty five minutes later, you walked off the mound a 3-1 winner in 11 innings, having fired a two-hitter. The Sox were now tied for first place in the division. What do you remember from that afternoon? (The complete game was Wilbur’s 20th win of the year.)

I’m sorry, that I don’t remember any more details [besides] when Ed Spiezio hit the [game-winning] home run. To me, even though it meant going into a tie for first place, it was just another day. Like I said, I’d get a little nervous before the game, but once you go to the bullpen and start throwing you get into the flow of the day and forget about everything else.

When I spoke with your catcher and teammate Ed Herrmann, he told me that he felt whoever won that series would win the division, but that it took so much out of you guys just to get that split that it drained you and Oakland was able to pull away.

Ed’s right. It was draining, especially on the position players. In a big series like we had with Oakland, a lot is expected of players. It’s draining. Plus, we had kept knocking on the door that season trying to catch those guys [and] that becomes draining, too. Because we were in a pennant race, we had to play our guys every day. That race was so close, you just couldn’t give guys time off.

If Bill Melton wasn’t lost for the season with the herniated disc on June 28 of that year, do the Sox win the West? (Melton, the 1971 American League home run champion, fell off his garage roof the previous November getting down his son who somehow wandered up on it. He fell on his back, which damaged a disc. Bill went to spring training and played through it the first few months of the year, but the condition got worse, with pain shooting down his legs because of pressure on a nerve.)

I don’t know if we would have won, but I know our chances would have been a hell of a lot better.

You pitched almost 377 innings tin 1972, an astonishing total, with eight shutouts, 24 wins, and an ERA of 2.51. Even though the knuckleball was your primary pitch, were you ever concerned about throwing that many innings?

I didn’t think about it that much. I was throwing the ball well; I had been in a groove the entire season. I wanted to give it a shot, I enjoyed it. I also didn’t like down time, just sitting around. So when they said “do you want to pitch every second day or third day?” I said “sure.”

People said I didn’t get sore because all I threw was the knuckleball, but that’s not true. I’d get stiff and sore, and in those days pitchers never used ice. I didn’t get as sore as if I was throwing, say, a slider, because I wasn’t putting the pressure on my elbow and shoulder, but I did get sore.

Hopes were never higher than in 1973. The Sox were the favorites according to the press, Melton was back and the team got off to a roaring start. By late May, the Sox were 26-14, with a t3 ½-game lead over the Angels. But even before injuries tore up the team (the team used the disabled list 38 times), the Sox weren’t very happy. GM Stu Holcomb’s hard line salary policy alienated many guys. Players like Rick Richardt, Mike Andrews, Jay Johnstone and Spiezio were released when they couldn’t come to terms, and that decimated the depth of the club. What was the mood in the locker room that season?

I don’t remember exact instances in the locker room where players got mad, but I’m shocked about the number of times we used the disabled list. I didn’t realize we used it that often.

As for you personally, an oddity took place on May 28, 1973, when you started the completion of a suspended game against the Indians and then after you won that one, went out and beat them again in the regularly-slated game. What was that experience like? (Wood’s line for the night: 14 innings, one run, seven hits, nine strikeouts, for a 13-3 record and it wasn’t even June yet!)

When a game goes that long, everybody figures that basically it would be over in an inning or two. It was my night to start anyway, so I figured I can give them an inning or two. It turned out the [suspended] game went five innings. I felt fine [and] knew I could throw a few more innings at least, so I started the second game. Everything was going well, so I just kept going and was able to finish it off.

I don’t know if both of these are related or not, perhaps you can shed some light on it. The 1973 Sox were ruined by injuries. It seemed everybody from Brian Downing to Allen to Ken Henderson to Carlos May were hurt. On July 20, 1973 in New York you started both ends of a doubleheader against the Yankees. Was that because of the injuries to the team, perhaps the pitching staff, or did you and Tanner have something else in mind? (Wood wasn’t sharp that day losing 12-2 and 7-0. He became the first pitcher to start both ends of a regularly-scheduled doubleheader since Cincinnati’s Fred Toney on June 23, 1918.)

No that wasn’t planned. Chuck was going to start someone else in game two, but I got knocked out early in the first game. I told Chuck I didn’t pitch much; I can go back out if you need me. Maybe I shouldn’t have, because they beat me up in the second game too! [laughing] That was strange, because I always had good success against the Yankees. (Wilbur failed to record an out in game one, giving up four hits and five earned runs. In game two he lasted 4 ⅓ innings, again allowing five earned runs.)

Despite the Sox being mediocre in 1973 and 1974 you still won 20 games, running that 20-win streak to four straight seasons. You made the All-Star Game again in 1973, but there was something missing from the Sox in those years. It wasn’t like in 1971 and 1972. Any idea what went wrong?

Well the injuries played a big part, and overall we were getting older. The team wasn’t as young as in 1971 and 1972.

When Bill Veeck took control of the Sox again in December 1975, he let Tanner go as manager. What was it like to play for Chuck? He seemed to be the exact opposite of your first Sox manager, Eddie Stanky.

Chuck was a player’s manager. I enjoyed playing for Chuck, we all did. Chuck was the most positive guy I’ve ever been around. No matter how bad things were going Chuck would always find something to be positive about, something to try to keep you going.

In fact, Chuck spent more time with guys who were having trouble or in a slump then with guys who were going well. I thought that was really smart. Remember in baseball you only have 25 guys, if two or three guys are down or having a hard time suddenly your roster is really short. Chuck tried to keep everybody ready to play because that gave us a better chance of winning.

In 1976, the Sox arguably weren’t any better than the versions from 1974 and 1975 but you personally were off to a great start. Opening Day for example, you shut out the Royals, 4-0. By early May of that year you were pitching brilliantly again: five complete games in seven starts, ERA less than 2.50 and a winning record. It all came apart in Detroit, courtesy of a line drive off the bat of Ron LeFlore. What do you remember about the injury and what was broken?

Ron hit me in the kneecap with a line drive, and it just blew it apart. He swung at a ball using an inside-out swing.That’s always the toughest for a pitcher to pick up, because it looks like he’s pulling the ball. Instead, he hit it right back up the middle. I never saw it. I wasn’t trying to catch it, I was just trying to get out of the way.

Originally, the kneecap was wired together to hold it in place. I didn’t have a cast. The doctors felt this way it would heal quicker, and maybe I could be out there in September. That September, I was working out at home trying to get ready to come back when I slipped on the grass and the kneecap went out again. This time, they had to put some pins in it to hold it together and I had a cast on, so I was done for the season.

My father had the same type of injury, a broken kneecap, and I saw how tough it was for him. He was older then you when he got hurt, but given that you were 35 at the time ,was there any question about coming back for the next season?

No, because I had another year on my contract. I had signed a two-year deal with the Sox in 1976, so I was going to come back.

The 1977 season turned out to be magical for the Sox, one that is still cherished by Sox fans. Was there any indication in the spring that this club would be as good as it turned out to be?

No, not in spring training, but looking back we did have a lot of guys who wanted to play. We had guys like Eric Soderholm coming back from injury, and we had a lot of fighters.

You started 18 games that season and pitched some good ones, including what I call the Lamar Johnson game on June 19, 1977. (The Sox played the A’s in a doubleheader, winning 2-1 and 5-1 behind Wood and Francisco Barrios. Wood started the first game, going eight innings on six hits. It’s called the Lamar Johnson game, though, because the first baseman/DH sang the National Anthem, then went out and got the only three White Sox hits, two of them solo home runs.) You still had that magic.

Well, maybe, but to tell you the truth, I was gun shy. I’ll admit it. LeFlore’s shot got to me. I pitched everybody inside, I wasn’t going to let them get out on the ball and maybe hit another one back up the middle. It’s hard to pitch that way.

This team electrified Sox fans because of their ability to pound the baseball and win games in dramatic fashion. Sox fans demanded something that wasn’t seen in baseball until then, the curtain call. Adding to it Nancy Faust’s rendition of “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” would send the crowd into a frenzy. Some of your teammates have told me that wasn’t a big deal; others have said they were uncomfortable with it because they felt opponents were being shown up. What were your feelings on all this?

You would have to put me in with the group that was uncomfortable with all that. I always had a saying, “Don’t wake up sleeping dogs.” Let ’em stay quiet, and leave town with a 5-4 loss. They’d say “Well we played a good game, and if we made one play, we would have won it.” Don’t wake them up;let them go home happy. Of course you see [curtain calls] more now, but back then it was a different story.

The season ended too quickly for Sox fans, as the team couldn’t keep up with an unbelievable Kansas City surge (the Royals went 35-4 from August 17 and September 25). When the Sox lost both Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble to free agency, everyone knew the magic was gone. The team was pretty bad in 1978, but you still had a respectable season going 10-10 for a team that only won 71 games. When did you decide it was time to retire?

In September 1978, the Sox traded me to Milwaukee, but I didn’t want to go. I’m sure that bothered the folks in Milwaukee, but I figured that I’d try the free-agent market that offseason and see what happened. Well, I wasn’t offered a uniform by anybody! That was the end of it. It was time. I wasn’t myself. I was gun-shy since the LeFlore hit.

You were named by the fans as a member of the White Sox All-Century Team. How did you get the news, and what was your reaction?

Roland Hemond gave me a call to let me know about it. Then that summer, we made the trip to Chicago. It was a great honor. Thanks be to the knuckleball that made it all possible! [laughing]

You spent 12 years in a Sox uniform. This is going to be hard, but how about summing up your time for me on the South Side and those fantastic years?

I was fortunate. I spent 12 very pleasurable years in Chicago. We had some decent years. Granted, we never won a championship, but more often than not we were in the hunt for it. Those are the seasons where you start playing in April and you look around and realize it’s September already. You ask yourself, ‘Where did it all go?’ Those are the years that I had the most fun and that I’ll remember.







A Conversation With: Tony La Russa

I first wrote Tony La Russa back in the early 80’s when I was working at KNOE-TV in Monroe, La. As a big White Sox fan, I wanted to directly let him know my thoughts and opinions on how the team and organization was progressing. To my surprise, he answered with a hand written letter several pages long on his own stationary. He took the time to go over each point I made, good or bad, and explained the reasoning behind his actions. To say I was impressed would be an understatement, and that letter is one of my cherished possessions.

In 1983 the Sox opened what would eventually be a championship season in Texas. I took some vacation time, got media credentials and drove to Arlington to see the series in person. Standing on the field watching guys like Carlton Fisk, Greg Luzinski and Harold Baines take batting practice was an experience. But I also had the chance to do a radio interview with Tony near the batting cage, and appreciated the fact that he took some time out to talk.

We stayed in touch over the years every so often, but I never was able to get the chance to really spend some time with him and pick his brain on his days with the White Sox. That finally happened when his agent helped arrange a phone interview, which took place shortly after Christmas in December 2014. We talked for two and a half hours, and I could tell Tony really was getting into it, that this was an area that he hadn’t explored in quite some time. I also got the distinct impression with Tony having a law degree, that before he answered any question from me, he was giving serious thought to that answer … how it would be perceived, if he was recalling events correctly … things like that.

It was truly a memorable time for me and an interview that I’ll never forget.

So, “submitted for your edification” as Rod Serling once said on an episode of Night Gallery, is my interview with Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa.

Tony La Russa is a member of the Hall of Fame, as one of the greatest managers in baseball history. In 33 years he won 2,728 games. He won three World Series titles with Oakland and St. Louis. He won six pennants. He made 14 postseason appearances and managed six All-Star games. He made his reputation leading the A’s and Cardinals.

But before that, before all the wins and the World Series titles, Tony started his career in Chicago as manager of the White Sox, from August 1979 (succeeding Don Kessinger) through June 1986 (when he was fired by GM Hawk Harrelson). This two-and-a-half-hour phone interview was a fascinating look inside one of the smartest men to ever manage in baseball, and one of only five to have had a law degree — and all of those law alums ended up in the Hall of Fame. You’ll see La Russa was thoughtful, direct, funny and humble, remembering his days with the White Sox with great fondness.

Mark Liptak: What was your baseball history before you came to the Sox as manager?

Tony La Russa: I played 16 years in baseball, mostly in the minor leagues, and I was hurt for five of the first six of them. I had serious injuries five times, and played with a bad arm for most of that time. I was with the White Sox organization as a player/coach in 1975 and 1976; I did both at Denver and at Iowa before I finished my playing career in New Orleans in 1977, again as a player/coach. I really hadn’t thought a lot about managing or making baseball a career; I started law school while I was playing and I probably played the last five years just to be able to pay for my legal education. When I was at Denver, Loren Babe was the manager, and through him I really started to take an interest in coaching, Loren opened me up to what managing was really all about.

In 1977, after graduating from law school, I played for the Cardinals organization in New Orleans. One of my professors thought New Orleans might provide an opportunity to get work as a clerk for a circuit court judge, but I decided I wanted to see if I could continue my career in baseball. I wrote letters to teams, and the White Sox answered and actually offered me the job of managing the Knoxville team in Double-A for 1978. (Author’s Note: According to the 1984 White Sox media guide, Tony was offered the job primarily on the recommendation of Babe.) We did well and won the first half of the Southern League. I was promoted to be the first base coach of the Sox for the rest of that year. The next year I was named to manage the Triple-A team in Iowa before I was offered the Sox managerial position.

What do you remember about the day you were named manager?

It was bizarre, the way everything happened to me. I think I was promoted to first base coach because the Sox wanted some youthful enthusiasm on the staff, and then I coached in the Dominican Republic that offseason before going to Iowa. My wife and I were eating at a Chinese restaurant in Des Moines that day when Walt Jocketty, who was working for the Sox, found me. He said that Roland Hemond had called and that I needed to get back to him immediately. I called Roland and he said that Don Kessinger had decided to retire and offered me the job. I said, “Where?” and he said to manage the White Sox … I was stunned, and so was my wife when I told her.

We must have sat in that restaurant for at least an hour talking about it. Elaine, my wife, was about a month away from our first child and we were comfortable in Des Moines. We liked the area, and made friends. But the more we talked, the more we understood that an opportunity like this comes along once in a lifetime. If I said no, there were no guarantees something like this would happen again. So I called Roland, who had given me until 4 p.m., and said yes … we flew to Chicago, and it was announced the next day. Then I met the team in Toronto.

What are some of the best memories of the people you worked with? Let’s start with Bill Veeck.

I think the fact that I was going to law school intrigued him. When I was coaching, he often invited me to dinner. I’d be there with him and Paul Richards, Ken Silvestri and Roland Hemond. At those dinners he’d challenge you, he wanted to see if you’d speak your mind when he asked you about something. I remember one time we were talking about using the hit-and-run and playing the infield in halfway. Al Lopez, a great Sox manager, didn’t like the hit-and-run, and Paul Richards, another great Sox manager, didn’t like to bring his infield in halfway. I did, and had to defend my reasoning behind doing something like that.

Looking back, I was being tested by [Veeck]. I also was invited to join him in the Bards Room sometimes after games. You talk about going to grad school for baseball … that was special. When I went to those, you didn’t talk; you listened and maybe took some notes. I know when he offered me the job to manage the team again in 1980 he made me promise that I’d finish the final part of the Florida law school exam, which I did. That was important to him. I love Bill and Mary Frances Veeck, who became close with my wife.

In January 1981 Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn got the club, and things immediately began to happen. I know you are still close to both men [Einhorn passed away in 2016]. What were they like to work with?

When they took over, it wasn’t guaranteed that I’d stay as the manager. I know that both Bill and Roland went to bat for me and [Reinsdorf and Einhorn] got control of the club so late. It was only a month to go before spring training [so] it wouldn’t have made sense for them to try to find someone else at that point in time. I came to Chicago to meet them, explained my thoughts and they offered me the job. They showed confidence in me and support through good times and bad and that’s something I’ll never forget.

One of the first things they did when they took over was challenge Roland. They were into winning and they wanted to know how things could change with the team. With that, Roland told them to sign Carlton Fisk. That would send the message, and that’s what happened. They also got Greg Luzinski.

Eddie was the idea guy. He was into promotions, marketing, and television. Remember, this is the guy who basically got college basketball on TV. [Author’s Note: Einhorn also was a member for many years of baseball’s television committee and was the driving force behind getting the World Football League on the Hughes Television Network.] Jerry was more like the CEO, and that’s the approach he took. They made a very good team.

Jerry was very, very interested in the game, he was genuinely curious about it; he was a fan since he was a boy. He wanted to know why this hit-and-run didn’t work or what was the thought process behind putting this player in. We had a lot of great conversations. He also was very progressive in a lot of areas. For example, for a long time, coaches were just friends of the manager or guys getting their time in to get a pension. But Jerry recognized that because kids were being pushed to the majors earlier, the role of coaches as teachers became crucial. He embraced the idea of putting together the best coaching staff you possibly could, that the staff of a manager should be a force for developing players.

With that, I thought we had the best staff in baseball, Dave Duncan was our pitching coach and he was the best in the game. Charlie Lau was the best hitting coach in the game until he passed away. Ed Brinkman was a superb infield coach and Davey Nelson was a tremendous baserunning coach. We had Jimmy Leyland as the third base coach and everyone has seen what he did in his career. Art Kusnyer, “Caveman,” was the bullpen coach. Jerry has a great heart; he’s always giving and caring.

Your relationship also remains close with Hemond. In his interview with me, he always had the utmost respect and admiration for you and your ability.

I have never been around a person like Roland in my baseball career. He touched my life in so many ways. To be around a guy so positive and so respected, I truly believe that Roland is the most beloved man in this generation of baseball.

I can give you a few examples of what he did for me. One was at the winter meetings of 1979, when he took me around to introduce me to people, and another was in spring training 1980 … Roland told me that he had some things he needed to get done and wouldn’t be down to Sarasota until about 10 days after we started. Now if I really needed him, I could have called my “lifeline” and he would have come down. But later I realized that he was showing confidence in me, he was allowing me to take charge. Remember, this was my first spring training as manager.

Roland also was able to balance his kindness with the fact that he had responsibilities as a GM He was tough and never hesitated to make the tough call. That’s why he was an outstanding GM.

With the new ownership team in place, money started being spent and you got some quality players to work with immediately as Fisk and Luzinski signed on. It seemed like a different atmosphere with the club. Can a few good players make that much of a difference?

[Longtime manager] Gene Mauch told me that one of the most important keys to a successful team is the type of people your greatest stars are. Are they in it for the right reasons? Are they selfish? Both Carlton and Greg were great teammates, they were leaders in drills and on and off the field. They had terrific work ethics. Showing the proper way to do drills in spring training is very important.

They didn’t go through the motions, they did them correctly and that rubbed off on everyone else. You can’t overestimate how the culture changed, how our work ethic improved when those two men joined the team.

At 34, you were very young to be a manager, not much older than some players, and you were tested. Chet Lemon had his differences with you for a time [Author’s Note: Much to his regret as he told me] and Ron LeFlore just seemed to be a handful. How did you get your point across that you were in charge given the unusual nature of your age and the relationship to the players?

It was a unique situation. I got every break in the book to be able to manage after only doing it about a year and a half in the minor leagues. That being said, I never cheated the game. I played hard for 16 years, never gave away an at-bat and I took notes. I was told a simple formula: “Love the game and want to learn it.” That’s what I did.

By my nature I’m really not a ballsy guy, I don’t like to fight. I’d rather walk away. But if somebody gives you responsibility, your courage expands. I can say in all honesty that I was never afraid of any player, I never lied to them, I was never afraid to teach them and I was never afraid to care for them. When you take over as manager that first day, the respect and trust level starts at zero. You have to earn it. You have to tell the truth: We’re all in this together. I took a one-on-one personalized approach and felt that hard work would lead to success. You can’t be afraid to lead. [Former White Sox manager] Paul Richards told me something one time that I never forgot when I managed: “Trust your gut, don’t cover your ass.”

At times your relationship with Sox fans was a little rocky, to say the least; there were some tough times as you were laying the foundation for the 1983 success. In general, what did you think of Sox fans during your tenure?

I counted them as a blessing because they cared deeply about the team. They were and are very passionate. When I took over, they had no reason to have confidence in me. Like with the players, I had to earn their respect and trust. I always thought it starts with the effort being shown by the players and the staff. Sox fans, all fans, have the right to expect their team to be able to compete, to be able to win and to play in October. Yes, at times it was difficult. In 1982, I managed a series at home against Boston wearing a bulletproof vest under my jacket. There was a death threat. I thought it was a joke at first, but was told that it was being taken seriously.

Even with the labor impasse in 1981, the Sox finished with a winning record. In 1982, they won 87 games. By 1983, they were considered a legitimate threat to at least win the division. The pieces were falling into place, and that spring training the Sox had the best record in baseball at 20-7. But, according to Roland Hemond, you told him not to expect the Sox to get off to a quick start, and you didn’t. What gave you cause for concern to where you told Hemond that?

We were going to rely on a mix of veterans and young guys. Both can have drawbacks early in the season. For the veterans, it’s the cold weather that impacts them. When all is said and done, they’ll produce and get their numbers, but when the weather’s bad that can result in a slow start. Our young guys were really young, and inexperience can beat you early in the year. We were counting on everyday kids to help us, in Greg Walker, Scott Fletcher and Ron Kittle, and we had a bunch of younger pitchers, but they all needed time. You were there, Mark, on opening night in Texas. Greg made some key errors and we wound up losing the game [5-3 to the Rangers]. I just thought it would take a little time to get it together.

By May 26, the Sox had fallen to 16-24 and there was talk about you being fired. In fact, talk about that started back in July 1982. Hawk Harrelson made the comment that September on the WFLD-TV special “Next Year is Here …” that what saved the season was that you didn’t become paranoid with all the rumors, that you didn’t let that filter down the dugout and impact the players. What was that time period like for you personally? How could you not let that affect you?

I knew the heat was on, but I also knew we were better than this. Remember our philosophy: You learn, you teach, you practice it. Having a good frame of mind is part of what we teach. When you get into a difficult situation, are you going to give in to it? Or are you going to tough it out? I just didn’t want to hear or read about all the negativity.

Then the turnaround started and a big reason for it was your decision to bat Carlton Fisk in the second spot in the lineup. Former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport told me that was a brilliant move because no one would think of putting a power hitter in a bat control spot in the lineup. What was your reasoning for the Fisk move?

Paul Richards told me one time that you never want to be in a situation where you say, “I’ve tried everything and it’s not working … it must be the players.” Richards said there’s always something else you can do or try. Carlton was struggling early in the season. This guy was a Hall-of-Famer, he had the talent, he was giving the effort, but it wasn’t working and it was getting to him mentally. He got hurt and didn’t play for several days. Remembering what Paul told me, I went to Charlie Lau and talked with him about it.

We had a deep middle of the order with guys like Bull Luzinski, Harold Baines, and Tom Paciorek and had I left Carlton there by the end of the year he would have produced his numbers. But sometimes a different look can help you mentally so I thought, after talking to Charlie, that maybe moving [Fisk] up in the order would give him a different responsibility and help him. It was a nice change of pace for him, because now Rudy Law gets on and Carlton starts taking a pitch or two to see if Rudy will steal a base. Then, maybe he hits a ground ball to the right side and Rudy gets to third, or if he’s in scoring position, Carlton’s going the opposite way and drives in a run. Before long, Carlton really embraced that spot in the lineup and it was a tremendous help to the team.

This was the first time I had ever tried something like this, and I took it with me to Oakland and St. Louis. I had Dave Henderson hit second in Oakland, and I had guys like Brian Jordan and Ray Langford hit second in St. Louis. These were guys who could hit the ball out of the park and drive in runs. The other benefit was that it turned the lineup over and gave at-bats to guys who could win games … how many times have you seen a game end before the third or fourth hitter in the lineup could get that one additional at-bat?

The Sox then put it together and exploded in the second half. They went 46-15 the final two months, in one of the best stretches in baseball history. Starting pitchers LaMarr Hoyt, Rich Dotson and Floyd Bannister were 42-5 after the All-Star break. Team chemistry was so good on that club, Jerry Koosman told me. Ron Kittle and others told me about how the players would stay in the clubhouse after games to talk, and about the team parties on the road. That club was a throwback, weren’t they? They loved the game and really seemed to care for each other.

Fisk was on that 1975 Red Sox club, Koosman was on the 1969 Mets, Tom Paciorek made the playoffs with the Dodgers and Bull Luzinski was on those Phillies teams that made a number of playoff appearances. But you ask any of those guys and they’ll tell you the most fun they ever had was on the 1983 White Sox. That was a classic team. There was no attitude from anybody … not the veterans or the kids. That team was so tight and it wasn’t just the players and coaches … it was [trainer] Herm Schneider, it was Willie Thompson and the clubhouse guys. It was everybody all focused on winning.

The other thing that was special about the club was we embraced the pressure that was being put upon us. We’d lose two or three games in a row, and the talk would start about another Chicago team folding …no Chicago baseball team had won since 1959, the Cubs collapse in 1969, all of that. We said the hell with that, we’re going to win anyway. That team was so relentless.

As far as the team parties, that was something I started doing in Knoxville. I was paying for them out of my own pocket and I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I thought it was good for the team to be around each other. Eventually the owner heard about it and he started paying for them. I did it in Chicago. It was something like, “We’re going to get together from 6-7:30, then you can go do what you want …” It brought the team closer together, and they were a close team. There were never any bad fights or arguments in the clubhouse that season. And sometimes I would do it even if we hadn’t won a game. In Texas we lost opening night, lost again the next day. Before the third game I said, “We’re getting together to celebrate Scott Fletcher getting engaged.”

On Sept. 17, 1983 the Sox won the division, beating Seattle 4-3 at Comiskey Park, and were postseason-bound for the first time in 24 years. What was that experience like for you?

I remember thinking this is a series of steps: Can you take a team and have it qualify for the playoffs … then can you win them? As far as the moment itself I was ecstatic, euphoric … we did it! Our unit pulled it off!

The ALCS against Baltimore was another story. The Sox just couldn’t hit. I’ve read talk that perhaps the victory party downtown right before the playoffs started may have put undue pressure on some players. Looking back, did that have an impact?

That’s a really good question. I don’t think it was good to push Bull [Luzinski] to be our spokesperson. He was from Chicago, and we had him speak for all of us. But I don’t think the rally itself did anything to hurt us.

The issue was that I didn’t do a good job of getting the team to turn the page, to let go of the fact that we won the division and had to start over. That’s on me. When I went to Oakland I met John Madden and he told me the same thing, that after the Raiders won the Super Bowl they had a bad season the next year, and John said it was because he didn’t get the guys to go back to zero and start over. I could have done more to get the team ready. That being said, we did win the first game on the road [the Sox won Game 1 in Baltimore 2-1 behind a complete game, six-hitter by Hoyt], we just got beat by the world champions.

After the Sox lost Game 4 in the way they did … it was excruciating, and Baltimore celebrated on the field. But both you and Jerry Dybzinski faced the media afterwards and answered all the questions. That showed character; other guys might have ducked out and blown the media off. Did you remember what you told the team after the loss?

I told them the obvious things; that we had to acknowledge what happened, but we also knew that we’d cherish this forever. If you lose, as long as you gave it your best shot, that’s all you could ask for. Even though we lost, the memories won’t ever be forgotten.

The Sox were the consensus pick to repeat in 1984. You had won seven straight and were in first place at the All-Star break, yet things fell apart in the second half and you ended up with a losing record and way out of the chase for the division. Ron Kittle told me he thought the team quit, and that’s a direct quote. What happened?

I always appreciated Ron’s candor and his willingness to say what he feels. I disagree with him, though, I don’t think the guys quit. Often when you look at something to evaluate it, you go to the first line or two and stop. Sometimes you need to look a lot deeper and that’s what I think happened in 1984.

Here’s what I mean: Carlton Fisk was hurt and missed time [Fisk played in 102 games in 1984 and hit only .231]. That was a significant part of our lineup that wasn’t available. Julio Cruz signed that big contract in the offseason and I don’t blame him or his agent for getting it, but it affected him. He was never comfortable with it, he was trying to justify it and he regressed as a player. And finally, we traded away Jerry Koosman, and that was a major mistake.

In 1983, Dennis Lamp was the leading guy out of the bullpen and everyone in the organization felt we needed to strengthen the back end. We traded Koosman for Ron Reed, and that would have been OK except that nobody, including myself, recognized the impact that [Koosman] had on this team. It was a big mistake. Bull [Luzinski] and [Koosman] were like brothers and if I remember right, Greg retired after 1984 and didn’t have a good year. [Luzinski retired after 15 years in the big leagues after the season. In 1984 he had only 13 home runs and 58 RBIs after 32 and 95 in 1983.] The vibe of the team would have been much different in 1984 if we had kept [Koosman].

In 1985 the Sox rebounded with 85 wins and you had the pleasure of managing future Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver. What was that relationship like?

I have that 1985 team high on my list of favorites, because they had great chemistry and showed great character after what happened in 1984. You remember Ozzie Guillén was Rookie of the Year that season. As far as Tom, it was one of my greatest fortunes to be with him those two years. He won 15 games each season and he had the most brilliant mind to go with his great talent. He taught me a lot, he taught me how a pitcher thinks … how a winning pitcher thinks and sets up hitters.

Hawk Harrelson took over in 1986 as GM, and he had his own views on how things should be done. Some examples were wanting to move Carlton Fisk to left field, hiring Don Drysdale as a pitching consultant even though you had a pitching coach, and requiring that all Sox minor league coaches be former big league players. It just seemed like oil and water, and you eventually were let go in June. Did you just know from the beginning it wasn’t going to work out?

It hurt. I had a great experience with the White Sox family, and then suddenly you’re out of the family. The thing is, to be fair to Hawk and Don and the organization, given what those men accomplished in the game you can’t discount their opinions, they earned the right to be heard. What should have happened, looking back, is that if the organization wanted Hawk to take over, he should have had the right to hire his own manager. He should have gotten a new manager right from the start. I should have been called in at the end of the 1985 season and let go … and I would have been OK with that. I would have thought that I had a nice run, and it was time to move on. I don’t know if that’s something Hawk wanted to do at the time, however.

Over the years you’d read or hear stories from time to time about you returning to the Sox as field manager. Were you ever close to coming back at any point?

There was one chance, and it almost happened, because we were getting new ownership in Oakland. [A’s owner Walter] Haas had announced he was going to sell the team; this was before his health problems started. In the winter of 1994, before spring training in 1995, I thought I was going to manage the Red Sox. But Mr. Haas asked me to lunch and wondered if I would stay one more season. I had also looked at Baltimore as a possible job, because my preference was to stay in the American League. The next year I left Oakland, and there was some discussion with the White Sox. I had talked with Ron Schueler, who was the Sox GM and who was my pitching coach with the Sox in 1981 and who I worked with in Oakland. The Sox, though, decided that Terry Bevington was the right man for the opening and gave him the job.

Soon after that, Walt Jocketty called me. He had gone to St. Louis after the 1995 season and took over as GM. I talked to Sparky Anderson, and he told me that one time I should manage in the National League because the situations were so different from the AL. I thought it over, and when St. Louis offered me the job, I took it.

You’ll go into the Hall of Fame this August as one of the all-time winningest managers. Have you ever wondered what may have happened if you stayed with the Sox? I know Sox fans wonder how many championships you might have won had you stayed for 20 years or so.

Yes, I do, but more for entertainment. I don’t take a lot of time to look back in a serious manner. I just think you have to move on from the past, learn from it and go forward. I will occasionally tease Jerry [Reinsdorf] about it, though. I honestly think had I stayed with the White Sox for 30 years that the team would have won multiple world championships. I think that because we were so united. Everyone from the owners to the front office to the coaching staff was on the same page. Our minor league system was developing, and we had good people in all areas.

I’m sure you know Reinsdorf many times has publicly stated the biggest mistake he ever made with the Sox was letting Hawk Harrelson fire you. [Author’s Note: An example of Reinsdorf’s thought process came in Rob Rains’ book Tony LaRussa: Man on a Mission: “I never should have allowed Tony to be fired. I’ve often said that was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. I knew it was wrong. I knew it was a mistake. And I let it happen anyway.”]

I appreciate his comment. That’s very nice of him to say that.

To wrap up, can you sum up your days with the Sox?

Sure. The White Sox gave me my first opportunity. I would never, ever disrespect the organization or the years I spent in Chicago. I appreciate what they did for me so much. I learned a lot from the opportunity. I learned about family and about relationships in my time there. They will always be a big part of my heart. Every time I see people like Jerry and Roland, we embrace.

I’ll tell you something, Mark; I spend more time socially with people from the White Sox than I do with people from Oakland or St. Louis. I’ll give you a couple examples. Over the summer I had dinner with Jerry [Reinsdorf], Art Kusnyer, Jim Thome and Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls coach … I really like him, by the way. Just a few weeks ago, I had dinner with Jerry, Buddy Bell, Jim and Bo Jackson.

The thing that struck me about that dinner was how vitally interested and concerned Jim and Bo were about getting the fans back engaged with the team. To have two of the best hitters I’ve ever seen show that much concern was impressive to me, and I feel the same way. I’m committed to do what I can to help rejuvenate the passion and support of White Sox fans towards the team. Now I understand the Sox themselves have to give the fans a reason to get engaged; they have to start playing better baseball. Last year was painful to watch, but if I can do anything to help that along, I will.

Tony, I’m grateful for the time you showed me today. This was a big thrill for me and a highlight of the many, many interviews I’ve done with members of the Sox family.

It was a lot of fun for me, too. I enjoyed looking back and talking about those times.