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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Dive: Charlotte and Birmingham first basemen

Birmingham burst: Gavin Sheets hit more homers in 2019 than in his previous two years combined. (Sean Williams/South Site Hit Pen)


“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:

  1. Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican through Great Falls)
  2. Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
  3. Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
  4. Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
  5. Free agent options at that position

This article delves into the first basemen who finished the year with Charlotte and Birmingham. Despite the fact that two of these first basemen actually played for the White Sox this year, the entire Charlotte crop consists of essentially AAAA players. The true prospect on this list is Gavin Sheets, who enjoyed his best power season to date this year at pitching-friendly Regions Field in Birmingham.

(age as of April 1, 2020)


Charlotte Knights

Matt Skole
6´4´´
220 pounds
B/T: L/R
Other positions played: Third base
Age: 30

Skole enjoyed a fantastic sophomore season with Georgia Tech in 2010, when he slashed .335/.446/.682 with 15 doubles, 20 homers, 63 RBIs, 45 walks and 34 strikeouts. While his other numbers were similar as a junior, his home run production fell by half. That, and concerns about his defense, caused him to slip to the fifth round of the 2011 draft when the Washington Nationals selected him with the 157th overall pick.

After a productive first two years in the Nationals system, where he advanced through their A+ affiliate in Potomac, Skole had difficulty hitting for a high average afterward. In fact, in his last five years in their organization, Skole’s best season-ending average was .244 in Triple-A Syracuse. When his slash line dipped to .222/.303/.453 with 11 homers in an injury-marred 2017, the Nationals let him loose via free agency.

In January 2018, the White Sox signed him to a minor league contract. When he got off to a fast start with Charlotte, and the White Sox needed help in late May last year, Skole made his major league debut and did respectably in his four-game stint. After being demoted to Charlotte in early June, he finished the season with Charlotte with his typical .237/.336/.404 line with 14 homers.

Despite a low average for the Charlotte in 2019, Skole was able to get on base via on a regular basis and mashed in the hitting-friendly BB&T Ballpark. With the Knights, Skole ended up slashing .248/.384/.497 in 92 games as he produced 15 doubles, 21 homers, 56 RBIs, 70 walks (17.9%) and 99 strikeouts (25.3%). Unfortunately, he couldn’t translate that work into major league success. In 27 games totaling 72 at-bats for the White Sox, he slashed just .208/.275/.236 with two doubles, six RBIs, seven walks (8.8%) and 31 strikeouts (38.8%).

The White Sox designated Skole for assignment this past Monday, making him a free agent after the World Series. While it’s possible that Skole could re-sign with the White Sox, it’s difficult to see any way he receives significant playing time in the White Sox organization going forward. The team will likely either use Zack Collins, or some acquisition via trade or free agency, to fill their DH spot. As for Charlotte, Gavin Sheets will likely be next year’s starter while the younger A.J. Reed would handle the DH role. If Skile does re-sign with Chicago, the likeliest scenario for Skole to return to Charlotte would be as a third baseman.

A.J. Reed
6´4´´
275 pounds
B/T: L/L
Age: 26

Reed was one of the best two-way college players during his career at Kentucky, where he served as the Wildcats ace and first baseman. In fact, as a junior for the Wildcats, he went 12-2 on the mound with a 2.09 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. As a first baseman that year, he also excelled as he slashed .336/.476/.735 with 18 doubles, 23 homers, 73 RBIs, 49 walks (16.9%) and 48 strikeouts (16.6%). His prolific play in both facets of the game helped him win the 2014 Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur player in the country. With success like that, it was no wonder that the Houston Astros selected him with the first pick in the second round of that year’s MLB draft.

Reed progressed rapidly through the Astros system, and did well at every stop. For example, in 2015 with Single-A+ Lancaster and Double-A Corpus Christi, he combined to slash .340/.432/.612 with 30 doubles, 34 homers, 127 RBIs, 86 walks (13.8%) and 122 strikeouts (19.6%). After performing well with Triple-A Fresno (.291/.368/.556 in 70 games with 22 doubles and 15 homers) in 2016, he was promoted to the Astros and failed miserably in 45 games (.164/.270/.262 with three homers, 18 walks and 48 strikeouts). While performing decently with Fresno the following two years, his numbers did slip a bit and he struggled with his very limited opportunities with the Astros.

After struggling with Houston’s new Triple-A squad in Round Rock this year, with a .224/.329/.469 slash line and 12 homers in 56 games, he was designated on waivers and the White Sox picked him up less than a week later, on July 8. It seemed like an opportunity to swoop in on a bargain, because as recently as 2015 Reed had been one of the top prospects in the game with 55 hit and 60 power tools according to MLB Pipeline. Unfortunately for Reed and the White Sox, he scuffled in 14 games by slashing just .136/.204/.205 with a homer, four RBIs, four walks (8.2%) and 21 strikeouts (42.9%). He was subsequently outrighted to Charlotte in August, and struggled with his demotion by slashing just .179/.238/.282 in 10 games. It seems that Reed’s bat just isn’t fast enough to catch up with the advanced heat.

As of now, it seems Reed will be penciled in the DH spot for Charlotte as Sheets will likely be its everyday first baseman. There’s always the possibility of the White Sox converting him into a reliever, much like they’re trying to do with former Tampa Bay first-rounder catcher Justin O’Conner. In the meantime, Reed is a cautionary tale that “can’t miss” prospects sometimes do.

Damek Tomscha
6´2´´
200 pounds
B/T: R/R
Other positions played: Left field, Third base, Right field
Age: 28

Tomscha, a native of Sioux City, Iowa, played his first two years of college ball with Iowa Western CC before transferring to Auburn for his junior and senior seasons. As a senior for the Tigers, he did quite well as their third baseman as he slashed .313/.436/.443 over 54 games with five homers, 29 RBIs, 26 walks (11.7%) and just 23 strikeouts (10.4%). Despite his lack of power, Tomscha was selected in the 17th round of the 2014 draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Baseball Draft Report said of him at the time, “He’s a really good athlete with a pretty swing, plus arm, and good raw defensive tools.

After producing solid numbers for the Lakewood (Single-A) and Clearwater (Single-A+) in 2015 and 2016 respectively, Tomscha enjoyed a terrific 2017 split between Clearwater and Double-A Reading as he combined to slash .307/.386/.439 by producing 16 doubles, 11 homers, 52 RBIs, 38 walks (9.0%) and 57 strikeouts (13.4%) in 109 games. Last year saw Tomscha’s numbers slip a bit with Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, as he combined to slash a still-respectable .272/.334/.443 in 119 games with 16 doubles, 17 homers, 62 RBIs, 33 walks (6.9%) and 74 strikeouts (15.5%).

After getting off to a terrible start with Lehigh Valley this year by slashing .219/.301/.399 in 53 games, the Phillies released him on June 20. The White Sox inked him eight days later and assigned him to Birmingham, where he fared much better with a .269/.333/.410 line in 42 games. Tomscha spent his final two games this year with Charlotte, and got one hit in seven at-bats. Though he played more games at first base this year, those appearances were mostly spent with Lehigh Valley as he spent more time at third and left with the Barons. With Sheets and Reed expected to handle first base/DH duties in Charlotte this year, Tomscha could be vying with Trey Michalczewski for playing time at the hot corner.


Birmingham Barons

Gavin Sheets
6´4´´
230 pounds
B/T: L/L
Age: 23

Gavin, the son of former Oriole slugger Larry Sheets, showed great plate discipline during his three years with Wake Forest. After hitting a combined 11 homers in his first two seasons, his junior year saw him turn it up a notch as he hit 21. That year with the Demon Deacons, Sheets slashed .317/.424/.629 in 63 games with those 21 homers, 10 doubles, 46 walks (15.6%) and just 37 strikeouts (12.5%). With numbers like that, it was no wonder that the White Sox selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft. After the draft, combined with the AZL squad and Kannapolis to slash .279/.365/.397 in 56 games with 12 doubles, four homers, 28 RBIs, 23 walks (9.8%) and 34 strikeouts (14.5%).

Against stronger competition in 2018 with Winston-Salem, Sheets produced similar numbers to the year before. In 119 games totaling 437 at-bats, Sheets slashed .293/.368/.407 with 28 doubles, two triples, six homers, 61 RBIs, 52 walks (10.5%) and 81 strikeouts (16.3%). Just like his junior season, however, Sheets turned his power up a notch in his third professional campaign. In 126 games totaling 464 at-bats, of which half were spent at pitching-friendly Regions Field, he slashed .267/.345/.414 with 18 doubles, 16 homers, 83 RBIs, 54 walks (10.2%) and 99 strikeouts (18.8%) for Birmingham. His numbers would’ve been even better, if not for a difficult April in which he slashed just .207/.286/.293.

Sheets is ranked second among White Sox first base prospects, and 13th overall, by MLB Pipeline. They give him 50 grades for his power, hit and fielding tools while giving him a 55 for his throwing arm. The site also says of him, “The White Sox believe more home runs will come as he starts incorporating his legs more in his left-handed swing and makes an adjustment to stop hooking balls foul down the right-field line. He has a smooth stroke and controls the strike zone well for a big man, so he should hit for average and draw a healthy amount of walks.”

Sheets will be expected to get the lion’s share of Charlotte’s first base duties in 2020, and his success there may well determine his role going forward. With Andrew Vaughn now also in the picture, Sheets will also be vying with players like Zack Collins and (perhaps) Yermín Mercedes for the 1B/DH role beginning in 2021. This doesn’t even include the possibility of the White Sox signing a full-time DH like J.D. Martinez during this offseason. At the very least, if Sheets should rake for the Knights, he could be an attractive trade piece during next year’s trade deadline.