You all may know me as the Japanese baseball guy, but my interest in the sport developed as a kid growing up in the Chicago suburbs as a die-hard White Sox fan. Because of my Chicago roots, my favorite part of the FanGraphs gathering in Arizona during spring training was our chat with White Sox assistant general manager Rick Hahn, who mentioned something that I’ve known for years: trainer Herm Schneider is a great asset to the Sox organization.
Rick specifically mentioned Jermaine Dye as an example of the success the White Sox have had limiting injury risks, but I have many fond and bittersweet memories of rehab projects the ChiSox took on in the 1990s. Here are some of my favorites:
1991 to 1993 Bo Jackson: In the late 1980s, the two-sport-playing, bat-busting Bo Jackson was possibly the most exciting professional athlete. Then he had one of his hips ripped out of its socket in an NFL game. Fortunately Bo knew comebacks, and he managed to play the outfield with an artificial hip. He no longer was the star performer he had been early in his career, but he was a respectable fourth outfielder, an inspirational figure and a great draw for fans.
1992 Ozzie Guillen: One chilly spring evening in 1992, I attended a White Sox game with my dad. I don’t remember whom the Sox were playing or what the score was, but I do remember Ozzie Guillen chasing a short fly ball into left field, crashing into Jonah Keri favorite Tim Raines, and not getting up. We learned the next day that Ozzie needed surgery on his knee, and I learned today that he tore his ACL and MCL in that collision. Ozzie missed the rest of the season, but came back in 1993 and played several more years.
1993 Ellis Burks: Burks once was an up-and-coming outfielder with Boston but he had fallen on hard times in 1991 and 1992. Signed to a budget, one-year deal with Chicago in 1993, Burks enjoyed a bounce-back year on the South Side and then went on to terrorize pitchers in Colorado for much of the decade as a member of the Blake Street Bombers.
1994 Darrin Jackson: With Burks having moved on to Colorado, general manager Ron Schueler again went to the bargain bin and found Jackson. Jackson was coming off a rough campaign split between Toronto and the New York Mets, which included DL time with a thyroid condition. Schneider helped keep him on the field for the entirety of the strike-shortened season — and Jackson responded with the best offensive rate stats of his career. Jackson followed his single season with the Sox with a couple of productive years with the Seibu Lions in Japan.
1997 Robin Ventura: In 1997, there was a bit of a renewed sense of optimism in Chicago. After a few years of rent-a-cleanup-hitters and second-place finishes to the Indians, the Sox signed the fearsome Albert Belle away from Cleveland and were prepared to mash their way to the Central Divsion title. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Ventura broke his leg on a nasty slide into home plate in a spring training game, and was initially expected to miss the season. In his absence, third base replacement Chris Snopek put up a sub-replacement-level line; Belle failed to meet early expectations and the Sox struggled with largely ineffective pitching. Ventura put in a valiant rehab effort and managed to come back before the trading deadline, just in time to see the Sox send Wilson Alvarez, Roberto Hernandez and Danny Darwin to the Giants in the now-infamous “White Flag Trade.” The self-branded White Sox Leftovers managed to stay respectable down the stretch, but ultimately finished in second place by default in a weak division. Cleveland went on to nearly win the World Series.
2000 Cal Eldred and Jose Valentin: In perhaps his greatest feat as GM, Schueler managed to turn underperforming albatross Jaime Navarro into Eldred and Valentin. At the time, the bad-contract swap was viewed as a win for Schueler by virtue of having moved Navarro, but the performance the Sox extracted from Eldred and Valentin made it a grand slam. Eldred had been a workhorse for the Brewers early in his career, but by the time the ChiSox picked him up his best days were clearly behind him. Under Schneider’s care, he rattled off an impressive 10-2 first half before breaking down again after the All-Star Game. Valentin was less of a rehab case, but he contributed five years of power and steady defense at shortstop. The White Sox finally broke through in 2000 and took the division (briefly) from Cleveland, and it probably wouldn’t have happened without that trade.