One of the highlights of today’s SABR convention was the White Sox player panel. I also think I saw the best two presentations so far of the convention today, as well, but I’ll try to write up research presentations later! Right now, here are a couple of the amusing anecdotes and funny stories told by the players to moderator Dan Migala.
The players were Carlos May, Ron Kittle, and Mike Huff. This is a bare fraction of the panel, because these guys talked fast and were packed with stories! Hopefully they captured video or audio of the whole thing for the SABR website because I didn’t manage to get down stuff like the time a family named their kid after Mike and much more.
Dan Migala: A lot of White Sox history in this hotel [thehistoric Palmer House Hilton]. Roland Hemond used to set up camp here. A lot of trades happened here. I think we’ll be adding to this legacy here today! Could you each tell me about coming to Chicago? Ron let’s start with you.
Ron Kittle: Palmer House was my first stop! They called me up and this was where they put me up. No exaggeration, I think the room was this big [as this ballroom]. What did a kid from Gary, Indiana do? I called all my buddies in Indiana and they all came down and stayed over, we went to Rush Street. It was great.
Dan: Actually the hotel manager called. There’s still an outstanding bill…
Ron: I better sneak out then. (laughter)
Mike Huff: I was with Cleveland and we were on the road in Seattle. I had family in Seattle, came back to from lunch to the hotel and the message light was blinking. I go to pick it up and the phone rings before I can and it was the GM telling me to go to Mike Hargrove’s room because I’d been traded. My first thought was “I suck!” But I then picked up the message and it was Dan Evans from the White Sox calling to say we are so excited to have you, to get you, and to bring you back to your home town. So to go from being so low to so high was great.
Carlos May: Well, these guys offered me an assignment but no money and that didn’t seem right so I held out. For a day. (laughter) Then they offered me a thousand and I signed.
Dan: Could you each walk us through that first at bat?
Carlos: It wasn’t good. I faced Dave McNally, and I broke my bat. Twice. The big leagues is a learning experience every day. If you don’t adjust, you fail.
Ron: Tony LaRussa gave me a lot of confidence. He pinch hit me with two out in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. Pardon my language but I called him a prick. He was my coach in the minors so we had a good rapport. On the first pitch I hit a “foul home run.” Fouled off 7 or 8 pitches, got to 3-2, and then swung and missed. And then I called Tony some other names! (laughter) But he told me that was one heck of an at bat, just keep swinging hard and you’re going to be driving Cadillacs and have a lot of success in this game
Mike: My first game with Chicago, we were playing the Brewers and Molitor hits one in the gap, I got a bead on it and ran it down. At that time it was the “new” Comiskey. My first actual at bat was with the Dodgers and I was told Tommy Lasorda likes to use rookies, so to go in the tunnel and take some swings. I get myself all ready to go in thinking the most likely place in the lineup where I’d pinch hit was coming up, I’m getting my helmet, I’ve got my batting gloves, but then I hear “Anderson, you’re hitting for Ramon” and I’m like ugh, never mind. So I’m getting a drink and suddenly I hear “Huff!” “What?” “You’re hitting!” “What?” “You’re hitting for Scioscia!” So I grab my gloves and am trying to get out there and the first guy I pass on the bench is like, “It’s Glavine, he throws hard soft.” And the next guy, “It’s Glavine, he throws in-out.” And the next one, “It’s Glavine he throws high-low…” after all that advice I’m literally run out to the batters box and I dig in and the umpire says “Kid, get out of the box.” I’m like “What?” “Kid, get out of the box!’ “what?” “Kid, get out of the box. I haven’t announced you yet.” Ohhhh. Northwestern degree yeah right. I step out, he gives the sign, and I hear the announcement “Now batting, Michael Huff.” Oooooh! And Glavine must be thinking this guy is such a goof ball. He throws me a little lollipop curve ball. Crack. I got a base hit on that first pitch.
Mike Huff: [On the White Sox of the early 90s] Those teams in the ealy 90s were good because everyone cared about each other. After the games Carlton Fisk would still be lifting. We’d sit around the clubhouse and talk baseball. The wives and girlfriends knew not to wait around for us because we’d be spending time together. It was so built around those four draft picks, Robin Ventura, Frank THomas, Jack McDowell, and ___________. [I forget the fourth one, though he said it, by the time my fingers got to it I have forgotten the name.]
Dan: Tell us more of those stories.
Mike: There wasn’t a person in my three years here that didn’t go above and beyond to help people. Bobby would help the guy who was going to take his closer’s job. They’d play catch together. One year they called me and said could you come out in the winter and help this guy, there’s a guy we want you to teach defenissive outfield to. I’m like “I’m a defensive outfielder and now you want me to help someone take my job? Can you tell me who it is?” And they were like no we can’t tell you who it is. Well, it was Michael Jordan. Well okay that guy I could help out.
Ron And you did a terrible job!
Mike: I got him playing basketball again, didn’t I?
Carlos: Ours was a funny clubhouse. But when we got between the lines we played hard. When I was out of baseball I didn’t miss playing the game, I missed the guys. I had a bad first marriage so I loved going out on the road and the camaraderie with the guys.
Ron: I signed with the Dodgers originally behind Mike Scioscia. I signed for five thousand, he signed for sixty-five thousand. So I knew who was going to catch. I get to Chicago and LaRussa said “what position you gonna play? We just signed Fisk, you ain’t catching.” So I had to play the outfield. I played outfield for the first time in the big leagues. And it was impossible to see the ball out there. The lights in old Comiskey were awful, and there were people who had white shirts on. You couldn’t see the ball.
One of the best things we did is we had team parties. One time we rented a room in a hotel in Toronto, one of these ones that just has the little vent windows that only open 3-4 inches? We’d have fun and have a ton of food up there, hors’ doeuvres and whatnot. One of the players had bought a scale and a couple of guys got on it and it said “US Patent Pending” because the scale only weighed up to 300 pounds.
We ordered a huge load of pizzas with everything but anchovies and every one came with anchovies on it. The next thing you knew Bull took one and flew it out the window. Pretty soon every pizza had gone out the window, they were sticking on cab windows and everything. Pretty soon the police came up and were like what’s going on here? Bull says “somebody came in and threw them out the window! It wasn’t us.” Well, the rookies had to go clean it all up.
You guys remember Harold Baines, right? A few hundred hits shy of 3,000? I love that guy so much I wish I could give him all my hits to get him in the hall of fame. He used to go out but he would never drink unless he was with me. One time Jerry Reinsdorf asked him how come you never drink unless you’re out with Kitty? And he said it’s because when I’m out with this guy I know he’s got me covered. I was like his bodyguard.
Mike: I used to pinch run for Bo Jackson a lot after his hip replacement. And he would get asked by reporters, you used to be this elite athlete and now you get pinch run for, how do you feel about that? And he would joke, “I know there’s some Negro League players rolling over in their graves because a white guy is pinch running for a black guy!”
Dan: Humor is a big key to success. Tell us some more about the humor on those teams.
Ron: I have two little stories. Do you rememer The Big Skirt? Not the Bit Hurt. The Big Skirt. Frank was 380 pounds. We were like Frank you’re so big, let the ball hit you and then pick it up and eat it. I never wanted to be in Carlton’s hitting group because he was so slow. You’d only get 9 swings instead of 50. But then one day here comes this big giant rookie and he puts his arm around Pudge and says “you got any advice for a rookie?”
Joey Cora, second baseman, I’m blatantly honest. I’m playing first and Joey can get it and he doesn’t dive, so they throw it in from right field and he doesn’t even take the relay. And I had the ball in my glove and I thump him on the head and I said listen you little shit, you can’t hit, but you can dive, if you want to stay in thebig leagues you need to be that defensive guy! Meanwhile Ozzie’s in the dugout yelling “why you hit him!” And I’m like “I’m going to hit you next!” Cora turned out to be pretty good glove man.
I struck out four times against Dave Righetti of the Yankees in a game in New York. And all the writers gathered around me after the game and we like you struck out four times! And I said hey, some guy who works at the car wash could probably strike me out four times. That of course became the big headline. A couple years later I get moved to the Yankees. Ron Guidry cuts out the headline and puts it up in Rightetti’s locker “CAR WASH GUY COULD’VE STRUCK ME OUT.” Then I moved off to Cleveland and I had broken my toe the day before because Tommy John had hit me with an 80 mile and hour curve ball! Split it right open, blood everywhere. The next day I pinch hit against Righetti. And he throws at my bad toe! I’m like what the hell! The next pitch, also right at my toe! Rick Cerone is catching and he’s like you know he’s going to hit that toe. Well actually the next pitch was outside and I hit it for a double. I get to second base and my toe is gushing blood. Ron Washington comes in to pinch run for me and so I’m heading back to the dugout and I hit Rags right in the chest. That’s the kind of camaraderie we had.
Carlos: I got traded to the Yankees on my birthday. Happy Birthday Carlos! There I am on the plane on the way to New York with the team and the stewardess comes on with all this rum and stuff and I was like the customers drink that much? And they were like no, that’s for us! And I knew I was in the right place! Chambliss, all those guys knew how to have a good time. Then in ’77 we got Reggie. He’s another whole story. (Tells the “can’t spell I.Q. story” that’s in Sparky Lyle’s book, The Bronx Zoo.) Over there in the Bronx Zoo…I have a lot of stories I can’t tell.
Dan: Question from the audience: Carlos, what’s your favorite Bill Veeck story and what did you think of the uniforms with shorts?
Carlos: My fave Bill Veeck story was when I was out of baseball and looking for a job. His number was listed! Right there in Hyde Park. So I called him up and he gave me a job. As for the shorts, I got traded in May right before the thing with the shorts.
Dan: Happy birthday Carlos, indeed. Speaking of which, can you explain the cool number-name thing with your Jersey?
Carlos: Originally I had number 29 in Spring training, but then they next year they gave me 17, which meant that my jersey had my birthday on it: May 17.
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