We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.
White Sox starter Chris Sale had an . . . interesting year.
It began with him being tied up in the dramatic and ridiculous Drake LaRoche Affair, which will appear later on this countdown. That was a team effort in crazy, however, with many White Sox players, quite frankly, embarrassing themselves in equal measure.
Sale’s solo performance came in late July on what was supposed to be a 1976 White Sox throwback jersey night with him taking the mound. He ended up being scratched, however, and the team wore 1983 throwbacks. Why? Because Sale shredded the 1976 numbers with a dang knife.
Sale, it seems, believed the uniform would have impacted his performance, saying, “[The ’76 uniforms] are uncomfortable and unorthodox. I didn’t want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn’t want anything to alter my mechanics. … There’s a lot of different things that went into it. Looking bad had absolutely zero to do with it. Nothing.”
It was never clear to what extent Sale and the White Sox had discussed the matter of the 1976 throwbacks before the incident, but it’s worth noting that most teams allow the starting pitcher to pick which uniforms will be worn on the night he starts. It’s also the case that, however crazy it all ended up being, that Drake LaRoche incident strongly suggested that the communication lines between the White Sox players and White Sox management were, at the very least, strained. Sale may have lashed out in an unreasonable manner, but he may very well have had reason to be upset and frustrated with the club.
Maybe it’s for that reason that Sale’s outburst did not harm his reputation very much. In the days after the incident there were multiple stories in which Sale was referred to as a “competitor” who was “passionate.” One has to wonder how an identical incident involving, say, Yasiel Puig or Carlos Gomez would’ve gone over. I feel like they wouldn’t have been called “competitors” however, even if there were some communication issues with team brass, but I suppose that’s best left for another post.
The slashing bit cost the White Sox $12,000 and cost Sale more than that due to the team suspending him for five games. It did not, however, derail Sale’s season on the field in any noticeable way. He ended the year with a record of 17-10 and a 3.34 ERA. He pitched 226.2 innings and led the league in complete games with 6, finishing fifth in Cy Young balloting. He also led the league in hit batsmen, suggesting that it’s not just throwback jerseys that annoy him.
As for his relationship with the White Sox, that’s all over. He was traded to Boston earlier this month for a hefty haul of prospects. The Red Sox have far fewer throwback jersey nights than Chicago, so there’s a better chance that Sale won’t have to cut a stitch.