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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #21: Chris Sale freaks out, shreds White Sox throwback jerseys

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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.

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

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After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.