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3 Chicago White Sox The Big Hurt will have to carry a big load in a lineup that has some big holes to fill

First baseman Frank Thomas is the White Sox' only proven
slugger, as well as their only regular who's 30 or older. He
seems a lonely, isolated giant. Now that free agents Albert
Belle and Robin Ventura have fled the South Side, taking with
them more than a third of the club-record 198 homers Chicago hit
last year, who's going to protect Thomas in the lineup? "I'm not
concerned about that," Thomas says. "It's up to me to protect
some of the younger guys. I'm a great hitter--let me do
something to help them."

Such noble sentiments offer some hope to White Sox manager Jerry
Manuel. Alas, the numbers aren't so comforting. Nine teams tried
to make do with payrolls of less than $30 million last year;
their average record was 68-94. Chicago's payroll this season
will be in the neighborhood of $26 million. The White Sox will
also be among the youngest teams in the American League.

Thomas, who turns 31 in May, discounts those discouraging facts.
"These aren't just young players, but young talented players,"
he says. "When the season starts, I'm going to demand a little
more from the guys, to let them know that they can't relax just
because they made it out of spring training."

The duties of leadership have come Thomas's way a little earlier
than expected. When he arrived in Chicago in 1990, the clubhouse
foreman was 42-year-old Carlton Fisk. "I've learned from good
parents," two-time MVP Thomas says metaphorically. He vows to
lead by example after hitting only .265 last year, the first
sub-.300 average of his career and a free fall of 82 points from
his league-leading mark of '97. Thomas still came through with
29 homers and 109 RBIs, but he calls his output of last season
"not good at all." He arrived at camp weighing 257 pounds, 15
fewer than he did at the end of last season.

Thomas, the number 3 hitter, will have to make the most of the
few good pitches he'll see. In the cleanup spot last year Belle
produced club records of 49 home runs and 152 RBIs in 609 at
bats. The players who will follow Thomas in the order this
season--Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko, Greg Norton and Jeff
Abbott--combined for just 42 homers and 171 RBIs in 1,295 at
bats. Those four have a total of 4 1/2 years in the majors.
"There's almost less pressure on me because Albert did so well,"
says Abbott, 26, who will take over for Belle in left. "Nobody's
expecting me to do what he did,"

The White Sox would like to get 20 to 30 homers from
rightfielder Ordonez, a 25-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela, who
has the thick legs of a power hitter. He hit 14 as a rookie last
year while growing accustomed to Chicago. "I was never in a big
American city before, and it takes time--you don't focus on the
game like you're supposed to," he says. If he needs more help,
he won't have to look far. "I know 15 or 16 players on this team
from the minors," Ordonez says. "It's like we have all come up
together. It's going to be fun."

According to the Sox brass, surveys and focus groups indicate
that fans want a younger, harder-working team. Management has
been downsizing since its so-called White Flag trade of two
seasons ago, when in July Chicago dealt three veterans for six
prospects though it trailed the first-place Indians by just 3
1/2 games. At least three of those prospects--shortstop Mike
Caruso and pitchers Keith Foulke and Bob Howry--should make
contributions this season. "Our club was a force in the early
1990s, but for some reason, after the strike we had a hard time
getting our fans back," says general manager Ron Schueler. "We
didn't go out of our way to make them feel good, to let them
know we appreciate them."

Schueler vows to hold on to the young players who prove
themselves, like All-Star second baseman Ray Durham, 27, who
recently signed a four-year, $20 million contract. Durham and
the 21-year-old Caruso were on the field early in the morning
this spring, trying to improve a defense that has been among the
league's worst the last two years. The departure of Ventura,
winner of five Gold Gloves at third, won't help. "I hope we'll
be average at third base," Manuel says in a challenge to
Ventura's replacement, the 26-year-old Norton. Pushing Norton
will be a couple of the Sox' best prospects, Carlos Lee, 22, and
Joe Crede, 20.

Thomas may play half the games at first base--he was almost
exclusively a DH last season--and that should help soothe the
infield. Thomas may be slow and have trouble throwing to second,
but when he's missing from the field, the average major league
experience of Chicago's position players is just two years, 102

The most stable aspect of the youth movement is the pitching
rotation. The first four starters--James Baldwin, Mike Sirotka,
John Snyder and Jim Parque--were a combined 41-28 for a Sox team
that was two games under .500. Their average age is 25.

Perhaps Chicago's wisest move was to extend the contract of
Manuel by three years, through 2002. He's known for his patience
and teaching skills--qualities his troops will need. "We have to
take on the concept of the team rather than individuals because
we don't really match up individually," says Manuel. "We're
trying to get career years out of young players who have never
had careers."

--Ian Thomsen

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL/ALLSPORT As the only regular over 30, Thomas will be expected to nurture a clubhouse full of largely unproven kids, even as he tries to bounce back from an off year.


By the Numbers

1998 Team Statistics (AL rank)
1998 record: 80-82 (second in AL Central)

HOME RUNS 198 (7)
OPP. BATTING AVG. .278 (11)
ERA 5.22 (14)
FIELDING PCT. .977 (13)

Doubting Thomas? There's Hope

Frank Thomas had the AL's highest batting average in 1997 but
batted only .265 last year. His 82-point decline was the largest
of any player who qualified for the batting title in both '97
and '98. Since 1900, nine players have had greater decreases in
batting average in the season after they won a batting title
(minimum 350 at bats). Eight of those players had a higher
average the following year.

As Batting Season after The Next
Champion Batting Title Season
Player Year BA Year BA Decline Year BA

Norm Cash 1961 .361 1962 .243 .118 1963 .270
Willie McGee 1985 .353 1986 .256 .097 1987 .285
Goose Goslin 1928 .379 1929 .288 .091 1930 .308
Cy Seymour 1905 .377 1906 .286 .091 1907 .294
Babe Ruth 1924 .378 1925 .290 .088 1926 .372

As Batting Season after The Next
Champion Batting Title Season
Player Year BA Year BA Decline Year BA

Mickey Vernon 1946 .353 1947 .265 .088 1948 .242
Rogers Hornsby 1925 .403 1926 .317 .086 1927 .361
Lefty O'Doul 1932 .368 1933 .284 .084 1934 .316
Richie Ashburn 1958 .350 1959 .266 .084 1960 .291
Frank Thomas 1997 .347 1998 .265 .082 1999 ?

Next Up...

For the first off-season in years, righthander Bob Howry didn't
work for his father's construction company in Phoenix. After
becoming Chicago's closer last August when Bill Simas was
injured, he didn't need the $10-an-hour job. The 6'5", 215-pound
Howry wound up leading American League rookies with nine saves
and was one of six players to earn a $5,000 bonus from owner
Jerry Reinsdorf for being "fan friendly." Howry, 25, gives
manager Jerry Manuel the luxury of two closers. "If I had to
close a game today, I'd probably use Howry," Manuel says. "But
if he's closing today, I want Simas closing tomorrow. Bobby's a
high-pitch guy. I have to be careful with him."

Projected Roster With 1998 Statistics

Manager: Jerry Manuel (second season with Chicago)


2B Ray Durham S-R 69 .285 19 67 36
SS Mike Caruso L-R 105 .306 5 55 22
1B Frank Thomas R 17 .265 29 109 7
RF Magglio Ordonez R 119 .282 14 65 9
DH Paul Konerko[1] R 126 .217 7 29 0
3B Greg Norton S-R 153 .237 9 36 3
LF Jeff Abbott R-L 201 .279 12 41 3
CF Brian Simmons (R)* S-R 221 .290 13 51 10
C Robert Machado R 304 .207 3 15 0


OF Darrin Jackson[1] R 351 .240 4 20 1
C Mark Johnson (R)[#] L-R 377 .283 9 59 0
IF Craig Wilson (R)* R 389 .306 14 69 4
OF Chris Singleton (R)[1]* L 393 .254 6 45 9


RH James Baldwin 72 13 6 5.7 1.48 5.32
LH Mike Sirotka 116 14 15 6.4 1.43 5.06
RH John Snyder 129 7 2 6.0 1.38 4.80
LH Jim Parque 149 7 5 5.4 1.63 5.10
RH Jaime Navarro 158 8 16 5.7 1.74 6.36


RH Bob Howry 76 0 3 9 1.03 3.15
RH Bill Simas 120 4 3 18 1.08 3.57
RH Chad Bradford 218 2 1 1 1.11 3.23
LH Bryan Ward 246 1 2 1 1.37 3.33
RH Keith Foulke 256 3 2 1 1.09 4.13
LH Scott Eyre 291 3 8 0 1.66 5.38

[1]New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats [#]Double A stats