clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Penance race unlikely for Sale upon return from suspension

Chris Sale will start Thursday against the Cubs at Wrigley after his five-game suspension. | Nam Y. Huh/AP

If you’ve been obsessing over the Bears’ depth at long snapper or whether the wide receiver corps will sort itself out by the third preseason game — the one that really matters — you have missed out on some crackling good baseball in the Crosstown Showdown.

With their season perhaps in tatters (heh-heh) after Chris Sale’s weekend tantrum over throwback uniforms, who saw the White Sox getting the early drop on the mighty Cubs with back-to-back victories before sellout crowds at U.S. Cellular Field?

Now it gets really interesting. Sale will return from his team-imposed five-game suspension for the series finale Thursday at Wrigley Field. Beer, socializing and beer usually outrank heckling among Wrigley patrons, but Sale going all Carlos Zambrano on Mary Frances Veeck’s much-maligned uniform design is too easy a target.

“I don’t know how his teammates will receive him — you’d have to ask them,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “But I know how I’m going to receive him. With open arms.”

The senior playing member of the Sox, Sale has not been a presence at the series thus far. In his only public comment since going underground, he took a shot at manager Robin Ventura for not being supportive of his players, presumably in matters of such great import as throwback uniforms or the daily presence of a 14-year-old in the clubhouse.

Never mind that Ventura, now 49 and 12 years retired, would rather grab a bat and face a blindfolded Aroldis Chapman than speak ill of one of his players. Sale hates throwback uniforms and he loves Drake LaRoche, and if Ventura doesn’t see it that way . . . next time threaten to hold your breath until he does.

Chris Sale, 27 going on 7.

“I’m sure we’ve all said or done things when we were 23, 24, 26, 27 that we’re not proud of,” Cooper said. “We all make mistakes.”

Ventura, taking the high road, said he’ll speak with Sale when he sees him.

The suspension cost Sale one start, but he’s still the majors’ co-leader with 14 victories. He’s a five-time American League All-Star and the starter in this year’s game, an assignment that reflects the respect he commands throughout baseball, not just in his own clubhouse.

But Zambrano had talent, too, and he’s far better known for the buffoonish behavior that tarnished his tenure with the Cubs than for the 132 victories, the .592 winning percentage or the three All-Star appearances he earned.

Big Z even hit .238 with 24 career homers. But he’s long gone from baseball at 35, finished, in fact, at 31. What a waste of talent it would be if Sale were to wander off down a similar path, though Cooper insists it’s unlikely.

“Chris is a good kid in a lot of ways, and by that I mean I’ve seen him do things for people that nobody knows about,” Cooper said. “He’s very passionate about baseball, about a lot of things. It’s part of what makes him great.”

Cooper said he has had one phone conversation with Sale, and they discussed Thursday’s start, not Saturday’s incident. How was the exiled young star? “Passionate.”

So those expecting penitent, I’ll-never-do-it-again remorse from Sale might be disappointed. A bigger issue is how or whether the tirade affects his future with the only big-league team he has known.

Funny thing, as Harry Caray would say, but the Sox went 4-0 against teams of supposedly superior quality after Sale’s meltdown. Left for dead after losing seven of eight coming out of the All-Star break, they had straggled back to .500 (50-50) at the start of Wednesday’s play. They claim not to have decided whether they’ll be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline four days hence; meet me at the corner of Maybe and I Don’t Know, and we’ll talk.

But with a sizable deficit in the division race, six teams ahead of them in the wild-card standings and a penchant for maddening inconsistency, the Sox and the playoffs don’t seem like a fit. Unless Sale makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t want to be here, the Sox are under no pressure to deal him, and it would be an ill-advised move if they do.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Dodgers — closing hard on the Giants in the National League West — target Sale as the ideal replacement for injured Clayton Kershaw and deliver a blockbuster offer. Wouldn’t the Sox have to listen?

It’s something to think about until the first Jay Cutler sighting.