Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on October 12, 2005 · Page 10-6
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · Page 10-6

Chicago, Illinois
Issue Date:
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Page 10-6
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6 CHICAGO TRIBUNESECTION10 ? WEDNESDAYOCTOBER12,2005 123456 O zzie Guillen wasnot exactly the most receptive student as his playing career wound down, according to former White Sox hitting instructor Bill Buckner. “At the end of his career, he was a little cranky,” said Buckner, who served in that role for the Sox in 1996-97. “He was tough to get to work. But he’s a good guy, and he knows the game. Ozzie was a free swinger, so he was kind of the opposite kind of player than the ones he has put together [as a manager]. He wasn’t one to take walks, bunt over or steal bases.” Buckner, who was vilified in Boston for his costly error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, empathizes with the plight of current Red Sox second baseman Tony Graffanino, whose fielding blunder led to the White Sox winning Game 2 of their best-of-five American League Division Series. Buckner currently is participating in a liquor ad campaign, which is a sequel to the famous baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat.” In this version Casey gets a second shot at the plate and hits a home run. “That’s what life should be about—second chances. Keep walking, keep your head up and keep a good attitude,” Buckner said Tuesday from New York. “A lot of what happened to me in Boston was out of frustration because they had not won a World Series for so long. I just happened to be the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. “My first thought about Graffanino’s error was that I hope Boston has some class here. When someone is down, you don’t beat him. The fans did the right thing; they gave him a nice ovation [before Game 3]. To be quite honest, I think Boston learned its lesson with me and the way they treated me.” Buckner’s career did feature more pleasant memories with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He appeared in the 1974 National League Championship Series and the 1974 World Series before the 1986 World Series with Boston. He also won a batting title with the Cubs in 1980, the last Cub to do so before Derrek Lee won the NL hitting title this season. “That’s a good trivia question to ask,” said Buckner with a laugh. Buckner likes the revamped White Sox’s chances in the ALCS against the Angels. “I think that [base-stealing, hit-and-run] type of team is a little bit more bulletproof,” Buckner said. “The Yankees, for instance, rely on the middle of their order— Alex Rodriguez , Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield . If a couple of those get cold, and that’s what you’re relying on, you’re not going to win. … I just think it’s the year for Chicago.” Word on the street ESPN radio national host Dan Patrick caught a lot of abuse from White Sox fans Tuesday during his live broadcast near U.S. Cellular Field. Many Sox fans perceive an East Coast bias from ESPN television and radio with regard to overkill on Yankees and Red Sox news. “I thought I was going to be Tom Gamboaed for a while,” Patrick said later, referring to the former Kansas City Royals first-base coach who was attacked on the field by a father and son three years ago. Local attraction Legendary White Sox organist Nancy Faust will be playing at Harry Caray’s Restaurant on Friday night during Game 3 of the ALCS that will be played in Anaheim. Fred Mitchell Around the Sox Buckner recalls a ‘cranky’ Guillen he was tipping pitches, for instance, Cooper called Freddy Garcia and Orlando “El Duque’’ Hernandez into a meeting room. When Contreras saw the way Garcia and Hernandez were laughing at how obvious it was to tell what pitch was coming based on Contreras’ arm angle, Cooper’s point was driven home. That blunt brand of humor has helped keep Sox pitchers loose, such as when Cooper gave “El Duque,’’ a new nickname appropriate for the “36th” birthday Hernandez celebrated Tuesday. “In Cuba they call Contreras ‘El Titan de Bronze,’ so I told [Hernandez] I was going to start calling him ‘El Titan de Aluminum,’” Cooper said. “He thought it was funny.’’ To communicate with the Cubans, and the other Latinos on the staff, Cooper relies on the two years of high school Spanish he took three decades ago. He’s a fast-talker, too. If a scout pointed a radar gun at By David Haugh Tribune staff reporter Late one night recently when Don Cooper was still up savoring his best season in nearly 30 years of professional baseball, the movie “Boys Town” appeared on the television screen. The White Sox pitching staff quickly popped into his head. To Cooper, the 1938 movie about accepting young men as they are aptly summed up the way the Sox’s pitchers under his charge carried the team to the verge of an American League pennant. As long as nobody compares Cooper to Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning role as the Rev. Edward Flanagan. “I’m no Father Flanagan, don’t be doing that … [but] we’re just like ‘Boys Town,’’’ said Cooper, 49. “We believe there’s no such thing as a bad boy.’’ Welcome to the Sox’s clubhouse, where coaches such as Cooper forgive as well as they forget and yesterday pales in comparison to tomorrow. In this setting, where Cooper molds his pitching staff, results trump reputations and the past strikes out every time. If Cooper did not practice that philosophy, closer Bobby Jenks still might be buried in a Triple-A bullpen branded immature instead of on a South Side pedestal labeled unhitta- ble. Starter Jon Garland still might be mired in mediocrity instead of an 18-game winner awaiting his first playoff start. And Jose Contreras likely would not have been on the mound Tuesday night for Game 1of the American League Championship Series. Every Sox pitcher started the season with the back of his baseball card blank in Cooper’s mind, an approach even the most accomplished and low-maintenance staff members appreciate. “He’s one of the most laid- back pitching coaches I’ve had through the minor leagues,’’ Mark Buehrle said. “He kind of lets everybody do what he wants. We go out there and have fun, and when it’s time to take care of business, we take care of business.’’ Such as Tuesday, when Cooper went to the mound in the third inning to settle down Contreras and scold him for not throwing home instead of second base when Adam Kennedy scored the Angels’ third run on a comebacker. “I just try to offer guys honest, open communication, nothing more than that,’’ Cooper said. “Each guy’s different.’’ Great sense of humor Often with Cooper, a native New Yorker with a sense of humor sharper than a good cur- veball, taking care of business usually involves mixing in some pleasure. His most proven method with a staff whose 3.61ERA tied the Indians for the lowest in the American League involves laughing with his players, and sometimes at them, whether the jokes come during a card game or in a clubhouse meeting. To prove to Contreras earlier this season how blatantly Cooper’s mouth the words probably would be clocked at 96 m.p.h. But somehow his primary message of believing in yourself without overanalyzing the game has not gotten lost in translation. “Don Cooper is an incredible person,’’ Contreras said. “He’s not only a great pitching coach but he’s a great human being, a great friend. And he’s a very funny guy. From the first time I met Cooper I felt really comfortable with him. I felt like it wasn’t my job, it was more like a friendship.’’ New York ties The White Sox family welcomed Cooper into the fold 18 years ago when he joined the staff atClass A South Bend as the pitching coach for manager Steve Dillard, a former Sox player. That opportunity presented itself when Al Goldis, then the Sox’s director of scouting and player development, offered Cooper a spot in the organization because of their shared New York roots. Goldis was the coach at New York Tech on Long Island who offered the son of a milkman a scholarship to pitch in college, a door that opened the way to a spotty major-league career from 1981-85 with the Twins, Blue Jays and Yankees. Cooper used to refer to himself as “the 12th pitcher on a 10- man staff’’ and once spent 32 days on the Yankees’ roster without pitching. But he never complained. He felt such pride in being a major-leaguer in his hometown the first time he put on thepinstriped uniform it brought tears to his eyes. Along the way, he absorbed all the pitching knowledge he could from guys such as Hoyt Wilhelm, Stan Williams and Johnny Podres. “There are plenty of other people qualified to be major- league coaches so, believe me, every day I know I’ve been blessed,’’ said Cooper, who took over for Nardi Contreras on July 22, 2002. Yankee rumors His name already has come up in speculation about the Yankees’ next pitching coach, and rumors likely will continue. But the emotion in Cooper’s voice when he spoke of 18 years in the Sox organization suggested he does not plan on changing pinstripes—or uniforms—anytime soon. “I’m proud of being with the organization that long,’’ Cooper said. “I used to think people who stayed with corporations for 25 years, that was pretty cool.’’ One of the most accessible men in Chicago sports, Cooper could talk all day about the Sox organization. And often does. Yet ask Cooper to name some of his favorite reclamation projectsand the fast talker slows to a halt. “I don’t want to do that; don’t make it about me,’’ he said.“I have a bit role, but not a starring role.’’ A few extras along for the Sox’s playoff production excite Cooper much more. Cooper’s wife, Ruby, and their three children have joined him from the family’s home in Nashville. On Tuesday, four days later, Cooper still was chuckling at the memory of his 8-year-old son celebrating in the Fenway Park clubhouse with the rest of the team. The boy was having almost as much fun as his dad. “I wasn’t fortunate enough to go through this as a player, so it’s a blast for me and a heck of an opportunity for all of us,’’ Cooper said. “But my part in this is very small.’’ By Mark Gonzales Tribune staff reporter When left-hander Mark Buehrle takes the mound Wednesday night, one of the greatest pitchers in White Sox history will have a special appreciation for what Buehrle accomplished this season. That’s Jack McDowell, whose mark of 49 consecutive starts of pitching at least six innings was equaled by Buehrle. “First of all, it’s amazing for somebody to be allowed to do it,” McDowell said Tuesday, 3½ hours before Game 1of the Sox’s American League Championship Series opener loss. “You’re barely allowed to do it anymore. If you’re in a blowout, they take you out after five innings. It used to be, if you were in a blowout and winning 10-0, the bullpen would sit down and have the day off. “You would pitch nine innings, whether you had given up seven runs or not. And so those are the kind of things that stand out. Those types of performances are the ones that are important to me. But the consistency, you can’t get around that. That’s awesome.” McDowell, 39, pitched his first six full major-league seasons for the Sox and achieved his streak of consecutive starts during the 1992-93 seasons, when he won 42 games and helped lead the Sox to the 1993 American League West title. One of McDowell’s teammates was shortstop Ozzie Guillen, whom McDowell envisioned would prosper as a manager. “I knew he would be good,” McDowell said. “It’s hard to say what the players are going to do and what kind of years they’re going to have if they stay healthy, but I knew he’d be a great manager. “You’re going to see a lot of players managing who have done what they’ve done, made their money and don’t need to cover their [tails]. And a lot of people are pointing out that Ozzie is at fault for not going by the book. “Well, you know what? He has played baseball, and he knows his guys and his team, and he’s going by his gut. I think the way managers have managed for a long time by the book is another way to pass the buck.” McDowell was in town as a member of Fox’s crew, but he has stayed involved in baseball at the grass-roots level. “The big thing I’ve been doing is redesigning our Little League field [in San Diego],” McDowell said. “It’s just me and a shovel every day. It’s pretty much what I’m doing, and I’m talking to [Sox groundskeeper] Roger Bossard a lot about taking care of the fields.” McDowell sees a lot of his work ethic in Buehrle MODEL OF CONSISTENCY McDowell Pitching coach Don Cooper is reluctant to discuss players who have benefited from his precise, positive approach. But here are five who stand out in his 18 years as a member of the White Sox organization. Jose Contreras. Rebuilt Cuban’s confidence as well as adjusting arm angles and delivery to avoid tipping pitches and allow overpowering physical talent to flourish. Bobby Jenks. Ignored past whispers about Jenks the immature troublemaker and focused instead on improving 24-year-old’s command of 99 m.p.h. heater. Shingo Takatsu. Not to be forgotten, Cooper somehow coaxed Takatsu into using unorthodox motion and average stuff well enough to finish second in rookie-of- the-year voting in 2004. Jon Garland. Some heavy- handed pitching coaches might have micromanaged Garland during the last few seasons of disappointment, but Cooper found a way to bring ability to the surface. Jason Bere. Back in 1995, when Cooper was interim pitching coach for manager Terry Bevington, he helped Bere correct minor mechanical flaws and restored a positive approach that the right- hander credited with saving his season. David Haugh Cooper’s mound of accomplishments ‘BOYS TOWN’ REVISITED A coup for Mr. Cooper Pitching coach works wonders by relying on laid-back approach to wring the best out of Sox’s staff Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper keeps a watchful eye on Orlando Hernandez during the ALDS against Boston.

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