We all know what happened on Saturday night: Chris Sale went nuts on some throwback unis. The Chicago White Sox scratched him from his start, sent him home, suspended him for five games, and all of this happened against the backdrop of Sale being the most desirable commodity on any team on the planet available at the trade deadline.
Wilbur Wood: "Sure, I'll start both games of a doubleheader." Chris Sale: "My shirt feels yucky. Waaah!" 1970s > 2010s @BigHairPlasGras— Josh Wilker (@Josh_Wilker) July 24, 2016
The instant default is that you wouldn’t expect much sympathy from fans for millionaires who don’t want to get into some new togs and go to work, and you’ll see plenty of that ... but there are a few bigger factors in play, some of which might even allow you to feel a little sympathy for Sale.
First, let’s start with the trivial. The throwback jerseys are ugly -- like, the ugliest uniforms ever, more throwaway than throwback. I’ll disagree with Jim Caple’s ranking of worst-ever unis and just come out and say they put everything else in the shade when it comes to ugly. They’re so ugly that hipsters wouldn’t wear them ironically while bowling. In addition, it was reported that Sale didn't want to wear the uniform because it was uncomfortable. When taking that into consideration, you can understand Sale’s readiness to become the latest player to protest a throwback uni.
Second, let’s remember that backdrop. Saturday night very well could have been Sale’s last start with the White Sox. Every indication is that he likes pitching for this team, in this city. Can you blame the guy for exhibiting a measure of pride, if he wanted to at least go out in style wearing a major league uniform instead of an uncomfortable pullover you’d pass over in a resale shop?
And we know Sale’s a guy who doesn’t have a medium setting when it comes to intensity. From his attempt to storm the Royals' clubhouse after an on-field rumble last season in the Cell (leading to another five-game suspension), to his publicly taking up the cudgels on behalf of Adam and Drake LaRoche this spring to call out team president Kenny Williams, we probably can say that restraint isn’t one of Sale’s more reliable virtues.
Then add in the stress of dealing with the unknown -- it isn’t like Sale has ever been traded before -- and worrying about where you and your family will have to move to. None of that is fun having to work through or work around, wherever you work, but let’s be somewhat sympathetic and add it to the stress of pitching in the major leagues.
But there’s another big reason why some Sox fans were almost instantly ready to take Sale’s side when he was sent home, one that goes beyond an ugly and uncomfortable throwback uniform, and has everything to do with the one thing that risks poisoning the relationship between a team and its best player.
I think I like Chris Sale so much because I know he hates Kenny Williams as much as I do— Dominic Pellegrini (@DomPellegrini1) July 23, 2016
In the history of Jerry Reinsdorf-owned teams, Williams is to the White Sox what Jerry Krause was with the NBA’s Bulls: the unloved architect/apparatchik who was in charge when the team won it all, someone who probably has lifetime employment with the organization as a result. Williams outlasted Ozzie Guillen in the same way that Krause outlasted Phil Jackson (even after two three-peats), and you can bet there are plenty of fans who would have rather had it the other way around. That’s fine, but they’re not Reinsdorf, and Reinsdorf retains and rewards his front-office soldiers.
All of which is why more than a few fans here in Chicago -- and more than a few journalists -- were quick to guess that this was another showdown between exec and ace after their cryptic initial announcements, and were quick to take Sale’s side. Then the full details came out and concern over a clubhouse showdown turned into a farce over ugly, uncomfortable duds.
Look past the laundry, and we’re still left with a basic problem: Sale and Williams don’t mix, which makes for an uncomfortable coexistence. And when push comes to shove, over this latest stupid thing or the next stupid thing, you can bet on the White Sox -- and on Williams -- to win. When you’re an employer, you can’t let your employees chop up their work clothes. And within baseball and pro sports, throwback jerseys are part of the way they do business. Sale didn’t act professionally, and no matter how uncomfortable or ugly the uniform is, he’s paid to wear it under every circumstance on the field.
This bit of needless drama makes for an uncomfortable additional factor while GM Rick Hahn shops his ace at the deadline to potentially launch the franchise’s first total rebuild since the late 1980s. Because if they don’t get that one deal that knocks their socks off, they'll have to find ways to get their ace to keep his shirt on.