The Tribune’s Phil Rogers is one of my favorite baseball writers, and every year he picks an All-City team to coincide with the Cubs-White Sox series. It’s always fun to read.
Even the ballplayers have paid attention. Sammy Sosa had a hissy fit at the batting cage one year when Cub teammates—somewhat gleefully, as I recall—informed him that Rogers had chosen Magglio Ordonez as his All-City right fielder. Sammy ragged on Magglio for a bit, then went off on Rick Morrissey, in the mistaken belief that he was Rogers.
Good old Sammy. He probably figured it was a Tribune Co. conspiracy to hold down his asking price on his next contract—“Fifteen million a year when you’re not even all-city?”
Rogers has owned the franchise all these years, but I’m the guy who came up with the idea for the All-City team, back when he and I worked at the Trib. So I’m stepping up to the plate this year. Here’s my lineup.
FIRST BASE: Paul Konerko, White Sox. Is he not the best player in the city this year? Not even a Jeff Samardzija pitch to the face has stopped him from putting up numbers worthy of MVP consideration if Josh Hamilton’s stats weren’t so outlandish. The Cubs’ Bryan LaHair has cooled down a bit after being the feel-good story of April. He has outperformed his reputation as a 4-A player, but one strikeout for every three at-bats is unacceptable, and manager Dale Sveum appears to have lost faith in LaHair against La-left-handed pitching.
SECOND BASE: Gordon Beckham, White Sox. This one is close. I like Darwin Barney’s moxie, and he has the superior batting average, but Beckham brings more pop, better range, and a superior glove. Beckham’s struggles at the plate have obscured the fact that he has become an outstanding fielder.
SHORTSTOP: Starlin Castro, Cubs. A .300 average, developing power, 30-steals speed, and improved defense make him a clear choice, despite those infuriating brain cramps. Castro will be a star if his concentration catches up to his talent. I keep waiting for Alexei Ramirez to blossom into something special, but maybe he is what he is: a .260-ish hitter with decent pop who’s capable of pulling off great plays and kicking away easy ones. Not sure you can win with that. But something tells me there’s more inside.
THIRD BASE: No winner. Anybody seen Joe Crede? Kevin Orie? Aramis Ramirez? Never mind. With Ian Stewart hovering near the Mendoza Line and Brent Morel well below it before his back went out, this is a black-hole position for both teams. Orlando Hudson, a career second baseman, is finding that things happen a lot faster on the left side of the diamond. It’s a smoother transition the other way; witness Beckham and Ryne Sandberg.
LEFT FIELD: Alfonso Soriano, Cubs (in the belief that Sox up-and-comer Dayan Viciedo will have many more chances to make the squad). Soriano’s legs are shot, and it’s painful to watch him hobbling around if you remember what a dynamic player he was with the Yankees and Texas. But he’s out there trying—harder than he used to in the field—and he still murders thigh-high fastballs.
CENTER FIELD: Alejandro De Aza, White Sox. The Cubs conceded the position when they traded Marlon Byrd…not that he was especially good. Between Reed Johnson and Tony Campana, they’re getting just about what the Sox are getting from De Aza, who has seized the opportunity to become an everyday player at 28.
RIGHT FIELD: Alex Rios, White Sox. It’s an even-numbered year, so he’s hitting for average (almost .300). Since reaching the big leagues to stay in 2004, Rios has been a .290 hitter with 15 homers and 70 RBIs in even-numbered years, and a .260 hitter with 16 homers and 65 RBIs in odd-numbered years. David DeJesus has been a little less than what the Cubs figured he’d be when they signed him as a free agent. Decent numbers, but not much impact. Then again, he’s playing for a last-place team.
CATCHER: A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox. It’s a contract year, so he’s good, hitting with power, driving in runs, and throwing out an occasional baserunner. Who’d have thought Steve Clevenger, a year removed from Double-A, would be his chief competition. Clevenger has hit everywhere he has played. Geo Soto appears to have no future with the Cubs.
DESIGNATED HITTER: Adam Dunn, White Sox, even if he hadn’t rediscovered his power stroke. It’s just as well the National League disdains the DH—whom would the Cubs use? Most nights their entire bench and much of their lineup has fewer home runs than Dunn.
STARTING ROTATION: Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, Jose Quintana, White Sox; Ryan Dempster, Jeff Samardzija, Cubs. Sale is a no-brainer—he has been the best pitcher in Chicago this year, if not the entire American League. Peavy may lack the electric stuff he had in 2007, but he has given the Sox a chance to win each of his starts. So has Quintana, which is more than can be said for John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber. Samardzija has had a couple of rough starts after a series of good ones. Dempster has thrown 22 straight scoreless innings, but he has pitched in buzzard’s luck, and everyone assumes he’ll soon be traded.
CLOSER: Addison Reed, White Sox, again, by default. For the Cubs, a closer is superfluous; they rarely have a late-inning lead to protect, so they haven’t had to anoint one since Carlos Marmol imploded. Reed is only 23, but he throws hard, he throws strikes, and he appears to have the gumption to get the last three outs.
MANAGER: Robin Ventura, White Sox. How do you judge Dale Sveum? He’s driving a mule-powered buckboard in the Indy 500. That said, Robin Ventura wins on merit. He has calmed things down and eliminated the drama, per his marching orders. Thus unencumbered, the White Sox have played pretty good baseball. No one is laughing at the Ventura hire now. Well played, Kenny Williams.
Sox win, 11-4.
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DAN McGRATH is the former sports editor of the Chicago Tribune and the current president of Leo High School.
STORY ART: Main image made in-house.