Following 'high-risk' plan

Jason Bere was not only going to be one of the best pitchers of his era. He was going to stay healthy.

Ron Schueler, the White Sox's general manager from 1990 to 2000, was certain of it.

"I envisioned him as a guy who would never even have a sore arm, his delivery was that good," Schueler said.

Despite going 24-7 in his first two seasons, Bere altered that delivery.

"He had a boyhood idol, Roger Clemens," Schueler recalled of Bere, who grew up near Boston. "In the middle to late '90s, Roger kept his hands higher because guys were running on him.

"Jason was copying that. He told me he was. He wanted to do it because guys were running on him. I talked to our pitching coach about getting him lengthened out. He became like a catcher taking it back."

He was never the same. Bere's 1995 season was a disaster—8-15, 7.19 ERA—and it led to reconstructive elbow surgery. Now Bere, who went 1-10 with the Cubs last season, is hanging on as a back-of-the-rotation starter for the Indians.

An unfortunate tale? Maybe, but not an uncommon one. Especially for the White Sox, an organization that has produced so many great young arms yet has so little to show for it.

Even their most recent wave of talented young starters, including James Baldwin, Mike Sirotka and Jim Parque, is barely on the baseball map.

The lesson?

"It's a high-risk occupation," said Ken Williams, Schueler's successor.

He was talking about life as a general manager, but it also applies to pitching.

"You need a lot of pitchers to stay strong," said Roland Hemond, the Sox's GM from 1970 to '85 and now a top adviser to Williams. "There's a mortality rate, and you have to be lucky."

Take the 1993 Sox, whose rotation featured Bere, Jack McDowell, Wilson Alvarez and Alex Fernandez. McDowell, at 27, was the oldest.

Fernandez went 18-9 with a 3.13 ERA. Alvarez went 15-8. Bere went 12-5. McDowell went 22-10 before Toronto blasted him in the playoffs. He gave up 13 hits and seven runs in Game 1 and was knocked out in the third inning of Game 5.

"Toronto had his pitches," Schueler said. "He was tipping them with the glove. I ran into a couple of guys I picked up in a trade who told me that."

Schueler has no reason to defend McDowell, who left the Sox on bad terms. He was dealt to the Yankees for outfielder Lyle Mouton after three testy arbitration hearings and fruitless negotiations over a long-term contract.

"He was special," Schueler said. "Tough makeup. Great competitor. No fear of anything."

If only the same could be said for Alvarez and Fernandez, who took a similar path to their baseball graves. After the Sox took a pass, both signed five-year, $35 million deals with other teams. Both flamed out because of injuries and weight problems.

Fernandez won 17 games for the Florida Marlins in 1997 but won only 11 more before retiring.

Alvarez, dispatched to the Giants in the "White Flag" deal of 1997, went 17-26 for Tampa Bay from 1998-2002. At 33, he's considered washed up.

"I hate to say this," Schueler said, "but when you're 25 years old and you get $30 million, unless you're a special breed and want to get in the Hall of Fame, you're not driven anymore.

"As a team, you have to do your background."

The Sox could have learned from their 1990 team, which featured two young 14-game winners in McDowell and Greg Hibbard plus Melido Perez, who won 13.

Hibbard, whom Schueler described as "a little Whitey Ford type—good control, a battler," didn't win a game after his 30th birthday. Perez, traded to the Yankees before the '92 season, retired with 78 victories.

The Sox of the early '80s had two great young pitchers in Britt Burns and Rich Doston, plus LaMarr Hoyt.

Burns, who won 15 games as a 21-year-old in 1980, was felled by hip problems. Dotson went 22-7 in 1983 but was 55-73 after that. Hoyt flamed out in 1986, three years after winning the Cy Young Award at 28.

The history books will tell you the '79 Sox had one of the organization's best young staffs.

Rich Wortham won 14 games, Ross Baumgarten won 13 and Steve Trout won 11.

All three left-handers regressed after that season. And in a hurry.

Baumgarten, a studious product of New Trier High School, followed his 13-8 campaign by going 7-26 over his final three seasons.

Wortham, even at his best, couldn't find the plate. He walked 100 batters in 204 innings in 1979.

Trout, a finesse pitcher who never struck out more than 89 batters in a season, went 23-32 for the Sox over the next three years.

He couldn't come close to matching the success of his father, Dizzy, who won 10 or more games seven years in a row for Detroit in the '40s.

"Trout should have been the best by far," Schueler said. "He had dynamite stuff, but he just didn't take care of himself. He didn't want to work. If his dad had been alive, [Steve] would have been in the Hall of Fame. His dad wouldn't have taken it."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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