CHICAGO -- It was two decades ago when Jack McDowell dominated the American League and won the Cy Young Award. That 1993 season still remains the last time a Chicago White Sox pitcher took home the hardware.
While it’s unlikely that a South Sider will accomplish the feat in 2013, the White Sox do have someone on their staff who fits the mold of a player who someday soon might break that streak. Current Chicago ace Chris Sale reminds Robin Ventura of McDowell, with not only his dominant performance, but also his ability to lead and always compete when he takes the mound.
“He ranks up there [with McDowell],” Ventura said. “He's got a lot of very good qualities. He's very competitive, he gets angry in all the right ways. I think that's a part of what's going to make him better down the road. He's had that all along and I think that's what's gotten him to this point.”
Ventura was teammates with McDowell for five seasons and he witnessed "Black Jack"'s most dominating stretch. From 1991-93, McDowell was one of the best in the game, picking up a Cy Young win, a second-place finish and three All-Star appearances, maintaining a 3.32 ERA and averaging 257 innings pitched during that period of time.
Bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen also has seen both McDowell and Sale’s dominance firsthand, and was also able to draw some parallels between the two.
“The similarity for me is that both of them at an early age -- the cliché we use is, ‘figured it out,’” Thigpen said. “He seemed to figure it out just like Jack did. They both came from college, they both came up with tremendous stuff. The mindset, the preparation, how they go about it on game day, they kind of stand out even more because of that.”
Sale is actually ahead of McDowell’s pace in terms of age. McDowell had his breakout season at age 24 and made his first of three straight All-Star Games at age 25. At 24, Sale has already made two All-Star Games and is currently mentioned among the best half-dozen or so starters in all of baseball.
“This is only his second year of starting,” Ventura said. “Going from the bullpen to where he's at now, he's still progressing and learning hitters. I think he's going to get better. He has the stuff and all of that, but it's to be able to make it consistent over the whole season and multiple seasons.”
Sale has taken his game to another level in 2013. With an impressive 2.81 ERA, Sale is also striking out 27.7 percent of the batters he’s faced (fourth in the AL) and walking only 5.9 percent. Veteran Paul Konerko agrees that Sale is quickly becoming one of the best in the game, and perhaps among the best he’s ever seen put on a White Sox uniform.
"He's right up there,” Konerko said. “In the short amount of time he's been starting he probably has the best stuff, maybe, of anybody we've ever had -- and certainly left-handed stuff. I can't think of anybody offhand that's been as dominant. There's those couple years where (Jose) Contreras had some starts where he was pretty dominant. But he's definitely a true No. 1. It's not just the arm. He wants to be great, and that's why he's up in that class with the other guys in the league -- in that short list of five, six guys that are true No. 1's -- and he's one of them."
It’s Sale’s intensity and drive that often gets him compared to teammate Jake Peavy. With the trade deadline looming, Peavy might be headed out of town in the near future and John Danks’ up and down performance means that Sale may have to assume the role of staff leader at the age of 24.
“Yeah, I think he will,” Ventura said. “Again, him being as young as he is, when you have a guy like Jake here, I think that's a natural fit, for Jake to do that. But he's eventually going to have that. At least he's been with the right people; Buehrle was here, Danks, Peavy -- that kind of leadership you kind of follow. I think he’s had some good role models to go with, so it makes him better.”