By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Ichabod Crane body type walked into a conference room Monday with the same swagger he took to the mound for seven seasons in Chicago.
There’s no hiding 6-foot-6 of gangly baseball talent as it enters a room. And so all eyes were on left-hander Chris Sale as he returned to his former baseball home for the first time since being traded from the White Sox to the Red Sox last December.
You don’t get your own press conference unless there have been great accomplishments that preceded your return.
“It is all very weird,” Sale said as he addressed a media contingent of 50. “I had never been in the visitor’s clubhouse here. It was strange trying to get my bearings but it was good to be back. I just think of all the games, all the memories, all the fun times, really. I had a lot of fun here and a lot of good friends in that clubhouse.
“I stopped in to say hey to a few guys. I did not want to bother them, but I wanted to let them know I missed them. I spent seven years here. It was fun walking back in here and thinking about those years.”
Sale is at the top of his game once again in his first season with the Red Sox, as he’s 5-2 with a 2.34 ERA and 0.81 WHIP ahead of Tuesday’s start against the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. He struck out 10 or more batters in eight consecutive games this season, tying a record with Pedro Martinez.
That the White Sox parted company with him for more than just baseball personnel reasons can be argued. There was certainly a disconnect between the him and upper management.
So has Sale put those differences behind him?
“There are no hard feelings,” Sale said. “I know there were a couple of blips on the radar compared to a lot of good times. More so than anything, I just want people to know I appreciated my time here. More times than not, it was really good times. I always had really good teammates. I always had great coaching staffs. I am appreciative of that. I do not want to lose sight of that.”
The mistakes, of course, included a near team mutiny in spring training in 2016 when Adam LaRoche abruptly retired because the team wouldn’t allow his teenage son, Drake, to be a mainstay in the clubhouse. Sale was the most vocal in criticizing management during that fiasco. Then there was the day last July when Sale literally cut up the entire team’s throwback uniforms, which he was supposed to wear on the day of his start. He also once attempted to break into the Kansas City Royals’ locker room to fight each player.
Twice during his White Sox tenure, Sale was sent home by manager Robin Ventura to cool off. These are all some of the glitches Sale could itemize as reasons he was traded away.
“Like I said, there is no hard feelings,” Sale reiterated. “You know, coming into this, everything is a possible. Being traded, free agency, it just came to a time it needed to happen. It is very rare when you see one guy stay on the same team from start to finish. I just come in here with a smile on my face ready to see some old friends.”
Sale is looking forward — with a small amount of trepidation — to pitching against his former club Tuesday. He will match up against new White Sox ace Jose Quintana in a highly anticipated pitcher’s duel. It will be different, but his competitive fire will be the same.
“It will be hard not to crack a few smiles out there,” Sale sad. “I spent a lot of times with these guys. Some were teammates of mine for a number of years. We had some good times together.
“I am still going to compete against them. They are my friends, but I am not going to give them anything.”
Fans got to pay tribute to Sale in the bottom of the first inning of the series opener Monday, as the organization put together a video tribute for its former ace. Sale tipped his hat to the crowd and got a warm welcome.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.