Can Kevin Youkilis do for Sox what Aramis Ramirez did for Cubs?
BY DAN McGRATH For Sun-Times Media July 12, 2012 10:36PM
Updated: August 14, 2012 6:35AM
Aside from the position they play, Kevin Youkilis and Aramis Ramirez have almost nothing in common if perceptions are to be trusted.
Youkilis, a White Sox import from Boston, comes across as an edgy grinder, all nervous energy and spunk, calling on tenacity to will himself beyond the limits of his talent. The ballfield is his battlefield.
Ramirez came to be viewed — somewhat derisively — as the essence of nonchalance during his eight-plus seasons as a Cub. He’d play third base from a recliner if the rules allowed, and a nap between at-bats would be a fine idea.
Ramirez put up Ron Santo-like numbers for the Cubs, averaging .294 with 28 home runs and 95 RBIs. He was the team’s best third baseman since Santo, but the comparison is made grudgingly because he lacked Santo’s off-the-charts passion. That’s a mark against you in Chicago. We embrace fire, despite a rather dubious history with it.
Youkilis, though, is one fiery guy. And if he can do for the White Sox what Ramirez did for the Cubs in 2003, the South Side will probably name a street after him.
Nine years after he staged it, the heist Jim Hendry pulled off in spiriting Ramirez and Kenny Lofton away from the Pittsburgh Pirates for next to nothing is still considered the best move of Hendry’s 10-year tenure as Cubs general manager.
They were 50-51 and in third place when the deal was made on July 24. They would go 38-23 the rest of the way, winning their first division title since 1989 and their first postseason series since 1908.
No one need be reminded of what happened in Round 2 of the playoffs, but Ramirez was hardly culpable; he hit .250 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 12 postseason games, including a game-deciding grand slam off Florida’s Dontrelle Willis.
As much as his perceived indifference, Ramirez’ disappearance (2-for-23, 0, 0) in two subsequent division series tarnished his Cubs legacy. Citywide shrugs greeted the decision not to re-sign him — good riddance to the $97 million we paid you. But Ramirez was a good player here. The White Sox will be well-served if Youkilis is as good. He’ll never be accused of not trying.
The Sox have gone 9-4 since his arrival on June 25. Youkilis has hit .347, with five homers and 14 RBIs, as many as he’d had in 42 games with the Red Sox. He went 11-for-23 with three homers and 10 RBIs during a 5-1 pre-All-Star break homestand, and a rival team executive calls his acquisition the move of the year in baseball thus far.
“You’ve got a guy who was already a good player playing with a chip on his shoulder over how he was treated in Boston,” he said. “He’s been in a lot of big games, and he’ll bring a little edge to a clubhouse that was kind of quiet.”
Most important, Youkilis brings a good bat to a sturdy lineup that had one glaring weakness. Brett Morel’s slow start and bad back and Orlando Hudson’s defensive deficiencies left the Sox lacking at third base, but Kenny Williams reacted with characteristic aggression, grabbing Youkilis once the Red Sox made him available.
The cost was minimal — middling middle reliever Zack Stewart and super-sub Brett Lillibridge. They’ll miss Lillibridge’s versatility, but depth can be addressed with another deal. This was a move to win now, and so much for those 95-loss prognostications.
As Rajai Davis turned a walk into a run with two stolen bases and a wild pitch in last Sunday’s loss to Toronto, it was obvious that Layson Septimo and some of the other strong-armed kids occupying spots in the White Sox’s bullpen aren’t yet major-league pitchers. It’s asking a lot of Chris Sale, Jake Peavy and Jose Quintana to duplicate their first-half results, but with John Danks and Philip Humber missing, the rotation is in trouble unless they do.
Detroit, meanwhile, seemed to be rumbling to life before the All-Star break, but the Tigers just might have inherited the 2011 White Sox’s penchant for underachievement.
No matter how it turns out, Youkilis has already given the Sox more than they got from Junior Griffey (.260, three homers, 18 RBIs) in 2008 and way more than they got from Manny Ramirez (.261, 1, 2) in 2010.
If he hits a game-winning home run in the World Series, as stretch-drive acquisition Geoff Blum memorably did in 2005, the South Side will name more than a street for him.
The River Youkilis? Anthony Rizzo has first call on the lake.