Word up! Sale's vocabulary exercise catching on
Southpaw integrating 'word of the start' into each postgame media session
CHICAGO -- The media gathering following Chris Sale's start on July 4 had come to a close and the White Sox starter did not seem satisfied.
That displeasure certainly wasn't based on his individual on-field performance, with Sale striking out 12 during a complete-game home victory over the Mariners on that night. That effort pretty much represented business as usual for the three-time All-Star, who ranks fourth in the Majors with a 2.14 ERA, third with a 0.89 WHIP, fourth with a .199 average against and fifth with a 10.18 K/9 mark. Sale also sits seventh among bWAR for pitchers at 4.7 going into Tuesday's start against the Giants.
Instead, Sale was displeased with the line of questioning. Yes, it took reporters until the final inquiry for Sale to be able to find a spot to sneak in his word of the start.
What is the "word of the start," people may ask? It's a fair enough question.
With each big league trip to the mound this season -- minus Opening Day, numbering 17 in total -- Sale has worked in one particular word during his postgame interview. The word comes from Bryan Johnson, the team's baseball video coordinator, and it's up to Sale to use that word in the proper context.
Much like his devastating slider on a 2-2 count, Sale hasn't missed with that job this year. He's becoming as much about vocabulary power as he is about power pitching.
"At first, we were trying to get the whole team in on it," Sale said. "That seemed to be kind of hard. I was the only one who stuck with it."
Adam Dunn and John Danks actually were in on that first word, which was "indubitably," for the record, coming after his start on April 6 in Kansas City. But from that point on, Johnson has become the "brains of the operation," and Sale stands as the "puppet."
Sale's words since then have gone as follows:
• Juxtapose (April 11)
• Consternation (April 17)
• Ameliorate (May 22)
• Acquiesce (May 27)
• Capitulated (June 1)
• Nascence (June 7)
• Ruminate (June 12)
• Repudiate (June 18)
• Antithetic (June 23)
• Dichotomy (June 28)
• Cacophony (July 4)
• Adjudicate (July 9)
• Ubiquitous (July 21)
• Voracious (July 26)
• Prescience (Aug. 1)
• Amalgamation (Aug. 6)
Even on June 7 in Anaheim, when a 5-0 lead turned into an unexpected 5-all deadlock over the course of five batters faced by Sale in the eighth, the southpaw still stayed true to form postgame with "nascence."
"When you commit to something as serious as this, you have to ride it out through the good and the bad," Sale said. "We had said that we were going to do it every start this year. In a sense, me and Bryan are on a team now, and I can't let my team down. I have two teams to play for a night."
There's really no deep meaning behind this word-of-the-start tale, aside from illustrating how comfortable Sale has become as an elite Major League starter -- not to mention how much enjoyment he seems to gain from a game that can be one part exasperating and another part exhilarating. Travel back to Sale's first career appearance, coming out of the bullpen on Aug. 6, 2010, at Camden Yards, as a comparison and contrast.
Sale relieved Danks in the eighth, walked Brian Roberts, gave up a single to Nick Markakis and promptly was removed from the game. He was pitching in front of a Major League crowd approximately two months after being selected 13th overall by the White Sox in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and he said about six words during that first interview session.
Sale has transformed from a quiet rookie to a veteran leader at the core of the White Sox reshaping process, one who humorously jousts with the media to make sure he gets in his appointed word selection.
"You can lose sight of the fact that he's 25, but he's extremely mature and very comfortable in the clubhouse and in his role in the front end of the rotation," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "He not only sets a good example for everyone on the field, but he's a huge part of what we have going on in the clubhouse, building good momentum -- especially, we feel, on the pitching side."
"Obviously, it's a learning curve," said Sale of his comfort zone. "You are not going to come up here and know everything right from the start. Like I've said a million times, I've had a good veteran group of core guys to kind of teach me the way. And learn to have fun with it, too. If that's a word of the day, so be it."
Now this word of the start has become somewhat of an Internet craze. OK, if not quite to that craze level, at the very least, fans on Twitter clamor to hear what Sale has to say after each start.
Maybe the White Sox should sponsor Sale's word of the start for the foreseeable future, although it's uncertain if it will last past 2014. It's up to the media, though, to make sure Sale has an avenue to disperse said information.
"One of these times, I'm going to have to blurt it out, whatever it might be," a smiling Sale said. "Just, 'Oh, yeah by the way, this,' and walk away."