Eulogizing Jose Contreras

Note: I’ll be posting the eulogies for Jose Contreras and Jermaine Dye (once he finds a team) on the site.  The rest of the non-returning players are covered in the book.
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I'll miss watching Contreras stretch his fingers with a softball during warmups.
Over his entire White Sox career, Jose Contreras’ stat line looks like that of an average pitcher.  He finished with a 55-56 record and a 4.66 ERA, which is almost the definition of “break-even” when compared to the rest of the American League.
Funny thing is, that’s a description that rarely fit Contreras, who spent more time being historically great or god-awful than anything in between.  And over the last three years of his contract — an extension that was ill-advised in hindsight — his starts were difficult to endure, most of the time.
With Contreras, it had to be assumed that other forces were always at play, starting with his age.  He came to the Sox in 2004 listed at 32, and when Kenny Williams traded him at the very end of August of 2009, Ozzie Guillen guessed he was 49.
He seemed to be a sensitive soul with excuses at hand, dating back to his time in New York, when he was separated from his wife and kids, who remained in Cuba during Contreras’ early years.  Family issues came back to bite him with the Sox, as he was served with divorce papers and a subpoena for a smuggling investigation before his disastrous Opening Day start in 2007.
Those issues are understandable in isolation.  Others were harder to grasp, such as in July of 2008, when Contreras sulked through his start following Pablo Ozuna’s DFA, prompting Guillen to respond with, “[Bleep] Jose Contreras.”
But while Contreras often showed his sad-sack side, he could never be questioned for his work ethic.  Don Cooper made a habit of praising Contreras’ conditioning, and that became clear after he ruptured his Achilles in August of 2008.  Originally slated to return somewhere around the All-Star break if everything went well, Contreras arrived at spring training 30 pounds lighter and ready to throw, and started the season in the rotation.  He wasn’t quite ready for prime time, especially lacking feel for his forkball, but Ozzie Guillen accepted the blame for that part.
When both mind and body were sound, Contreras was hard to beat.  And there’s no finer example of his occasional invincibility than the second half of 2005.
Contreras had been middling around .500 when he took the mound on Aug. 21 against his former team.  He held the Yankees to two runs (one earned) over eight innings in a 6-2 victory.  That day, however, more attention was paid to his counterpart, Randy Johnson, who served up four homers in the fourth inning.
Slowly but surely, Contreras would become the story.  Contreras rattled off eight wins in eight starts, all of them crucial as the Sox held off the hard-charging Cleveland Indians over the final month of the season.  Over that stretch, he posted a 2.09 ERA, and he worked into the eighth inning on an average night.  Little did we know he was just getting started.
Contreras started Game 1 in each of the postseason series that year.  All four of his starts were quality, and when he took the hard-luck loss in the opener of the ALCS against the Los Angeles Angels, he dusted himself off by throwing the fourth consecutive complete game, inducing the grounder to first that would send the Sox to their first World Series in 46 years.
He capped off his terrific 2005 by outdueling Roger Clemens in the first game of the World Series.  He allowed three runs over seven innings in the 5-3 victory, and the Sox were well on their way to achieving the unimaginable.
In 2006, Contreras continued to amaze.  He went undefeated over his first 16 starts, going 9-0 over that stretch to extend his streak to 17 consecutive wins, a franchise record.
All good things come to an end, and it hit Contreras particularly hard.  After dropping his first decision in nearly a year to the Yankees – a 6-5 loss on July 20 – he finished the year 4-9 with a 5.40 ERA.  That basically represented the “new” Contreras, unfortunately.  From the end of the winning streak to his trade to Colorado, Contreras went 26-45 with a 5.26 ERA.  Occasionally, he would rediscover the dancing forkball and pull off a great month reminiscent of his 2005, but somehow, consistency always managed to escape his considerable grasp.
As it turned out, three years of mediocre pitching was the trade-off for one year of magic.  If that’s the case, it’s hard to argue that Contreras or Sox fans got a raw deal.  Contreras may have underperformed his three-year, $30 million extension by a large margin, but the historical accomplishments will outlive the disappointments.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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Buehrlesque

“the historical accomplishments will outlive the disappointments”
Very well said Jim! This is a guy whose worth can’t be measured by his cumulative stats with the Sox. For that stretch from mid ’05 to mid ’06, he was video game dominant.

pander

96mph fastball, 94 mph fastball, 71 mph forkball.
K
He could do that in 2005/2006. And it was mighty.
Soft spot in my heart for him. He gave us a championship.

soxfanindiana

My fondest memories of Jose will be that dancing forkball and watching him bat in those interleague games!! Not sure anyone has looked more confused at the plate than Jose, except for the batters who faced his forkball at its best.
Someday I hope to learn how old he really was when he was with the Sox because I have to believe he was in his late 30’s to early 40’s when we got him!!!!

bigfun

“Occasionally, he would rediscover the dancing forkball and pull off a great month reminiscent of his 2005”
May 9 – June 5 2008 will always be a favorite. Over 6 starts, he gave up just 7 ER and 1 HR while averaging 7 innings per start. But during his last six starts that year, he gave up 27 ER, bringing him right back to his career average. It’s a shame that he didn’t have the chance to put up a decent September and make 2008 stand out from 2007 and 2009.

striker

Well written Jim. While I’ll always remember the success he had with this team, I’ll also remember the poor outings he had. And unfortunately I think the bad out weighed the good. I’m glad his era with the White Sox is ova.

knoxfire30

Man did Jose frustrate me beyond what I could handle at times, but his 05 and 06 dominant stretch still outweighs the bad.
I cant think of any mlb player with more average stats but capable of such dominant or blow up performances….
I wont miss Jose, but I certainly appreciate what he did.

striker

How about Estaban Loaiza. He won 20 games then sucked.

knoxfire30

loaiza was below average and had 1 career year, that happens a lot, contreres could throw a complete game shutout tomorrow or go out tomorrow and give up 9 runs on 8 hits and 4 walks in 2 innings and neither outcome would surprise anyone

knoxfire30

I thought about vazquez after making that statement but it was still pretty different. Vazquez’s blowups were predictable and while it would be a 3 run bomb or something that got him, it was never the 8 or 9 run outings that jose would labor 2 and 1/3 innings through. Vazquez would blow a lead in a big way on one pitch then go back to being fine.

bigfun

Vazquez just pitches far better from the windup than the stretch, which is why he gets the “one bad inning” tag. It was easy enough to predict him breezing through five innings and then running into trouble. Contreras’ Jekyll/Hyde outings were far more variable and I guess just came down to health and whether or not all his pitches showed up.

fustercluck

I will fondly remember Jose for opening a Cuban pipeline to the South Side, even if the impact prospects he attracted could be considered overrated and … mature. Big shot defector Aroldis Chapman was a sure thing to don the silver & black. But alas, his signing with Cincinnati was a sign that the pipeline had run dry.
Viva Cuba! Viva Contreras!!

marshlands

Contreras ruined my trip to Fenway last year. Other than that it’s all gravy.

ricksch

Well said. And it appears that everyone here remembers how Contreras was the glue that held the Sox together, particularly in the second half of ’05, when some of the other starters were faltering. His playoff starts were superb. Good luck Jose!

Buehrlesque

My worst memory associated with Contreras is when Sox fans booed him off the mound at the Cell early this season (I think it was April or May) after a bad start.
The guy had worked his butt off (literally, he lost a ton of weight) to return way ahead of schedule from his Achilles injury. Was he quite ready for major league hitters? No. But I was embarrassed and ashamed of the fans that booed him after he worked so hard to get there.
Anybody remember that?

knoxfire30

Worlds smallest violin playing.
Contreres is a professional athlete making 10 plus mil a year and we arent suppose to boo a HORRIFIC performance and start of the season cause he “worked hard” in the offseason.
Everyone appreciated him getting back earlier then expected but give me a freaking break its about getting results. If he came back fat and got outs would anyone have boo’d??? Of course not.

knoxfire30

Gotta factor that half of that boo’ing was aimed at Ozzie for throwing contreres out there. Very similiar to the wise leading off situation that brought out the boo birds. Its not the players fault he is bad, I GET THAT, but it can be the managers fault for running them out there or the GM’s fault for not acquiring the right players, thus the boo’s that seem toward that player typically are toward the whole damn situation.

alwayssox

Agreed. It seems to have gotten more extreme in recent years. Not sure why. I believe I heard players were commenting on it too – like Wise.
If ChiSox fans get a bad reputation, it will also make it harder to sign players. Some of these people have families who come to their games, etc. They won’t sign where they think the fans may be abusive.

marshlands

I don’t boo players for being bad at baseball, unless it’s Darin Erstad.

knoxfire30

anyone else find it funny the twins pitching or the sox hitting will determine who wins this division
that twin lineup on paper looks fantastic, as does our starting rotation, seems like a reversal of rolls for these two rivals

ricksch

Right now I’d like to boo Kenny Williams for thinking Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones and Omar Vizquel will effectively DH for the team. Meanwhile, the Twins pick up another proven vet in Hudson — in addition to taking our DH from last year for next to nothing. Oh well, we’ve been over this already. It’s just looking more and more assinine by the day. KW could sign Damon and try to salvage the offseason but that’s not happening.

Buehrlesque

If the “DH stew” platoon struggles at all early on in April, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those “proxy boos” coming from the stands at the Cell, Dewayne Wise 2009 style. Sox fans won’t have too much patience with the situation.

knoxfire30

Im sorry, the dead horse is beatin but I just cant pass this up, someone explain to me how ramon freaking castro gets 1 mil, and torrealba gets 1.25??? Good lord

tjrako

Contreras should not have to pay for a meal on the South side!!! That stretch from mid ‘05 to mid ‘06, is unbelievable!! He was the Man!! The Sox would be wise to do something as an ambassador for orignaziation to Cuba for him.
Granted we didn’t get Chapman but showing respect for Contreras will help get other players to come to Chicago from Cuba