Manuel May Make or Break Sox in 2003

Negativity in March is a rare thing, sometimes a forbidden fate. Spring hopes eternal in most spring training camps -- unless you're the Tigers or Brewers -- and especially in Tucson where the Sox are prepping for an important 2003 season.

The first few days were regular until Frank Thomas opened his mouth and the bad vibes from Thomas' past were back. Everyone has railed on Frank Thomas so I will leave him alone here, but one thing that hasn't been brought to the table is that this is a huge year for Jerry Manuel.

If the White Sox look sub par in the beginning of the season with their relatively easy schedule, then Manuel's days will be numbered. He has admitted mistakes he made last season, amplified even more by Ken Harrleson who said point blank that Manuel managed poorly last year. No one likes to criticize Manuel because he is man of high moral character and little self-gratitude. But he maybe the difference between a post-season appearance and a frustrating summer. This will be Manuel's 6th season as manager of the club. That in itself is amazing especially since the Sox haven't had a manager that long since Tony LaRussa.

Manuel needs to accomplish three things this year to keep his job and for this team to be successful.

Create a Relationship with Frank Thomas
Jerry, this is what you get paid the big money to do. Don't hide in the dugout or smile by Frank's side, talk to him about your expectations of him and yourself. Jerry has a bad habit of letting veterans walk all over him and that must stop. In 2001, a timid Manuel let a veteran half-wit like David Wells tell him to get off the mound after a ninth inning visit in a game against Detroit. What? Then Manuel laughed about it afterwards. Stop acting intimidated Jerry; you have young players that need to see leadership, not veteran arrogance.

Handle the Pitching Staff
Jerry failed miserably last year in handling the bullpen. The first three months faced questions on who was the closer, Foulke or Osuna? Then Marte was the closer at the end. Manuel must need to define positions and leave Gary Glover in the bullpen. Make sure Kelly Wunsch only pitches to lefties and that the bullpen is rested when Dan Wright or the fifth starter go to the mound.

This team must get base runners over and pick up the ball to win. Poor defense and bad baserunning killed them last year, and led to the departures of Gary Pettis and Wallace Johnson. They must not run themselves out of innings or throw to the wrong base nearly as many times as they did in 2002. If the young players are struggling average-wise, they must find a way to produce by moving runners over and staying in the game defensively.

If these things don't happen, Jerry Manuel will probably wind up leaving the Windy City. I don't know if anyone realizes how important this year is for the White Sox as Ken Williams does but Manuel must as well. This is it. The Jerry Manuel era will be defined in 2003. The jury is still out, but deliberations are near a close, the final verdict will be determined this summer.

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