Tom Paciorek adjusted his Army helmet and, in his best Patton voice, told the camera, "Come out for Helmet Day. You can tell everyone you were there for the Big One." Paciorek also donned pith, Prussian and Viking ("This is the one the Bull wears") helmets for the White Sox' promotional spots. Last fall the head of the club's advertising agency saw the commercials that Paciorek had done for Seattle and said, "We've got to get this guy." The White Sox did exactly that a few weeks later, although they were mainly interested in seeing him in a batting helmet.
This year could very well be the Big One in Comiskey Park. With Paciorek at first base and Steve Kemp in leftfield, the Sox now have an offensive lineup second to none. Last year Paciorek hit .350 on the road, which should dispel any notion that the Kingdome helped his .326 average. Kemp, acquired from Detroit for Chet Lemon, is a bona fide 100-RBI man. He and Paciorek will cushion DH and cleanup hitter Greg Luzinski, whose bullish comeback produced 21 home runs and 62 RBIs in 1981. The best bat of all may belong to Rightfielder Harold Baines, hitter of the hardest line drives in creation. The icing on the cake is Charley Lau, the batting guru hired away from the Yankees in the off-season. If every player in the Chicago order reproduces his best year, the overall average will be .306. That may not seem realistic, but then, who would have thought Carlton Fisk would bat seventh?
The bad news is that the White Sox have been assembled with a blithe disregard for fielding. Centerfielder Ron LeFlore, Third Baseman Jim Morrison, Shortstop Bill Almon, Paciorek and Kemp aren't being measured for Gold Gloves. But Tony LaRussa, who as a practicing attorney should know something about defense, professes to be unconcerned. "The real key is our pitching staff," he says. That staff is headed by Britt Burns, the best young lefthander in the majors—sorry, Fernando. In his last two years, he has won 25 games with a 2.78 ERA. Dennis Lamp surprised nearly everybody with his '81 ERA of 2.41. Steve (Rainbow) Trout and Richard Dotson have to live up to their notices. Ross Baumgarten didn't, and he's gone. The ghost of Ed Farmer may haunt the bullpen if Lamarr Hoyt and Jerry Koosman don't take up the slack. Koosman may yet start, but whatever he does, he'll feel as frisky as a pup. "I've never been more optimistic about my team's chances, not even with the Mets," says the 14-year veteran.
Handling the pitchers will, of course, be Fisk. "I don't care if he doesn't get a hit, he's that valuable behind the plate," says LaRussa. Fisk went into a mysterious swoon last summer, getting only 16 of his 45 RBIs after May. Part of the reason for his slump was a weight loss during the strike. Fisk now has most of his pudge back.
It was not too long ago—1980, in fact—that Chicago finished fifth, 26 games out of first place. "We don't serve Alpo in the clubhouse anymore," says LaRussa, citing a commercial Paciorek doesn't appear in.
In 1980 the Boston pitching staff had a collective 3.83 earned run average in the 112 games Carlton Fisk started at catcher, and a 5.67 ERA in the 48 games someone else started. In 1981 Fisk moved to the White Sox as a free agent. This time the ERA with and without Fisk was 3.32 and 4.29, respectively. The overall ERA of 3.47 was down .45 from the 3.92 of the year before.