Just 48 hours after righthander Jaime Navarro arrived at the
White Sox spring training headquarters in Sarasota, Fla., he was
summoned into manager Terry Bevington's office. "You're my
Number 1 guy," Bevington told Navarro. "You're my Opening Day
starter. I'm counting on you."
Navarro says he was surprised by this bulletin because he was
the newcomer to a staff that includes potential aces Wilson
Alvarez and James Baldwin. Still, Navarro relished the
responsibility. "I'll be ready," he told Bevington. "Give me the
In the City of Big Shoulders, Navarro is a perfect fit. While
amassing a 15-12 record with a 3.92 ERA for the mediocre Cubs
last season, Navarro pitched four complete games, threw at least
six innings in 27 of his 35 starts and was fourth in the league
in innings pitched (236 2/3). He has thrown at least 200 innings
in five of the last six years playing for the Brewers and the
Cubs. Only in the strike-shortened '94 season did he work fewer
than 200. "I look at a baseball game like building a house,"
says Navarro, who has a 91-77 career record. "I start with the
foundation, then build the walls and then the ceiling. I like to
finish the job, and that means pitching nine innings."
Navarro doesn't like managers interrupting him while the house
is under construction. With the Cubs he sometimes feuded with
skipper Jim Riggleman after being lifted from games. He also
grumbled about lack of run support and a shaky bullpen. "I'm not
too worried about Navarro's temper, because I yelled at a few
managers myself," says White Sox general manager Ron Schueler, a
journeyman reliever in the 1970s. "I'd rather have a guy not
wanting to come out after eight innings than a guy looking over
his shoulder after five."
Schueler admits he was once concerned about Navarro's attitude,
but he conveniently reconsidered after White Sox ace Alex
Fernandez left to join the Marlins as a free agent on Dec. 9.
Early the following morning Schueler called Navarro's agent to
express his interest. Forty-five minutes later Navarro agreed to
a four-year, $20 million deal.
With that decision Navarro became the best player to switch
teams in Chicago since Sammy Sosa was traded by the White Sox to
the Cubs in 1992. It isn't often that a player changes his
business address without needing to change his home address, and
Navarro says that the move has caused some consternation in his
neighborhood. That's hardly surprising, given that Navarro, his
wife, Tamara, and their son, Jaime Jr., and daughter, Jaycee,
live four blocks from Wrigley Field.
While Navarro can no longer walk to work, he has found a benefit
of the crosstown move. After that spring conversation with
Bevington, he walked into the Sox clubhouse, gazed around at the
lockers and read the nameplates: BELLE, THOMAS, PHILLIPS,
VENTURA, BAINES.... "I saw a room full of great hitters,"
Navarro says. "I thought to myself, If I can win 15 games with
the Cubs, there's no telling how many I can win with these bats
RF Tony Phillips
Led the American League with 125 walks last season
CF Dave Martinez
Second in the league in batting with runners on base (.378)
1B Frank Thomas
Batted .403 against lefthanders last season
LF Albert Belle
Five straight 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons
DH Harold Baines
Still a threat--.311, 22 homers, 95 RBIs in '96--at 38
2B Ray Durham
30 for 34 in steals gave him league's best percentage (88.2%)
3B Chris Snopek
Replaces injured Ventura; only played 68 big league games
C Ron Karkovice
In his career has thrown out 39.7% of would-be stealers
SS Ozzie Guillen
Has played with 21 second basemen in 12 years
Ace Jaime Navarro
Workhorse has never been on the DL in eight seasons
Closer Roberto Hernandez
1.91 ERA was best among league's relievers last season
Over the last six seasons Albert Belle and Frank Thomas ranked
1-2 in the big leagues in total RBIs with 711 and 698,
respectively. During the same span Belle led the major leagues
with 234 home runs, while Thomas ranked third with 215, two
fewer than the Giants' Barry Bonds. The last player to hit more
home runs than Belle over a six-season span was the Phillies'
Mike Schmidt, who belted 235 from 1979 through '84.
STAT FACTS BY ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU