An oral history of the Chris Sale jersey cutting incident


The story seemed like just that—a story. And it was all too good to be true. But, alas, it really was true. Chris Sale really did cut up the White Sox uniforms moments before taking the mound. It was surreal, it was hilarious, and it left all of us scratching our heads.

That night didn’t just begin and end with one crazed man and a pair of scissors. This is the story of that night and the events that led to it. They weren’t kidding when they said that truth is stranger than fiction. Occasionally, though, facts are nothing more than a good jumping off point. In this (completely made up) Rally Caps exclusive, we let the episode’s leading characters tell you their story firsthand.

No people were harmed in the writing of this article.

usa-today-9324404.0

Going South

The winter of 2015 was all about the Cubs in Chicago. Coming off of their shocking playoff run, the North Siders made splashes in free agency, acquiring Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, and John Lackey. The White Sox appeared to be primed for a rather lackluster year on the South Side. Their team didn’t exactly lend itself well to sports talk radio, until Spring Training began and the Drake LaRoche controversy took over the airwaves.

Veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche shockingly retired in the middle of Spring Training. His reason, it turned out, was because the club informed him they would no longer allow LaRoche to bring his son to the clubhouse every day.

BRETT LAWRIE (White Sox second baseman): God, I was glad to see that kid go.

ROBIN VENTURA (White Sox manager): This is where we work. This is our office. It’s Bring Your Child To Work Day. Not Bring Your Child To Work Every Day.

ADAM LaROCHE (former White Sox first baseman): I never had a problem at any other team until the Sox. See, Drake grew up in major league clubhouses. I’m a baseball guy, and I’ve always said that you can learn a lot about life through baseball, and even more specifically, through a baseball clubhouse. I wanted to teach him, to show him that when you lose, you have no choice but to come right back the next night, even if that means you’ll lose again. That’s why I was so excited to show him how they did it on the South Side.

CHRIS SALE (White Sox pitcher): That boy must have seen some shit that no kid should ever see.

KENNY WILLIAMS, (White Sox executive vice president): I kept waiting and waiting for Robin [Ventura] or someone to say something to Adam, and it just never happened. Eventually, I had to take matters into my own hands. I had no choice. So I called him in and told him that Drake couldn’t be in our clubhouse every day. He could still come occasionally, just not every day. I didn’t think it was too big a deal.

ADAM LaROCHE: [Williams] has this ball on his desk signed by the entire 2005 World Series team. I picked it up and didn’t even bother taking it out of that little plastic cube case. Just picked it up and threw it at that prick’s head.

KENNY WILLIAMS: He didn’t take the news too well, but I figured it would blow over. He’d come back in the next day and that would be the whole story.

ADAM LaROCHE: Some things are bigger than baseball. So I retired. Simple as that.

la-sp-sn-adam-laroche-retires-white-sox-20160317

JOSÉ ABREU (White Sox first baseman): Kenny Williams called us all around for this meeting, and he told us what happened and that Adam wouldn’t be with the team anymore. Chris was not happy. Ay dios mio, did he make a scene.

CHRIS SALE: That’s our clubhouse. Think about that word: clubhouse. Members only. This douchebag Williams comes into our space and starts telling us how things are gonna work, how he had to take action because our space was being invaded, when all along, he’s the one doing the invading!

ROBIN VENTURA: Chris had this look in his eye. Something Kenny said must have set him off.

CHRIS SALE: You know those batting donuts? I took some out of José’s bag and started throwing them at Kenny like a Frisbee. I’ll tell you what, though. That guy’s an asshole, but he’s my first pick in dodgeball every day of the week. The dude can dodge anything.

JOSÉ ABREU: I had my suspicions before, but that’s when I knew that Chris was loco.

KENNY WILLIAMS: Chris was, let’s just say…not too happy with me. He made a point after that to pass me in the concourse before games. I’d smile and say hi, and he’d just give me this death stare.

ct-chris-sale-all-star-bits-spt-0707-20150706

The White Sox put the episode behind them and pieced together a shocking start to the season, winning 23 of their first 33 games. They were, along with the crosstown Cubs, the talk of baseball.

ADAM EATON (White Sox right fielder): To be honest, we were just scared of Chris. Some people say now that there’s no way to explain how we started off the season so strong, but there’s your answer, plain and simple. We were playing for our lives.

ROBIN VENTURA: I’ve never seen a group of boys play harder in my career.

BUSTER OLNEY (ESPN MLB insider): You have to remember that throughout April, people were talking about a Cubs-White Sox World Series. The Sox had the best record in the American League.

RICK HAHN (White Sox general manager): That was one of the most thrilling stretches of my career. You know, you hear people talk about how much fun winning is, but I’d never tasted it for myself. It’s such a sweet taste…kinda salted caramel-y.

It didn’t last long. Since May 9, they’ve gone 25-40. They have the second worst record in the AL Central, and news of a South Side fire sale spread quickly throughout the baseball world. Even Cy-Young candidate and staff ace Chris Sale was named in trade rumors.  

MELKY CABRERA (White Sox left fielder): I think it was some time in May, maybe June. We wore these throwback uniforms against the Tigers. I remember them because fitting into the collar was tough for me, because, you know, the stuff I’m taking makes my neck real huge. Ladies love a big neck. Anyways, they had these weird collars and just looked ugly as hell, but we were told to wear them, so we wore them. No big deal.

JOSÉ ABREU: Chris changed mucho after we wore those. No más hollering at us all the time. No más hanging out after games. He just kind of pulled into this shell. Became muy quiet.

BRETT LAWRIE: Once we had Chris off our asses, we were free to lose as much as we wanted.

RICK HAHN: We weren’t gonna win anything, and Chris was creeping everybody out, so I started talking to teams about trading him. We assigned a summer intern to watch him at all times so that news wouldn’t get out that he had lost his mind.

DRAKE LaROCHE (White Sox summer intern): I was expecting to pick up coffee, do all the normal intern stuff, you know? Then I get in, and they tell me my only job is to keep an eye on Chris, make sure he doesn’t escape his cage, talk to the media, etc.

CHRIS SALE: I wanted that punk intern out of my clubhouse and out of my sight.

ROBIN VENTURA: I’ll say this about Drake: most of the kids we get over summers don’t know how to navigate a big league clubhouse. It seemed like he grew up in one.

DRAKE LaROCHE: At first it was cool. Like, it’s Chris Sale! That’s the big star player. And then the more I started watching him, you know, like doing my job and stuff, the more he gave me the creeps. He muttered to himself all the time, like he was speaking tongues or something. He’d be whispering this stuff over and over and just be stroking his jersey. I asked Dad about it, and he told me that big leaguers all had their own way of doing things, so I didn’t make too much of it.

KEN ROSENTHAL (Fox MLB insider): The Sox did a great job of keeping Chris’ mental meltdown under wraps. Nobody in the league knew anything about it, and his trade value just kept going up and up. Sources close to the situation tell me that the Yankees offered Babe Ruth’s ghost for Sale, and the Sox still said no!

RICK HAHN: I really thought I’d be able to rebuild the entire organization by only moving Sale. Things were going perfect. It was all according to plan.

ct-rick-hahn-report-white-sox-spt-0618-20150617

The Cutter

On the night of July 23, with rumors swirling that the Sox were in talks to send Sale away for a “king’s ransom,” Sale was scratched from his scheduled start against the Tigers. Folks immediately jumped to the conclusion that Sale had been traded, until the White Sox announced that he had been scratched due to a “non-physical clubhouse incident.”

JAMES SHIELDS (White Sox pitcher): The way it works at the Sox and at every other place I’ve ever pitched is that whoever is getting the start gets to choose the jerseys. That’s just how it works.

CHRIS SALE: I show up for my start, and I see these ugly ass throwback uniforms. I’m like, “What the hell are these? I just want to wear the homes!

“The homes…the homes…I want to wear the homes…only the homes…nothing but the homes…homes…home…homes sweet homes…homes…homes…”

DRAKE LaROCHE: See, one of my jobs as Chris’ handler was to let him out when he needed to stretch before his starts. Normally he was pretty calm about it, but that night, he was growling and howling. You should have seen him when he saw those jerseys. He started banging against his cage so hard it was hard to undo the padlock.

ADAM EATON: Some guys say they saw him foaming at the mouth.

ROBIN VENTURA: He galloped up to me and just got in my face. “What are those? Those are the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. I won’t wear them! Nobody here will!!” I waited for him to stop yelling and then told him I didn’t have a choice. It was management’s call. I just tried to stay very calm. I didn’t want to spook him.

DRAKE LaROCHE: Chris tore out of the clubhouse and started running up the stairs. I was like, “What’s he doing?” Then I realized he was probably going for that Kenny Williams guy he never liked. Since I couldn’t catch Chris, I flagged a security officer and told him to radio a warning upstairs.

KENNY WILLIAMS: He was pounding, scratching at my door, yelling things I can’t repeat. But luckily, I’d been alerted ahead of time and was able to move all my office’s furniture in front of the door. Nobody could break through all that.

DRAKE LaROCHE: I’m running up the stairs as fast as I can because I just hear this yelling and growling and all sorts of stuff. I round the corner of this hallway to get to Kenny’s office, and the second Chris sees me, he just stops. This sinister smile just spreads across his face, and he doesn’t say another word. He just lets me take him back to the clubhouse.

ROBIN VENTURA: That intern gets him back into the clubhouse, and he says Chris is fine. So we leave him inside to get warmed up, and we all go out for batting practice.

BRETT LAWRIE: I just remember seeing him come back, and he looked strangely calm. He just kept his head down and didn’t say anything. When he got back to his locker, he just stared at his jersey and didn’t make a noise.

ct-chris-sale-white-sox-controversy-spt-0725-20160724

DRAKE LaROCHE: They all leave, and Chris just keeps staring blankly at this jersey. It’s freaking me out. I’m worried he’s hyperventilating or something, and remember, it was my job to make sure he stayed calm. I didn’t want to be kicked out of the locker room again. I couldn’t. Then I’d have to back home and be with my dad all day, and all he does now is sit around and watch ballgames on TV. He’ll make me sit by his side for every one and tell me about all the life lessons I can learn by following him around. My mom had convinced him to let me take this summer job, and I couldn’t stand the thought of going back.

Chris is freaking out, so I go grab my scrapbooking supplies. I give them to Chris and tell him that he should give it a try. It’s what I do when I’m freaking out. It’s soothing.

CHRIS SALE: I don’t remember how the scissors got into my hands exactly. I just remember looking down at them and back at the jersey.

Scissors, jersey. Jersey, scissors. Scissors, meet jersey. Hello, jersey, nice to meet you. Say, lovely weather here in the ballpark, eh? Say, nice to be locked up in a cage, eh? Say, you don’t like that Williams guy, eh? Say, we keep losing games, eh? Say, it was Col. Mustard in the conservatory with the lead pipe, eh???

DRAKE LaROCHE: At first, he just kind of poked his jersey with the scissors. Just poking and poking, kind of probing it. And suddenly he starts using this weird voice like he’s someone out of the 1920s, you know, that weird accent.

Then he cut part of the sleeve. I went to stop him and then cut. And cut. And slash. And stab. I’m trying to get in there, but he’s just moving too fast. Cut, slash, stab. He’s flying through his jersey. And then he shreds Eaton’s. And then Abreu’s. And then Shields’.

JOSÉ ABREU: I gotta be honest with you: they were ugly. No duda.

DRAKE LaROCHE: Pretty soon he’s cut up half the roster’s uniforms. He paused at one point—I think he was cutting up [Justin] Morneau’s—and he lets out this cackle. It’s straight out of Scooby Doo, this classic evil laugh.

CHRIS SALE: Those were the happiest moments of my life.

SCISSORS (scissors): I’ve been—snip—used for lots of things. Snip. Opening packages, cutting out pictures—snip—all of it. But that—snip—was something else. Everything about it was different. Snip. He held me differently. Snip. Very tightly. Snip. He had sweaty palms. Snip. There was this force flowing through him—snip—and into me and making me do things— snip—I didn’t think were possible. Snip. I had become—snip—a weapon.

DRAKE LaROCHE: I’m watching this play out, and it must have been just a few seconds, but it felt like forever. I’m in shock. Eventually, I realize that something has gone really wrong, and I need help, so I run back up to get Kenny. I know I wasn’t supposed leave Chris in the locker room by himself, but I didn’t know what to do. I thought that Kenny would know.

KENNY WILLIAMS: Chris’ ruckus had stopped, so I had started moving all my office furniture back to its normal place. Just as I was getting the couch back in place, I hear this pounding again on the door, and I’m like, “Oh no…it’s Chris. Not again.”

White Sox general manager Ken Williams is promoted to the position of executive vice president with Rick Hahn announced as new White Sox GM at U.S. Cellular Field Friday, Oct. 26 2012.  B582472752Z.1 (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune) ....OUTSIDE TRIBUNE CO.- NO MAGS,  NO SALES, NO INTERNET, NO TV, CHICAGO OUT, NO DIGITAL MANIPULATION...

DRAKE LaROCHE: I’m banging at his door. “Kenny, help! It’s Drake! Chris is downstairs and he’s lost his mind!”

KENNY WILLIAMS: I was so relieved when the door swung open and it wasn’t Chris. I see Drake, and he looks like he had just seen a ghost. He tells me about what was happening, and we run down to the locker room.

We get down there, and Chris has just finished cutting up the last uniform. He’s standing there and looking around at what he’s done and he just can’t stop smiling. He grabs a handful of shreds and lets it fall down over him like snow.

DRAKE LaROCHE: He’s really so happy, and then he’s looking around and sees Kenny.

CHRIS SALE: I wanted to kill him. I still do.

KENNY WILLIAMS: He starts coming at me with scissors, and I’m just dodging everything: jabs, uppercuts, all of it. I’m using everything I can to get away, flipping over tables, stuff like that, but Chris just seems like he’s on a mission. He wasn’t gonna let me live another day.

NATE JONES (White Sox relief pitcher): I was sitting in the dugout watching BP and then I heard these noises coming from the clubhouse. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I went down there to check it out.

DRAKE LaROCHE: Chris has Kenny pinned in a corner, and I’m like, “This is it. I’m totally getting kicked out again.” Then Nate Jones charges in, runs over me, and tackles Chris from behind.

NATE JONES: I’m able to surprise him, get him from behind. You know, I grew up in Kentucky, so I know how to wrestle a pig. This was the same thing.

KENNY WILLIAMS: Thank God for Nate Jones.

DRAKE LaROCHE: Nate just totally manhandles Chris. It was awesome. He had him on the ground and under control in no time. He’s the true hero of all of this.

NATE JONES: I’m a bullpen guy. They actually keep a stat for us. It’s called “saves”. That’s what I do.

MELKY CABRERA: We come back in from batting practice, and it’s just like, “What happened here?”

JOSÉ ABREU: Sale’s in his cage shaking and speaking in tongue again. Ayiyiyi. Muy loco. There are shreds of something all over the ground. It looked like it had—¿comó se dice?—snow? Fidel keeps the snow out in Cuba…I’m still trying to get used to it here.

Pues, LaRoche-ito is trying to calm Sale down como siempre, and Nate Jones is trying to pull a pair of scissors out of that executive guy’s leg.

SCISSORS: Kenny and I really—snip—got to know each other well. Snip. He has wonderful thighs. Snip.

NATE JONES: I’m trying to pull this pair of scissors out of Kenny’s leg, and Kenny goes hysterical too. He starts screaming at the equipment manager: “Do we have other throwbacks we can wear? Tell me we have other throwbacks. Please!” You know the expression, “He had dollar signs in his eyes”? Well, Kenny literally had moneybags replace his eyeballs. I couldn’t believe it.

CHRIS SALE: [unintelligible screaming]

ROBIN VENTURA: I’ve been in baseball my entire life. That scene in the clubhouse the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. I thought Chris’ episode during Spring Training took the cake, but this was wilder. No question. And I only saw the aftermath! Can you imagine being there when it happened?

DRAKE LaROCHE: All the players and coaches start milling about, trying to figure out what happened and what to do. I really need to cover my ass at this point. Nate and Kenny are busy, so I just stand up and start talking.

JAMES SHIELDS: I think it was that intern who told us what happened. It went something like, “Your friend and your teammate, Chris Sale lost his mind today. He took a pair of scissors to each of your uniforms and then to Kenny over there. This has been a long, hard day for all of us. But now we have to move forward. If I’ve learned one thing about ballplayers, it’s that even if things don’t go your way, you have to come back the next day.”

ct-white-sox-chris-sale-rosenbloom-20160724

You’ve Been Chopped

The day after the incident, Sale was suspended for 5 games by the White Sox and was fined an undisclosed amount. He has not returned to the White Sox facility since.

RICK HAHN: By the 5th inning, we had already started our internal investigation. I reviewed the security tape personally, and as soon as I saw that Drake was the one who had given him the scissors, we fired him on the spot.

DRAKE LaROCHE: I’m done going into big league clubhouses.

MICK LYNCH (lieutenant, Chicago PD): We’d been called to the ballpark in response to a distress call claiming there had been an assault. We arrived and a man had a pair of scissors stuck in his leg. We removed them and asked if he wanted to press charges. He just said to take away Chris Sale, the attacker, who he had locked in a cage. So we took the scissors to keep as evidence and sent Chris to The Pound. He’s still there right now, waiting to be traded.

CHLOE O’LEARY (receptionist, Chicago PD): I’ve gotten at least 100 calls this week from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. They want those scissors.

RICK HAHN: Chris really pushed our hand. We had no choice to trade him after that.

ROBIN VENTURA: I can’t imagine him ever coming back.

ADAM EATON: I sure hope we get Chris back. Think about all the jokes we can make: “Hey buddy! You sure throw a wicked cutter!!” I can’t wait.

JUSTIN MORNEAU (White Sox designated hitter): I’ve been talking about it with the rest of the guys a lot. There are lots of theories about what went on, but I think something like this was just bound to happen with him. This is my first year with the Sox, and from the moment I walked in, I could just sense he had this weird energy around him. Very off-putting. What surprised me, though, was how much rage there was. I always thought he would quit or start pitching badly. Getting in his own head. I never thought he would have done that.

JAMES SHIELDS: I lived in Tampa for seven years, man, so I know crazy when I see it. Chris Sale is definitely crazy.

RICK HAHN: We’re currently discussing trades with multiple teams. That’s all I can say at the moment.

NATE JONES: Kenny called me the other day and told me that my statue would be erected by the end of the season. I’m thrilled. It’s a great honor. I never imagined this is how it would work out, but this was all part of God’s plan, and God works in mysterious ways.

KENNY WILLIAMS: I’m still on crutches right now, but I should be fine. I start physical therapy next week.

CHRIS SALE: Do I regret any of it? No. Of course not. Those jerseys were flat-out ugly. Anybody with eyes could tell you that.

I think that it was the culmination of lots of things. This rage, this hatred of the Sox and all they stand for had just been building in me, and seeing those uniforms must have caused something in me to snap.

You know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. For those few minutes, I felt like I could do anything. It’s funny, actually. I wasn’t even thinking about what I was doing. I couldn’t have even told you what I was doing. Time froze for a moment, and for the first time in my life, I was free.

Comments

comments