Sale was just 5-foot-8 and weighed a tad over 100 pounds his freshman year of high school in Lakeland, Florida
"Growing up he was never the kind of kid that you could build the team around,” his father, Allen, said. That has changed.
Back at Lakeland High, Sale’s coaches saw potential in the skinny little lefthander but never imagined he’d be a major leaguer. During a game vs. neighboring Fort Meade High School, future Pirate Andrew McCutchen hit a 440-foot blast off of Chris.
“His delivery was nice and loose with that lanky body, but he didn’t really throw all that hard, and he struggled with his control at the beginning,” said Ron Nipper, his junior varsity coach at Lakeland High. “I wish I could say that I knew it all along, but I really didn’t. He was just a good athlete with a decent arm who would likely be a varsity pitcher one day."
He did grow four inches over the summer before his junior year. But for the most part he was just another big kid with a good arm—something that is almost as common in the state of Florida as saw palmetto bushes.
Chris's father, Allen Sale, provided his son the utmost in support.
"Up until I got up to college, he might have missed a handful of games. He was there every step of the way," said Sale, who his now a married father of one. "Even Little League, he would stay for four innings and show up late to a meeting for work so he didn't miss the whole thing.
"He built a mound in the backyard. Once the weekends came, we were always at the park playing, working on picks at first, fly balls in the outfield, hitting. He's probably a little upset that I didn't become a hitter just because I can't even imagine starting to count all the baseballs he must have thrown to me throughout the years."
For those who are envious of Sale's slender 6-foot-6, 186-pound build, know that it doesn't come from a lack of eating on his part. It's hereditary. His grandfather was a long, skinny swimmer. At 84 years old, he was still 6-foot-3 and "not very much," said Sale with a laugh.
Sale's grandfather was given the nickname "Streamline" by none other than Joker Marchant, whose name sits on the Detroit Tigers' spring training facility. Allen points out that when his Dad went into the paratroopers, he was 6-foot-4 and weighed 145 pounds and was told by his commander that he was the only person who ever jumped out of an airplane and went up.
As a competitive swimmer, Allen checked in at 6-foot-3 and 158 pounds, referring to himself humorously as "the tubby one." In high school, Christopher (as his father calls him), weighed 153 pounds. On the day he signed with the White Sox, he was measured at 6-foot-6 and 163 pounds. So, that 180 pounds Sale now carries on his frame makes him the family behemoth.
As Sale got longer during his teen years, he did not fill out. He also never lost his alarming flexibility.
"Even after he got tall in high school, he could lie on his stomach, lift his feet over his back and scratch his eyebrows with his toes," his father, Allen, said. "I've seen little girls in gymnastics do things like that, but when you see a kid tall enough to dunk a basketball put his feet over his head, it's hard to watch."
Chris became a father when he was still a young man at Florida Gulf Coast University, re-arranging life priorities, naturally.
Sale seems to be able to cut out the noise, whatever the task may be, which is an ideal trait to have in Boston. He takes the mound in an empty-minded state, as if pitching allows him to practice principles to quiet his mind.
"It just clears my head," Sale said late in the 2017 season.
Growing up in Lakeland, Fla., Chris did not have the talent to match his emotions. He could always locate the ball, but entering high school he was 5-foot-8 and rail thin. He couldn't throw hard and didn't make varsity as a freshman or sophomore.
Then one day the next summer, Chris got sick with what his parents figured was mono. When he finally popped out of bed four days later, he was suddenly taller than his dad, Allen, a former college swimmer who stands 6-3. Seeing him for the first time, his mother asked, "What are you standing on?"
Sale couldn't hit 90 on the gun, but his command allowed him to mow down hitters.
"He could beat up a water cooler with his bat," his father says of Chris's lack of control of his emotions.
Then there was the truck. Allen and Chris got ahold of a gray Dodge pickup and souped it up with giant mud tires, a body lift and custom speakers. The police used to call Mike Campbell, the varsity coach, begging him to get Sale to turn it down. Chris broke a few sound ordinances.
Following his freshman year at Florida Gulf Coast University, Sale pitched for the La Crosse Loggers in the collegiate summer Northwoods League. "I was getting crushed," Chris remembers.
He wasn't in shape to throw. And every time he got shelled, he'd beat himself up, driving himself into a downward spiral. The team's manager, Andy McKay, remembers having a long conversation with Sale in the bullpen, who'd been so frustrated that he almost drove home to Florida the night before. Chris decided to stay, and from that moment, McKay says, he took preparation and conditioning more seriously.
"It ended up being a kind of life-changing summer for him," said McKay, a trained sports psychologist. (Andy is now the head of player development for the Mariners.)
At McKay's urging, Sale increased his focus on the mental side of the game.
"That was something I had never even put my foot in the water in," Sale says. "Baseball is a physical game, it's a sport; you just go out there and play. And (McKay) brought a different aspect of the game to me. When you have a positive mind frame, and when you think more clearly and more positively, it's going to be better." (Jason Schwartz - ESPN the Magazine - 5/29/2017)
In 2007, Sale was chosen by the Rockies in the 21st round of the draft. But he went to college instead.
- In the summer of 2009, Sale was named the Cape Cod League Pitcher of the Year after he led the loop with four victories and 57 strikeouts in 55 innings with a 1.47 ERA while pitching for Yarmouth-Dennis.
In 2010, Chris was 11-0 with a 2.01 ERA, striking out 146 and walking only 14 in 103 innings for Florida Gulf Coast University. He majored in criminal justice. That year, Sale was awarded the National NCAA Pitcher of the Year.
In May 2010, Sale's future wife gave birth to their first son.
- In 2010, Sale got drafted by the White Sox (see Transactions below).
In 2011, Baseball America rated Sale as the #1 prospect in the White Sox organization.
Chris has an insatiable appetite. But he stays very thin and bony because of super-fast metabolism.
"The guy crushes food,” White Sox teammate Adam Dunn said. “He eats more than anybody in the world, and he gets so excited when he gains two pounds. All I have to do is think about eating and I gain four pounds. Me and C.C. Sabathia are fat dudes who are trying to be skinny. Sale is a skinny dude who’s trying to get fat.”
White Sox clubhouse manager Vince Frasso said, "He needs his burgers. If I have them in here before games, he loves those, or I'll send somebody out to get him a Whopper. He'll get the special sauce, load it up with all the other stuff—tomatoes, mayo, lettuce, cheese. If we're on the West Coast, he likes Whataburgers. He eats anything. I've seen him dive into everything—potato chips, candy bars—and he doesn't put on a pound. It's unbelievable. I wish he could pass that metabolism on to me."
Sale is 6’6” and only 180 lbs. despite eating junk food at all times. An article by Brian Costa in the Wall Street Journal said he might have “Baseball’s Greatest Metabolism” and reported that on one flight from Chicago to California, Sale ate two ice cream sundaes and three bags of chips. In the time Costa spent in the White Sox locker room before a game, Sale ate three chili dogs.
- In 2012, Sale finished sixth in the AL Cy Young voting after posting a 17-8 record with a 3.05 ERA and 192 strikeouts in 192 innings. Not bad for a guy in this third season in professional baseball.
March 5, 2014: Chris is married to Brianne and has a son, Rylan. Rylan understands that Dad plays baseball, and loves the clubhouse.This native of Florida also is devoted to his alma mater, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
June 18, 2014: Scott Carroll, the entrepreneur, received a post-game boost from Chris Sale, his White Sox teammate. Of course that boost came in the form of a well-played practical joke.
Carroll joined with his friend, Ryan McClellend, in a product called Doodlehats.com. The hats feature dry-erase material on the front so the owner can change messages from day to day or hour to hour. Carroll gave out those hats, which go for around $20, to his teammates and Sale wore it after his victorious start over the Giants. The one caveat is that Sale wrote Carroll's cell phone number on the hat, with the message, "Call me."
"When I came out of the shower, I saw he was wearing the hat. And I was like, 'That's cool. He's wearing it. I'm happy someone is finally wearing it for an interview,'" a smiling Carroll said. "I get closer and I see my number on there and I was like, 'Son of a ….'
"It was really funny. I thought it was awesome. I thought it was a great prank. That's why I was joking and said you try to do something nice for a guy and that's how they repay you."
Hundreds of calls came in to Carroll's phone. He joked that many people hung up or left a voicemail along the lines of "Chris Sale told me to call this number. Call me back." Carroll has not returned any of the 50-or-so voicemails.
"If anything, it's going to help out doodle hats, which is cool," Carroll said. "I'm still debating if whether or not I have to change my number. Basically what we live in now is a hashtag world and it's just trying to be a part of that. You can write anything on it and wipe it off and write something new in seconds. It's great for parties. It's just a fun little gift." (Scott Merkin / MLB.com / 6/10/14)
WORD OF THE DAY
What is the "Chris Sale word of the start," people may ask? It's a fair enough question. With each big league trip to the mound in 2014, Sale has worked in one particular word during his postgame interview. The word comes from Bryan Johnson, the team's baseball video coordinator, and it's up to Sale to use that word in the proper context.
Much like his devastating slider on a 2-2 count, Sale hasn't missed with that job this year. He's becoming as much about vocabulary power as he is about power pitching. "At first, we were trying to get the whole team in on it," Sale said. "That seemed to be kind of hard. I was the only one who stuck with it."
Adam Dunn and John Danks actually were in on that first word, which was "indubitably," for the record, coming after his start on April 6 in Kansas City. But from that point on, Johnson has become the "brains of the operation," and Sale stands as the "puppet."
Sale's words since then have gone as follows:
• Juxtapose (April 11) • Consternation (April 17) • Ameliorate (May 22) • Acquiesce (May 27) • Capitulated (June 1) • Nascence (June 7) • Ruminate (June 12) • Repudiate (June 18) • Antithetic (June 23) • Dichotomy (June 28) • Cacophony (July 4) • Adjudicate (July 9) • Ubiquitous (July 21) • Voracious (July 26) • Prescience (Aug. 1) • Amalgamation (Aug. 6)
Sale said, "We had said that we were going to do it every start this year. In a sense, Bryan and I are on a team now, and I can't let my team down. I have two teams to play for a night."
There's really no deep meaning behind this word-of-the-start tale, aside from illustrating how comfortable Sale has become as an elite Major League starter—not to mention how much enjoyment he seems to gain from a game that can be one part exasperating and another part exhilarating. Chris has transformed from a quiet rookie to a veteran leader at the core of the White Sox reshaping process, one who humorously jousts with the media to make sure he gets in his appointed word selection.
"He's extremely mature and very comfortable in the clubhouse and in his role in the front end of the rotation," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "He not only sets a good example for everyone on the field, but he's a huge part of what we have going on in the clubhouse, building good momentum—especially, we feel, on the pitching side."
Now this "word of the start" has become somewhat of an Internet craze. OK, if not quite to that craze level, at the very least, fans on Twitter clamor to hear what Sale has to say after each start. (Merkin - mlb.com - 8/11/14)
Chris said regarding pitching via a team-friendly, multi-year deal amid the high-end free-agent pitching contracts, "I don't need the biggest contract. I want that big shiny [World Series] trophy at the end. We have the team to do that. I don't want the payday. I want the celebration."
There are few things that Chris likes doing less than talking about himself in the context of great pitchers: present, past and future. Maybe seeing a bad movie or possibly paying taxes. Definitely missing most of the 2015 Spring Training due to an avulsion fracture in his right foot sustained during an accident at his Arizona home on Feb. 27.
Whether Sale likes to discuss his continued excellence or not, he is a difference maker. Sale is a winning-streak extender or a losing-streak stopper. He's a clubhouse leader, and Sale stands as an intimidating presence just by his name being listed as that day's probable.
Ask Sale for a description of how he fits in the overall pantheon of White Sox baseball, and his response is much more nuts and bolts basic.
"I'm just a pitcher," said Sale, who looked as if he was ready to humorously buzz a reporter with one of his 98-mph fastballs when manager Robin Ventura's comparison of Sandy Koufax was brought up.
"You guys have all these questions for me like I can read the future and have all the answers," a smiling Sale continued. "I'm a baseball player. I want to go out and play baseball and do the best I can. That's all I've ever done and all I'm ever going to do. All the extra stuff is cool and fine, but I'll stick to being a baseball player."
If Sale has no interest in placing himself among the game's elite, then allow his teammates to handle that task, or at least underscore his importance. "Yeah, he was awesome. He was lights-out," said White Sox infielder Gordon Beckham [in an April 2015 game]. "Clearly a leader and a guy we need to have on the hill every five days."
"Any time you have a guy like Chris Sale, the offense is like, 'Let's push a couple across today and it's going to be enough to hold up,'" reliever Zach Duke said. "It takes pressure off of everybody and really just allows everyone to settle in and do what he knows he can do." (Merkin - mlb.com - 4/12/15)
April 23, 2015: White Sox starting pitchers Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija each received five-game suspensions for their role in the on-field fracas taking place during the bottom of the seventh inning of the game against Kansas City at U.S. Cellular Field. (S Merkin - MLB.com - April 25, 2015)
July 2015: Sale was selected to his fourth straight All-Star Game, joining Billy Pierce (1955-59) as the only pitchers in Sox history to make four straight All-Star teams.
December 2015: Sale took some time to look at holiday memories past, present and future with MLB.com Holiday Q&A.
MLB.com: What was your favorite Christmas moment growing up? Sale: I have two of them, actually. One of them when I was younger. I was probably 6, 7 or 8 years old, somewhere around there. My uncle got me, the same uncle who took me to my first baseball game at Tropicana Field, it's my dad's youngest brother, he brought this fire truck for me. It's probably three feet long, it ran at the time on 14 D batteries. Just something ridiculous. Lights, sirens, remote control, ladder went up and down.
The next one was I was 13 or 14 years old and my bike got stolen. It got stolen relatively close to Christmastime. I don't remember exactly when. I didn't have a bike until then. My parents kept telling me, "You are going to be driving in a couple of years. Don't worry about it. You don't need a new bike, they are expensive, yadda, yadda." Kind of giving me the run-around. I come out Christmas morning, and usually all the cool gifts get laid out at night. So I'm coming out, just expecting to see this new bike sitting in there because I thought they were [teasing] me and … no bike. Nothing. I was like 'whatever. It's Christmas. I still have other gifts. I'm not going to be a little stinker, whatever you want to call it.'
So we get done and we are cleaning up and my parents are like, "Christopher, you need to take the trash out." I walk out to take the trash out, and my bike is sitting in the garage, in between my parents' cars. And I lost it. I started screaming.
MLB.com: Describe any traditions or a typical holiday celebration for your family. Sale: On Christmas Eve, we always go to a candlelight service at my wife's grandparents' church. We come home and Rylan gets to open one present. That's what I did, my sister and I, we got to open one present on Christmas Eve, kind of as the tester. My parents picked out the gift, so you don't get the cool one right out of the gate. Then usually we just sit around as a family. We all just kind of hang out, sit around, play card games or hit golf balls in the backyard. We find a way to stay busy and have a good time.
MLB.com: What's your favorite holiday-themed movie? Sale: You got to go with the classic, like "Home Alone." That's hilarious. I really like "Elf," with Will Ferrell. I actually watched that [recently]. And [White Sox Minor League conditioning coordinator] Dale Torborg, Demon, has given me a list of movies, because I haven't seen "A Christmas Story." He said my homework for the offseason was to watch that movie around Christmastime, and he said he was going to quiz me. He told me I had to watch "Christmas Vacation" and "Elf," and they were hilarious. "A Christmas Story" is the only one I haven't watched. (S Merkin - MLB.com - December 2015)
Robin Ventura was listening to a reporter's question following a 5-2 White Sox victory over the Blue Jays, when the manager interrupted before he could finish. This particular inquiry dealt with Chris's stature among American League starting pitchers.
"He's the best," said Ventura without hesitation. "You can say I'm biased or not, he's still the best."
"When I'm on the baseball field, there's nothing I love more than winning. A close second is keeping my guys in the bullpen, too," Sale said. "They've been working their butts off and used a lot and doing a great job. Any time you can get them a day off and freshen them up a little bit, especially with the day off tomorrow too, that's big."
"Definitely one of the best in the game, no question about that," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "It's obvious when you watch him pitch." (Merkin - MLB.com - 6/27/16)
July 6, 2016: Sale celebrates being selected an All-Star in every year he has been a starter. Sale joins lefthander Billy Pierce (1955-59) as the only pitchers in franchise history to make five straight AL All-Star teams. Per Elias, Frank Thomas (1993-97), Luis Aparicio (1958-62), Nellie Fox (1951- 61) and Pierce are the only other White Sox to be selected to five consecutive squads. (Scott Merkin - MLB.com)
July 11, 2016: Tony Gwynn will be on everybody's mind during All-Star Game festivities, perhaps no more poignantly than how his death affected Chris Sale.
"He actually made a very big impact in my life. I chewed tobacco from 2007 until the day he passed away," Sale said at a news conference. "I remember seeing that, and just being so shocked. He was a larger-than-life person. He was an inspiration to the game for many, many people for a lot of different reasons. But I quit that day, and I haven't touched it since. (Bernie Wilson - AP Sports)
July 23, 2016: The White Sox remained tight-lipped about the decision to scratch ace Sale from his scheduled start at U.S. Cellular Field.
Sale (14-3) was supposed to start Chicago's game against the Tigers, which was suspended by rain after eight innings with the score tied at 3. Instead, he was sent home after a pregame incident in the home clubhouse.
A source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi the incident stemmed in part from Sale protesting the use of throwback jerseys, which was tied into a jersey giveaway for fans. The club has not confirmed that detail, which was first reported by Tommy Stokke of FanRag Sports.
Prior to the game, the White Sox issued a statement from general manager Rick Hahn about the decision to send Sale home. "Chris Sale has been scratched from tonight's scheduled start and sent home from the ballpark by the White Sox due to a clubhouse incident before the game," Hahn said in the statement. "The incident, which was non-physical in nature, currently is under further investigation by the club."
The statement concluded with the White Sox saying no further comment will be made until their investigation is complete. (B Hedger - MLB.com - July 24, 2016)
July 23, 2016: Sale was suspended five days. "Chris has been suspended for violating team rules, for insubordination and for destroying team equipment," said Rick Hahn, White Sox senior vice president and general manager. "While we all appreciate Chris's talent and passion, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to express concerns about team rules and organizational expectations."
July 25-28, 2016: The issue, for Sale, began in Spring Training when the players were fitted for the special jerseys, which in 2015 were too large and therefore uncomfortable to play in. Throwback days are popular with fans and often are accompanied by a spike in attendance. Switching uniforms at the last moment, without an opportunity to inform fans of the change, certainly could have engendered frustration on the part of fans who came to see the team play in those uniforms. Sale said that players were not fans of the 1976 throwback jersey overall, and he said then that if the jerseys fell on his day to pitch, he didn't want to wear them, in part because he never had pitched in an untucked jersey in his life.
On the night before Sale's start, he was advised that the 1976 throwbacks were set for his start and Sale asked the clubhouse manager for a different uniform, then expressing the sentiment to pitching coach Don Cooper. Sale was in favor of the 1983 throwbacks, which eventually were worn that day, because he didn't want the untucked style of the 1976 uniform.
When he arrived and the 1976 throwbacks were set out for the players, Sale again took his issue to Cooper and manager Robin Ventura, with whom he admittedly lost his cool. He did not get the answer he wanted and, upon returning to the clubhouse, Sale reportedly cut up his uniform and then those of his teammates, rendering them unwearable.
"When I saw that there was something in the way of that 100 percent winning mentality, I had an issue," Sale said. "I tried to bring it up and say, 'Hey listen, these are my thoughts and concerns,' and they got pushed away because of the business deal that was set in place. I'll never understand why we need to do something on the business side on the field that might impede our winning a game. [The 1976 uniforms] are uncomfortable and unorthodox. I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. There's a lot of different things that went into it. Looking bad had absolutely zero to do with it. Nothing."
In the end, Ventura told Sale there would be no last-minute change. "I didn't put promotion in front of winning," Ventura said. "But I think we all have things that we have to do. There has to be a line somewhere, and that's what ended up happening."
"Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department," Sale said. "If the players don't feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix. It was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that's when I lost it."
Ventura made the decision to scratch Sale, and Sale apologized to the fans who came to see him and to his teammates, especially the bullpen, who he said he owes big time for their carrying the team in his place.
"I have regret, because I play 33 times a year at most in the regular season. So I put a lot of emphasis on when I play and I take a lot of pride in work that I do," Sale said. "When I can't or don't do that, yeah, I have disappointment in myself for not being there for my guys. Do I regret standing up for what I believe in? Absolutely not. Do I regret saying business should not be first before winning? Absolutely not." (Merkin - MLB.com)
When Chris cut up the White Sox throw-back uniforms from 1976 with a pair of scissors, it shocked the baseball world. But it did not shock those who had known Sale for years.
Seven-year White Sox teammate John Danks: "I wasn't completely shocked by it."
High school teammate and Pittsburgh Pirate Drew Hutchinson: "I wouldn't say I was surprised."
High school pitching coach Bob Gendron: "Nothing surprises me with him."
Even his own father: "I can't say it surprised me." (Jason Schwartz - ESPN the Magazine - 5/29/2017)
December 2016: Sale said he was changing the jersey number he’s worn for the last seven seasons with the White Sox. The reason? Out of respect for Tim Wakefield.
Wakefield wore the No. 49 for all 17 of his seasons with the Red Sox, retiring after the 2011 season with 200 career wins. Sale will no wear No. 41, the same number he wore in college at Florida Gulf Coast University and with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League in 2009.
“Wakefield deserves to hold on to that number,” Sale said. “He had way too impressive of a career to give that out again. No way I wanted it.”
From a rapid rise to Major League stardom, to ripping management and shredding throwback jerseys, Red Sox ace Chris Sale hasn't once paused to be ordinary.
Seven years before trading their best player to the Red Sox in a franchise-altering blockbuster, the White Sox discovered him on the mound at Fenway Park. How's that for a juicy slice of irony?
As David Price vents on Twitter, Chris Sale shuts out the noise. A certain Red Sox ace has been hitting social media to answer his detractors. Chris Sale? He ignores them. That could be a blessing for him in Boston.
Chris threw only six pitches on July 24, 2009, in the bottom of the third inning of the Cape Cod League All-Star Game, retiring three batters in less time than it would have taken to get through the line at one of Fenway's concession stands.
But the fleeting sight of a 6-foot-6 lefty with a power fastball and a three-quarters arm angle that accentuated an 82-inch wing-span so ridiculous it's almost mythical was branded on White Sox scout Nick Hostetler's brain like the logo on a pair of Levi's.
"He was lights-out," Hostetler recalled. "He was awesome."
What followed over the next 13 months formed the foundation of a career that has seen Sale become the best lefthanded pitcher in the American League. Sale's journey also helps in understanding what might compel someone to lash out at his bosses over the amount of time a teammate's son is allowed to spend in the clubhouse or to cut up throwback jerseys before a start because he found them constricting.
In the 378 days after he walked off the mound at Fenway, Sale turned 21, became a father, went 11-0 with a 2.01 ERA for Florida Gulf Coast University and was runner-up for the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top collegiate baseball player. He also slid out of the top 10 in the draft (and lost out on about $1 million) and made his Major League debut in the eighth inning of a game in Baltimore with the White Sox in the throes of a playoff push. At no time did Sale pause to be ordinary.
Sale's "inverted "W" pitching motion scared off some scouts during his days at Florida Gulf Coast University. (Anderson Independent Mail - Mark Crammer)
Of the six pitchers drafted ahead of Sale in 2010, three have reached the big leagues, as of Spring Training 2017. Jameson Taillon, Drew Pomeranz and Matt Harvey faced an average of 1,373 batters in the minors. Sale faced 43. So to call Sale's rise to the Majors "meteoric" would be giving too much credit to meteors.
"We're trying to figure out who to take and [then-White Sox general manager] Kenny [Williams] says, 'You know, this guy could potentially help us in the bullpen here in Chicago before the year is out,'" said Buddy Bell, the longtime former big league third baseman and White Sox assistant GM who was the club's farm director at the time. "Frankly, I thought he was crazy. That's way out of the box. But we never really thought Chris was going to get to us."
In 2009, Sale led the Cape Cod League in strikeouts. And he was the nation's best college pitcher as a junior. The White Sox believed Sale could go as high as second overall to the Pirates. Other teams weren't as sold. Mostly, talent evaluators were concerned about his pitching motion, "an inverted W," in scout-speak—in which his elbows at one point are higher than his wrists and shoulders.
"Scouts would ask me, 'Do you think he's going to break down?' I was like, 'If you watch him play catch, that's his arm slot,'" FGCU coach Dave Tollett said. "They asked for every medical they could have on him. They would call our trainers and go, 'Does he come in for treatment every day?' Our trainers were like, 'We don't ever see the dude.'"
Tollett tried to insulate Sale from most of the chatter, but that was impossible. It was OK. Sale had other things on his mind anyway.
Sale's son, Rylan, is a big reason the fiery ace blasted White Sox GM Kenny Williams after teammate Adam LaRoche chose to retire instead of acquiesce to a demand that he limit the time his own son, Drake, spent with the team.
In the fall of 2009, Sale and his girlfriend, Brianne Aron, found out they were going to have a son. Rylan Sale was born in early May, a few weeks before the Atlantic Sun Tournament and a month before the draft. Suddenly, Sale's perspective changed. He remained as competitive as ever on the mound, but his priorities were at home.
"To do what he did as a junior—win national player of the year [selected by "Collegiate Baseball"], go undefeated, get drafted in the first round and get the news halfway through the season that there's a baby on the way, it was a lot for a 20-year-old to handle," Tollett said. "I don't know if anyone else that I've ever coached could've handled that the way he did."
In March of 2011, Sale told the Chicago Tribune that after Rylan was born, "I had no choice but to do well. Two other people were depending on me. Sometimes people talk about girlfriends and things like that as distractions and say, 'Don't bring what's happening off the field to the field.' For me, it was good to bring it to the field."
Brianne and Rylan have been with Sale through everything. Sale declined to attend the draft in order to watch from home with his family, including 1-month-old Rylan. Brianne, who married Sale in 2011, got him involved in a nonprofit that provides shoes to needy children.
And during a conference call the morning after being traded to the Red Sox, Sale shared a message from White Sox reliever Nate Jones, who said his young daughter would miss Rylan.
It's easy to see why Sale had such a strong reaction last spring, when the White Sox imposed limits on how much time first baseman Adam LaRoche's son, Drake, could spend in the clubhouse. LaRoche chose to retire, prompting Sale, the team's longest-tenured player, to blast then-GM Kenny Williams and hang the jerseys of Adam and Drake in his locker.
"I know he's had some incidents where he's said some things he probably shouldn't have," Bell said. "But he has never really cared about anything other than his teammates and just getting people out."
Said Tollett: "Chris is going to stick up for family. I think if the LaRoche thing happened again somewhere else, he would do the same thing because he believes in his heart it's right."
Hostetler knows how this must sound now, hindsight being 20/20 and all, but he insists he never shared the concerns of his scouting brethren. On reports he filed for the White Sox, he said he noted that Sale's arm action was "loose and free." Sale also got the stamp of approval from longtime White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper.
If anything, Hostetler questioned whether Sale's body would withstand the rigors of a pro season. Even now, Sale is skinny as a pipe cleaner. But as his outgoing father, Allen, told any scout who would listen, long and lanky runs in the family. Sale's grandfather, Harold, was nicknamed "Streamline" because of his tall, thin build, but he nevertheless excelled at diving and skiing.
"It's Chris's genetic build," Hostetler said. "Every now and then, some guys are just physical freaks, and Chris is one of those guys. I can look at a cheeseburger and put on five pounds, and he eats 20 of them and he won't. I always hated him for that."
A cheeseburger actually helped heighten Hostetler's opinion of Sale.
"One of the main reasons we drafted him sometimes gets in his way, and that's his passion and his emotion and his fire. That's who Chris is. If he feels strongly about something, he will speak his mind about it, he will take action. I think he's realized that lashing out in certain situations like he did might not be the best way to handle it professionally, even though personally that's kind of the way he handles things."
White Sox scout Nick Hostetler was at FGCU on May 8, 2010, when Sale struck out 11 batters in a four-hit shutout against East Tennessee State. You almost wouldn't have noticed him ducking behind the dugout between innings to expel a burger that had left him stricken with food poisoning.
"It was kind of another trump card for me," Hostetler said. "In my reporting, I could say, 'I told you how tough he is, but the kid had food poisoning and still pitched like that.'"
Sale wowed Hostetler with other feats, including three consecutive strikeouts on nine fastballs in a row during a Cape Cod League game. Alas, the White Sox would have bet their ballpark on Sale being long gone by the time they made the 13th overall pick, at least until his representatives called on draft night to gauge Chicago's interest.
The White Sox drafted Sale, signed him to a $1.65 million bonus and made no promises when they sent him to Class A Winston-Salem to pitch in relief. But at Williams' direction, they had clear intentions: Find out if he was a viable candidate to help their bullpen down the stretch. It took all of three outings to get an answer.
"Buddy Bell called and he said, 'Chris made our decision,'" Hostetler said. "I said, 'What do you mean?' And he said, 'He's coming to the big leagues. This is ridiculous.'" Said Bell: "You dream of a guy in the bullpen with that kind of angle, that kind of velocity. With that kind of look, you go, 'Wow, this guy could really help us in the big leagues.' Before and after, that has never come up [with a draftee]. Chris Sale is the only guy we've ever talked about that with."
It went beyond the quality of Sale's stuff or the uniqueness of his delivery, too. After everything he had been through over the past year, the White Sox thought he would be able to handle being rushed to the big leagues. "His will and his drive, really what was between his ears, was even better than what his stuff was," Hostetler said.
Chris became one of the most popular players in the White Sox clubhouse. A lot of pitchers are aloof, says former White Sox slugger Paul Konerko, but Sale was "one of the guys.
He'd dole out gifts to teammates and staff, like golf clubs or gift cards. And on the road, Sale often got a suite so teammates could hang out, order room service and play video games (mostly FIFA).
"Give Chris room service and video games and he's happy," Konerko said. "I you're telling me one of his issues is that he cares too much and he flies off the handle when he doesn't like somebody insulting him or a teammate and he goes nuts, like, I'm cool with that."
When Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski traded for Sale he said he looked into the pitcher's behavior and was satisfied.
"He's got an edge to him, a good edge," Dombrowski told reporters. "His teammates love him."
"I'm not ashamed by anything I've done on the field," Chris said. "That's adrenaline going; that's being competitive." (Jason Schwartz - ESPN the Magazine - 5/29/2017)
Sale isn't afraid to speak his mind—whether it's to his former manager, Robin Ventura, or further up the chain of command—or to act out. Sale was suspended by the White Sox in 2016 for shredding Chicago's 1976 throwback jerseys before a game.
Save for 11 appearances in the minors before getting called up, Sale, now 27, has never pitched in a game in which winning wasn't the highest priority. His rapid ascent to the big leagues spared him the years of development in which players are judged as much on the process of trying to get better as the actual results, which perfectly suited someone whom Hostetler described as "one of the most competitive human beings I've ever been around."
But get in Sale's way of being at his best and, well, hide the scissors. The White Sox suspended Sale for one start last season after he shredded 1976 throwback jerseys that featured a collar. Sale had told Williams, general manager Rick Hahn and manager Robin Ventura that he found the jerseys to be restrictive, but the team went ahead with its plan to wear them anyway.
"One of the main reasons we drafted him sometimes gets in his way, and that's his passion and his emotion and his fire," Hostetler said. "That's who Chris is. If he feels strongly about something, he will speak his mind about it, he will take action. I think he's realized that lashing out in certain situations like he did might not be the best way to handle it professionally, even though personally that's kind of the way he handles things."
"I've seen that kid smile like that four or five times, like the day Rylan was born. He was elated. He wants to play for a championship. "Dave Tollett, Sale's coach at FGCU, on the pitcher's reaction to being traded to Boston during the winter meetings
The Red Sox looked into Sale's behavior but weren't scared off, according to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. On the contrary, Dombrowski believes Sale benefits from pitching with what he calls "a good edge."
Sale posted a 1.93 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 23 innings after getting called up in 2010, but the White Sox missed the playoffs. They didn't get there in 2011 either, when Sale remained in the bullpen and recorded a 2.79 ERA with 79 strikeouts in 71 innings. The White Sox moved Sale to the rotation in 2012. He ranks first in ERA (3.04) and third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.04) among 51 American League pitchers with at least 500 innings over the past five seasons.
And for all the hand-wringing about those crazy mechanics, he has had only one arm-related visit to the disabled list.
"In 2010, how many teams would've done what they (the White Sox) did? It's hard to say now, but probably not very many," Sale said. "They drafted me in the first round when people had questions. They brought me up to the big leagues really fast when people had questions. They had my back a lot and gave me opportunities that not a lot of people would've given me."
And in 13 months, it helped make Sale into what he is. (Scott Lauber - ESPN Staff Writer - Dec. 2016)
Jan 21, 2017: Sale figured he probably had to win some games for his new team before the knowledgeable and passionate Red Sox fans treated him like one of their own. It turns out he was wrong. The lefty spent two days at the team's annual Winter Weekend convention at Foxwoods somewhat amazed by the most enthusiastic welcome wagon he's ever seen.
"You're kind of blown away," said Sale. "This is my first time being able to interact with the new fans and this fan base. For that to be my first impression, it's incredible."
It started when Sale was announced to an audience before the team's Town Hall event. And it continued, as he was given a pat on the back or a handshake with just about every step he took.
"They've got a lot of fans," said Sale. "It's great. It's a passion. You can feel it. Taking pictures with people today, signing autographs, you see how happy they are and how energetic they are about sports and about this team. You can't help but to feed off that and to just have a certain energy going into the season with all that happening and being around you. It makes me a little bit more comfortable about the transition."
The winter has been exciting for the five-time All-Star for reasons beyond the trade. His wife, Brianne, gave birth to Brayson, the couple's second son, on Dec. 14. (I Browne - MLB.com - Jan 22, 2017)
The uniform will be different for Chris, but his role remains the same. Following another dominant start to the 2017 season, the Red Sox's ace took the mound as the American League's starting pitcher for the second consecutive All-Star Game.
"I'm very appreciative of it," Sale said. "A lot of hard work and dedication goes into this, not only on my end, but the people I'm surrounded by. The people in my corner—my catchers, my teammates, my coaching staff—I've been very lucky to be where I'm at right now with the Boston Red Sox, and have that transition going as smoothly as it has been." (Bastian - mlb.com - 7/10/17)
Sale's nickname is "STICKMAN." The name is a reference to Sale's lanky frame, which has been passed down through the generations in his family.
July 2018: Sale is only the third pitcher to start in three straight All-Star Games. He joined Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez (AL, 1933-35) and Robin Roberts (NL, 1953-55).
Jan 19, 2019: When last you saw Chris Sale, he was putting away Manny Machado, who fell to one knee, to end the World Series with about the most wicked slider humanly possible. But in the days and weeks leading up to that, you saw a lefty ace who was trying to get his full health back after an unsettling bout of left shoulder inflammation. So when it comes to encouraging developments at Red Sox Winter Weekend, the fact that Sale is a full go again and feeling great about where he's at with his shoulder is at or near the top of the list.
"Good, really good," said Sale. "I've been working out at JetBlue the entire offseason, going up there four or five days a week and training, so we have a good setup going."
While Sale is always a focal point with the Red Sox, it will have an added element in 2019 because the lanky lefty is eligible for free agency after the season. Would Sale talk extension with the club before that? "My phone is on if they call me," said Sale. "Obviously nothing has happened up until this point. If they call, I'd answer."
Sale doesn't think that the specter of free agency will have any impact on his preparation or performance for 2019.
"I'm not doing anything different," Sale said. "Just more of the same. I think for me personally, I just keep doing what I've always done. I've never really paid attention to stats or numbers or dollars and cents and all this other stuff. I just look at the left and right column and try and get more in the left than the right. "My goals, my mindset, my everything doesn't change. I just keep playing baseball, and we'll either figure it out over the next couple months or figure it out in a few months. One or the other."
For the first time in his career, Sale will enter Spring Training already having won a World Series. How does that change things for him?
"Instead of winning [one] World Series, I want to win another one," Sale said. "Nothing changes. My wife asked me that same question. You work your entire life to achieve this goal, so what do you do once you achieve it? I said, 'You do it again.' It's why we sign up. You win once and you want to keep winning, and when you don't win, all you want to do is win. Our goal is to continue to keep winning games and win a couple of those trophies."
To get another one, the Red Sox will need a lot more wipeout sliders from Sale, who did get a few chances to look at the ones that ended the 2018 baseball season at Dodger Stadium.
"I've watched it maybe a couple hundred thousand times," quipped Sale. "It never gets old. Those last few, even just watching kind of the highlights from the entire series, it's really special. It's cool. I've worked my entire life, and we as a team worked from Day 1 of Spring Training to get there. And we got it. It was everything you can dream of." (I Browne - MLB.com - Jan 19, 2019)
Fun fact about Chris Sale: He went to FGCU and Jacob deGrom went to rival Stetson (also in Florida). deGrom was both a shortstop and pitcher there. He hit one homer in his NCAA career, and that came off Chris Sale. Pretty cool.
June 2010: The White Sox made Sale their first round pick in the draft—the 13th player chosen overall. And Chris signed, via scout Joe Siers, for a bonus of $1.65 million.
March 7, 2013: Sale and the White Sox agreed on a five-year contract extension worth $32.5 million, with two options years that could bring the deal up to $60 million.
Sale will receive $32.5 million guaranteed over the first five years of the deal, with club options for the next two years. The White Sox hold options for 2018 at $12.5 million and for 2019 at $13.5 million.
Chris receives $850,000 in 2013, $3.5 million in 2014, $6.0 million in 2015, $9 million in 2016, and $12 million in 2017. Before the extension, Sale was scheduled to earn $600,000 in 2013.
That deal is a super-contract for the White Sox, who control the rights to Sale for, at most, $59 million over seven years, with only $32.5 million guaranteed. This isn't just a great contract. It's one that to build a team around, and that's exactly what White Sox GM Rick Hahn is doing.
Hahn put together the contract extension, buying out three years of salary arbitration and three of free agency.
December 6, 2016: The White Sox sent Sale to the Red Sox for four prospects—INF Yoan Moncada, RHP Michael Kopech, OF Luis Alexander Basabe, and pitcher Victor Diaz.
Nov 2, 2017: The Red Sox on exercised their 2018 club option on Sale for $12.5 million. Boston also holds a $13.5 million option on him for 2019.
- March 22, 2019: Sale and the Red Sox agreed to a six-year, $160 million contract. The deal includes an opt-out clause after the 2022 season and some of the money is deferred.