Guys who cracked the code in Boston sports: Chris Sale

Jim Hackett
March 12, 2019 - 8:43 am

This is the second installment of a multi-part series ...

Part 1: Kevin Garnett

I just got back from a weekend in Ft. Myers centered on Red Sox spring training. From our pre-game perch outside of the ballpark at the base of the training fields, I was unsurprised to find just one of the Red Sox top-end stars in the midst of an aggressive core workout. That star? Chris Sale.

Sale is one of the few guys on the current roster who could really draw attention away from the free food, drinks and photo sessions that I was experiencing with Red Sox all-time favorites like Dwight Evans, Bill Lee and Luis Tiant. Once people saw that familiar long, lean and wiry build the intrigue grew. The presence of Sale on sight commanded attention and we all took notice. Just like every time he takes the hill, his workout had become an event. No pitcher since Pedro Martinez has commanded such attention or exuded the same mystique. Sale has it, whether here in Boston or down at Fenway South in Ft. Myers.

Sale shows up and people are engaged. 

I remember Opening Day in 2017 at Fenway Park. As the players lined up on the field you could feel the anticipation in the crowd just to hear Sale’s name be announced as a Red Sox. "Number 41 ... Chris Sale!" As the crowd roared Sale raised his arm, waved and tipped his cap to the crowd. The Fenway faithful got their first real look at Sale in a Red Sox uniform and he fully recognized the moment. Right then I turned to one of my friends and said, "This guy gets it" and he’s never given me a reason to recant that statement. In fact, like too few in his trade as a professional athlete, he’s over-delivered. 

Sale is fun to watch. Dominant and impressive as the baseball blazes from his skinny frame. Watching him work can be head-turning, particularly when that hard slider damn near tails out of sight. Hitters wave at it helplessly. When he’s on, he dazzles. In the far less frequent instances when he struggles, he always battles and has a knack to improve even when he’s having trouble finding his best stuff. Admirable. The man doesn’t quit and fans always appreciate that.

When he talks there’s a definite "EF Hutton" factor, people listen. The reason is that Sale is the rare professional athlete who’s legitimately a pleasure to listen to. If you haven’t gotten the chance to hear him speak at length then you’ve missed out. Sale is frank, honest and can even surprise not only with the candor with which he speaks, but with the content he offers. My favorite clip is from his appearance during the 2017 WEEI-NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-telethon. If you’re a fan of any team you long to hear the player’s you root for to sound exactly how Sale did in this interview with Ordway, Merloni and Fauria: Click here for the video.

As Kenny Banion would say,  "Gold Jerry, gold." 

He prioritizes winning over everything else and win he does. Accountability is a close second, a photo finish at worst. When asked about money or his contract he defuses it with a conviction that is honest, humble and most importantly, believable. The interview clip provided above should be required listening for all rookies that come into the league, but it won’t be because it shows how greedy and frivolous their agents truly are. So don’t expect to hear someone like Sale come around too often, players are conditioned to not speak as he does. Enjoy it while you have it. Sale’s childhood dreams of being a major league ballplayer never left him, you can hear the gratitude in his words, the rarest of all things professional athletes typically convey. Gratitude.

Dominance, grit, focus, humility and gratitude. How about that combination?  I think Sale proves that they all pair pretty well together; kind of like a medium rare filet mignon, with a bottle of red and a chocolaty dessert. Now you can add in a World Series Championship to that mix. A nice after-dinner whiskey to finish it all off. 

When Sale speaks I liken it to how it must feel finding a bottle of water after walking dehydrated in the desert for several desperate hours. The typical arrogant, short, minimalistic clichés don’t apply with Sale. Not to worry though, there are plenty of glasses of hot sand to drink when a great many other professional athletes face the mic.  

Sale also has an intensity that must be paralyzing to face at the plate. Once I saw the look on his face as he came out of the pen in the Bronx for Game 4 of the ALDS I knew it was over, despite Craig Kimbrel’s best efforts in the ninth inning to blow it. Sale reminded me of Darth Maul when the double doors opened in Star Wars "The Phantom Menace." Fierce, focused and intimidating. The Yankees didn’t stand a chance.

While many of the league’s best fail to do so, Chris Sale has most certainly cracked the code and Boston fans will likely never forget it. I sure won’t. 

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