It becomes a lot easier to wax nostalgic about players when they're out the door. Their deficiencies are no longer a part of your daily concern, and all that's left is the memories.
Worry no longer that Brent Lillibridge can't hit, or that Zach Stewart is threatening the league's supply of baseballs. Before spending all day dreaming of competent 3rd base production, let us think of the better times with those we have lost.
Sent over as the flamed-out prospect side dish to Tyler Flowers' main course in the return package for Javier Vazquez, Lillibridge's appeal to fans was obvious--highlight reel plays from an unexpected source.
At his best, Lillibridge specialized in diving catches in the outfield, fast running, and home runs; which are three things even the casual viewer--especially the casual viewer--can appreciate. That he did so as a sub-6 foot former infielder just gave him an extra underdog quality.
There was nothing special about the situation of his first White Sox home run in 2010--at the end of a blowout win that no one watched because the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup that night--it's simply the bizarre sight of a smaller man hitting a ball out to dead center that's memorable (note the gasp of the crowd).
His bat would return to a deep sleep for the rest of that season, but re-emerged in time to end a dreary marathon game in Cleveland with a blast, and set up his role for 2011--a rare bright spot on a team in the doldrums.
Brent burned his way into White Sox lore with back-to-back circus catches to preserve a win in New York, but also figured greatly in preserving pitching gems by Jake Peavy and John Danks with jaw-dropping athleticism and speed.
His offense furthered the enthusiasm for him. He terrorized his future teammates during a three-game sweep of Boston, and was a genuine power threat by September when the Sox returned to his native Washington.
Lillibridge's reputation as a hustle player wasn't all highlights and narrative either. He was a go-to pinch-runner, and figured prominently into my favorite play of 2011, racing around the bases to score the go-ahead run from 1st against Texas. Sadly, his much-revered passion was most prominently on display on September 9th of last year, when he fought back tears in the locker room in the wake of the news that the broken hand he suffered would end his dream season.
The hitter that went down that night has yet to return, and perhaps never will, but he did leave us with one more memorable robbery. It was of Carlos Gomez no less, who is essentially Brent Lillibridge if he was really obnoxious.
Farewell, non-insufferable version of Carlos Gomez.
Stewart wasn't a great pitcher on the South side, but he was a true White Sox.
By that I mean, Zach Stewart terrorized the Minnesota Twins.
His debut outing with the Sox saw him throw 6.1 one-run innings at Target Field, and with Minnesota's own tried and true pitching method too. Stewart threw strikes, couldn't miss many bats, piled up hits, but cleverly avoided any real damage and was pulled before he could be figured out.
The downside of such an approach was exposed in his next start, where he was hammered by the Twinkies and allowed six runs in 4.2 innings. But it was a game the Sox would still win, and just five days later Stewart redeemed himself with a masterful one-hit shutout at Target Field. He took a perfect game into the 8th, and struck out a career-high nine, in a performance that just gets more confusing by the day.
For those that still grasp to the notion that Stewart can one day reclaim his prospect status, it's the game they point to. For me, it's an eternal testament to Stewart's vicious malice toward the Twins franchise. Even this year, at the height of his struggles, in a blowout loss, Stewart threw 3.1 scoreless innings against a team he had already tortured so much.
Zach's utter lack of mercy for Chicago's embattled division rival is gone, but never forgotten.