Carlos Lee announced his retirement on Friday after 14 seasons in the Major Leagues with five different teams. Lee spent 6 years with the White Sox and played more games for the Sox than any other team during his career.
While he hasn’t donned the silver and black since 2004, Lee is fondly remembered for his time on the South Side and we look back at his Sox career.
He made his Major League debut with the White Sox on May 7th, 1999 and started his career with a bang.
He became the first White Sox player to homer in his first Major League at bat when he took Tom Candiotti deep to lead off the 2nd inning. Lee finished his rookie campaign with 16 homers and 84 RBI and finished 7th in the Rookie of the Year voting. He was dubbed “El Caballo” by Hawk Harrelson, which means “the horse” in Spanish.
The next year he hit .301 with 24 home runs and 92 RBI and helped the Sox win the AL Central. Lee was one of five Sox players to hit at least 20 home runs and drive in 90 or more runs. The heavy hitting Sox got back to the playoffs for the first time since 1993 although they were swept in the ALDS by the Mariners. That was the only trip to the postseason in Lee’s career and he was just 1-for-11 with an RBI in the ALDS.
Lee would continue to put up good numbers with the Sox over the next few years, although the team fell short of the playoffs each year. In 2004, Lee’s final year with the Sox he set a franchise record with a 28 game hitting streak.
He was traded following the 2004 season to the Milwaukee Brewers for Scott Podsednik and Luis Vizcaino. At the time many Sox fans were upset at the deal thinking that Lee would be one of the Sox offensive centerpieces moving forward, especially with Magglio Ordonez also departing via free agency that same off season. The trade worked out better than anyone could have hoped as Scott Podsednik had a career year for the Sox in 2005 and was the offensive spark plug of the White Sox first World Series title in 88 years.
Lee finished his White Sox career with a .288 average, 152 home runs and 552 RBI. Lee ranks 10th all-time in slugging percentage and 9th in home runs in White Sox history. He is the all-time leader in home runs and RBI and 2nd in hits among Panamanian born players. He also hit 17 career grand slams (7th all-time) perhaps none more memorable than his walk-off salami off Courtney Duncan to beat the Cubs in the 10th inning in 2001.
El Caballo carved out a nice legacy during his time in Chicago as both a piece of the clubs resurgence in the early 2000’s and as the key component in a trade that ultimately brought the Sox their long awaited World Series Championship. Thanks for the memories Carlos, I’ll listen to Van Halen’s “Panama” and remember you fondly.
Special Thanks to The Sox Nerd (@SoxNerd) and Chris Kamka (@ckamka) for digging up some of the factoids on El Caballo.