White Sox mourn Julio Cruz, 1983 second baseman and 'igniter'

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Sox mourn Julio Cruz, 1983 second baseman and 'igniter' originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

An important member of the Chicago White Sox' division-championship team in 1983 has passed away.

Julio Cruz, who logged 97 games at second base in during that campaign, the first of his four seasons on the South Side, died this week.

Acquired in a June trade, he was credited with providing a midseason spark to the team that ended up securing the American League West Division crown and making the franchise's first postseason appearance in nearly two and a half decades.

"The 'Cruzer' was the catalyst of that 1983 Western Division championship team. When (general manager) Roland Hemond acquired him that summer, the team just took off," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. "Julio became our igniter, and his positive energy was contagious in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field. Sox fans will always remember him dashing across home plate with the division-clinching run. The White Sox organization sends its heartfelt condolences to Julio's family and many friends."

After playing in the AL Championship Series with the 1983 team and finishing 24th in AL MVP voting that year, Cruz spent the following three seasons with the White Sox. All told, he played in 414 games as a South Sider, the vast majority for then and current White Sox manager Tony La Russa.

"For fans, Julio was such an important part of the White Sox and in particular the 1983 team," La Russa said in a statement. "He had electric ability as a player but was such a big part of those teams because of his personality. He was a caring guy, and because of that had an emotional connection with his teammates on and off the field. Most of us had kept in pretty regular contact with him over the years, but this is a very sad day. He was much too young to leave us, and he will be missed."

Indeed, the baseball world in general spent Wednesday mourning the former White Sox and Seattle Mariners infielder. Cruz had also served as a broadcaster for the Mariners since 2003. Most of the remembrances focused on Cruz's personality and the kind of person he was, as La Russa mentioned, both on and off the field.

"Any thoughts about Julio are more about the person than the ballplayer," former White Sox slugger Harold Baines said in a statement. "He was a great friend who ignited our team in 1983. That's why we won. I remember he used to jump from the dugout floor up to the top step before each game. That was four or five steps, an athletic feat. But ultimately, it is his friendship that I will miss most."

Former White Sox infielder Ron Kittle, who won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1983, shared a particularly heartwarming story about Cruz.

"One time, he was the Player of the Game in New York City and received a gift certificate for the honor," Kittle shared in a statement. "It was for a fancy restaurant in New York, and you had to dress up. He asked me to go with him. So he and I put on sports coats and went to dinner. We ate the best of everything: champagne, lobster, steaks. You name it, we ate it.

"After dinner, they brought the check to Julio, and he slides his gift certificate inside, proud and (with) a huge smile. The waiter comes back, saying, 'Excuse me sir, but this gift certificate is for another restaurant.' His jaw dropped, and he said, 'Kitty, I don't have my wallet.' So I picked up the check, something like $500-plus. And this is where the story shows you how big Julio's heart was.

"For the next 10 years, he bought me a Louis Vuitton wallet, probably $250 each, and for the first five years, he paid me back by putting a $100 bill in it. I'll never forget the huge heart he had."

Cruz was the third member of the 1983 team to pass away in recent months. Former White Sox pitcher LaMarr Hoyt died in late November. The aforementioned Hemond, who served as the White Sox' general manager for a decade and a half, died two weeks after Hoyt.

Cruz was 67 years old.

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