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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Bob Vanderberg.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive! ††

He may not get the recognition of a Paul Sullivan, Jay Mariotti or a Dan Rohn, but Bob Vanderbergís been around the Chicago sports scene for a long time. Longer then just about anybody working in the Chicago media.

Vanderbergís been working in various capacities for the Chicago Tribune since 1972 and heís been a die hard Sox fan for longer then that. Vanderberg has seen up close and in person, every White Sox playoff team since the 1959 American League Champs.

That love of the Sox has led him to write three books on the team. Those books have sold conservatively estimated, at over 16,000 copies. The last two, still in print, are called "Ď59 Summer Of The Sox" and "Minnie and The Mick." The 59 book goes through almost game by game, the entire season with numerous recollections from the players who brought the championship home to Chicago. The book "Minnie and The Mick" painstakingly reviews the entire Yankee - White Sox encounters from 1951 through 1964. Thatís the period of time when the Sox were the only team in the American League to consistently give the New Yorkers trouble and seriously threaten their dynasty.

Bob recently took time out from his home in suburban Chicago to speak with WSIís Mark Liptak.

ML: Itís obvious from your books, that youíve been a Sox fan for a long time. How did your love of the Sox get started?

BV: "My Dad was a fan. He loved baseball and passed that love of the Sox down to me. He also passed down a hated of anything to do with the Cubs. I was about eleven or so in 1959 when I went to about a half dozen Sox games. My first heroes were guys like Nellie Fox, Billy Pierce and Chico Carrasquel. In fact one of the games I was at in 1959, was Nellie Fox night when the Sox honored him."

ML: What led you into the media business and how did you wind up at the Tribune?

BV: " I did some writing in high school, it was something that I liked. I majored in English at Hope College (Editorís Note: located in Michigan) graduating in 1970, just in time to get drafted into the Army. I served through 1972. When I got out I still enjoyed sports and was thinking about how to get a job in the business. About that time I visited some friends of mine on the West Coast, while I was there I saw the Sox in Oakland and in Anaheim. Anyway one day, Iím on a bus going out to catch my plane to go back home, when I notice that beat writers Dave Nightengale and John Hillyer are sitting across from me. I introduce myself and told them that Iíd like to do what they are doing. They were very supportive and suggested that I contact every small paper in the Chicago and Northern Illinois area and see what might be available. So I did and worked at one of the smaller papers. I then got a job at the City News Bureau, which no longer exist, as a police reporter. I got a call from the Tribune in September 1972 asking if Iíd like to go to work for the Suburban Tribune. I covered high school sports during that time. In 1981 I was asked if Iíd like to go to work downtown and have been there ever since."

ML: Tell us a bit about what your job entails?

BV: "Iím the assistant high school editor. I basically plan the coverage from week to week and also make sure the staff photos are done on time. We have five or six full time people in the department and about 40 "stringers" who cover games in the Chicago area for us on a per story basis. Iíve got to make sure all of those games are assigned and covered. After twenty years of working nights, this is a day job. I get in about 8:30 and usually leave around five in the afternoon. I also help out a lot writing fanís perspective stories. Iíve done a bunch of those on the Sox, especially when they make the playoffs."

ML: How did you get the ideas to do your books on the 1959 team and the rivalry with the Yankees?

BV: "A bunch of Army buddies were telling me one day to do something on the guys who played on the Sox and their recollections. I thought about that a lot. While I was considering what to do and how to do it, Roger Kahn came out with his great book, "The Boys Of Summer" on the Brooklyn Dodgers. So I had to do something different. I decided to try to do it on the 1959 team and hoped to get it out for the 40th anniversary which was in 1999. I guess my real concern was would anybody care. I sat down though and started getting people connected with that team to speak with me. I got Bill Veeck, Frank Lane... I talked with about 40 people whenever I could. If we were on vacation Iíd see who might be in the area where we were at, call them up and see if theyíd talk. The idea for the Yankee / White Sox book actually came from a reader who read the 1959 book and suggested it. Pitcher Tommy Byrne was the first person I spoke with. I figured Iíd see what he remembered. Well he remembered a lot. Then I spoke with Sam Mele, who only played with the Sox for three months, but he remembered some stuff so I figured maybe it was a good idea."

ML: The books are very meticulous in their detail, was it hard†doing all that research?

BV: "It wasnít that hard because the Chicago Tribune had all of the game stories in the morgue file. Iíd usually spend a few hours on Friday nights doing research. I always work late that day, helping out the guys covering all of the area high school games. I did all of my own transcribing so the book on the 59 club took about a year and a half, the book on the Yankee / Sox rivalry took two years."

ML: How about the players themselves. Were they open to talking and did any player refuse you? Who did you enjoy speaking with the most?

BV: "The only guy who refused me was Whitey Ford. I was in the Tampa area and made arrangements through the Yankees staff to speak with him at the Yanks Spring training facility. We set up the day and time. Iím waiting outside the Yankee clubhouse when I see Tony Kubek. So I introduce myself and we start talking. While Tonyís telling me his remembrances he says, "thereís Whiteyís car..." So I wait for Ford and when he comes over I introduce myself. He says sure, heíll speak with me. He goes into the clubhouse to change and Iím waiting. Next time I see him heís down the line getting ready to work with some pitchers. He just blew me off. So I see Kubek again and we start talking again. Tony tells me that Whitey gets like that sometimes, it didnít bother me though because I got a lot of information from Tony. As far as who I enjoyed most, I think it was Tommy McCraw. He told me a lot of things including how he never really had a plan when he was hitting. The Sox in those days never had a hitting coach. McCraw told me he never really knew what to do until he got to Washington when Ted Williams was managing. He asked Williams for hitting help one time and Ted told him that his swing was fine, it was his mental approach that was all screwed up Tommy went up there for so many years looking for a curve ball instead of sitting on the fastball. Williams told him that if a pitcher has a good curve that youíre not going to hit it anyway so look fastball. McCraw said he really felt bad because had he known that, he could have helped the Sox a lot more. If you look at his career when he was in Washington he started hitting in the .280's, .290's."

From Lane and Fain to Zisk and Fisk!

ML: Since you work for the Tribune do you catch a lot of flak from Sox fans who feel that youíre part of that "conspiracy" against the team?

BV: "I have. A few years ago I was at Sox Fest, trying to sell a few more books. The Tribune invited me to share their booth since they werenít using all of it. Since it didnít cost anything I said sure. So when fans came around Iíd show them the books and a lot of them said no because the Tribune was a "Cub paper." I tried explaining that these books were about the Sox and that I was a Sox fan but it didnít matter. Perception becomes reality. The fans just donít get the connection that the Tribune Company owns a number of different newspapers, radio and TV stations. They own papers in Orlando, TV stations in Los Angeles, Denver and New York. They donít just own the Cubs. But I will say that the perception of the Tribune as a "Cub paper" has cost us a lot of fans. A lot of people now get the Sun-Times because of it."

ML: Well we know youíre a Sox fan, beat writer Paul Sullivan is a Sox fan, columnists Melissa Isaacson comes from a Sox family, and didnít you tell me the new Sports Editor of the Tribune is a Sox fan?

BV: "Thatís right. Dan McGrath is the new Sports Editor. Heís from the South Side, went to St. Leo high school, lives in Beverly and roots for the Sox".

ML: Seriously do Sox fans have a legitimate beef against the Chicago media?

BV: "I think they do have a beef to a certain extent. Primarily against the TV stations and I donít mean the sports anchors themselves. A lot of the folks who work for the stations come from out of town and live in the North Side area. They get more exposed to the Cubs then the Sox, that probably does influence them somewhat when they start picking and choosing what goes on the air and in what order. I think that was at least part of the reason the Sox switched the start times of night games to 7:05 from 7:30. They wanted to try to get a better shot at making the late sports."

ML: The Sox have always been known for pitching, speed, defense and fundamentals. The past five years they have moved away from that philosophy and the results have been as mediocre as you can get, except for the fluke season of 2000. Even Jerry Manuel was publicly quoted as saying that pitching and defense wins championships, not hitting. Are the Sox making a major mistake by leaving their roots?

BV: "The Sox starting making mistakes when they moved across the street instead of out to the suburbs! What I donít understand is why they moved the fences in. I mean that 2000 team didnít have any trouble hitting home runs and the dimensions made it better on their pitchers. That being said, the game has changed and where the fences are now, itís hard playing small ball with pitching. There is no defense against a three run homer. You put yourself behind the eight ball when you try to play for a run at a time."

ML: Speaking of Jerry Manuel what do you think of him as a manager?

BV: "I think heís done an outstanding job. Heís the best Sox manager since Tony LaRussa, although I think Jeff Torborg also did a fine job before he was run off. Manuel has made sound moves, sometimes they havenít always worked but thatís the way of the game. Heís a good man, a fine manager and gets along with his players. My concern is that when his contract is up, he may realize that heís done all that he can within the limitations of the payroll and just leave for someplace else."

ML: "How about GM Kenny Williams?

BV: "The juryís still out on him. I think heís a sharp guy, a people person. Heís made the right moves. The Sox needed a shortstop...he went out and got Royce Clayton as good a defensive shortstop as youíll find. He badly needed a top of the line starting pitcher...he went out and got David Wells. Give him credit for trying to make something happen, they just havenít all worked out. Sometimes you have to just get lucky and he hasnít. I do think though that he overpaid for Todd Ritchie."

ML: You have access to information that us average fans donít see. Are the Sox as bad off financially as they claim? I mean Kenny Williams was sounding off it seemed every week about the payroll and what the team could afford and I think a number of fans felt insulted and angry at those comments.

BV: "Williams himself may not be privy to the whole financial picture. He may be basing his conclusions on what heís being told. I donít know if the Sox have money problems. It seems to me that there are enough well heeled investors in the team that they should be able to spend more on the club."

ML: If things are that bad why doesnít Jerry Reinsdorf sell and get out?

BV: "Again I donít know. If I owned the team and was as disliked as he is by the fans, I know Iíd sell. Maybe he really wants to win that World Series, maybe he honestly thinks that they are going to be able to change the current economic structure. What I do know is that the club was averaging about 32 - 33 thousand before the strike. They have never recovered from that. I think they also made major mistakes when on "fan appreciation day" in 1996 they announced that Terry Bevington was going to be kept on for another season. I know a number of fans told me, since I was at the park that day, what a bad move that was. They just stood around shaking their heads, they couldnít believe it. I also think the "White Flag Trade" was a mistake. Fans saw what Robin Ventura went through to get that shattered leg in shape. Heís with the club for four games and then they call it quits."

ML: The Sox basically say they are a "small market" team even though genuine small markets like Seattle, Cleveland, and Colorado spend a lot more money. In the recent past Florida and San Diego have spent more. As long as the current ownership conducts themselves this way is there any hope of a real championship in the future?

BV: "As long as the current economic system is in place, no they donít... they have no hope for a title. By that I mean at least a pennant. For the Sox to win, they need to increase the payroll and stop being so stubborn about things. They also have to get rid of this feeling of inferiority. To me this approach, "we canít compete with the Cubs," sounds like defeatism. I think fans consider that a slap in the face. Sometimes I also think that the folks who work for the team donít even know their own history. Ed Farmer, who grew up on the South Side, seems to talk more about the teams on the West Coast then his own. He seems to know more about them. I also recall a time when Sox announcers Don Drysdale and Frank Messer were wondering on air, where the idea of the "curtain call" came from. They thought it was with Reggie Jackson in New York. It wasnít. It was the 1977 Sox. They also talked about who the first team was to put uniform names on the back of jerseys. They thought it was Charlie Finley with the Aís of the early 60's. It wasnít. It was the 1960 White Sox. I mean are the Sox that much of an unknown nationally?"

ML: If through a magic time machine we could bring back in their prime, pitchers Joe Horlen, Tommy John, Gary Peters and Juan Pizarro to 2002, if they became the starting rotation, how would they do?

BV: "They would do very well. Pizarro would be overwhelming batters but heíd also be angry that he couldnít bat. He was a very good hitter in his day. Peters would be very effective. He had a smooth windup and surprised batters with how fast he was. Heíd also demand to play first base on the days he wasnít pitching because he could really hit well. Horlen would be a right handed version of Peters. Heíd make you hit the ball on the ground. John would have hitters hit 20 ground balls a game. Letís put it this way, theyíd be a lot better then the Todd Ritchieís and Danny Wrightís of the world. Of course, theyíd be so good, the Sox couldnít afford to keep them!"

ML: Finally Bob, if Sox fans want to get your books, is there a place they can go to find them?

BV: "They can go to In fact they can now get the books used if they donít want to get a brand new one."

Editor's Note: †Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work. †He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper†organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana)†and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years. †"Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population. †

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