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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Dave Wills.

Another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

He’s really just a regular guy.  

Seriously..... Dave Wills is no different from you or me. Dave is a Sox fan, has a long memory of the team and wants them to win and win something important before he retires.  

About the only difference is that while you and I talk about the Sox with friends or on the message boards at White Sox Interactive, when Dave talks about them a whole lot more fans get to hear it. 

If you don’t know, Dave is the host and voice of the White Sox pre and post game shows on ESPN Radio 1000. He’s also filled in every so often on play by play for the Sox fulfilling a long time dream.  

Dave Wills!

Wills is a native Chicagoan, who played baseball while attending Elmhurst College. He road that experience to a stint as head baseball coach at the University of Chicago. But baseball coaching while enjoyable, wasn’t where Dave wanted to go. So he used his experience from working at Sports Phone, and parlayed it into the announcers job for the Kane County Cougars minor league baseball team. From there he caught a break as the White Sox organization knew who he was and when an opening presented itself, Wills was foremost in their minds. 

A lucky set of circumstances...sure, but luck can only take you so far, either on the field or in the field of broadcasting. If Wills couldn’t do the job he wouldn’t have kept it. As with most things, talent wins out in the end. 

Dave spoke with WSI’s Mark Liptak on an off day after the Sox first series with the Cubs and less then 24 hours after the Freddy Garcia deal was announced. They talked about his background, how exactly he got the White Sox gig, thoughts on the Chicago media, Bill Melton, the 2004 team and how things have gone right and wrong and why over the past twenty years or so. 

Just like on the radio, Wills presented himself as a regular guy, a fan first. Oh by the way, if you’re in the neighborhood of Jimbo’s (located at 33rd and Princeton) any night the Sox are playing, stop in after the post game show and ask for Dave. He’s usually there every night talking with Sox fans. 

ML: Dave how about a little of your background. You’re a South Side guy aren’t you? 

DW: “I am. I was born in Chicago and moved to Oak Lawn in 1966.” 

ML: Have you always been a baseball / Sox fan? 

DW: “I’ve always been a Sox fan. I grew up watching guys like Tommy John, Carlos May and Bill Melton. But while I was growing up baseball really wasn’t one of my favorite sports. My brother and I were on the same Little League team and he played more, as you can imagine, that bothered me (laughing.).” 

“Basketball was always my sport. One day though when I was in high school gym class my teacher noticed I was left handed and he asked me if I ever did any pitching. I said yes but that it had been a few years. I went out for the Oak Lawn team and played a little my sophomore and junior years. I didn’t have a bad junior season. Senior year I concentrated on basketball but I found that at 6-1, it was getting harder and harder to guard guys who were 6-4 and could leap out of the gym.” 

“I went to Elmhurst College and wasn’t planning on playing anything but I found out that the basketball team only had ten guys or so. I went out and made the team. The baseball coach there heard I was left handed and one day he asked me why I never went out for the team. I told him when I looked in at the tryouts, there must have been about a hundred guys there and I didn’t think I could make it. He told me to come out next year that I could make the team. So I did and played my last three years.” 

“Mike Young was the pitching coach and I basically was the left handed specialist. I’d start four / five games a year but really my job was to come in later and get a guy out. There must have been five or six occasions where I’d warm up for ten minutes, come in, throw one pitch, get the guy to pop up or something and that was it. I’d be done, headed to the showers.”  

ML: How did you get into the broadcasting arena? 

DW: “While I was in college I got a job at Sports Phone. It was my junior year. I started out part time then went to full time after a month. I was going to classes full time (12 hours) and working forty hours a week. They were able to arrange my schedule so that I could get my hours, like in three days, starting over the weekend. “  

ML: And how did the Sox job come along. You’ve been with the organization since 1994. 

DW: “Mike Young, who I knew from back in my college days, was the manager of the minor league baseball team they had in Wausau, Wisconsin. He knew that team was going to be moving to Kane County the following year and suggested that I talk to the club owners. I spoke with them and they told me that they thought I could do a fine job but warned me that they wouldn’t have the final say, that it would be the people who were going to run the club on the day to day basis. So with their blessing, I talked to those people and got the job.” 

“I was doing the Kane County stuff and through it I got to know Bill (Melton) and asked him if he’d like to come out and do some of the color for the games. I figured he’d come out once in awhile but he loved doing the games and came out 20-30 times a season. We had a nice team in place and he was really good, he had the ‘pipes’ so to say (Author’s Note: A broadcasting type voice.) “ 

“In the early 90's John Rooney was still doing the national game of the week and also leaving during the spring to help call the NCAA tournament games so the Sox needed a guy who could fill in. They also wanted someone who could host the pre game show at least on weekends. The Sox knew about me from the Kane County games and asked if I’d like the position. I didn’t really have to interview as such. They already heard how I did play by play, basically they just wanted me to come in so they could see what I looked like, they didn’t want anybody who was going to scare kids! (laughing). I was able to fulfill a dream by doing some play by play at the big league level but it wouldn’t have happened without the help and support from the Kane County people. They understood the opportunity I had and made arrangements to have another crew do all their weekend games so that I could go work for the Sox. To this day I appreciate that courtesy.” 

ML: Talk to me a bit about what your day is like, how much preparation do you do, do you ‘outline’ for want of a better word, themes for that day’s shows? Give me a sense of what goes on. 

DW: “I usually get up around 8:30 or so. The first thing I do is read the three newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Tribune and Sun-Times. Then about 9:30 or so I hit the internet and check out the web sites. Places like ESPN. com, CBS Sportsline and of course White Sox Interactive. During the lunch / early afternoon time I usually spend it with my daughter. She’s eight years old. About two or so I start writing my opening for the show and take notes on what to look for that night. I usually leave for the park I guess about four. I’ll get to the park and go over the pre game notes and check to see if anything else is happening. The show usually ends about eleven. That’s pretty standard now. Afterwards I may take a few minutes to go over that night’s broadcast with the folks I work with but I don’t want to keep them very long. Then I head home. Usually every night I’ll stop by Jimbo’s to have a cold one and talk with the fans. To me that’s part of my help sell White Sox baseball and I have no problem doing that. I like to hear what the fans have to say. I like to talk with them. No matter how the game that night went, I’ll do this because the first time I say no or put somebody off, they’ll say I was a jerk. Then that person will tell another fan and that fan will tell two more fans and I don’t want that happening to me or the Sox.” 

ML: When you are following the Sox game do you and whomever’s working with you that night, say Bill Melton, ever get shall we say, ‘emotional’ when something good or bad happens and let out a yell? 

DW: “All the time. I’m a fan first. Bill’s the same way. Give you an example, when we played the Cubs at home that Sunday, the Sox grabbed that 2-0 lead. Immediately Sammy Sosa hit that home run. I looked at Bill and said ‘one of these days our starters and going to have to stop the other teams right after we score.’ Bill nodded his head in agreement. We’re into the game, we’re not just sitting there having beers.” 

ML: Bill seems to be a very good analyst, in fact some fans here at White Sox Interactive say Bill should be on instead of Darrin Jackson or Ed Farmer. Would Bill like to do color for the Sox? 

DW: “If he were offered the job he’d take it in a heartbeat. Bill is a great ‘x and o’ type of guy. He knows the game and is very good. I’m not putting down Ed by the way, Ed’s a great storyteller and he’s funny.”  

ML: How do you balance the fact that as a broadcaster you are supposed to be truthful and fair but as a matter of practicality the fact is, the White Sox do have some say in your employment. How do you walk that fine line? 

DW: “I’m not naive, I know that part of my job is to sell White Sox baseball. If the team is not going well I won’t get down on an individual player. That’s not my style. I’m not like Harry (Caray) or Jimmy (Piersall). I can’t bury an individual and part of the reason is because I know these guys. I see them everyday and if things aren’t going well I know they take it harder then any fan. A guy like Paul Konerko, if he’s not doing well, believe me it’s bothering him. He wants to win as badly as any fan. When things aren’t going well I try to be diplomatic. Sox fans aren’t dumb, they know what’s going on. I won’t lie to them or try to gloss things over, it’s just that I won’t go after a single guy.” 

ML: There are times on the show where it does seem that you’re controlling your emotions, sometimes that’s directed at the Sox performance, sometimes it’s directed at the callers you get. Is it hard to not be able to just unload like the fans in the stands or for that matter the message boards at WSI? 

DW: “At times, but the fans don’t really bother me. Well one fan did. This Cub fan left a message on my home answering machine saying that he was angry at what I was saying. He also said that he’d be back again, things like that. I contacted the police and had a report filed on the guy. (Author’s Note: But remember Cub fans don’t care about the Sox, right?) In 2001 I basically felt that I was the fan’s psychiatrist. After the show they’d call up and vent and that was fine. Before I say anything I try to find out for sure what went on or why something was done. Last year for example, when Jerry Manuel pulled Bartolo Colon and the Cubs came back to win the fans went crazy. I didn’t say anything until after Jerry’s press conference. Then we found out that the reason Bartolo was pulled was because when Jerry asked him ‘are you O.K.?’ he said ‘I think I can go...’ So there was some doubt and Jerry acted accordingly. That’s one of the nice things about home games. We can get Ozzie’s press conferences. On the road sometimes we have to scramble to find out what actually went on.”  

ML: Speaking of WSI, you were the first interview for the web site, you have talked about it a lot on your shows and even plugged an interview now and again. What is it about the web site that you like and makes it justifiable to you to mention it to your listeners? I mean it’s not like we’re paying you to mention it. 

DW: “It’s a professional site. I remember George (Bova) telling me that I was the first interview but that was a long time ago it seems. The last few years there have been some tough times and I want to see what the fans are, and were, thinking. It helps me. That’s why I love the ‘game day threads.’ I can almost immediately see what some Sox fans are thinking about the game or a move that took place during the game. I think those things are better then taking notes because I get different opinions. The interviews are tremendous, like the one with Mike Veeck and last year Ed Herrmann. If you’ve ever met Ed you know what a great guy he is.” 

ML: What about your future with the Sox? Reports in the newspapers and here at WSI clearly show friction between station management and Jerry Reinsdorf. Jay Mariotti’s hiring clearly has exacerbated the situation. Can you tell us anything about that situation and how it could affect you? 

DW: “Remember that Bob Snyder, our station’s G.M. was replaced by Jim Pastor last month. I know that he is a big Sox fan. I know that Jay does not like Jerry Reinsdorf and I know that a lot of Sox fans don’t like Jay. I haven’t heard Jay’s show so I really can’t comment on anything he says. I’ve met Jay, but I don’t listen to him and that’s because when he’s on air, I’m usually on the internet preparing for that night’s game or I’m doing something with my daughter. I hope that the station can hold on to the contract, I know many folks at the station who think the same way.” 

“As for me as long as ESPN Radio has the Sox, I think I’d be part of the show but if the station would lose them to say, WSCR and as long as ESPN Radio had UIC basketball and Notre Dame football then it wouldn’t be possible for me to work for both stations. (Author’s Note: As many of you know Dave has done UIC Flames basketball for seven seasons and hosts Notre Dame football both on ESPN Radio.) I also would like to someday be a play by play man for a major league baseball team too. That could have a say in what happens in the future. A few years ago I interviewed for the Kansas City Royals job and another chance may come up.” 

ML: What’s your feeling on how the media treats the White Sox in Chicago. 

DW: “I never really believed much of the talk about how the media mistreats the Sox but I’ve got to tell you, maybe two or three years ago, the Cubs had their fan convention and the Tribune had maybe eight pages of stuff. The next week the Sox had theirs and in the Saturday paper there was nothing on it. I mean not even an agate line ‘the Sox start fan convention.’ I said this is ridiculous, this is disgusting. I agree with the comment made recently that the reporters who cover the Sox are impartial but the people who cover the Cubs are actual fans and some of them are pretty blatant about it. Not only in the print media but on TV as well. They go on and on about ‘Cubbie Love.’” 

“Look last year the Cubs drew over three million fans, but the Sox drew about two million. That’s not as big a difference as some in the media makes it out to be, and some people seem to forget that in the early 90's it was the Sox setting attendance records.” 

ML: What’s are your thoughts on as I call it, ‘Hawk’s War,’ Ken Harrelson’s verbal snipes with certain media members. Some folks say that as the face of the club he shouldn’t be embarrassing the organization that way, others think it’s great he’s calling out the media. 

DW: “I think that a lot of people give the media far to much credit. I’m staying out of this one because it’s not my fight I’ll leave that to Hawk and Jay.”

ML: Let’s talk about the Sox. We’ll start with this season. Ozzie has obviously made a big difference in the attitude of the club, but attitude can only take you so far. Eventually talent usually wins out. Where do the Sox need help even after getting Freddy Garcia? 

DW: “I firmly believe that you can win or lose games in the 6th or 7th innings as well as in the 9th inning. I think the Sox need another quality arm out of the bullpen. I also think they need some balance in the lineup and by that I don’t automatically mean a left handed hitter. They need a different type of player for the lineup. Like Kenny Williams said, a ‘grinder,’ a Chuck Knoblach type. Someone who can get on base, run, steal, hit the ball the other way, drive pitchers crazy.” 

ML: Kenny Williams and to a certain extent Ozzie Guillen have that ‘football players mentality.’ They want to win yesterday, win today and win tomorrow. Given the fact that this club hasn’t been to a World Series in 44 years, can that attitude backfire? I mean you can want to win so much today that you make a bad deal and hurt the organization for years. 

DW: “The Sox haven’t been to the World Series since 1959 so there is a sense of urgency. I don’t think Kenny, having that attitude, will cause him to make reckless deals that will backfire and remember all G.M.’s have made bad deals. I’ll go on record as saying I was for the Todd Ritchie trade. You just can’t be afraid to make deals. Williams wants a World Series title.” 

ML: Personally, having no memories of the 59 series, I’d sell my soul to Mr. Applegate (Author’s Note: The name of the Devil in the movie ‘Damn Yankees,’ played by the late Ray Walston) for a pennant. Does Sox ownership have that same ultimate desire above any other considerations? 

DW: “ I think that Jerry Reinsdorf does what he says and that any amount of extra money they have will go back to improving the team. I think this year if Kenny goes to ownership and says we can get these guys for five to ten million dollars for the rest of the year that Jerry will say yes. Now if you think the Sox will take on forty million dollars to try to win the title, that’s just not going to happen.” 

ML: In the six full seasons since the White Flag Trade, the trade that was made in part, to restock the minor league system and point the way to a better tomorrow, the Sox average seasonal record has been 83-79... mediocre at best. What has gone wrong on the field that things didn’t turn out the way management expected them to? 

DW: “When you look at 2000 that was a magical season and everyone was disappointed the way it turned out. 2001, the team had nothing but injuries, David Wells’ back injury really set them back, 2002 I think, was trying to restock the minor league system. The 2003 season is the one that most disappointed me.”  

Mike Caruso just didn’t come through, Bobby Howry was good until he got hurt and Keith Foulke obviously pitched very well until he broke down mentally.” 

ML: What are the chances of the Sox signing Garcia to a longer deal? 

DW: “Ozzie is best friends with Freddy and they are close family wise but I’ve learned in this business that it almost always comes down to who makes the best deal. Freddy will have other suitors and the chances of the Sox getting him are better sooner rather then later.” 

“Here’s a little thing that shows how close those two guys are, when the Sox went to Seattle in early June, Ozzie’s kids stayed at Freddy’s house.”  

ML: There’s an old adage ‘pitching wins pennants.’ Any thoughts on why the minor league system hasn’t produced better results from the pitching standpoint. I mean you’re an old pitching coach yourself. 

DW: “I don’t know. I do remember that when I was doing the games for Kane County and they’d play the Sox South Bend team I’d see those guys and think, ‘this is a number one guy?’ The Sox have had some success with guys like Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland who was very young when he came from the Cubs organization. I think the whole situation comes down to the fact that the Sox haven’t had a top ten draft pick in fourteen years, the longest of any major league club. It’s hard to get quality pitchers in later rounds.” 

“I have seen and heard glowing reports on the current group of pitchers throughout the minors. I think the Sox are focusing on pitching... developing it and having patience with it. Kris Honel is a great example. They are being patient with him, and I think that’s why they didn’t bring up Joe Borchard to help fill in for Magglio Ordonez. They wanted Joe playing everyday not coming up here and maybe getting a dozen at bats in a month.” 

ML: Was Jerry Manuel kept on as manager last season for financial reasons at the risk of losing an opportunity to make the post season? 

DW: “Well the Sox are paying him this year for not managing aren’t they? I think Jerry did start losing the clubhouse early last year. But I’ve never been the type of guy to make a change just for the sake of making a change. I don’t think the Sox felt that there was anybody better out there who could have come in for the second half of the season. If there was someone like that I think they would have made the change.” 

ML: Jerry Reinsdorf has been CEO of the White Sox since January 1981. In that time period the Sox have never made a World Series appearance, one of a handful of teams in baseball that haven’t over that time. You’ve seen this organization from a number of different standpoints, fan, reporter, broadcaster. When you look at the stewardship of the team what has Jerry done correct, and what has he done wrong? 

DW: “I thought 1983 was going to be the start of big things for the franchise. They were moving in the right direction in 1993 - 94 when the work stoppage happened. That’s been the number one failure, that the Sox haven’t won a title and that’s how many people judge ownership.” 

“I think the make up of the organization is changing and changing for the better with guys like Ozzie and Brooks Boyer, the new marketing director. I think you see more friendly faces around the Sox today. I know that players, even a guy like Frank Thomas, who supposedly has a bad reputation, will stand and sign autographs and talk to kids and fans. I think the Sox are doing a lot to make a trip to the park more entertaining for everybody from Mom, Dad, Wally and ‘The Beaver’!” 

“I do think that the Sox have to start shifting their attention and focus to the South and Southwest suburbs. The fans who used to live in places like 63rd and Western have moved out. I think the Sox have got to go out and get them. That’s not to say that great fans still don’t live in Chicago itself, just that a lot of them are outside that area.. Overall I think the organization is headed in the right direction.”

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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