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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Richard Roeper.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

Boy how things have changed. Thirty years ago, heck make that twenty years ago, if you were in the ‘media’ it meant you had a particular niche, a particular area of expertise. If you were in radio, that’s all you did....if you were on television, that’s all you did. If you wrote for a newspaper, that’s all you’d be doing. 

But things are much different now. With the advent of technology un-imagined twenty years ago and with cross ownership of various media outlets by a single company, (think the Tribune Company) if you’re in the ‘media’ you better be able to adapt and thrive in different areas.  


Richard Roeper and Roger Ebert on the set of their TV show!

Few individuals have done this as well as Richard Roeper. Most know him as the guy who replaced the late Gene Siskel as Roger Ebert’s partner on their nationally syndicated movie review show. But Roeper is a lot more. He’s a daily columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. He’s a regular contributor to nationally known magazines like ‘Playboy,’ ‘Spy,’ ‘Chicago,’ and ‘Entertainment Weekly.’ He did commentary for WFLD-TV / Fox News in Chicago where he won two local Emmy’s. He’s been a film critic at WBBM-TV / CBS News in Chicago and he’s even found time to host radio shows on stations like WLS, WLUP, and WMVP (now ESPN Radio 1000.) He’s even a regular panelist on NPR’s ‘Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!’ Roeper has even authored five (soon to be six) books! 

Oh, one other thing, Richard Roeper is a White Sox fan. Make that a big White Sox fan. Roeper, a season ticket holder, has been wedded to the Pale Hose since he was a kid in the mid 60's. He can tell you stories of Dick Allen, of the ‘Southside Hit Men,’ the ‘Winning Ugly’ team of 1983 and the divisional winners in 1993 and 2000. He’s been around the ballpark for a long time, he’s not a ‘bandwagon’ fan. 

He’s been around the franchise for so long that this summer a new book will be released. It’s a book that details his being a White Sox fan from 1966  to last season’s culmination...when the White Sox became World Series Champions. It’s a lot of ground to cover and Roeper will do it in his unique style.  

I caught up with him over the phone on a spring day in late March as he was putting the finishing touches to his book...in between somehow finding time to do all his other works. And no, being a film critic doesn’t mean you have to be like Jay Sherman from ‘The Critic’ (“It Stinks!”) In fact Roeper turns out to be a regular guy who loves baseball, reads White Sox Interactive religiously and just ‘happens’ to hang around folks like Jay Leno! 

ML: Richard why don’t we start at the beginning. How and when did you become the White Sox fan that you are? 

RR: “It came from my family. Both of my parents are from the South Side and I’ve had relatives who lived in Evergreen Park on 95th street. The entire family has been White Sox fans. We always went to Sox games except for those times when on a school ‘field-trip’ I’d go to Wrigley Field.” 

“When I’d go on those I always thought that Wrigley Field was remote, barren, no one was in the stands because the team was bad and the wind would blow and it would be cold. Comiskey Park was different. It was exotic to me. You’d have all that cigar smoke in the stands and often you’d have fireworks.”   

ML: If you became a fan in 1966, then this season marks 40 years for you. That’s a long time. How about telling us some of your best memories about either a particular player, a game or a season. 

RR: “I still remember my first game in 1966. The Sox played the Yankees and lost. Remember in those days, after 1964, the Yankees weren’t any good. That was the game where Mickey Mantle hit his 494th home run to pass Lou Gehrig on the all time list.” 

ML: Your fan memories are the crux of a new White Sox book that you having coming out. Tell us about it and why you decided to write one. 

RR: “I didn’t start out wanting to write a book on the Sox. I’ve written columns on the team in the Sun-Times but around the time of the playoffs I thought it would be good to do one. I wanted to do a book that would have more of a shelf life then simply one year. A lot of good books have come out on the 2005 team but I wanted to do something different, something that would look at the franchise from a fan’s perspective. In this case my own. It’s pretty much a memoir of being a White Sox fan and what it actually means to be one.” 

“A lot of fans are going to assume that I took notes all along while the Sox were playing the 2005 season but that’s not the case. We signed the deal in January and I basically wrote 75,000 words in two months time. That was tough to do but I wanted to be able to have this book available to Sox fans during the summer when baseball is on everyone’s minds.” 

“It’s a niche book. I understood that. There are very few franchises that have a ‘national’ following. I can think of the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers and Cardinals for different reasons. That’s why I tried to get a Chicago publishing company for this project. In this case that turned out to be Chicago Review Press. I felt they’d ‘get it’... what this was all about, what the bond was between the White Sox and their fans and the history of the team.”   

“The book has alternating chapters. The first one is on the early part of the 2005 season. Then the next chapter is on the Sox of the 60's, then we go to May of 2005, then to the Sox of the 70's and so on.” 

ML: Can you give our readers any specific information yet on how they can get a copy? 


Unabashed Sox Fan!

 RR: “Because of the fact that I was able to get the project done in two months, the book will be available in the Chicago area no later than June 15th. I actually think we can get it out by June 1st, before Father’s Day. It is also available on-line at sites like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com” 

ML: As a Sox season ticket holder and a member of the media perhaps you can offer some insight into the opinion by many fans that the Sox haven’t gotten their due over the years in Chicago, even though most years they have better seasons then the Cubs. Is there such a thing as a ‘media bias’ against the Sox? Or is that simply ‘conspiracy theory’ people in action. 

RR: “I don’t think this is just ‘conspiracy’ talk. Hard core White Sox fans, and I include myself and you, in that description aren’t just coming up with this stuff out of thin air.” 

“I think that on TV for example if both the Sox and Cubs are playing you’ll see them lead with the Cub game six or seven times.” 

“I don’t know which came first or what influences the other but the media feels that there are more Cub fans in the Chicagoland area and they are a business, they want better ratings or they want to sell more newspapers, which is understandable, so they go with the Cubs as much as possible. On the other hand is the reason there are more Cub fans around because of the media’s take on the situation?  It’s like a chicken and the egg type thing.” 

ML: The Tribune Company owns the Cubs as well as the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV and WGN radio. I’ve had the pleasure to interview some outstanding Tribune writers and they freely admit that it’s a ‘conflict of interest’ but they also say they have never been influenced to slant coverage. But isn’t the fact that fans feel there is a conflict in the first place doing damage to that company? I mean perception, right or wrong, becomes reality. 

RR: “There’s no way to avoid that perception. It would be the same as if Jerry Reinsdorf went out and bought the Sun-Times. The normal perception would be, ‘OK, they are now going to slant coverage towards the White Sox and Jay Mariotti will be in trouble.” (laughing.) 

“I’m sure there are times when some of my bosses read one of my columns and think that they wished I’d write more about the Cubs when I do a sports themed column because they want to sell more newspapers, but they have never tried to influence me and what I write. One of my best friends is one of the sports editors of the Tribune and he’s told me he’s never been told what to write or to swing things towards the Cubs. Last year with the Sox getting to the World Series the Tribune did as much White Sox coverage as I’ve ever seen. If the Cubs were to get to the World Series would it be more? I’m sure certain media outlets would absolutely do more in their coverage.” 

“But to have any shred of credibility you have to place some distance between yourself and the corporate ties. I’ll give you an example. The company that holds the rights to the ‘Ebert & Roeper Show’ is owned by the Disney Company. I’ve heard talk that because of this I’d never give a negative review to any movies produced by the Disney Company. That’s not true. Last year I gave a ‘thumbs down,’ to a film that was directed by Michael Eisner’s son. This was at a time when Eisner was still the CEO of Disney. I never heard anything about it from the company. They know, and I know folks like Phil Rogers, who is a great baseball writer, understand the same thing. If you get to close, the readers will see right through you.”  

ML: If you think that there is a discrepancy in coverage, does the Sox 2005 World Championship change that landscape?  

RR: “Definitely. The Chicago media had a huge amount of coverage of the team last year. The Sox are the defending champion and they have come a long way but I’m also sure that if the Sox start out this season at 30-38, the coverage will swing back to the Cubs because they are still more popular.” 

“What the Sox have to do is to reel out a stretch where they make the playoffs like in seven of the next nine years. What they have to do is show the young baseball fans that they are consistently better then the Cubs. And that makes sense. If you’re a child who likes baseball and the Sox are always playing in October, they are on ESPN and Fox on a regular basis, you’re going to root for them.” 

ML: You’ve written some columns on occasion for the Sun-Times, talking about the White Sox. I recall the one you did comparing Sammy Sosa to Dick Allen. What inspires you to write a ‘Sox’ column? 

RR: “It’s when something strikes me. It’s usually something that happens in a game that reminds me of a family situation or something that I remember as a fan. I might write two Sox columns in a week then not write anything about them for two months. It all depends. I have the licence to write about anything that I want so there are times when it happens to be about the White Sox.” 

ML: I know as a season ticket holder you go to a number of Sox games but do you have the chance to get down on the field or hang around Ozzie Guillen or any of the players? 

RR: “I can but I choose not to. It goes back to what we talked about earlier, the credibility issue. I may have to write a column ripping Sox management or specifically one of the players and it’s always easier to do that if you aren’t personal friends with the individual. I’m a fan but I’m also a journalist.” 

“I get that sometimes about how I got my season tickets through the club or because I work in the media and that’s not true. I’ve had season tickets for a long time. I’m moved up to better seats over the years as they have become available.”  

ML: What did the Sox winning the World Series after so many years as a fan mean to you? Did you have the chance to go to Houston to see them close it out? 

RR: “I thought about doing that but decided it would be better to watch it with my family and my friends. It meant so much to all of us. It was as good as I thought it would feel. The Sox didn’t have the best players but they had the best team. They had guys who played hard and liked each other. It was the way championships are supposed to be won.” 

ML: Let me digress for a little bit and move into what you do for a living, movie critic. How did you get into that type of media work? I mean it’s not like I’ve ever heard someone say ‘when I grow up I want to be a movie critic!’ (laughing)    

RR: “You know I actually do hear that from kids today, about growing up and being a movie critic. They think it’s so easy. (laughing.) I knew both Roger (Ebert) and Gene (Siskel) because I worked at the Sun-Times and I was always interested in movies. I used to watch their show. After Gene passed away Roger had about 30 different people that came on and basically auditioned to be his partner. One day he called me up and said to come fill in. I thought it would be a blast and said sure. That show was a lot of fun and I got asked to come back again next week...then I was asked to come back again...finally after about ten weeks I was offered the job. That was back in 2000. I love doing it and working with Roger.” 

ML: Between your column and the ‘Ebert And Roeper’ TV show how much time does this take up for you? How many movies do you see per week? 

RR: “See that’s the thing that people don’t realize. When I started doing this I said that I didn’t want to give up writing for the Sun-Times or doing books. I enjoy that just as much. The time factor is a real issue. We see about eight to ten movies per week in the screening room. Between actually screening the movies, writing the material for the show and doing promotional work, that’s about a full time job right there.” 

ML: You had to step into the shoes of Gene Siskel when he passed away. Gene was a Chicago guy and liked by a lot of people. Was that hard to do? 

RR: “Absolutely. What helped me was that about a year had passed from the time Gene left us to when I was named as the new co- host. I remember after the first show Roger said to me ‘Gene would have been proud.’ I am aware of who I replaced everyday.” 

“The thing is though that I realized that I could never recreate the dynamic those two men had. Both were from the same generation and they worked at competing newspapers... it was simply never going to be the same as it was.” 

“Roger and I disagree about films more then Roger and Gene disagreed and I think that’s partially because I’m from a different generation.” 


Ebert agrees!  Two thumbs up for the Sox!!!

 ML: Can you actually watch a movie for enjoyment? Or does your brain automatically start analyzing things like plot, script, character development and so on. 

RR: “I can still enjoy a film but I’m always doing just what you said. I just start to analyze things...’oooops the plot just dropped right there’ and so on.” 

“If I’m at home flipping through the channels and a movie comes on that I like I can still watch it for entertainment.”  

ML: Baseball movies have been a part of Americana since the 1920's. What is your favorite baseball themed movie and why. 

RR: “That’s changed over the years but I’d have to say ‘The Natural.’ I know people are split over the film because at times it’s corny, over the top and sentimental but you know what, sometimes that’s OK. The performances were very good and you had a great cast in Robert Redford, Glenn Close and Robert Duvall. And it’s clear that Redford knew his way around a baseball diamond.” (Author’s Note: In fact Redford and Hall of Fame pitcher and former Sox broadcaster Don Drysdale were both high school teammates in Southern California. Redford played first base and his hero was Ted Williams which is why he wore #9 and copied his swing so closely in the movie.) 

“I’ve also liked very much ‘Bang The Drum Slowly’ which was one of Robert DeNiro’s first films, ‘Bull Durham,’ ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘For Love Of The Game,’ and ‘The Pride Of The Yankees.’ 

ML: OK, Hollywood decides to make a movie on the 2005 Chicago White Sox. Who plays Ozzie Guillen? 

RR: “Benicio Del Toro. In the movie ‘The Usual Suspects’ you couldn’t understand half of what he was saying...just like Ozzie! (laughing) 

ML: Jerry Reinsdorf? 

RR: “Gene Hackman. I know he doesn’t look like him but he’d carry himself with the same authority, he’d have the same attitude that Jerry has.” 

ML: Kenny Williams

RR: “Denzel Washington. Denzel has the same type of athleticism that Kenny has and he has the same attitude. Denzel can pull off a scene where he goes into a parking lot and beats the hell out of you. He can portray the rage that sometimes Kenny has.” (Author’s Note: My choices were Del Toro, Danny DeVito and Cuba Gooding Jr. Richard thought that Gooding would be ill suited for the part saying, “Cuba wants to go around hugging everyone, he doesn’t have Kenny’s attitude.”) 

ML: Speaking of movies, what’s your choice as the ‘greatest’ movie of all time?  

RR:The Godfather.’ And by that I mean both the original ‘The Godfather’ as well as ‘The Godfather II” since they are basically a continuation of each other.”  

ML: Caught you on ‘The Tonight Show’ after the Academy Awards this year. Does Jay Leno know how big of a baseball fan you are?  Are there any ‘Hollywood-types’ who are fans? 

“I don’t know if Jay is a fan or not. We’ve never talked baseball. There are some real baseball fans out there though. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are true fans, they have been for years. That scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where Robin Williams talks about not watching the 6th game of the 1975 World Series because he was with a girl who’d become his wife was written by those two.” 

ML: Finally Richard what are your expectations for this season? Many Sox fans have talked about this at White Sox Interactive and the comments range from another World Series Championship to making the post season in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. 

RR: “Barring a rash of injuries where key guys miss large portions of the season I don’t see how they can’t win 90-95 games and win the division. Beyond that who knows but just getting to the playoffs again would be a great accomplishment for the franchise.” 

“The starting pitching is great and they added power to the lineup. I’m a little concerned about the bullpen. I feel bad for Dustin Hermanson. He pitched very well last year and with that back he may have to retire. I’m also concerned about Bobby Jenks. I love Bobby but I wish he’d have come to camp in better shape. He’s a guy who has a chance to be a real Chicago hero. He’s the type of guy that Chicago fans love. He’s unique and he can be a great relief pitcher in time.” 


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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