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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

What went wrong--Part Two!

So big, we had to break it into two parts!

In Part One,  we looked at the Sox problems on the field.  In this column we’ll take a look at what happened off the field that aided in the Sox collapse in 2002.

Coaching.  Can anyone honestly say that Nardi Contreras was the only problem on the Sox coaching staff this year?  Anyone familiar with recovery time of pitchers from injuries knew that all of those pitchers who went down with torn labrums last year would not be fully recovered from surgery by April.  This doesn’t excuse Contreras.  Sox pitching was ineffective under him and seemed to be stagnating if not getting worse, but there are other major problems in the way this team is being coached.  The Sox are just plain fundamentally unsound. 

The most glaring case in this regard is base running.  How sick are we all of watching Sox players being thrown out at third for the first or third out, getting hung up running to third on balls hit to the left side of the infield, and trying to stretch hits or take extra bases and being thrown out by thirty feet?  There are two people responsible for this.  One is Wallace Johnson, but the person most directly to blame is the person who has the title “base running coach” and that is Gary Pettis.  However, if Dan Bernstein of WSCR is correct about the information he has relayed on the air, Pettis has job security.  A former teammate of Prof. Chaos (Sox GM Kenny Williams), Bernstein identified Pettis as Williams’ ears in the clubhouse.  So forget about incompetence.  Pettis will be back, which makes “Waving Wally” the fall guy.

Gen. Disarray (Manager Jerry Manuel).  Gen. Disarray’s incompetence as manager has been described here and elsewhere in excruciating detail.  To avoid being accused by ESPN-1000’s Dave Wills of piling on (just kidding, Dave!) I won’t go into the details again.  However, there is one thing that Bernstein brought up that hasn’t been discussed here, and it goes to the very fabric of a manager’s job description. 

Apparently Prof. Chaos spends a lot of time in the locker room, one such incident resulting in the tipping over of the post-game buffet table while Williams went on a tirade berating and insulting the entire team.  He has held a number of “secret meetings” with players according to reports.  All of this is being done under Gen. Disarray’s nose.  Yet Manuel allows this to occur.  In most organizations, the manager is in charge of the clubhouse and the GM isn’t brought in to deal with problems until the manager sends it up the chain of command.  Apparently in the domain of Prof. Chaos, there is no chain of command.   

Prof. Chaos.  It would be nice to think that the reason Prof. Chaos is micromanaging within the club, it is because the organization is running itself like clockwork.  It would be nice to think that.  Unfortunately it just isn’t true.   

In the Sox farm system the only team with a winning record is Class AA Birmingham.  Published reports of cronyism in the minor league system are coming out.  Last week one article revealed that the minor league hitting instructor Darryl Boston, a notoriously lazy player when he was with the Sox, is making other coaches perform many of his duties, such as hitting fungoes while he relaxes on a couch.  The report noted that Boston is just biding his time because he “knows” that he has a job guaranteed next year in Chicago.  It should be noted that like Gary Pettis, Boston is a former teammate (can you say crony?) of Prof. Chaos.

A published report from Winston-Salem has indicated that the farm club there is thinking very seriously about looking for an affiliation with another organization.  The reason?  The owners of that club and their fans are tired of being stocked with inferior talent.  They’d like to win and they haven’t been ever since their affiliation with the Sox began.   

Numerous reports I have received from Winston-Salem note that the players on this year’s team are sorely lacking in the fundamentals of the game.  (Sound familiar?) 

Winston-Salem is managed by Razor Shines, who is reportedly a longtime friend of…you guessed it:  Prof. Chaos.

Is it any wonder that Bernstein reports that the Sox coaching staff is dividing itself up into pro-Chaos and anti-Chaos factions? 

The Chairman.  As mentioned last time, The Chairman’s favorite team reported is the “Boys-of-Summer” Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Chairman says that he would gladly trade in his six NBA championships for one World Series championship.  In 21 years of ownership by the syndicate headed by The Chairman, the Sox have made it to the playoffs three times.  They’ve never made it past the first round, and they have yet to win a home game.  How can this be? 

The Chairman has a reputation on the message boards here as being a cheapskate.  How can you call the guy who gave all that money to Albert Belle cheap?  Frank Thomas has a contract that, even if the diminished skills clause is invoked, will still net him $10 million a year.  No, The Chairman isn’t all that cheap.  He also doesn’t seeing any point in paying players big bucks if they don’t win.  That’s understandable, too. 

The problem with The Chairman is that he just doesn’t understand what makes a good baseball team.  I have a feeling that growing up, The Chairman was impressed by Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, and the great Dodger offense.  However, the Dodgers were a terrific defensive team with a great pitching staff.  They were managed by the likes of Chuck Dressen and Walter Alston.  And guess what The Chairman refuses to pay for. 

Pitchers are a risk.  Therefore, The Chairman refuses to sign pitchers to long-term contracts.  Of course the one time he did make an exception was for Jaime Navarro who never pitched well enough to deserve any kind contract resembling what the Sox paid him.  Of course this signing probably confirmed in The Chairman’s mind that long-term contracts for pitchers are evil, and we’ve probably seen the last one for as long as he’s running the club. 

The Chairman also appears to think that managers are not all that important in running a club.  Look at the succession of managers since this ownership group took over;  Tony LaRussa (hired by Bill Veeck), Jim Fregosi, Jeff Torborg, Gene Lamont, Terry Bevington, and now Gen. Disarray.  LaRussa was driven out of town, Fregosi was fired when Larry Himes wanted to put in his own man, and Torborg was fired when Ron Schueler wanted to put in his own man.  Torborg was the last experienced manager the Sox have hired.  The main qualifications for Lamont, Bevington, and the General is that they all were rookie managers and would work cheap. 

The same holds with general managers.  The experienced Roand Hemond, who somehow kept the Sox afloat during the Veeck years, was let go for Hawk Harrelson of all people.  Hawk lasted less than a year and was replaced by the inexperienced Larry Himes who was terrific at drafting players but would throw fits if Sox players didn’t wear socks on their way to and from the ballpark.  It was Himes who couldn’t get us to Point C.  That job went to rookie GM Ron Schueler who couldn’t either.  Schueler finally retired in 2000 after getting the Sox to (what?) Point B+.  The Sox seemed destined for years of contention.   

So what did The Chairman do?  He went to another rookie GM…and we’re back at Point A once again.


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at nsmf@aol.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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