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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Doubts about 2002

The Sox appear to be the team to beat this year for the AL Central crown. Cleveland has systematically dismantled their 2001 champs, Minnesota collapsed in the second half of the season and thereby supposedly showed their true colors, and Detroit and Kansas City may justhave enough talent to make a run for it the Southern League. So why am I unhappy?

I've been told I should rejoice at the fact that the Sox are the class of the AL Central, that they are a shoo-in to make it to the playoffs. And, after all, once you get there, anything can happen.

I'd like to believe that. But these doubts keep creeping into my mind.

Doubt #1: All of those pitchers coming back from arm surgery. I keep hearing how they're all 100% and ready to go (with a couple of possible exceptions). The problem is that experience has shown that most pitchers go at least a year before they return to pre-surgery form. That means we could have a whole bunch of pitchers taking the mound who will look just like Bob Howry did last year. That's not confidence inspiring.

Doubt #2: Defense that hasn't inproved. I grew up watching the Sox contend year after year with great pitching and equally great defense. Acquiring an aging Kenny Lofton to replace a younger Chris Singleton doesn't improve the overall defense. Playing Jose Valentin at third base with Royce Clayton at shortstop doesn't give me a lot of confidence. Especially with "Thumbs" Lee playing behind them. Paul Konerko is at best erratic at first base. Ray Durham still can't go to his right and plays half the time as if he's watching the game on TV instead of being on the field. With a defense like this, the offense needs to score a lot of runs.

Doubt #3: Jerry Manuel's Lineup. Last year Jerry Manuel picked his opening-day lineup on June 1. This year he's gone to the other extreme and selected it before anyone reported to camp. Manuel scares me when he fills out a lineup card. Maybe it's just too many games last year with Royce Clayton, Julio Ramirez, and Harold Baines whiffing or popping out. Every one of them should have been benched long before they were.

Doubt #4: Starting pitching. "Everyone" seems to be looking for Mark Buehrle to repeat his 2001 performance this year. He's looked upon as the #1 starter. That puts a lot of pressure on a young kid, especially one who is impulsive enough to talk about wanting to play for his hometown team in a public forum and who gripes about contract negotiations in his second full season with the club. Buehrle is headed for a fall.

After that we have the man who was worth three good arms, Todd Ritchie. To be worth Sean Lowe, Kip Wells, and Josh Fogg, this guy had better win 30 games and pitch 400 innings. Of course he's not, and that's the problem Ritchie will probably be a 15-game winner if he pitches true to form. If it goes the way of Lenny's (aka Kenny Willams) previous trades, Ritchie will be sidelined by the end of June with an injury.

Jon Garland is the one pitcher I have hopes for this year. I think this could be his breakout year. The thing that scares me is the number of Sox fans I hear calling for his being traded. My gosh, this guy is just 22 years old! Look how well he pitched for extended periods of time last year. Most 22-year-olds are still in the low or mid-level minors, but Garland will be wearing a Sox uniform for the third year. You don't give up on a guy like that.

Jim Parque scares me. I want him to come back, but he's in that one-year-to-recover group. I'm guessing he won't be consistently effective until 2003. This means that one of those highly-touted arms in the farm system may have to come up and fill the #4 starter's job along with the #5 slot, which currently is up for grabs.

Doubt #5: Royce Clayton. This guy just clogs up the roster. He's apparently not very well liked by at least some of his teammates, one of whom referred to him in print as "Clayton Island." Couple this with the fact that he's blocking the development of Joe Crede, and you have a bad situation. Crede has earned a shot at third base, but as long as Clayton is at shortstop, Jose Valentin has to play at third. Crede is the odd man out.

Doubt #6: Frank Thomas. "The Big Hurt" for two of the last three years has been just that: hurt. In between he had an MVP-type year. The question is, "Is Thomas's career going to be one of those that is cut short by repeated injury? Considering that Thomas turns 34 in May, this is a distinct possibility. The Sox are not the same without Thomas.

Doubt #7: All those solo home runs. Last year the Sox led the world in solo homers. That will have to change. With one of the worst defenses in the league, the Sox will need to score lots of runs, and they'll have to do it in bunches. They did it in 2000. They failed to do it in 2001.

Doubt #8: The Twins. They've owned the Sox for the past two years. They had a great first half in 2001, and they are a young team. They will be playing for the survival of their franchise. (Can you see Budlight Selig contracting by dumping a division champion?) Most people discount the Twins, but the players have a lot of incentive this year. Couple that with the fact that the Sox haven't been able to touch their pitching for two years, and you start to wonder about the chances of the Sox.

Doubt #9: Management. Even if we win the division, what then? Is this team strong enough to beat the Mariners or Yankees in a playoff series? This team looks strong enough to win the weakest division in baseball, and that's about it. So will Lenny have a green light to make deals that might help the Sox get beyond the first round of the playoffs, or will he be restricted by his budget? And even if he does, will he be able to make a trade that actually helps the Sox? I have my doubts about both questions.

Doubt #10: The fans. I'm really tired of all the excuses. If the Sox get off to a good start in 2002, the fans need to show up. Jerry Reinsdorf has said on the record that he knows Sox fans will back a winner. In 2000 they didn't, though. What happens to this club if the fans don't back a winner in 2002? My biggest fear is that unless the Sox start drawing the same numbers they did before the strike, we'll all be doomed to a series of rebuilding efforts in which nothing ever really gets built.


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 necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at nsmf@aol.com.

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