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Perfectly Mediocre

And so the 2002 baseball season is now "officially" over, although all but the most optimistic fans knew it was over by the end of June. The White Sox played 162 games and wound up right where they started from back in April, neither over nor under the .500 mark. The season had a real symmetry to it... the bullpen blew up in the first series of the year at Seattle and it blew up in the last series at Minnesota.

A six month exercise in futility.

I know I feel bad and I didnít even think the Sox would win the division. Back in the Spring, I predicted theyíd win 85 games and finish in second place when WSI had their pre season prediction list. I can only imagine how some fans are now feeling, especially those who thumped their chests loudly and screamed that the Sox would win 90, 95 games and easily make the playoffs, while condemning us "realists" who saw signs of trouble in Arizona.

The first column I ever did for WSI ran on New Yearís Eve and was called "Sox Goals For 2002." They were five modest things to shoot for. This column is going to look back and see how the Sox did in realizing those goals as well as take a closer look at some revealing seasonal numbers.

My goals were, in order: win at least 82 games, make the playoffs, win a playoff game (preferably at home), win a playoff series, and finish with a better record then the Cubs.

Of these five goals, the Sox hit ONE of them, they finished with a better record then the Cubs.

That is sickening! Is that how low this organization has dropped? Is finishing with a better record then the baggy pants buffoons a reason to celebrate?

But this season also revealed more ominous signs concerning the team and the front office.

Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune brought up this point in a column of his a few weeks ago. Rogers pointed out that every year under Manager Jerry Manuel, the Sox have always played better when they were basically out of the race for a playoff spot. I disagree with Rogersí contention that this has happened every season, but it has definitely taken place in three of the five seasons Manuelís been around.

On August 24, 1998, the Sox stood at 56-73. They were just hammered by Seattle 11-10. Suddenly the Sox took off, winning 24 of 33 to end the year at 80-82. This fueled some optimism for the 1999 season. Of course we know what took place that year didnít we? The Sox went 75-86 that season.

In 2001, the Sox were fifteen games under .500 on May 23rd checking in with a 14-29 record. They had lost eight straight, before they caught fire, went 69-50 the rest of the way and finished over .500.

This year they were ten games under at one point and completely out of the race, before playing brilliantly in September to get back to three games over, before closing out the season reverting to their inept ways, to end at 81-81.

Why does this consistently happen to the Sox? Thatís a great question and I donít think only one answer explains it.

Part of the reason could be because players are human and humans react differently under pressure. Reggie Jackson lived for the October spotlight, Jack McDowell despite all his guts and determination, failed miserable during the post season. The Sox may just have players who donít react well when the seasonís on the line even if thatís just trying to finish the year over .500. Certainly the constant chaos in roster makeup plays a part. Every year, the Sox are calling up more "canít miss kids"and dumping veterans to save money. With a lack of seasoned veterans who have seen pennant races and the constant changing of the roster, it shouldnít be a surprise that when the heatís off, the Sox play better.

Finally Manager Jerry Manuelís constant "tinkering" probably is a factor. Hereís an example. One day Jose Valentin is hitting second and having to take pitches to protect the leadoff man. The next day heís hitting sixth and has to swing away to drive in runs. Any wonder all these guys are confused? Trying to adapt to that confusion and perform when it counts, may be too much for them. A stable roster with the same guys hitting in the same spots and playing everyday could only help things. This isnít the National League, and Manuelís seemingly obsessive desire to have 25 interchangeable parts is killing this club.

Letís move on to see what the numbers say.

Here are the Sox win totals for the past seven seasons: 1996- 85 wins, 1997- 80 wins, 1998- 80 wins, 1999- 76 wins, 2000- 95 wins, 2001-83 wins, 2002- 81 wins.

The "average" White Sox record since the end of the 1995 season is 83-79 !!!!! That includes a 95 win season. Since the infamous "White Flag" deal, which promised a better future for the Sox, their record in full seasons is... 83-79 !!!!! Since Jerry Manuel took over as manager, the Sox average record is... 83-79 !!!!! An amazing redundancy isnít it?

So what does it all mean?

Remember the old 70's TV show, "Banacek" starring George Peppard? In every show heíd say an "old Polish proverb" which summed things up. Hereís my tribute to that show. "Thereís an old Polish proverb that says... you get what you pay for..." The Sox continue to have a low payroll, without experienced key players, particularly in pitching, and this is the result. Very simple.

As far as this season, some numbers certainly jump out at you.

In one run games this season the Sox were 15-21. Thatís not good, but thatís actually an improvement from earlier in the season! On July 20th when the Sox lost 4-3 in 14 innings to Baltimore, they were a major league worst 5-17 in one run affairs. Thatís what happens when you canít execute fundamentals in the clutch be it bunting or hitting to the opposite field to get guys over. Thatís what happens when you canít run the bases properly or field well.

Now letís talk about Sox pitching, or more to the point, the lack of it. Every one talks about the Sox crucial need to get more experienced starters, but the bullpen isnít in great shape either. When your middle relief corps is manned by players like bad armed Jim Parque, inexperienced Matt Ginter, journeyman Mike Porzio and rookie Jon Rauch you are in serious trouble. Perhaps the most telling stat of this past season is this one. Itís the one that cost the Sox ANY chance to compete in the division or have a winning record.

The Sox lost 12 games where they took a lead into the 7th inning or later. Three times they blew the lead in the 7th, four times in the 8th and amazingly five times in the 9th!

The last stat I looked at was what I call "blow out" losses. I donít know if MLB has an "official" category for this. My definition is when you lose a game by five or more runs. Those numbers for the 2002 season are staggering. 27 times the Sox lost games by five or more runs. Included were such abortions as 16-1, 10-0, 15-4, 19-0, 9-0, 15-2, 9-1, 9-2, 10-4, 11-6, 11-2, 11-6, and 11-6.

For the season they Sox had 35 games where they allowed the opponent eight or more runs. Their record in those games was 4-31. Of those 35 games, the opposition scored in double figures 11 times and the Sox lost them all.

In my opinion the Sox face the same major problems that they had at the end of the 2000 season, and at the end of the 2001 season. They must find more quality pitching and be willing to pay the price for it.

This doesnít exclude the other serious off season issues such as the "black hole" at catcher, the lack of a proven second baseman and a proven center fielder.

Bottom line, unless the Sox upgrade these areas, once again theyíll be going into a season with more "serious question marks" then ANY other team that calls itself a "contender."

As for me, I close with this thought....thank God, this year is done!

As always comments, questions, insults, puns and satire are always welcome. Contact me at mliptak1@ida.net


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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