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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Even More Sox Traditions!
by Hal Vickery

In my last column, I suggested the Sox marketing department should adopt the slogan “Building a New Tradition” for the 2004 season.  Next I outlined some of the on-field traditions that have evolved under the supervision of The Chairman and his minions.  This week I will take a look at some of the traditions The Chairman has built in his relationship with Sox fans. 

Ever since former CEO Eddie Einhorn told reporters that the Sox would be a “class” organization, this ownership group has done its best to build a series of traditions at in their relationship with fans.  It can honestly be said that it is unlikely that in the history of baseball such a relationship between a team and its fans has existed as the one that has developed over the past two decades on the South Side.  Here is a list of those traditions: 

Tradition Number 1:  Give ‘Em What They Don’t Want 

Sox fans loved the atmosphere of old Comiskey Park.  The sights, the smells, the sounds all reflected Chicago’s South Side.  Most fans didn’t feel the need for a new ball park, but once the decision was made, fans were wild with anticipation. 

The first sign that things weren’t going to be as they had been was when the new stadium began towering over Comiskey Park even before the upper deck was completed.  That should have been the first warning sign. 

When the new ballpark opened up it looked like some of the public buildings that were planned for the Third Reich after their successful completion of World War II.  The building was drab and sterile.  It felt incomplete.   

The reason for the excessive height became apparent when fans saw the two tiers of skyboxes, driving the upper deck to somewhere near the altitude of the Sears Tower.  Most people had their fill of the upper deck the first time they had to climb anywhere more than halfway up. 

Centerfield looked like an outbuilding on a farm, except the corrugated steel was painted blue.  The concourses were gray and drab. 

It only took a decade of protestations by Sox management that their surveys showed that fans loved the new ball park before they began a multiphase program to make it more fan friendly.  That plan included tearing down the top eight rows of the upper deck, doing something about the drabness, and adding features that actually made the new stadium “fan friendly” (a favorite term of Sox management). 

Tradition Number 2:  “Do Nothing Until You Can Get Someone Else to Pay for It.” 

This tradition started when The Chairman threatened to move the Sox to St. Petersburg, FL.  The Sox put up nothing to build their new home.  Instead an additional tax was placed on hotel/motel rooms in Chicago.  The Sox would lease the new ball park from the state. 

The Chairman then worked out a deal with the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority in which he would not have to pay rent on the stadium unless attendance reached a certain level.  In fact, if attendance fell below a certain level, the state would have to pay the Sox for the difference.  The logic seemed peculiar.  Wasn’t it The Chairman’s responsibility to put a team on the field that the fans would come see?  This deal put the burden on the State of Illinois. 

We do have to give the Sox credit for actually reaching into the Sox’ pockets to pay for the first phase of the renovations his white elephant needed.  That was all he paid for, though.  Phase II was paid for by the Chicago Bears.  Somehow The Chairman convinced the ISFA that the renovation of Soldier Field impacted the Sox and that he should be paid money from the Bears’ deal with the state to help renovate his ball park.  Sweet! 

For the final phases of his renovations, The Chairman reached out and touched U.S. Cellular to the tune of $68 million.  All he had to do was dump the Comiskey name from the ball park and use the money exclusively for ball park renovations. 

Tradition Number 3:  Buy Low, Sell High 

In this case, buy players on the cheap and sell tickets and parking for higher prices.  The Sox in recent years have maintained a salary structure somewhere in the middle of those of all major league teams, despite the fact that they play in the nation’s third largest market.  This hasn’t kept The Chairman from sticking it to the fans, however. 

After the surprise division championship in 2000, and despite going three and out in the AL Division Series that year, The Chairman saw the opportunity for a windfall.  The price of parking was raised 30 percent.  The price of tickets went up, too, but not as much.  This was in anticipation of larger crowds that failed to show up when the Sox stank up the joint for most of the 2001 season. 

It could be argued, though, that this is to be expected.  After all, the Sox payroll did increase that year, and this would put them in a more solid financial position to add players.   

However, there was no apparent reason to raise prices in 2003 except as an effort to cash in on the All-Star Game.  Sox payroll hovered at just over $50 million, smaller than in 2001.  Season ticket sales spiked due to the All-Star Game.  But Parking went up from $13 to $15, and ticket prices rose.   

Club level tickets rose a whopping $14, from $26 in 2002 to $40 in 2003.  Apparently that was a way to make the newly renovated concourse up there appealing to a more exclusive clientele.  It certainly wasn’t to pay for those renovations.  Those had been paid for by the IFSA and the Bears. 

Fans responded as predicted in this column once the Sox got off to a 13-12 start against the worst teams in the American League.  They stayed away.  They finally started coming back when the Sox made a run for the AL Comedy Central lead in July and August.  But they petered out in September, and attendance stayed below two million. 

The Chairman’s response was obvious.  He raised ticket prices again and limited his general manager to a $58 million budget.  As this is written, the Sox have lost all of their free agents and have not replaced them, yet they are still over budget.   

The fan response has also been obvious.  They’re giving up season tickets, many of which they’ve held for years. 

Tradition Number 4:  Alienating Your Fan Base 

This has been enumerated countless times in this column.  It ranges from the reportedly unintentional insult to Bill Veeck when they bought the team to the shoddy treatment of fan favorite Carlton Fisk by releasing him in Cleveland to the Chairman telling them that he wants to win more than the team’s fans do. 

The tactics seem to rely on insulting the fans, citing surveys that no one ever sees, to making outrageous statements.  Only one example need be used here, and it comes from The Chairman himself: 

“Chicago has always been a Cubs town.” 

For anyone reading this who was here as recently as 1983, this is the biggest insult of all.

Tradition Number 5:  Blame the Fans 

Under the watch of The Chairman, the Sox have never made it to “Point C,” the elusive spot that he told us in 1990 that Ron Schueler would lead us to. 

Every time it is brought up that the Sox have tried to catch lightning in a bottle year after year, every time it is brought up that every success is followed by five years of rebuilding, fans are told that if we came to the ball park, the Sox would have the budget to field a winner. 

It says something about ownership when this is the excuse.  In any other business, if a lousy product is put out before the public and the public rejects it, the manufacturer is held responsible.  But this is not the case on the South Side.   

No, when a lousy product is put out, we’re told that if only we would pay more of our hard earned dollars, the product will be improved, but until then, we should get less than what we pay for.  It is bizarre, and it is certain up to the billing, “Building a New Tradition.” 

-------- 

This could go on forever.  The problems have been discussed at length in this column for about three years.  Nothing changes.  Fans are faced with the same old insults from the same old people. 

Perhaps it is time that we bring back some old traditions.  Perhaps it is time that ownership is expected to put a quality product on the field for more than a year at a time.  Perhaps it is time that the old adage, “The customer is always right,” actually is believed and followed by Sox management. 

Until that day arrives, the relationship between Sox management and Sox fans will continue to be acrimonious, and the Sox will continue on their downward spiral towards becoming the baseball equivalent of the Blackhawks.


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 hvickery@svs.com.

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