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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Snake-bitten Kenny!
by Hal Vickery

Poor Kenny Williams!  Talk about a guy who is snake-bit!   

You have to wonder how he painted himself into the corner he finds himself in.  We all know where the blame lies, but how could Williams have positioned himself into the corner he is in now?   

He backloaded Magglio Ordoñez’s contract to the tune of $14 million this year.  He gave Paul Konerko an extension that will net the underproducing first baseman a tidy $8 million this year and another $8.5 in 2005.  He signed a man he thought would be a lights out closer in Billy Koch to a two-year deal that will cost the Sox $6.75 million, but did so before he ever threw a pitch while wearing a Sox uniform.  Koch went bust last year, and there is little basis for thinking he will improve in 2004. 

The ten players on the Sox roster who are earning over $1 million each will cost the club a tidy $57.75 million.  Unfortunately for the Sox GM, his budget for salaries was $8 million. 

You have to ask how Williams allowed this to happen.  The only possible answer is that Williams lacks good judgment in at least two areas. 

Williams has definitely shown poor judgment in his evaluation of talent when he makes trades.  One of the gravest mistakes ever made in this column involved the deal with the Blue Jays that sent Mike Sirotka to Toronto in exchange for David Wells.  Our first impression of Wells was that he was fat and had a bad back.   

Then we started listening to people who supposedly knew better who gave us all the reasons why this was a great deal.  As it turned out, Wells was fat and had a bad back, not to mention a big mouth. 

There was no backtracking on our opinion of the deal the following year that sent Kip Wells, Josh Fogg, and Sean Lowe to the Pirates for Todd Ritchie.  Immediately after that deal, we wrote: 

“What does bother me, though, is that the Sox traded three players on their 40-man roster for a guy who is AT BEST a third starter! Not just three players, either. Three PITCHERS for ONE! This is the kind of deal that should get you a Roger Clemens, or a Randy Johnson, or a Greg Maddux.” 

Still, Williams went out and the next year and made yet another bad deal involving pitchers, trading Keith Foulke for Billy Koch.  We reserved judgment on the deal but were quick to point out the negative comments of Oakland writers about Koch.   

Other lesser deals have pretty much wiped out the most talented Sox prospects, but in most of those cases his plan to use the acquired talent to make a run for the playoffs was sabotaged by the ineptness of his manager, Gen. Disarray.  Since it has always been our contention that it was The Chairman who insisted that the general be retained as manager, we can’t put the blame on Williams. 

However, that does lead to the second problem with judgment that Williams has shown.  How did he end up with ten players’ salaries eating up all but a quarter of a million dollars of his salary budget this year? 

The only sensible answer is that he completely misjudged what The Chairman’s response would be if he made a real run for the division championship as he did in 2003.  It’s our guess that Williams was thinking something like, “We’ll win it now, and I’ll have a decent budget to work with.” 

When Gen. Disarray sabotaged that effort, it’s our guess that Plan B consisted of the idea that in coming so close The Chairman would surely let him keep the players who should have put them over the top had it not been for the blundering of the manager that The Chairman insisted he keep. 

There were two problems with this.  First of all, the general was The Chairman’s hire, and The Chairman knows he never makes a mistake.  Every error made since this ownership group has taken over the club has always been someone else’s fault.  If Jimmy Piersall wasn’t to blame, then it had to be Harry Caray, or Carlton Fisk, or Larry Himes, or most often the fans.  Firing Gen. Disarray with a year left on his contract was a slap in The Chairman’s face.   

The second miscalculation on Williams’s part was that he actually wants to win and believes that his bosses also feel that way.  On a message board last week, someone pointed out that The Chairman gets his kicks from things like playing hardball on contracts as he did with Frank Thomas, trying to break the players’ union as he did in the 1994 strike, and in trying to break down the relationship between players and their agents as he has tried to do with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Buehrle, and Roberto Alomar. 

The Chairman also thinks that the only way to rein in salaries is to be “fiscally responsible.”  That means limiting huge contracts, and not giving long term contracts to pitchers.  By limiting Williams’s budget before the GM began negotiating with free agent pitcher Bartolo Colon, he effectively removed the Sox from Colon’s short list of teams. 

It also meant that Williams was now trying to sign players with both hands tied behind his back.  Still he went out and spent money he didn’t have, possibly hoping that this would open up The Chairman’s wallet, but he had no such luck. 

It was gratifying then to see that the Chicago media caught on when Williams made comments last week stating that if fans came out to games before the All-Star Break, he would be able to add players if the Sox were in contention.  Just about everyone knew that this was actually a cry of desperation from Williams. 

It is a wise employee who doesn’t call his boss a tightwad, but if you read between the lines, that’s exactly what Williams called The Chairman.  He was begging the fans to help him to put a winner on the field.  He knows the only way The Chairman is going to open his vault, short of dynamite, is if the long green is coming in.

Williams was not just regurgitating the longstanding company line that if the fans come out, The Chairman would deign to put a decent team on the field.  The words were the same, but the attitude was different, and those who followed the moves Williams made in 2003 knew it.  But it was too late, and he was already committed to either being over budget or to trading off a large salary in a buyer’s market. 

One can only hope that Kenny Williams has learned from his mistakes.  More importantly, we can only hope that Kenny Williams will be around long enough to apply what he has learned. 


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.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

Have a Thought about
Snake-Bitten Kenny!

You Can Put it on the Board -- Yes!



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