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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

The Split Personality of Sox Fandom

by
Guy Bacci

Here we go again.

Another season of White Sox baseball is upon us, and as the Pale Hose get ready to kickoff in Kansas City, I canít help but notice an eerily familiar feeling of apprehension.

Last year at this time, there was concern about a pitching staff that only had two proven starters. Sure, those two starters were studs, and Sox fans were thrilled to have them, but many questions remained: Would Esteban Loaiza and Josh Stewart really be able to hold down the back-end of the rotation? Were geezers like Rick White and Tom Gordon really assets? And what about new closer Billy Koch, who was replacing one of the most successful relievers in club history, and seemed to have lost a few miles off his fastball?

Pitching wasnít the only concern. DíAngelo Jimenez was a new face at second base, replacing the highly productive Ray Durham. The lineup was still heavily right-handed. Brian Daubach and Armando Rios (career .262 and .269 hitters respectively) were supposed to provide helpful depth off the bench (helpful being the key word).

Do you sense where Iím going with this? Itís ironic that the Sox are running a marketing campaign touting Ozzie Guillen as their only significant modification. Not only is it a shockingly accurate assessment by the PR department, but itís also an odd way to promote the ball club. Status quo isnít exactly something Sox fans are bound to get excited about, especially when their team hasnít won a title since the invention of the light bulb. (Okay, it hasnít been that long, but close.)

Yet, status quo is precisely what we have. The similarities between Opening Day 2003 and Opening Day 2004 are striking: Dan Wright and (gulp) Scott Schoeneweis comprise the questionable back-end of the rotation. Mike Jackson could easily be the next Rick White. Billy Kochís fastball has gotten even slower. Willie Harris is the unproven second baseman. Ross Gload and Timo Perez (career .226 and .276 hitters respectively) are the new tinker toys that will take away precious at bats from players who deserve them.

Same old worries on the Southside. And the Sox even start the season in the same ballpark: Kauffman Stadium, where they promptly set the tone for their lackluster 2003 campaign by getting swept in the opening series.†

But I really donít want this to be a doom-and-gloom column. After all, I spent most of the off-season combating the heavy doses of negativity that infiltrated the city. And I praised the decision to hire Guillen, who has so far proven to be a breath of fresh air and the comic relief Sox fans need.

Despite the naysayers, the White Sox arenít any worse off than they were at the start of last season. As a matter of fact, they may be in better shape. If Dan Wright can restore his 14-win form, heíll be an incredible upgrade at the end of the rotation. Mark Buehrle canít possibly pitch as poorly as he did in the first half of last season (can he?). Aaron Rowand appears ready to contribute, and Joe Crede should pick up where he left off in Ď03.

Thatís the torture of being a Sox fan, dealing with a split personality. The rational side of me sees barely 80 wins for this team (maybe less if Schoeneweis is in the rotation for more than a week). I predicted 84 at the start of spring training, but I said Iíd adjust the prediction after the Tuscon results were in. Typically, this is the precise moment when my optimistic personality starts to take over. For lack of a better name, Iíll call him Alter Ego. He wants to believe Guillen will make a difference. He wants to believe Paul Konerko will start hitting again. He wants to believe Magglio Ordonez will have a monster season in a free agent year. He wants to believe Schoeneweis will be the next Loaiza.

Thatís when I have to shut him up. Alter Ego can get a little carried away. The Schoeneweis situation is a mess. Kenny Williams has a bad habit of believing in veteran pitchers for no good reason. By the time Williams figures out his blunder, the pitcher has typically cost the Sox a handful of games. Williams is taking a similarly aggravating approach with Koch, insisting Koch will return to form, stubbornly sticking with him despite a permanent loss of velocity, inevitably costing the Sox even more victories. It happens every damn season, and itís getting old.

Alter Ego chimes in: Schoeneweis has struck out 26 batters in 19 spring innings. Thatís amazing. He must be doing something right, in between serving up tators. Maybe heíll figure it out once the season starts. As for Koch, Ozzie wonít stand losing for very long. If Koch is blowing games, Ozzie will find someone who can close. Ozzie wonít tinker with the lineup like Manuel did. Ozzie wants to win, and that means putting your best team on the field.

I hope youíre right, Alter Ego. Ozzie has sounded much like a company man this spring, continually saying Schoeneweis and Koch are ďhis guysĒ despite the fact that neither pitcher has proven much of anything. Ozzie also seems to love Gload. Iíd hate to see another Rios situation, where at bats are wasted by a worthless reserve.†

Alter Ego politely reminds me that Kansas City put their entire frigginí pitching staff on the DL last Wednesday. And Benito Santiago has that lingering Achilles thing, you know, like Mark Prior and near-Southsider Nomar Garciaparra. (Achilles is fast becoming my favorite word of the year.) Minnesotaís ďaceĒ Johan Santana has a 5.63 ERA this spring. Heck, the scariest team in the division looks like the Indians.

Stop it, youíre getting me excited. And that only leads to disappointment. Itís much easier to accept an underachieving team when you fully expect them to underachieve. And if they happen to overachieve, a la 2000, itís a delightful surprise.

Based on the spring performances of Schoeneweis, Koch and Shingo Takatsu, I want to downgrade my prediction from 84 to 81 wins. But the emergence of Wright, the happiness of Frank Thomas, and the energy of Guillen have Alter Ego predicting 93. How about we just split the difference and call it 87?

Frankly, Iíd be happy with 87 ... it might even be enough to win the division. And once you get into the post-season, itís a whole new ballgame. Look at the Marlins and Angels.

See, there he goes again -- itís just so hard to shut him up.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back.† He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player.† His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay).† Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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