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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

SoxFest Love Fest?

by
Guy Bacci

Itís been a good week for the White Sox PR department. For starters, Jay Mariotti was fired from his talk show perch at WMVP, the radio home of the Southsiders. That was followed by a shocking piece of news reported by The Score, claiming that the last contract offer to Magglio Ordonez didnít involve any deferred money. To top it all off, the Sox signed former nemesis and Twins catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

And all this just a week before SoxFest. Talk about timing.

The tone at the annual Southside love fest wasnít so pleasant last year, at least on the first night. After losing free agents Bartolo Colon, Carl Everett and Roberto Alomar, Sox fans were lacking any sort of pre-season optimism. And the rising popularity of the near NL Champion Cubs only added to the sour taste. As a result, Sox fans pounded GM Kenny Williams with harsh questions and scathing criticism, with some of our own WSI personalities leading the way. The press reported the scene as Jerry Springeresque.

But there should be no chair tossing or verbal assaults this year. Williams has simply had the best off-season of his career, and thatís astounding considering he lost two of his best hitters. Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez are gone, but four glaring holes have been patched: bullpen depth, fifth starter, catcher and leadoff man. If Williams swings a second baseman before Spring Training, they might have to start constructing his statue outside of The Cell.

More importantly, though, Williams has shown a degree of restraint and classiness. After blabbing about how he was going to sign Omar Vizquel, only to see the veteran shortstop sign with the Giants, Williams lived up to his word and flew ďunder the radarĒ for the rest of the off-season, producing one surprising deal after another. Heís currently downplaying the pursuit of Tadahito Iguchi, but you have to wonder if thatís just another smokescreen.

Interestingly enough, the biggest feather in Williamsí cap may result from the Ordonez debacle. Recent reports claim the Sox offered a hefty non-deferred contract, showing that Williams may have had good reason to blast Ordonez publicly for being spoiled, selfish and disloyal. Yet Williams didnít say any of those things. He took the high road and praised Magglio for his contribution to the Sox, even though he was likely seething underneath.

A cynic would say itís curious that this news about Ordonezís contract was ďleakedĒ just a week before SoxFest. A cynic would also say that big, bad Jerry Reinsdorf somehow pushed Mariotti off the airwaves because of a personal feud with the chairman.

A healthy dose of cynicism is not a bad thing, but in this case, the cynics need to be slapped.

The Sox will once again open the season with the highest payroll in club history. They showed loyalty to Ordonez, even though it may have been foolish to do so. They listened to the fans and changed the style of the team from a power-hitting club to a contact and speed-oriented group. They have put together their best overall pitching staff since the early Ď90s. They showed enough class to attract players like Jermaine Dye and Pierzynski despite offering less money than competing clubs.

Donít get me wrong, the í05 Sox are not a lock for the Central title. There are enough question marks to make your head spin: Can El Duque and Dye stay healthy? Can Juan Uribe handle shortstop? Can Joe Crede hit a baseball? Can Scott Podsednik bat over .240? Can Jon Garland show maturity? Can Pierzynski stay out of trouble? Can Jose Contreras stay focused?

But unlike last year, you canít say the Sox arenít giving it their best shot. They should have a legitimate chance to win the division, and nowadays, unless youíre the Yankees or Red Sox, thatís about all you can hope for.

The icing on the cake is that some of the Southsidersí enemies find themselves in the line of fire. Notice how nobody is feeling sorry for Mariotti. He became so infatuated with his own ďcelebrityĒ that he allowed personal vendettas to creep into his journalism. Mariotti has always been talentedómore so than most of the bland sports columnists around town. Unfortunately, he tends to use his talent to grind axes instead of provide a balanced and thoughtful platform for debate.

In the end, itís a shame Mariotti became such a Sox hater, because he has the potential to be a great voice for the fans.

But itís not such a shame that the Cubbies donít have the same hype coming into í05 as they did in í04. There shouldnít be any flag-waving, delusional fans in Mesa this spring as there were last March. Cub mania was out of control, but itís since been subdued. The Northsiders are still stuck with an unhappy Sammy Sosa, no closer, and no replacement for Moises Alou. Imagine the sweet irony if Ordonez joins the Cubs and tweaks his questionable knee, spending most of the season on the bench.

Indeed, SoxFest is here and Williams has called off the bodyguards. The Hot Stove is ablaze, and Sox fans are feeling warm and toasty. Optimism reigns supreme once again, as it should in January and February.

After all, we have seven long months to be cynical.


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.

More features from Guy Bacci here!

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