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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Stagnant Sox?

by
Guy Bacci

The silence is deafening. Something unusual is happening on the South Side so far this off-season: nothing. And that has Sox fans—who have become accustomed to an annual winter whirlwind—feeling a little antsy.

Compounding the problem, of course, is all the hubbub across town, where the North Siders are making such a racket, it’s about time to call the cops and break up the party. It started with the hiring of a salty, emotional and winning manager in Lou Pinella. While it’s certainly possible, and maybe even likely, that Pinella is destined to become the next great manager to learn how insignificant past success is when donning the Cubbie blue, it’s also quite possible that Pinella is the best Cubs’ hire in a long, long time.

Unlike Dusty Baker, Pinella doesn’t inject good vibes and expect to win off them. Instead, Sweet Lou is bitter, gruff and uncompromising. In short, there’s not much “sweet” about him, unless you think it’s “sweet” that he sometimes does post-game interviews in his undies while chain smoking and guzzling beer. (I’m lucky enough to have seen the show in person when covering the Mariners a few years back.)

Pinella expects to win, even when running the lowly Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And more often than not, he succeeds, having won an unlikely World Series with the Reds back in 1990 and leading the 2001 Mariners to a record-tying 116-victory season.

But no matter Pinella’s pedigree, he’s only as good as the horses on the field, and the Cubs aren’t skimping in that department either. Aramis Ramirez was tied up for five years and Mark DeRosa and Neal Cotts were added to the mix. (Yes, that Neal Cotts.) The biggest prize, of course, was the dynamic Alfonso Soriano, he of 40-40 fame.

If anything ever comes of this wild spending spree, Cub fans should send personal thank-you letters to each member of the 2005 White Sox. There’s no doubt the championship on the South Side and Jerry Reinsdorf’s subsequent high payroll lit a pretty modest fire under the butts of the moneybags at Tribune Co. All of a sudden, the Cubs have decided to spend like a big-city ballclub.

But fear of Cubs’ success is certainly not what agitates Sox fans this holiday season. Fear of South Side stagnation does. Sox fans have come to expect a splashy headliner or two from Kenny Williams. Four years running (and five of the last six), the Sox have delivered mind-boggling off-season news. David Wells in ’01, Bartolo Colon in ’03, Ozzie Guillen in ’04, Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik, and the other numerous moves in ’05, Jim Thome in ’06.

The discussion boards on WSI have been eerily quiet as the calendar flips toward December. Internet-happy Sox fans are itching for something to type about. Especially since something seemed to be missing from the ’06 team. We never though Carl Everett would actually sound smart when he claimed his former clubhouse’s chemistry wasn’t destined for a repeat. We never imagined so many fans would be crying in their beer at the loss of Aaron Rowand. Surely Kenny has his finger on the pulse and a magic-trick up his sleeve.

Or maybe not.

Instead, there’s a strong sense that Williams was thrilled with the team he assembled last season and wants to give them another shot. As uncomfortable as that may be for most Sox fans, there might be some logic to it. After all, the Sox did crack 90 wins despite a shockingly awful season by the pitching staff. They managed to stay in the hunt despite some dead bats at the bottom of the order. Heck, they won seven more games than the eventual champion St. Louis Cardinals, despite dealing with Ozzie Guillen’s Russian roulette in centerfield.

Meanwhile, the defending Central Division and AL champs are bound for a letdown. The young Tigers staff is likely to feel the effects of a long season, much like the Sox hurlers did after their World Series run. Sure, Detroit added aging slugger Gary Sheffield, but Williams doesn’t seem too worried. In Phil Rogers’ latest piece in the Tribune, Williams’ response to the new Tigers’ lineup was “Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome.” So there.

Podesednik was clearly a disappointment in his follow-up to a 59-stolen base season. Maybe that gives him more incentive to bounce back. Brian Anderson looked like a rookie—and a bad one at that. Maybe he learned a few things along the way. Mark Buehrle suffered the first letdown of his career. Jose Contreras and Freddy Garcia looked tired. Maybe missing the playoffs was exactly what this team needed to refocus and recharge.

Clearly, Williams believes the team he craftily constructed in ’06 was even better than the champs of ’05. On paper, just about everyone agreed. So maybe the best move Kenny Williams can make this winter is to not make a move at all.

No matter how much that might make Sox fans squirm.


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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