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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Bearly Lucky Kenny!

by
Guy Bacci

If he hasn’t done so already, Kenny Williams should be sending thank-you cards to every member of the Chicago Bears. In the midst of his most controversial off-season, Williams entered the lions’ den known as SoxFest with a vast majority of Chicagoans not really giving a hoot.

Buried amongst story after story about Rex Grossman and Peyton Manning and Cover 2 defenses and the ’85 Bears is news of the Sox GM once again facing an anxious group of South Side diehards. No wonder Ozzie Guillen entered the Palmer House wearing a number-13 Bears jersey. Anything to keep the focus on football and give Sox brass a few more weeks of breathing room.

Reports from the gathering tell of a mostly subdued and civil crowd; certainly nothing like the overblown “Jerry Springer” SoxFest of a few years ago. The mild temperature at this year’s event could be due in part to the local football team reaching the Super Bowl. But it could also be the result of an ambiguous off-season performance by Williams.

It’s not like Captain Kenny completely dismantled the champs of ’05. But he put the wheels in motion, and that’s what has Sox fans confused and nervous. The champs were built on starting pitching, and now one of the inning-eating studs, Freddy Garcia, is gone. Another member of the Big Four, Jon Garland, was nearly dealt to the Astros, and the replacement-in-training, Brandon McCarthy, was stunningly shipped to Texas.

Williams appears determined to rebuild the rotation piece by piece. In order to do so, he’s stockpiling young arms—in essence, he’s trying to have his cake and eat it too. His goal is to be fiscally responsible while keeping the Sox competitive by not letting them get too old.

That’s a tricky game to play.

Williams had already established an untouchable legacy by winning the town’s first World Series in nearly a century. Instead of keeping the roster in tact and keeping the fans placated in the process, Williams is risking part of his legacy for a chance at even greater glory.

That didn’t work out so well for a guy named Jerry Krause. Sit and chat with an average Bulls fan, and Krause will hardly get credit for building around Michael Jordan and winning six NBA titles. But the chubby GM will be infamously remembered for breaking up the dynasty. His attempt at building his own core of young players failed miserably.

It would have been easy for Williams to stand pat, try to win another title with the same guys, and ride off into the sunset. Nobody would have faulted him for that, even if he left the organization in shambles behind him.

Instead, Kenny has the lofty goal of making the Sox a perennial powerhouse. “The message was that the 2005 World Series wasn't the end,” Williams said while being critical of his amateur scouting department. “The goal is for this organization to be one of the top organizations in baseball. To do that, you have to have sustained success, first and foremost, in scouting and player development. They lay the foundation”

Williams’ confidence is admirable. But remember, Krause had an ego too. He learned that judging young talent is much harder than picking veterans off the free agent market. Maybe that’s why Sox fans are skeptical when Williams’ gushes over the minor-league talent he’s recently acquired.

It’s difficult for Sox fans to know whether to be frustrated or hopeful. On the one hand, it feels as if the window for a dynasty will end with Mark Buehrle’s departure at the end of the season. On the other hand, it’s comforting to know that Williams is trying to re-build the minor league system and has a knack for being aggressive in the winter.

The latest acquisition of Darin Erstad is a perfect example of how Williams can balance a seemingly head-scratching off-season with a fantastic rabbit-out-of-the hat trick. “Sorry I dumped Freddy and Brandon, Sox fans, but … look! Here’s the veteran outfielder we so desperately needed last year!”

Like it or not, Kenny is always moving forward in his quest to keep the Sox in the hunt for a title. But gambling on young pitchers can backfire, which in turn could put a serious Krause-like dent in Williams’ place in history.

On the other hand, if Kenny is able to pull another World Series ring out of his hat, he may be placed on a pedestal the likes of which other Chicago sports executives could only dream of reaching.

By next Monday, the Super Bowl will be over and the focus will shift to Spring Training. The Bears will have placed their mark in history.

The question will remain: What will Kenny’s mark be?


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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