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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

What Happened?
by Hal Vickery

Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. It’s bad enough that the Cubs are in first place, but that’s tolerable. After all, you know they’re destined to eventually lose before they make it to the World Series. Less tolerable are the Cubs fans urging us to join their bandwagon.

No, what makes the situation intolerable is that less than twenty-two months after the Sox won it all, Saturday night they plummeted to last place in the AL Central by virtue of their seventh consecutive loss.

It seems like only yesterday that I was writing a column in which I said that I wouldn’t be satisfied unless the Sox established a dynasty. Well, we can forget that. The Sox are now the dregs of the AL Central as the result of that losing streak. Even the Kansas City Royals, looked on by everyone who knows baseball as a joke of a franchise, have passed the Sox.

What happened?

My guess is that something happens to a lot of teams when they win it all. Everyone from the batboys to the owners develops a case of hubris.

Remember the 1984 White Sox? I remember a whole lot of talk about how they had won the AL West in 1983 by twenty games with ninety-nine wins and that when they finally turned it on, there would be no looking back. Well, when they finally looked, behind them all they could find were the Mariners and Rangers because everyone else was ahead of them. The Sox dropped from ninety-nine wins to a measly seventy-four.

Then there was 1995. The Sox had won the AL Central in 1993. Everybody knew the Sox’ year was 1994, that is until a strike disrupted the season and canceled the post-season. But the Sox were confident in 1995, despite the fact that when the strike was called on August 12 the previous year, the Sox were just one game ahead of the Indians.

When an abbreviated version of spring training was finally called after the strike was settled, Sox manager Gene Lamont held his camp as if they had a full six weeks to get ready for the shortened season. The Sox were unprepared when the season began and it showed. The Sox did win one more game than they had in 1994. Unfortunately they lost thirty more games than in the preceding season and dropped to third place.

I remember writing columns that can be found in the archives of this web site bemoaning the fact that after they won the 2000 AL West championship, the Sox decided to rely on pitchers with sore arms, and once those arms were surgically repaired, still decided to rely on them the year following those surgeries.

Kenny Williams took over as general manager from Ron Schueler, and Williams gave the Sox manager, who will forever be known in this column as Gen. Disarray a lot of (at least perceived) depth. This gave the general a chance to experiment with lineups. And experiment he did. He experimented so much that it wasn’t until after the All-Star break that he decided on who his regulars would be.

The result was a series of disastrous Aprils and Mays where the Sox were out of the race before it had even begun.

So what went wrong after 2005? Where was the hubris this time? My feeling is that it came in the form of disregarding team chemistry. During the 2005 season much was made of the fact that Ozzie Guillen had a knack for keeping the clubhouse loose. What was disregarded is that a lot of that looseness was attributable to the antics of a trio of players known as the “Three Stooges.”

A.J. Pierzynski, Joe Crede, and Aaron Rowand did a lot to keep the clubhouse from becoming a morgue as the Indians closed in with a winning percentage of over .700 after the All-Star break. It was them who found the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believing” at a karaoke bar and somehow turned a joke into the theme song of the 2005 Sox.

So what was the biggest move Kenny Williams made after the 2005 season? He broke up the Stooges and brought over left-handed slugger Jim Thome. He decided to rely on rookie Brian Anderson in centerfield. Unfortunately it wasn’t until after the All-Star break that Anderson’s batting average equaled his weight.

As a result, Ozzie Guillen was forced to use Rob Mackowiak in centerfield at least a couple of days a week. Mackowiak turned out to have as much aptitude for playing centerfield as I do. That and the crash of high flying relievers Neil Cotts and Cliff Politte dropped the Sox to earth.

Kenny Williams has had some success with taking re-treads, has-beens, and never-wases, handing them to Don Cooper, and turning things around. That’s exactly what the plan was for the 2007 bullpen. The idea was to get a bunch of “live arms” (one of Williams’ favorite phrases) and let Cooper do his stuff with them.

As it turned out, Cooper may be a terrific pitching coach, but he is not the miracle worker. The live arms as it turned out either had no command or control, or they just threw straight fast balls that rocketed out of the ball park.

Couple that with our vaunted hitting attack not getting on track until July, and the recipe for disaster was complete. Hubris. Unwarranted confidence.

Or maybe it was all those injuries.

______________________________________________________________________

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.

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