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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

MOR(e) ON Sox Attendance

...featuring the Chicago media, of course. 

For the past 30 years and more, the White Sox, their fans, and media pundits have pondered the team’s continuing attendance problems. Much has been said and written, however, little has changed. It has reached the point that debating this issue is getting old and stale. 

Looking at the attendance at Wrigley, people wonder why fans continue to go see a bad team. Sometimes there is no explaining human nature. If I were a Cub fan, I would have tired of their losing ways a long time ago. After all, 94 years is quite a losing streak. However, the Cub organization, despite having little ability to field a winning team, could give the Sox lessons on team-fan relations. 

In looking back at Chicago baseball history, the media, with glee, remembers Cub manager Lee Elia’s tirade against his team’s own fans. The Cubs had gotten off to one of their patented bad starts in April 1983. After yet another loss, some angry fans yelled some insults at the Cubs as they headed down the left field line to the locker room. Neither Elia or the players appreciated the lambasting.

“Most of the world’s out makin’ a living,” Elia told the media after the game. “The other 15% come out here. “Let them find a job and see what’s it like.” 

This was a particularly insensitive statement considering our country was still in the throes of its worst economic depression in 50 years. More important than Elia’s lack of tact was the response of the Cub organization. Elia was told to apologize or he would have been part of the 15%. 

“This was a terrible, terrible thing that happened,” Cub board chairman Andy McKenna told Tribune columnist Bob Verdi. “The worst thing we can do, in the view of Lee’s remarks and our won-loss record, is panic. No, on second thought, the worst thing we can do is alienate the public, and I’m afraid we’ve done that. I’m a PR person. In any business, you must treat people right.” 

As I said earlier, the White Sox can take PR lessons from the Cubs.  

There are several things that have to happen before the Sox can really begin to draw again. And they have to occur if the team to have a bright future in Chicago. 

There cannot be repeats of the type and number of fights like during the first game against Cleveland. To many, there is nothing like a good fight, especially when they’re not the ones getting their faces beaten. But to many others, it is one good reason to stay away from the ballpark. During the late ‘70’s, Sox attendance declined mostly because of a bad team. In addition, Comiskey had earned the reputation of being one large tavern. Many didn’t want to take themselves and their children to a place where they have to put up with or be exposed to this type of atmosphere. And if people don’t want to bring their families to the game, it not only hurts present attendance but will damage future attendance as well.  

Other fans, the media and the White Sox organization have to stop insulting fans that don’t come out to Comiskey or don’t come out as often as hoped. Calling people pathetic, fair-weather or any other name will only give them more reasons to stay home. Ask yourself something: If you went to a restaurant and waitress treated you rudely, and you complained to manager and got no satisfaction, would you go back? Not if you had any self-respect, you wouldn’t. Besides, the name-calling and the bitterness has been going hot and heavy for years now, and attendance continues to be a problem. It is time to get off this viscous cycle. 

If the team is within striking distance of first place in August, say 3 ½ games, it should go out and get more players no matter what how bad or good the attendance might be. If the White Sox are close to a World Series and refuse to beef up the club, the organization will only reaffirm the notion it really isn’t concerned about winning. And, in the end, the team will be punishing the fans that are coming out.  

Finally, there must be no strike or work stoppage in 2002 or in the near future. We’ve been told to forget 1994. But if 1994 happens again, fans won’t forget it for years to come. Then you will have real attendance problems. 

I have my doubts about how far the White Sox will go this year, but they have an entertaining and likable club. Attendance has to improve for the sake of the overall future of the club no matter well it does this year, but that won’t happen under threat and insult. It’s time the White Sox understood this. 

Editor's Note:  Dan Helpingstine is a free lance writer living in Highland, Indiana.  In the early 80's, he worked as a stringer for The Times, then based in Hammond, Indiana, covering business-labor news.  For six years, he worked as a part-time sportswriter for the Merrillville Herald, a weekly that was a part of a chain of weeklies in Lake and Porter Counties.  He covered high school football and basketball.  In 1995, Helpingstine had a short story published in a murder mystery anthology entitled Murder Is My Business.  He also has had articles on the JFK murder published in the Post-Tribune of Gary.  His new book is titled "Through Hope and Despair."  It is the story of one fan's roller coaster ride with the luckless White Sox.

More features from Dan Helpingstine here!

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