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WSI News - Season Features

Editor's Note:  A well-publicized "private" blow up between Jerry Manuel and Frank Thomas prompted this totally biased response.

Media Sport:  Frank Bashing

by George Bova

Sox fans are a rare breed.  While our north side brothers gather under the sun and television cameras to witness endless years of bad baseball, we Sox fans suffer a similar fate in darkness and utter anonymity.  The smart aleck television sports anchors are as likely to show video of Comiskey's empty seats as they are of White Sox fans.  We may boo Frank and the team, but we remain loyal.  Bashing the team, the players, and the fans is a bit of sport for many in Chicago's media.  They've indulged in their fetish for several years now.  

Maybe you thought we Sox fans and our team had turned a corner amongst  the media bashers.  Our young team scraped together a fine season worthy of hope for future glory on the south side.  "The Kids Can Play" was accepted truth across all of Chicago and Sox fandom, right?  Think again.  Amongst all the new kids, the Chicago media bashers found one suitable target, Frank Thomas, the biggest kid of them all.  One tidy hatchet job in Chicago's papers snowballed into drawing the attention of Sports Illustrated.  Now Frank Thomas's troubles have been turned into a national story.  Sports fans coast to coast might wonder how things could get so out of hand for Frank Thomas.  Sports Illustrated offers its readers credible reasons.  What SI's readers don't get is insight into the motives and history behind many of Frank's harshest critics.  Don't be misled -- there are several agendas at work here.  The team and the fans are disserved;  Frank Thomas is further tainted.

Phil Rogers is the baseball sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune.  In 1997 he scooped most of his counterparts to break the news that the Sox were about to trade most of their veteran players.  In fact they did throw in the towel mid-season on a team only 3-1/2 games behind Cleveland for the A.L. Central lead.  He dubbed it The White Flag Trade, which is now part of the city's sports lexicon.  Some would say Phil has it out for Jerry Reinsdorf and his Sox organization.  I doubt he does.  However, you have to wonder about his motives for writing a piece of trash that became a key source cited in Sport Illustrated's subsequent cover feature.  Last year's feud between Thomas and manager Jerry Manuel began anew this spring.  A shouting match occurred.  Not content to report the obvious news, Phil Rogers decided to create it.

Rogers rounded up all the usual suspects to get his negative quotes about Frank Thomas.  Every negative quote Rogers got came from an ex-teammate, ex-manager,  or ex-anything associated with the Chicago White Sox.  Sure, you could say all the current members of the Sox organization were intimidated from saying anything bad about Frank, but  Rogers couldn't get even anonymous sources.  As for the quotes he did get, there is plenty of documented history to question their motives.  Most of them left under less than friendly circumstances.  Most of them have previously been quoted by Rogers whenever he needs to build credibility for his latest negative article about the Sox, a series at least two years old.  Consider Rogers sources...

Ozzie Guillen, ex-shortstop.  Pasted nearly everyone in the organization after he was refused a chance to re sign with the club following the 1997 season.  Besides taking the usual shots at the front office, Ozzie said the entire Sox infield would be terrible, and "some kind of ugly."  How's that for a team player?

Terry Bevington, ex-manager.  Fired after the 1997 season, Bevington tenure was one of the rockiest in recent memory on the South Side.  Boomer had trouble handling the pitchers, the catchers, and most of the clubhouse atmosphere.  He wasn't popular with any of the Chicago media while he was here.  Somehow, Rogers has turned him into a credible source for supposed happy days when Bevington was Thomas's manager.  It was Bevington who fed Frank's need for a safe, secure role as designated hitter for the team.  Might he need to cover his own butt for caving into Frank's vision of a reduced role on the team?  We're talking about screwing up the greatest hitter in the 1990's.  Rogers never says.  He's too busy letting Bevington draw rosy conclusions about his unsuccessful stint as Sox manager.

Jaime Navarro, ex-teammate, and head case.  Anything that comes out of this guy's mouth is by definition ridiculous -- and Phil Rogers knows it.  Sox fans endured three seasons of some of the worst pitching, and worst finger pointing, the club has ever suffered.  Jaime Navarro was an absolute disaster on the mound, and a clubhouse cancer off the field.  His destructive post-game comments are legendary amongst Sox fans, but one truly stands out.  Last August he allowed nine earned runs in yet another losing effort, but told the media it wasn't his fault.  "I can only pitch, I can't hit for the guys."  He's finally gone, two years too late, and now takes his shots from afar.  Of course Phil Rogers is right there to record everything into his notebook.  Give me a break!

The most credible source Rogers got was ex-teammate Robin Ventura.  Now here is a guy whose opinion counts.  He was a successful Sox player, a leader in the clubhouse, and widely regarded as the personality behind the Sox championship clubs of the early 90's.   Robin's indictment of Frank was mostly limited to questioning his pursuit of personal excellence, rather than team excellence.  So Frank goes out and hits over .300, clubs 20 or more home runs and 100 or more ribbies, and draws 100 or more walks for EIGHT consecutive seasons -- and his team contributions are suddenly called into question?  Ted Williams never achieved this feat.  Neither did Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig or anybody else in the history of major league baseball.  Somehow Phil Rogers has twisted this into a negative about the Big Hurt.  What a jerk!

With Rogers having "broke" the news of Thomas's failures, the rest of the Chicago media fell right into line.  The Sun-Times wrote a lengthy piece on his business failures.  What are the odds they'll ever run an expose behind the closing of Michael Jordan's restaurant?  Not likely.  Details of Frank's divorce are now in national print, too.  This is what passes for sports journalism.  Never to be left out of a feeding frenzy, the local sports talk hosts have weighed in with sound bites, too.  One of them should be especially happy after he was quoted by SI.  Any publicity is good publicity so long as they spell your name right.  Given his past grandstanding, Sports Illustrated obliged him nicely -- which was all he likely wanted anyway.

This is trash journalism stacked on top of trash journalism.  It's not so much an indictment of Sports Illustrated for reporting it, as much as it is an indictment of how sports "news" is created.  At it's core, this story is a fabrication of a handful of malcontents quoted by a sportswriter of dubious motive.  

If Phil Rogers wants to really impress Sox fans, let's see him muckrake the story behind the decline of last year's Chicago Cubs.  There are plenty of ex-player malcontents from that team who could be coaxed into providing at least as credible a story as this.  Of course Phil would be indicting his employer's own business, the Tribune's Chicago Cubs.

Sports Illustrated, don't hold your breath waiting for that one. 

George Bova is editor and founder of White Sox Interactive.


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