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WSI News - Season Features

May, 2000.  Sox pre- and post-game radio show host Dave Wills offers WSI his views about being a Sox Fan.

EXCLUSIVE to White Sox Interactive

Dave Wills of ESPN Radio

by Leonard Pierce

David H. Wills is best known as the voice of the White Sox Radio Network's pre- and post-game show, with partner "Beltin'" Bill Melton.  Since 1994, the native South Sider (born and raised in Oak Lawn) has won the admiration of Sox fans with his keen insights, his dry wit, and one of the best voices in radio.  He's one of the truly class acts in the Chicago media and the White Sox are lucky to have him as part of their broadcast team.  Dave was kind enough to take the time to speak to WSI's media critic, Leonard Pierce, during a recent game (Melton, who "owed (him) a few innings", took over while he chatted with us).  Here's what he had to say about this year's team, the North Side/South Side rivalry, and what it would take to get him into a Cubs cap.

WSI    You're obviously a fan of the Chicago White Sox.  How do you balance the journalist's need to be somewhat objective with the urge to root for the home team?

DW    Well, the hardest part for me is that it's such a fine line between being a fan with the fact that it's part of my job to help sell the White Sox.  Sometimes the team will make mistakes, and keep making them, and I have to watch my P's and Q's.  But I'll tell you:  99% of the time I have no qualms about what they do.  Jerry Reinsdorf wants to win a world championship; I understand that.  I've spent some time with Ron Schueler, and I know he wants to win a World Series.  Knowing that makes it easier to do my job.

WSI    There is a perception among White Sox fans that there is a pro-Cubs bias in the Chicago media.  Do you think that's accurate?

DW    I think the Cubs get a little more attention that the White Sox, largely due to the perception that there are more Cubs fans out there than Sox fans.  The Tribune is obviously slanted towards the Cubs, and the Daily Herald is probably a bit slanted; but the Sun-Times is pretty much 50/50 and the Southtown is probably slanted quite a bit toward the White Sox.  So there is some balance out there. 

Now, on the radio, WGN is obviously not going to say anything against the Cubs. The Tribune owns WGN, and it's going to be pro-Cubs all the way.  I know guys who have worked there and are told not to say anything bad about the Cubs.  With (WMVP), we're a sports station that just happens to carry the White Sox, so we're going to talk about both teams, the Sox and the other guys.

WSI    What can the White Sox organization do to fight that perception, that this is first and foremost a Cubs town?

DW    They've already started in two of the best ways possible:  they're winning ballgames, and they're putting good guys in the clubhouse.  The mood in that clubhouse after the games these days is better than it has ever been, and the all-star in that area is the manager, Jerry Manuel.  He's one of the most genuine, honest guys you'll ever run into, and that sort of thing rubs off on the players. Of course, the players themselves are great guys: Ray Durham is a good guy, Greg Norton is a good guy; right on down the line.  I don't know José Valentín that well, but he seems to be very open and honest.  Even when Frank Thomas was having his so-called "problems", he was never less than cordial and friendly to me.  I think that a lot of these guys who say bad things about this team are guys who have not spent a lot of time in the clubhouse. 

WSI    You've endeared yourself to a lot of diehard Sox fans with your comments on our hated rivals, the Chicago Cubs.  What do you really think of the Cubs?  Spare no invective.  Do you think the cross-town rivalry is a good thing for the White Sox?

DW    Well, it's a good thing when we win the series 4-2 like we did last year.  It's not so good when we get swept like in '98.  When I was broadcasting for the Kane County Cougars, I used to tend bar at T.C.'s Pub on the South Side, and there is another bartender there, Rob Simpson, who is a die-hard Cubs fan.  Since inter-league play started, we've had a bet going; if the Cubs win, I have to do some little thing for him, and if the Sox win, he has to do some little thing for me.  So in 1998, when we were swept, I had to be the bartender for 4 hours late at night; they got me into a Cubs hat, which I wasn't too crazy about, and I had to take a lot of ribbing for that one.  But last year he had to tend bar wearing a full White Sox uniform, with the stirrups and everything.  It's a lot of fun, and the good thing about it is that all the money we make in tips goes to charity.
As for what I really think of the Cubs, I know a lot of people in their front office, and as I was saying before, it's hard to rip on people that you know are good guys.  But let's say that there is no love lost between me and the Cubs.

WSI    You've also pleased a lot of people with your outspoken views of South Side baseball, especially about the unwelcome practice of throwing visiting team home run balls back on the field.  Tell me about what Comiskey Park traditions you believe in, and which ones you would like to see kept out.

DW    I can remember going to old Comiskey Park as a kid, and aside from the fireworks, there wasn't a lot of flashy stuff going on to motivate the crowd to make noise.  And one of the great things about this season is seeing the crowd get into the ballgames again.  You have things like the video screen and the contests, and you never needed those things in the '70's and '80's, and even in the early '90's.  But you're starting to see that excitement again; I was in the booth during one of the Yankees games, and the Sox were up with two out, and suddenly the crowd just started going crazy.  I looked up at the monitor, to see if they were showing the ComEd Fan Power Meter or something, and there was nothing up there.  So I looked at Bill Melton, and said "The fans are coming back."

They're starting to bring back sounding the siren right before the fireworks when a home run is hit, and I'm glad to see that come back; but one thing that I'm really pleased to see is that in addition to the fans having more fun and getting into the ballgame, the players are starting to interact a lot more with the fans.  You would hardly ever see that for the last few years, but a lot of the guys are cutting up with the fans, doffing their caps and raising their gloves.  Everybody loves to see a winning team, but the fans want to be recognized as well.  As for traditions what I would like to see kept out is throwing the home run balls back on the field.  I guess that guys who have spent too much time at home think that's how it's done.  Also, Harry and Spike had a show a few weeks back where they were trying to get the Sox to have a mascot again; I went on their show to personally lobby against that.

WSI    Finally, there has been a lot of talk about renovations to Comiskey Park now that the All-Star game is coming.  What suggestions would you make if you had any input in the big upgrade?  What would you do if you were in charge?

DW    I guess it's a good thing that I'm not in charge.  It's such a fine line between improving on the park and keeping the things you love about it. A lot of people have suggested that we lop a few rows off the upper deck, but I've been to every American League park and around eight National League parks, and the majority of upper decks are just as high.  Maybe it's a good idea to just remove them and not replace them; you would lose some seating, but how often are most parks getting more than 40,000 people?  One thing I'm sure about, though:  leave the lower level alone.  Nothing needs to be done to the lower bowl; it's the best in all of baseball.  I might want to move the seats in the outfield all the way down, but at least with the gap you can't get to home run balls and throw them back.  There is also some talk of putting a homer porch in left field, but I would hate to see that happen.  The bleachers at Comiskey are the best in all of baseball.  There is sunshine, plenty of beer vendors, and a great view of the field.

One thing I don't agree with is that you have to put a lot of bars around Comiskey Park to get people to come see the team.  I like to go to bars after a game as much as the next guy, but that is not what it's all about. Somehow I don't think that when the owners sit down and draw up a plan for how to put a championship team together, they're saying "Okay, good pitching staff, solid infield, oh yeah, a bunch of bars around the park."  Having a bar ten feet from the ballpark doesn't help you win championships.  It hasn't helped on the north side.   


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