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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Another crossroads for our Sox

During the last week of 1967, the Chicago White Sox had a great chance to go to the World Series.  In the middle of a four team for the then one division race, the Sox faced the lowly Kansas City A’s and Washington Senators in the last five games of the season.  They lost all five games, and as a franchise, hasn’t been the same since. 

Over the next 35 years, the White Sox have not been consistent winners on the field, still not having appeared in a World Series since 1959.  They have lost nine straight post season games at home and have won only one home post season contest since 1919.  In addition, the team has problems about its stadium, the perception of an unsafe and unfriendly neighborhood around that stadium and the ownership’s lack of credibility.  The fact that these problems haven’t been adequately addressed during the past three plus decades is one reason there are plenty of empty blue seats at Comiskey. 

Yet 2002, more than any other season in the last three plus decades, symbolizes the frustrations of long-time fans such as myself.  The White Flag Trade began the fourth major rebuilding era of the Sox since the collapse of 1967-68 seasons. (The Sox lost the first ten games of 1968, giving them a nifty 15-game losing streak.)  But this last rebuilding effort was supposed to be different.  In the era of dumb owners throwing millions at free agents, Jerry Reinsdorf was going the build his team the old fashioned way.  A ground-up effort was going to take time, but the Sox were going to prove you can win a championship without spending a fortune on players that would only disappoint fans with under-achieving performances.   

This effort failed on several fronts. 

The 2000 Central Division Title was the shining moment and a temporary vindication of Jerry Reinsdorf.  Unfortunately, that title was just another brief moment of glory and is now just a brick in the wall that is still not fully built. 

Winning the title also didn’t bring back alienated fans as hoped.  The 2000 champions had the lowest attendance of any of the three division winning Sox teams.  The Chicago media spent almost the entire month of September 2000 ripping ungrateful fans for poor attendance and the failure of greeting the victorious Sox at Midway Airport when they returned from a road trip.  Only the Sox can have bitterness after winning.  Even if a fan critics have a point, Jerry Reinsdorf and his organization have to take on half of the responsibility for the shrinking fan base.  The so-called apathy of 2000 is merely another symptom of a franchise with huge problems. 

The 2002 season has disappointed and alienated fans in more than one way.  Since the 1994 strike, the Sox and the condescending Chicago sports media have lectured Sox fans about “getting over it.”  But when the owners and the union finally have to hammer out another deal, they hold the season hostage with posturing and threats.  Yes, we Chicago baseball fans may even welcome a strike considering how our two teams are doing.  On the other hand, we don’t need another crisis, leaving us to ponder about baseball’s future.  The baseball powers that be shouldn’t lecture us about anything.  They are not the lords; we are not the serfs. 

Worse yet for Sox fans, the events of 2002 only confirm the philosophy of the White Sox organization.  If it wasn’t obvious before, it is obvious now.  The Chicago White Sox are small market.  Rebuilding will only lead to dismantling.  We are headed for the same treadmill of perpetual losing that teams like the Royals and Tigers experience.  Franchise credibility can sink to even lower depths. 

Several things have to occur to right the sinking ship of the Sox.  First, baseball must avoid a long work stoppage.  The White Sox are one team that cannot afford the fan backlash.  Secondly, the team must convince their fans it is ready to make a real investment in the club.  Going out and getting overpaid free agents in not the answer.  But you have to invest money in other ways.  That means a solid and experienced front office, competent coaches and a manager with real leadership ability.  If the Sox aren’t willing to make real changes in concrete ways, they deserve all the empty blue seats they can get.

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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