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Satisfied with .500?

After 85 years of futility, is this what it has come to?

It is a sad commentary on the 2002 season that Sox fans were ultimately satisfied to settle for the badge of mediocrity, a .500 record.  It was a season in which the pure lunacy with which the White Sox organization is run was laid bare for all to behold, and it wasn’t pretty.  Add to that the sad revelation that Major League Baseball is run with the same degree of incompetence and you can understand why this sport is in trouble. 

The lunacy in the Sox organization was first revealed this year when Prof. Chaos (aka Sox GM Kenny Williams) traded three arms for one.  Granted, Sean Lowe was released by the Pirates, but if you look at the combined records of the other two pitchers, the ones who sealed the deal for the Pirates, and there is no way that any rational person can say Todd Ritchie was worth the price.  That’s two moves Prof. Chaos has made to bolster the starting pitching in two years, and both have been miserable failures.   

The Professor’s excuse was that Kip Wells and Josh Fogg “wouldn’t have done that for us.”  Well, neither did Ritchie, and that’s the problem.  Of course the blame could have been with former pitching coach Nardi Contreras.  The young Sox pitchers improved immensely when he was replaced by Don Cooper.  However, by that time Ritchie found himself on the DL.  But that’s okay.  We’ve already been informed that he’ll be back in the rotation next year.  We can only hope that this is not yet another attempt by Sox management to stubbornly continue playing someone just to prove that the fans are wrong.   

If we look back at the other deal last year, the Sox traded damaged goods for damaged goods.  David Wells didn’t pitch well for the Sox and ended up on the DL.  Amazing how a somewhat slimmed down and much better conditioned Wells managed to get it all together once he was signed by the Yankees. 

The net effect was that the Sox had to rely for most of the year on a kiddy corps of starters led by 19-game winner Mark Buehrle.  At least the Sox were among the lowest paid starting rotations in baseball.  That’s something Jerry Reinsdorf can take pride in.  That and how he lowballed Buehrle on his contract this year.   

The Sox under The Chairman have a history of doing this to young pitchers who then demand large salaries and are allowed to leave as free agents.  The Chairman does have a point to make, I guess, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. 

Early in September, 2001 it appeared that the Sox were bringing up Joe Crede, for a look-see in preparation for his taking over the third base job permanently in 2002.  But then Crede sat on the bench.  Why?  “We already know what he can do,” replied Gen. Disarray (aka Sox manager Jerry Manuel). 

Crede, of course, languished at AAA Charlotte until August as Royce Clayton waved and shouted, “Olé!” at grounder hit up the middle and Jose Valentin played most of the season out of position.  Crede was finally brought up, and after a shaky start proceeded to tear up opponents’ pitching with his bat while playing a smooth third base.  Crede could very well make Sox fans forget Robin Ventura in a few years.  Of course, that’s if the Sox take care of him and reward him for the unnecessary time he spent in Charlotte with a decent salary.  Whether or not they will is anybody’s guess. 

The ultimate irony, though came from Gen. Disarray when he was asked about the amount of playing time being received by catching prospect Miguel Olivo.  “We like to play our youngsters and get a good look at them when we bring them up,” he said.  Just like you did last year with Crede, General? 

When The General was hired, he said he liked tha brand of baseball played in the National League, and that the emphasis would be on sound fundamentals, defense, running, bunting, etc.  Nothing has been further from the actual performance of the Sox under The General’s tenure than this.  Frank Thomas’s failure on numerous occasions to slide received comment not just from the press but from other Sox players.  The number of Sox runners thrown out trying to take an extra base or attempting to steal seemed to be rapidly approaching infinity. 

The blame was placed on Gary Pettis (a former teammate of Prof. Chaos) and Wallace Johnson (an “old friend” of Gen. Disarray).  Pettis, who was brought in specifically to improve Sox baserunning and who failed miserably was, of course, reassigned within the organization.  Johnson, of course was fired.   

Much of the lunacy can be laid at the feet of Gen. Disarray.  He has said that he loves options.  He loves to have players that he can move around, both on the field and in the batting order.  Fans should have had a sense of foreboding when he said that a couple of years ago.  It seems that the General never saw an option he didn’t like and wouldn’t try.  As a result, several of the non-stars on the Sox found themselves not knowing exactly what their roles were.  Jeff Liefer, used frequently in 2001 by the General languished for so long on the bench, he finally said, “Play me or trade me.”  

“I like to experiment,” said Manuel, “but most of my experiments fail.”  So why does he keep experimenting?   

Jose Valentin was shuttled between the second and seventh spots in the lineup and between shortstop and third base.  Carlos Lee was moved up to the third spot in the lineup when Frank Thomas slumped.  When he performed well, he was sent back to the six hole.  Is it any wonder the players weren’t sure what was expected of them? 

Manuel also has a nasty habit of saying one thing and then doing the opposite.  The “long term” benching of Royce Clayton lasted two games.  On more than one occasion, players were benched just a day or two after Manuel said they would be played regularly. 

Then there is game strategy.  How many times did Manuel help kill late-inning rallies by batting a Clayton or a Mark Johnson when he had better hitters on the bench?  How many times has he failed to use a pinch runner for some slow footed player late in games.  How many times has he asked guys like Carlos Lee to bunt or called for the sacrifice when the Sox were behind in the ninth inning?  It boggles the mind. 

What is probably worse is that The General seemingly has no real power.  Could the tinkerer really have stuck for so long in 2001 with Harold Baines, Royce Clayton, and Julio Ramirez without a directive from above?  In 2002 his impotence was shown twice.  The first time was earlier in the season when Prof. Chaos chewed out several players for not performing.  The Professor apparently has the run of the clubhouse and loves to show his authority.  This explains why he was even around to tip over the clubhouse banquet table in a fit of anger. 

Then there was the usurpation of The General’s authority by The Chairman when he delivered a five-minute rant before an August game, accusing the players of not trying and then admitting that Gen. Disarray’s stressing of the fundamentals was a sham by saying that the players have had it too easy during spring training and that next year they could expect it to be more like boot camp.  These displays are an admission by Sox management that they feel Gen. Disarray has lost control of his players.

So how do the Sox address this situation?  Is Prof. Chaos let go for his string of trades that have brought the club in two years from a 95-game winner to the .500 level?  Of course not!  The Professor still has a lot of time remaining on his contract.  The chairman isn’t going to eat that money.  Is Gen. Disarray fired for not having a clue and for losing control of the players?  Not on your life!  He’s under contract for two more years.  There is no way The Chairman will pay him and not receive anything in return, even if it’s only more mediocre baseball.

After all, in this organization, the bottom line is the bottom line.

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

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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