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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

No More Next Years

A few years ago, one of the Chicago papers ran a picture of a Cub fan holding up a sign reading, “Wait Until Next Year.”  It was taken as the last Cub came up to bat to finish another miserable lovable losers losing season.  Either this fan was a truly optimistic fellow, or he was headed back to the group home after the game. 

The Cubs are tied for first place as I write this, and I am convinced they will win their division.  If they do, it will be their first division crown in 14 years.  That is a lot of next years. 

After the Sox El Foldo act in 2003, I am in no mood for a Cub-like trip to the unfounded land of high hopes.  This is the third straight year the team has gotten off to a poor start, then rebounded, and then saw their hopes dashed by the Minnesota Twins. 

That is right, the Minnesota Twins, a small market team with a goofy stadium, not the New York Yankees, a franchise with the ball yard that has monuments. 

There is a great deal of speculation about the Sox as the season comes to a heartbreaking end. Most say it is a given that Jerry Manuel is finished. Other than that it is anyone’s guess what direction this team will be taken.  I have one recommendation for the Sox brass: if you are thinking of budget slashing and veteran dumping, don’t.  And if you don’t want to listen to me, it might be a good idea to look at some Sox history. 

The South Side Hit Men were born when Bill Veeck sent Terry Forster and Rich Gossage to the Pirates for Richie Zisk and Bucky Dent to the Yankees for Oscar Gamble.  The 1977 team was truly loved by its fans.  The trouble was that the Sox had almost no intention of keeping Zisk and Gamble who were eligible for free agency after the ’77 season.   

Zisk and Gamble left and Jim Spencer was traded.  The Sox ran commercials at the beginning of the ’78 season still selling the ’77 team.  The commercials made me gag.  I knew the ’78 team was nothing like the South Side Hit Men.  Bill Veeck said he couldn’t afford to sign Zisk and Gamble.  I always thought he couldn’t afford not to sign them.  The ’78 Sox stunk.  So did the ’79 and ’80 Sox.  Fan interest became non-existent.  On leaving Old Comiskey after yet another Sox loss to the Yankees in July 1980 I heard a boy ask his father, “Why do the Sox always lose?”  It was an astute question for a boy that age. 

When the Einhorn and Reinsdorf group purchased the Sox in January 1981, Jerry Reinsdorf spoke about building a team through a strong farm system.  The concept is not a bad one except the team has just suffered through three miserable seasons with young players getting outplayed by just about everyone.  The Sox wised up, picked up Carlton Fisk and Greg Luzinksi, won a division crown two years later and became the first Chicago baseball team to draw over two million. 

If the Sox are still thinking like a small market team, they ought to ponder this scenario: What if the Cubs make it to the World Series this year?  Unlikely as that would normally sound, National League playoff teams don’t relish playing the Cubs in a short series when they have to face Prior, Wood, and Zambrano.  If the Cubs make their first Series in almost six decades, the Sox will become nothing but a footnote in this town.  The Sox like to say what the Cubs do doesn’t matter, but the Cubbies are direction competition.  It does matter. 

And it won’t work if the Sox come up with their usual range of lame excuses.  Lack of fan support and budget problems won’t wash anymore.  The Sox chased fans away with their strikes and White Flag Trades.  Budget issues?  I have my budget issues, too, and I am not in the mood to continue to throw my money at a team that can’t compete against the Minnesota Twins. 

At this point, I think Sox fans should take on this simple motto:  “No More Next Years.”

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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