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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

New Sox Traditions?
by Hal Vickery

Memo to Kenny Williams:  Time is getting short.  SoxFest is less than two weeks away.  Time to make that big deal!

Of course it could be that the Sox have already chosen a new marketing slogan for the 2004 season:  “Building a New Tradition.”  It would be appropriate, although this tradition isn’t the one most of us remaining Sox fans care to embrace.   

In fact, it isn’t a single tradition that the Sox are building.  The Sox are actually building a series of interrelated traditions. 

Tradition Number 1:  Perennial Belt Tightening 

This tradition has its roots in the 1980s.  It began when The Chairman signed Julio Cruz to a ten-year contract and got burned.  It gained momentum during the “Kids Can Play” era.   

The latest manifestation of the tradition was introduced when The Chairman told his GM that he had a payroll budget of just $58 million.  Sure that seems like a lot of money, but as we’ve previously pointed out, the top ten salaries on the Sox club exceed that amount.  

Tradition Number 2:  Catching Lightning in a Bottle 

This tradition owes its existence to Bill Veeck of all people.  It was Veeck who teased the fans with his rent-a-player concept in 1977 by renting players like Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble.  Fans came out in droves by the standards of the time.  Their reward was watching both of them sign for big money with other teams while Veeck gave fans the likes of Ron Blomberg and Bobby Bonds. 

The tradition was refined by Ron Schueler during his tenure as Sox GM.  His idea was to stock a team that was always short one pitcher and then hope that his rent-a-right-fielder selection of the year would put the Sox close enough in contention to keep the fans satisfied.   

The Chairman learned a lot from this and brought it to a climax when the personally signed Albert Belle to the largest contract in history up to that time while leaving his pitching staff short a fifth starter, as usual. 

The Chairman came up with a new variation in 2003 by allowing Williams to pick up key players in trades, most notably Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett, if their former teams would pick up all but the major league minimum of their salaries.   

Tradition Number 3:  We Tried But We Couldn’t Do It 

This is another tradition that goes back to the Ron Schueler era.  Each year when a new crop of free agents became available, reporters dutifully asked if the Sox would make an effort to sign them.  Schueler would always answer in the affirmative, but none of them ever seemed to put on a Sox uniform.  Schueler would always note how the Sox had made an effort, but they just couldn’t reach an agreement. 

The mass exodus of this years free agent crop, led by Bartolo Colon, Alomar, and Everett is just the latent manifestation of this tradition. 

Tradition Number 4:  The End Around 

This was first tried by the Sox with Alex Rodriguez when he was a free agent.  Schueler borrowed this method from the Chicago Bulls dealings with Horace Grant.  The idea is to try to convince the player that he should negotiate with The Chairman or his minions out of the presence of the player’s agent.The Sox tried the same thing last summer by talking to Mark Buehrle’s parents.  They were asked to try to convince the pitcher to talk to them without his agent in order to reach a deal.   

They tried it again late in 2003 with Roberto Alomar.  If Alomar and his agent are to be believed, this is probably a key reason why the second baseman won’t be wearing a Sox uniform this summer. 

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Oh, it’s a great tradition the Sox are building, all right.  And that’s just the traditions on the field!  Next time we’ll take a look at the traditions Sox management is building with its fans.


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 hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

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