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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

The Frank/Ozzie Non-Story
by Hal Vickery

Spring training has started, all the players have reported, and the fireworks that were supposed to erupt during Sox training camp were a colossal fizzle.   

The local media types were swarming around Sox training camp like vultures.  They were waiting for the arrival at camp of Frank Thomas and the eruption of his feud with new manager Ozzie Guillen. 

They had been reporting all winter that “sources close to Thomas” told them he was upset with Ozzie’s supposed calling out of the Sox designated hitter during his post-hiring press conference.  They rehashed the old story about how one day in 1990-something Frank was taking grounders at shortstop and Ozzie got in Frank’s face and told him to quit goofing off and start working on his defense at first base. 

They reported on Thomas’s refusal to return telephone calls from Guillen or general manager Kenny Williams.  One reporter for a local rag that owns a minor league ball club on Addison St. wrote about his futile attempts to catch up with Thomas in Las Vegas. 

After all of that, many of the media types expected a shouting match between player and manager at the very least.  Some fans expressed the thought that Thomas might just pummel his new boss. 

So what happened?  In a nutshell, Thomas simply said that he understood that Ozzie was just being Ozzie.  He said that Ozzie was simply making a statement to his players and to the press that this was his team and that he was going to run it his way.   

So nothing happened, and all of those reporters were stuck with a story about sweetness and light in the Sox camp.  This kind of stuff does not sell newspapers.  So one paper found the one negative thing that Thomas mentioned in his press conference and screamed out in its headline that Thomas still is upset over Kenny Williams invoking the diminished skills clause in his previous contract. 

The morning that headline appeared, the husband-and-wife morning team on  50,000 watt station on the AM dial that is more known for harboring right-wing drug abusers had the following exchange. 

He:  “In White Sox news, Frank Thomas is created more controversy when he arrived at spring training.  In a news conference yesterday, he again whined about his old contract.” 

She:  “Why doesn’t he just shut up?” 

Of course this team is still dredging up Bill Clinton’s offences three years after the former president left office, so apparently only radio people are allowed to dwell on long-dead issues. 

Let this be a lesson to everyone who reads a sports section or catches a sports report on television or radio.  Sports journalism is not reporting.  Instead it is now the fashion for sports journalists to create news where there is none.  The Thomas non-story is a classic example. 

In addition, talk radio, sports or otherwise, all too often simply exists to stir up controversy, whether it exists or not.  In that respect, the two major sportstalk outlets in Chicago are to be commended.  At least from what I heard, very little was made of Thomas’s references to the past. 

Later in the week, Guillen was interviewed on one of the sportstalk outlets.  He was asked about his comments about Thomas in the original press conference.  Interestingly enough he echoed exactly what was reported here. 

He told his interviewers that he was talking about the clubhouse atmosphere that he wanted to establish, and that any comments he made about Frank Thomas were made simply because it was the reporter (WMVP’s Bruce Levine) who specifically asked about Thomas. 

Previous to that Levine was asked on his station what he thought about the way Guillen handled the matter.  Levine did admit that he did ask specifically about Thomas, but that Guillen made a mistake by not dodging the question. 

Now let me ask this.  What would the reporters have done if Guillen had done what Levine said he should have done?  The answer is obvious.  They would have been all over Guillen for dodging the Frank Thomas issue.  Guillen would have immediately been pegged as a weak manager for failing to stand up to Thomas as his predecessor had done.   

In short controversy would have been created where none existed.  To paraphrase an A.A. Milne character, “That’s what sports reporters do best.” 


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.

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