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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Sox Media Wars!
by Hal Vickery

There seems to be a war brewing between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Sun-Times in general and their columnist Jay Mariotti.  The first shot was fired at the end of January during SoxFest when Hawk Harrelson called out Mariotti for his incessant criticism of the Sox, their ownership, and their ball park. 

The war escalated when WMVP radio installed Mariotti as host of their mid-morning show, replacing the nationally broadcast Tony Kornheiser show in March.  In retaliation for that move, knowing he still has two years left on his fat contract with the radio flagship, The Chairman invited Dan Bernstein and Terry Boers from rival WSCR to attend Sox spring training camp.  That midmorning duo was given free access to interview players, coaches, and management.

The war took a rather odd turn this week, precipitated by a Sun-Times column by Rick Telander that appeared on April 18.  Responding to criticism from fans who among other places have noted the obvious (except to the media) pro-Cubs bias of the Chicago media, Telander replied, “We hear it all the time in the Chicago newspaper business.

“First, none of those accusations is true.

“Second, maybe it's time we looked to see whether maybe they should be true.”

After that introduction, you had to know where it was going.  Telander spent the next thousand words or so justifying the media bias that he says doesn’t exist.  One of his major justifications was the attendance at The Ivy Covered Burial Ground vs. attendance at The Cell when both teams were at home opening week. 

Of course, all of this ignores one minor fact.  Sox attendance in April is always bad.  If Mr. Telander, who apparently rarely makes it south of Madison St. would check his facts, he would discover that there are exactly two factors that will result in a crowd of 30,000 or more on the South Side in April.  One is opening day.  The other is a series against a league power like the Yankees.   

Had Mr. Telander waited a week, he would have noticed that during the Yankees series, a series punctuated by tornadoes and cold weather, the Sox drew quite well, thank you, just as they always do.  And true to form, attendance dropped against the devil rays. 

Apparently no one in the media is aware of this phenomenon, however, since the same old dead attendance horse, now beaten into something resembling hash, was raised yet again on April 23 by Mariotti. 

His column was sparked by unveiling of the statue of Charles Comiskey last week.  Mariotti twisted this event into yet another in nearly a decade’s worth of rants against The Chairman and Comiskey Park.   

Mariotti wrote, “How tacky to sell out the family name of White Sox founder Charles A. Comiskey to fund the needless renovation of a deck that will remain sparsely occupied except for rare occasions. I am similarly perplexed why Reinsdorf was allowed to help design the ballpark to begin with, which contributed to the very architectural blunders that forced him to sell Comiskey's name and fix the joint with someone else's money. We could tolerate these incongruities if every night at U.S. Cellular Field was as exciting as Thursday night, when an announced gathering of 34,030 watched the Sox beat the New York Yankees.

“Problem was, plenty of upper-deck seats were available for all three games of the Yankees' only 2004 appearance, one of the highlights on your pocket schedule. This tells me, once again, that the Sox will remain what they are as long as they play in an obsolete ballmall several miles from the core of a vibrant, magnificent downtown, where they would draw many sellouts and dramatically reshape their lost identity if they played in a new park in a bar/restaurant district that lured after-work crowds.

” I know, I know, I'm dreaming. With the Yankees leaving and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays arriving tonight, the same attendance issues will return and the Old Roman's statue will be something you pass on the way to the sausage stand.”

That’s right Jay.  It’s April.  Sox attendance in April is lousy compared to, say, June through August, the months in which people with families, the people the Sox are trying to market to, actually go to games on weeknights and don’t expose their kids to the elements so they don’t miss school.

In response to Mariotti’s column, Harrelson kept his SoxFest promise by sending out a “special hello to J.J. Mariotti.  The first J stands for Jayson Blair and the second J stands for Jack Kelly..."  Blair was the New York Times writer who was fired for fabricating stories.  Kelley was fired by his bosses at USA Today for similar offenses.

That definitely is strong language, and Harrelson may regret it.  After all, not only does Mariotti have his column and radio show, but he also has a regular gig nationally on ESPN. 

In yet another twist, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen took a shot at the pro-Cubs bias in the media, in particular their treatment of Frank Thomas vs. players from the North Side.  Guillen said, “A lot of people don't give Frank the credit he should get.  A lot of people forgot quick in this town that he was the MVP two times.  A lot of people talk about (Cubs outfielder) Moises Alou more than Frank. You know, Moises is over here for two days. Now (Mark) Prior.  They talk about Kerry Wood.

"They don't talk about Thomas. Frank Thomas is Michael Jordan … because Sammy (Sosa) was here after he was. I was looking in the paper this morning and saw the 'Prior Watch.' You know, it's nothing against the kid, but come on!

Guillen then noted, "When he was hurt for [three] days, they did not have the 'Frank Thomas Watch' in the paper.  Frank Thomas is way better than. Frank has done more things for this town than Prior. I give all the respect to Mark, don't take me wrong. But, my God!"

The first writer to jump all over Guillen for these comments was Chris DeLuca of (you guessed it!) the Sun-Times. who wasted an entire column getting Dusty Baker’s reaction to Guillen’s comments which could be summarized in six words:  I don’t care what he said.

It is interesting to note the themes the Sun-Times keeps rehashing in this battle.  The first is to note how even though they do not have a pro-Cubs bias, the Sox aren’t worth covering (unless someone says something controversial and a negative column can be written about it).

The second theme is that Sox attendance is better than Cubs attendance, and this warrants the pro-Cubs bias that doesn’t exist.

The third theme is that U.S. Cellular Field should have been built elsewhere and that no amount of improvement will warrant anything positive being said about it.

The fourth theme is that when Sox attendance is good, it will not be mentioned.  When it is bad, the subject will be beaten to death.

Finally, and most importantly, even though there is no pro-Cubs bias, all coverage of the Sox will be reflected through the mirror of the Cubs. 

There is a sweet irony here.  The Sun-Times continues to alienate White Sox fans, who make up a sizable portion of their potential readership.  Their main rival in the city is the newspaper that is owned by the same company that owns the Cubs, but they neglect this potential source of income and continue to print articles that insult a sizable portion of their readership by continuing to be negative about the club these potential readers root for.

Unfortunately for Sox fans, the Sun-Times is not the only participant in this war who has spent a lot of their time alienating them.


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

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