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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Sox Soap Opera!

by
Guy Bacci

Another half season of White Sox baseball is behind us, and it only seems fitting that it concluded with a mini soap-opera of sorts. Reportedly, GM Ken Williams wanted to use injured slugger Frank Thomas as a decoy for last Friday’s game against the Mariners, before sending Thomas to the DL. With Joe Borchard not scheduled to arrive from Charlotte until Saturday, it seemed like a reasonable request from Williams. But Thomas was having none of it, insisting he could hardly walk, let alone serve as a decoy. 

Ozzie Guillen, in his final smooth move of the first half, supported both Thomas and Williams, saying he could understand both sides of the story. Guillen has played multiple roles this season—mediator, family counselor, motivator, peacekeeper—and he’s done it with grace and style. He’s arguably the Sox first-half MVP, and while it may seem like a cop-out, I agree with his stance on the most recent controversy involving Thomas.  

On the one hand, I love Williams’ fiery attitude. GMs are typically elusive pseudo-executives, hiding in the upper offices, doing the dirty work, but protected from the fans and media. Williams is willing to step onto the front lines, answer all questions, take on all comers. Certainly it can be argued that a general manager shouldn’t be as prominent as Williams has been. Maybe he’s a tad unprofessional in the way he publicly exposes his players’ mistakes, such as when he reamed Jon Rauch earlier this season for leaving the clubhouse before the end of a game. But if fans have the right to vocally attack a GM, doesn’t the GM have a right to fire back? And wouldn’t you, as a fan, want to know that your GM cares passionately about your team?  

Former Seattle GM Pat Gillick is one of the most respected and professional general managers around. But during the past few years, he disappeared at the trading deadline, failing to pull the trigger on a trade and put the Mariners over the top. Fans in Seattle wondered whether he gave a hoot about winning a championship. Gillick remained hidden behind the tinted windows of Safeco’s luxury suites during most of his tenure, and as a result, he was driven out of town. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the GM who sticks his neck out every once in a while, and isn’t afraid to publicly rip his players when they make boneheaded decisions. 

But that’s not to say Thomas was completely in the wrong. If Big Frank couldn’t walk, then he wouldn’t have served as an effective decoy anyway. As it turns out, Thomas is out two months with a stress fracture, leaving an enormous hole in the Sox streaky lineup. There’s no way to replace Thomas’ league-best OBP, meaning that the Sox may continue to sputter for the foreseeable future. 

And yet, as surprising as this may sound, Sox nation doesn’t appear all that worried, which is a testimony to Williams and the faith he has instilled. In the pre-Williams era, a lengthy injury to the Big Hurt would have signaled the end of the season. But Williams doesn’t give up that easily. With Thomas’ season in jeopardy, there’s a feeling that Williams will aggressively pursue another bat, and maybe even—dare we dream?—The Big Unit. 

Just for the heck of it, I watched the tape from July 2nd of last year, when Thomas’ 12th-inning homer off Eddie Guardado gave the Sox a sweep of Minnesota—the first game with Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett in uniform. There were some interesting facts from that game: Billy Koch nearly lost the game, but was rescued by Paul Konerko’s pinch-hit homer in the 11th inning. Amazingly, that was Konerko’s fourth homer of the season. 

That victory remains one of the greatest I’ve ever seen, but also reminded me how fragile the Sox were last season. It reminded me how important it is that Koch is gone—finally—and replaced by a capable closer. It also reminded me how miserable Konerko was last year. Paulie has done a complete 180. And the bumbling Jerry Manuel is no longer around to mess things up. Most importantly, Chicago’s second-half schedule is easier than Minnesota’s, which was not the case in 2003. The fact that the Sox rolled into the 2004 All-Star break in sole possession of first place, compared to the dismal position they were in last year at this time—seven games behind Minnesota—proves they’re in it for the long haul, with or without Thomas. 

Indeed, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the second half of 2004. The good vibes have earned Jerry Reinsdorf his best first-half attendance since the ’94 strike, and with good reason. I can’t remember a Sox team with so much energy—from the aggressive GM to the spicy manager to the creative marketing director. Maybe it’s the pressure from blowing a two-game lead last September or seeing the Northside rivals nearly reach the World Series, but whatever it is, it’s working, and Sox fans are eating it up. 

The downside, of course, is that pressure and energy breed controversy, and the Sox have had their share. Arguably, it’s been the wackiest first half I’ve experienced as a Sox fan. The shouting matches at SoxFest, Ozzie’s expletive-riddled arrival in the spring, the flurry of one-run victories, major injuries to the team’s star players, fifth-starter roulette, Rauch’s big blunder, the acquisition of an ace pitcher, and constant bickering between Hawk Harrelson and Jay Mariotti ... What more could possibly happen in the second half? 

I don’t know, but I can’t wait to find out.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back.  He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player.  His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay).  Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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