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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Losing Frank and Maggs

by
Guy Bacci
 

As tired as you may be of hearing about the Billy goat, the Bambino, the Black Sox, or whatever other curse may be trendy at the moment, you have to admit that Chicago fans on both sides of town have earned the right to whine a bit this season. A summer that started with such high hopes has been tainted by the constant call of the ambulance siren, claiming high-profile victims such as Sosa, Prior, Wood, Thomas and Ordonez. At first, it seemed the Cubs were the most snake-bit team in town, but lately, the Sox clubhouse is the one resembling an infirmary ward. The two biggest Southside sluggers—Thomas and Ordonez—are out for two months, and possibly the entire season. 

This was supposed to be the magical summer that carried both Chicago teams into October, with each squad possessing an impressive rotation and powerful lineup. And indeed, if both teams had remained healthy, we’d likely be talking about potential playoff match-ups right now. Instead, both clubs are fighting for their post-season lives, and we’re left wondering how they’re going to survive, not how they’re going to celebrate division titles. 

As a testament to the depth and balance on Chicago’s rosters, the Cubs and Sox are still very much playoff contenders, despite the bevy of injuries. Even though the Cardinals have seemingly locked up the NL Central, the Cubs are the best team competing for the Wild Card (at least on paper). Meanwhile, the Sox could call up their entire Charlotte roster and still not be out of contention, considering the mediocre division they compete in.  

But these are not the discussions Chicago fans were hoping to have in late July. We’re stuck with questions we’d rather not try to answer: Can the Cubs overcome six other Wild Card contenders and sneak into the playoffs? Can the Sox withstand the loss of their two best hitters and still win the Central? We’d much rather be contemplating whether Garcia or Buehrle will be dueling Mark Mulder in Game One of the ALDS.  

Alas, no such luck. This is Chicago, where nothing on the baseball diamond comes easy. The Sox will have to go back to Small Ball, but they’ll have to be smart about it too. Small Ball does not include trying to steal third off Ivan Rodriguez, as Juan Uribe did last Friday. Not surprisingly, Uribe was thrown out by a few feet, allowing I-Rod to shake his head and smile smugly. Ozzie Guillen is about to be challenged like never before, and we’ll soon find out what he’s made of. 

I love Ozzie, I rooted for him to be hired, and I have enjoyed the way he handles his players and entertains the fans. He’s been everything I thought he would be. But he has his flaws. Ozzie’s execution of Small Ball has been inconsistent this season. He started by bunting just about everyone in the lineup, which only took the bat away from our lethal hitters and handed the opposition free outs. Then he seemed to abandon Small Ball entirely, almost fading into a Manuelesque style of management. Now he appears to be picking and choosing the situations in which he attempts to advance runners. As Hawk Harrelson has said on numerous occasions, Ozzie needed to learn what his players were capable of doing before solidifying a strategy. Well, he better know by now, and he better have a clear plan in mind for the rest of the season. 

Another minor gripe is that Ozzie has been nearly as much of a lineup-tinkerer as the former skipper. Part of that is due to injuries, but part of it is due to Ozzie’s tendency to go with his gut. I just hope his gut starts telling him that Willie Harris needs to be in the mix on a daily basis. Harris’ ability to draw a walk is sorely needed, and his speed on the bases is crucial. The Sox are going to need every run they can possibly get from now on. 

Ozzie has stated that Joe Borchard will have to prove he can hit to remain in the lineup. That’s a key statement, and one that Guillen must follow through on. If Borchard fails, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ross Gload get more swings as a DH. The Sox are still badly in need of a left-handed stick in the lineup. Another option could be the recently released John Olerud. I realize that Olerud is well past his prime, but he might be inspired by a pennant race. He’s also great at reaching base: He has walked as many times as he has struck out this season, and posts a .354 OBP despite a low .245 batting average. In addition, Olerud would not create any lineup trouble if and when Maggs and/or Frank return. Olerud would simply turn into a nice left-handed option off the bench. 

In contrast, obtaining a star like Carlos Delgado or Carlos Beltran would cost the Sox top prospects, and would create a lineup logjam when the team gets healthy. Kenny Williams seems to have already stripped the Sox farm system enough this season, saying, “I want to win now, but I also want to win next year and the year after that.” 

So it appears as if the Sox may have to survive with what they have. There will be no coasting to a division title this season. Once again, the Second City has been handed a raw deal by the baseball gods. If you really want to indulge in self-pity, listen to the words of Williams after meeting with Ordonez: “He was close to tears. I put my arm around him and hugged him. This injury breaks my heart.” 

Our hearts are broken too. But, as we’ve done for so many years in Chitown, we will keep hope alive. It’s what we do best. And when Joe Crede hits a walk-off homer in front of a full house on a Saturday night, you just have to wonder if all that hoping is finally going to pay off.


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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