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2005 "Character" Sox?

by Sox Fan "Jurr"

Many White Sox fans have been fed up with the state of the team in the three seasons since that magical run in 2000, when the Sox came out of nowhere to win the American League Central Division title.  This team has taken a power hitting approach for years, led by mashers such as Carlos Lee, Magglio Ordonez, Paul Konerko, and Frank Thomas. 

Yes, that lineup looks extremely dangerous on paper, especially when it's padded with the added slugging ability of former stars such as Jose Valentin, Ray Durham, and others.  All of that talent has gotten us nothing in return.  The team seemed to play like world champions on certain nights, mashing their way to 17-7 and 14-0 wins. 

The funny thing that constantly happened with this "Southside Hitmen" group was that more often than not, they would follow up a dominant offensive show with a sloppy effort against sub-par teams and pitchers.  How many times did we see the Sox handle a pitcher like Jamie Moyer or Tim Hudson, only to get shut out by the likes of Wilfredo Ledezma or Joe Mays? It sickened me to watch the team wait for the three run homer, take themselves out of innings with terrible baserunning, or extend innings for the opposition with their defensive butchery? In a hitter's park like U.S. Cellular Field (by the way, that name still doesn't flow like it should), these mistakes are absolute killers.

The driving force of these chronic problems never seemed to be resolved during the off-seasons of 2001, 2002, or 2003.  The front office would try to keep this power hitting core in place, while trying to add a "big name" pitcher like David Wells, Todd Ritchie, or Bartolo Colon. Sox fans would go to bed happy after these signings took place, under the impression that because they had seen these big names succeed elsewhere, they'd do the same for the Sox, bringing us closer to the pennant.  We'd have the paper champions of the American League Central every year, and we'd laugh at the Minnesota Twins' excuse for a roster. 

Why, then, did that no-name team constantly humiliate our beloved White Sox? That answer lies in a couple of areas, namely chemistry, heart, strong execution by fundamentally sound and focused players, and defense. Sprinkle in some good pitching performances, and the Sox would, as predictably as the tax day in April, fold up their season by September. 

The Sox have tried to answer that call this off-season by making some very risky moves, a lot of which have come under enormous scrutiny by fans.  This team we now see amassed does not look like a championship ball club.  Even with a couple of small additions later, this team would still not match up to the best in the AL. 

What, then, you may ask, do you have to look forward to for 2005? How could this team even come close to competing?  How about pitching, defense, mental focus, and chemistry?  The Sox have added Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, and Orlando Hernandez to the starting rotation.  Though these names aren't considered "top of the line starters", they do provide the Sox with a contrast in styles that will keep hitters off balance during a series.  Now, opposing hitters are going to have to deal with so many different looks and strengths during a Sox series, that they could have fits. 

With an upgraded pitching staff, we turn to the offense, which a lot of people in Sox circles believe is a severely downgraded unit.  Gone are the mashers we once cheered for in Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez.  Now, we're looking at oft-injured hitters like Jermaine Dye, Carl Everett, and Frank Thomas added to Paul Konerko and Aaron Rowand to anchor the lineup.  We see the streaky Juan Uribe and the terribly inconsistent trio Willie Harris, Ben Davis, and Joe Crede. Sprinkle in the unknown with Scott Podsednik, and you have an uneasy situation. 

Yes, these players all have question marks, and all of the question marks are based on past performances.  Who's to say that our young players don't step up and have strong years, much the same way that young Aaron Rowand did in 2004?  We do know that we've added some smarts on the field, some defense, and some base stealing ability.  This seems more like an offense capable of consecutive 3-2 wins than a team that's going to put up 14 runs one night and 0 the next. Pitchers are going to flourish with a better defense behind them, opposing pitchers are going to get irritated by a more heady and aggressive Sox offense, and hopefully Sox fans will be delighted to see "Ozzieball" played by a team that can actually perform the duties it's asked to do.

The last piece of this puzzle is the biggest.  That's chemistry, a set of intangible qualities that makes a tremendous difference in a sport where players labor through a hard 162 game schedule.  Preparation and fire seemed to be missing from this club when it faced a weaker opponent.  Two or three game skids found no end, and they ballooned to 7 or 8 game deficits.  They'd try to hang around to face a showdown with the Twins late in the season, and, when it would come down to crunch time, the heart of this team would be shown. 

The leaders of the old Sox regime would come to the forefront and quickly tuck tail and run in the face of a team with more heart and chemistry. The Twins out-willed us every time.  Now we see a team that has stripped itself of the selfish hitters.  Gone are the guys that overswing on pitches, only to strike out for the fifth time in a game.  Gone is the lack of attention to detail, leading to booted balls and bad angles on fly balls.  Now, we're looking at a team that has the tools to manufacture runs, pitch strong innings, keep the ball in front of its defense, and win the close game. 

Hopefully, those tools all come together and gel with the added character on the roster to produce when they need. These 2005 Chicago White Sox may not look great on paper.  They may not be loaded with statistical marvels at each position.  But, maybe the individual ingredients come together to make a great dish.  Maybe each player, because of mutual respect and trust, will raise his game for no other reason than to help the guys he cares so much about.

 Maybe that, and not a "paper champ" will get the Sox where they need to go.  Hopefully in hindsight, the 2005 Sox do just that.

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