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Those Who Doubt!

by Mark Bauknecht

At this point in time, specifically if you’re a Cub fan perpetuating the stereotype of a wine-sipping sissies still displacing blame for years of suffering on some poor goat or schmuck out in left field, you have started to cast your doubts on the success of these surprising South Siders.  And who can blame you?  For the most part, none of you saw the Marlins coming, until they struck the hull of the Cubs playoff raft like an iceberg shredding the unsinkable Titanic.  With runs hemorrhaging like the water through the decimated bow, not even Blue Cross(Kerry Wood) and Blue Shield the Wonderboy(Mark Prior) could stop this Punch and Judy ball club from smothering Cub hopes, then moving on to bigger and better things, and beating a real team, the defending champion New York Yankees.

 Ah, yes, the REAL team.  This is a great cry for the doubters, who have the White Sox beaten this year?  Kansas City? Laughable.  Detroit?  Do they still have a major league ballclub?  Then Tampa and Oakland….please!  Yep, they certainly have had their share of pushovers…but for those of you looking for some substance, some proof of talent that the White Sox may have played anyone, just anyone this year….well, the numbers are extremely disturbing, specifically for those who admire and are students of history.  Let’s break down exactly how impressive these White Sox are, with respect to not only the pitching staffs they have faced, but also the amazing permanent mark on history they have made.

 First off, let’s address the easiest cry of all;  “They haven’t plaaaaayed anybody…….neener neener neener!”

 Currently, there are 17 teams in the majors with winning (+.500 ) records.  Of those, the split is nearly even, 9 teams in the National League, and 8 in the American League.  This means that roughly, slightly over half of baseball is what would be considered ‘good’ teams.  In the National League however, four of the 9 teams are either at .500 or one game over at most.  The majority of the dominant, or alpha teams would reside in the American League at present, with the Alpha Wolf, if you will, residing at 35th and Shields in Chicago’s southern persuasion.  Of these teams in the AL with these records, the

White Sox currently have played Minnesota(1st), Texas(2nd) , Baltimore(1st), Anaheim(1st), and Toronto(2nd Tie).  The standing record against these teams is 14-5 with an ERA of 2.45.  This represents the greatest ERA against winning ballclubs in either American or National leagues, with the Marlins next in line at 3.31.  This, however, does not give credit to starting pitching, which has a combined 1.58 ERA against winning teams.  The only teams that the White Sox have not played in the AL with winning records would be Boston, at a meager 25-20, and the New York Yankees, who just recently became smoking hot, against a streak of teams with a combined winning record of 35-55.(Oakland and Seattle).  Of course, at 14-5, the percentage of victories represents less than half of their wins.  Then again, they are the only team with more than 10 victories against winning ballclubs.  We will not of course take into consideration that both Seattle, Kansas City, and Detroit had winning records when they started out playing the White Sox, then, the victories would tally an insurmountable 73% of the wins this season.

 In the last ten years of baseball, the 28-12 start does not rank above the best, as the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners 31-9 simply is better over the first 40 games of the season.  The White Sox are however, only the 35 team since 1969 (oh, what a great year, Cub Fans) when division play began to win at least 27 of their first 40.  Only five of those teams failed to make the playoffs, so history does indeed smile on the fast start.  The hottest team in history blisters the White Sox, as the 1984 Tiger went 35-5 before beating the Cubs, err, Padres in the World Series.

 What those White Sox ARE doing very well, is playing Playoff baseball in the Spring, where one run games are king, and hitting is sporadic at best.  The brand of baseball they are employing is a throwback, a fundamental game, a cerebral game.  In the era of big home runs, and juiced players, we want power as fans, and defense and pitching is supposed to be there just to retrieve the shots from the higher paid stars in the league.  The higher paid stars, however, are also having a time with Sox pitching.  Tejada, Soriano, Palmiero, and Hunter for example are hitting a meager .219, with 3 homeruns, and 6 RBI, 3 of the RBI coming on one swing off Hunter’s bat.  Although the Sox team batting average is near the middle of the pack, scoring only 4.49 runs per game, the defense is yielding only 4.48.  Not much, one would say.  One would be correct, but this is also a testament to the fire test the White Sox are being held to this season, as their record in one run games is 15-5.  This will prove useful down the road, as in June and July, the scores are more 8-2, and 7-3, whereas October yields games of 3-1, 4-3, and 2-1.  As for cerebral, just ask Derek Lee, who can do nothing but smile at Uribe, and admit, “yep, you got me.”  We’re waiting to see what happens to Dusty if the Sox purposely drop an infield fly with bases loaded, when the Series comes to the South Side in June.  We can find out which sacred unwritten commandment of winning was broken then.

 Now the most staggering statistic might be taken for granted:  The streak of 37 games having a lead at the beginning of the season.  Only the 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers were more proficient at winning in what would be their swan song in New York.  This was also the year they went on to win the pennant, and ignite the dreams of another title in the hearts of their young, crushed fans, most notably, Jerry Reinsdorf.  To put this into perspective, we revisit the wisdom of Crash Davis, in the cult classic, Bull Durham:

 "Do you know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? That's 25 hits...25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points...ok. There's 6 months in a season. That's about 25 weeks, that means if you get just one extra flair a week, just one. A gork, you get a ground ball, you get a ground ball with eyes! You get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week and you're in Yankee Stadium."  

 The same rule applies to this great game.  One error, one duck snort, one bad start, one bad pitch, and this streak stops at 15, 10, or even 2.  The focus, skill, concentration, and trust in each other are the values that we try to instill as parents into our young ballplayers when we’re not trying to kill the ump or each other in the stands.  Guillen has refocused the pampered athlete, and transformed this group of mediocre ballplayers, into a team.  One where egos are left at the clubhouse door, and they work toward that common goal.  That goal is winning, and right now, they are doing it better than any other team in the majors.  Whether it’s the underrated Buehrle, or the well traveled Cubans, Fiery Freddy Garcia, or the new and improved John Garland, they have 5 number one starters, and the future, Brandon McCarthy, waiting, just in case.  A bullpen that is made of closers, who supposedly couldn’t get the job done.  Hermanson, Politte, Vizcaino, coupled with Takatsu, the kid, Cotts, and Everyday Marte, they are a core that represent a greater mystical purpose.  A team that is simply not playing the Orioles, Twins, and Red Sox, but their own history.

 The White Sox put a black eye on baseball in 1919.  Disgraced the very fabric of the Pastime, and youth every through tears and disbelief, cried, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”  The 8 ballplayers banned condemned an organization to mediocrity, and for years needed to play second fiddle to America’s team, the Yankees, as the Second City brand became all to accurate.  What is so poetic, and yet so ironic, is now, in this new millennium, where the Yankees are pressed by allegations of player steroid use, the Cubs are overcharging their fans with their own brand of scalping, and Major League Baseball is so hard at work trying to spin the scandals into a positive light, there is a great story evolving.  Salaries, drugs, and fraud, one team that was at the epicenter of scandal, is now bringing the Game back to a time where it all was light.  Laughter and excitement return to the ballpark, and while Joe Crede is not Buck Weaver, and Scott Podsednik is no Joe Jackson, we have an opportunity to witness an absolution, by the organization who defined defilement. 

 So go on back to your wine and Dockers, Cub fans, continue to convince yourselves that those North Side Corporate puppets represent the city of broad shoulders  As Cubbies shoulders sag and wilt into the months of June and July, and then completely fall into the months of August and Obscurity.  Don’t forget to pick up the arms of your young stars on the way out, as Dustiny will become more and more scared to dip into the bullpen, and Prior will be forced to shut down with another phantom injury to extend his career just long enough to sign with the Braves.  In the mean time, doubters, naysayers, please….tell me this.  You say you can’t win unless you hit homers….the Sox are 5th in the majors with 53, tied with St. Louis.  You say can’t win without pitching…they have a 3.17 team ERA, and the most quality starts in the Majors at 44.  I know…they can’t hit…but they still score more runs than they allow.  They have a brat for a catcher, a guy who started his career at 29 as their leadoff hitter, and a group of old Sox players that no nothing except for a what Jerry Reinsdorf instilled in them.  Wait though, isn’t that promotion from within?  Like they do in corporations who reward loyalty, and that late blooming rookie has more steals than the rest of the central combined, and Pierzynksi is all but burying the memory of Carlton Fisk.    But they still have to scratch and claw out runs, to win, to survive, ….just like…we….all…do…everyday….well…that’s not the Yankees, that’s not pretty.

 No, it’s not.  It’s pretty ugly.  Winning Ugly.  And what’s more, get used to it, ‘cause it’s not a New York thing…. to quote the Untouchables,

 “It’s the Chicago Way.”

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