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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

It's Time--to face facts!

It's time for Sox fans to stop acting like hope springs eternal Cub fans.  It's time to stop talking about attendance improving with victories or attendance just improving.  It's time to realize that a World Seriesis not just around the corner.  It's time to face facts.

The Chicago White Sox franchise is in serious trouble.

Over the past few years there has been a great deal of hand wringing over the second class status of the White Sox in Chicago.  Some people act like this is something new; others have no idea why the Sox continue to play second fiddle to the Cubs even though the Sox have had more success on the field.  Saying this is a Cubs town or blaming the media or the fans provides no explanation for the continuing downslide of a charter member of the American League.

During the late '60's and early '70's the Allyn family ran the team into the ground.  Seeing their 1968 team not even average one home run every other game, the Allyns decided to shorten the home run dimensions at old Comiskey.  But instead of just moving the plate out, the Allyns installed make shift fences in front of the old wall.  Stately Comiskey looked like a little league field and home runs that fell in between the new fence and the old were tainted.  By the time the John Allyn looked to sell in 1975, the team was nowhere near Word Series contention, and fan interest had almost totally evaporated.  One good thing was that the dumb looking fences were taken down after only two seasons.  There was no evidence that they helped in any way except for making Wrigley look even better in comparison. 

Bill Veeck was a great baseball man.  However, his teams of the late '70's were horrible to watch.  He tried telling us that Claudell Washington, Thad Bosley and Chet Lemon was going to make a great outfield.  Disco Demolition embarrassed the team beyond belief.  By the end of 1980,
attendance dropped below a million once more, and no one knew when the team would start winning again.  The team was in almost as bad a shape as when Veeck bought it in late 1975.

Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn followed.  They got some quick results with the 1983 division title but the rest of the '80's were almost as bad as the late '70's.  Promoting Ken Harrelson was just plain dumb.  The team went through a successful yet painfully slow rebuilding period.  1993 brought another division title, but the 1994 strike had a devastating effect on baseball and the Sox.  Attendance plummeted and team-fan relations worsened to new lows.

Then came the 1997 trades and real animosity between the club and its fans manifested and fed on itself.  Current players are perplexed over the relatively low attendance in late 2000 when the Sox were putting together the best record in the American League.  The media lectured fans anytime it had the chance.  The whole atmosphere around the ball club just plain stunk.

In researching my book, Through Hope and Despair, I found that nothing has really changed in over the last 30 plus years.  The press hasn't understood the low fan interest, the owners have lacked credibility, and the team went through decade after decade without appearing in a World Series.  Many wondered about the future of the club and couldn't come up with explanations about why Chicago was a lovable loser town.

My answer is this: since losing a great chance to go a World Series in 1967 by losing the last five games of the season to two sub-.500 teams, the Chicago White Sox have continually shot themselves in the foot, chasing their fans away and allowing the ever and constant losing Cubs take over the city.   The effects of these cumulative efforts has drained the franchise and helped define the term "fan alienation."  It was not surprising that the Sox still couldn't draw well even when they were wrapping up a division in 2000.

Another division title will not be a cure all for the Sox especially in today's diluted playoff system.  A World Series might not help as much as it would be imagined.  This team has serious problems and a dubious future.  Winning alone won't solve everything, and we don't even know if the team can win.  The team needs to re-connect with its fans.  It is time for try some different approaches that I will propose in my next column.

Editor's Note:  Dan Helpingstine is a free lance writer living in Highland, Indiana.  In the early 80's, he worked as a stringer for The Times, then based in Hammond, Indiana, covering business-labor news.  For six years, he worked as a part-time sportswriter for the Merrillville Herald, a weekly that was a part of a chain of weeklies in Lake and Porter Counties.  He covered high school football and basketball.  In 1995, Helpingstine had a short story published in a murder mystery anthology entitled Murder Is My Business.  He also has had articles on the JFK murder published in the Post-Tribune of Gary.  His new book is titled "Through Hope and Despair."  It is the story of one fan's roller coaster ride with the luckless White Sox.

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