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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Defending the title!

by
Guy Bacci

This has been one strange off-season for Sox fans. The Southside faithful had hardly wiped the champagne from their eyes before discovering that their beloved champions had morphed into an entirely new entity—built for an entirely new season—long before fans were ready to stop celebrating the season that had just passed. But with the changes came a unique sort of excitement. Next year’s club will be asked to do something no White Sox team has been asked to do since 1918—defend a World Series title.

The harsh realities of business leave little time for a championship honeymoon in the world of baseball. It seemed as if Paul Konerko filed for free agency on the flight home from Houston. Before the Thanksgiving turkey had even been carved, centerfielder Aaron Rowand was trying on a new Phillies cap (at least the guy got to attend the premiere screening of the World Series DVD the day before he was traded). With the acquisition of Jim Thome for Rowand, Sox fans had to meander the possibility of life after Frank Thomas and Carl Everett.

Just a week later, the joy over re-signing Paul Konerko was tempered by the thought of Thomas’ White Sox career coming to an end. Talk about a confusing mix of emotions—the first World Series in Sox fans’ lifetimes, the loss of a true grinder and lovable guy in Rowand, the re-signing of the team’s new superstar, and the loss of the team’s all-time greatest player.

In a fascinating way, the timing couldn’t have been any better for the Sox to cut ties with Thomas. If Jerry Reinsdorf were President of the United States, his pollsters would be ecstatic. How could you possibly lose the greatest player in franchise history and keep your approval rating sky-high? Answer: Win a World Series without said greatest player in franchise history, and re-sign the new star who won you the title.

But did the Sox truly win without Thomas? Tribune columnist Phil Rogers astutely pointed out in a recent column that the Sox were at their best in ’05 when Thomas was in the lineup. The Big Hurt added a punch to the offense that few could duplicate. When the Sox went on their season-defining run in mid-June, winning eight in a row and putting the Twins in their rear-view mirror, the team scored no fewer than four runs and reached double-digits three times. Thomas reached base in each of those games and had a hit and RBI in six of the eight. With the Indians making things close at the end, it can be argued that Thomas was a vital part of the ’05 championship.

That’s why Thome’s presence was essential before saying goodbye to the Big Hurt. If Thome has an injury-plagued ‘06 and Thomas thrives elsewhere, Reinsdorf’s pollsters may become concerned. But the probability is that Thomas will be the one to get re-injured. With that in mind, Kenny Williams had zeroed in on Thome months ago.

It’s classic Williams—falling in love with a particular veteran and being willing to give up highly touted prospects. Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood were well-thought-of left-handed hurlers within the Sox minor league system. In prior seasons, the Thome deal is precisely the type of move that would have many Sox fans in a panic. Is giving up three talented young players for a potentially over-the-hill slugger a wise idea? In any other year but this year, many Sox fans would have said no. But with the pitching the Sox already have, a left-handed slugger is about the only thing the champs were missing. Sure, they won the World Series without a left-handed slugger, but, as they say, lightning doesn’t strike twice.

What’s so impressive is that Williams is staying true to himself despite already achieving more than any other baseball GM in modern Chicago history. Williams has often said his goal is to turn the Sox into a franchise that competes for championships on a consistent basis and attracts marquee players as a result. It’s a daunting task with a mid-range payroll, but Williams always seems up to the challenge. Part of that challenge is having the nerve to trade the players you love for players you think will help you win.

Rowand’s departure is bitter sweet. He’ll always be remembered as the centerfielder on the 2005 world champions, and he clearly loved Chicago and the White Sox. He’s even pals with several members of the Bears. But he’s also eminently replaceable. While he played great defense, there are others who play equally well, if not better. His power numbers took a shocking decline in ’05—just 13 dingers while playing in a homer-friendly park. His average was a mediocre .270, and he didn’t deliver clutch post-season hits like Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Joe Crede. Brian Anderson, the likely replacement, seems to have the necessary grinder mentality and the defensive tools to boot.

The loss of Thomas is much more complicated. There’s no place for him on this team anymore, yet Sox fans will hate seeing his bulging biceps and intense glare on a different club—especially if it turns out to be the Twins or Indians. With Sox fans focused on purchasing World Series paraphernalia for the holidays, the departure of Thomas seems unfairly buried in the hearts and minds of Southsiders. Columnists continue to re-hash the overblown negatives of Thomas’ complex personality while glancing over his Ted Williams-like domination of baseball throughout much of the ‘90s.

Ten years ago, would you have imagined Thomas and Sammy Sosa would both leave Chicago with such little fanfare? Sosa’s hollow departure was warranted; Frank’s was not.

But in the shadow of a World Series title, even the massive frame of the Big Hurt is dwarfed. There are more rings to be won, thanks to the tenacity of Williams and a well-stocked pitching staff. Maybe when this ride is over and the Sox have gone back to promoting The Kids Can Play, the Thomas era will be revisited and rightfully commemorated.

Until then, adoration for players like Rowand and Thomas take a back seat to defending a title that’s still being celebrated.


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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