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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Dimming Lights

by
Guy Bacci

As if the final act of this disappointing sequel couldn’t turn any crueler, a familiar character makes a dramatic entrance and slays the protagonist in tragic fashion. The lights go dim. The curtain closes quickly.

A full-count fastball delivered by Jose Contreras with first base open—the pitch that many Sox fans may remember as slamming the door on 2006—was launched into the left field seats by that ever-so-familiar, one-handed-Hriniak swing. It was the same swing that buried the Sox all weekend long in the House of Horrors, formerly known as the Oakland Coliseum, currently known as McAfee Coliseum, sponsored by a company that creates anti-virus software. Too bad the Sox couldn’t find a cure for the virus that spread around their clubhouse all season long.

It was like a permanent flu that resulted in bad pitching, untimely hitting, questionable managing, and a curious lack of desire to return to glory.

The excuses are starting to come from media and fans alike. The pitchers were tired from a long October; the boys lacked motivation after winning last season; nagging injuries beleaguered the team ... Funny how that didn’t seem to deter Atlanta during a 14-year reign, or the Yankees from winning yet another division.

And with Frank Thomas, of all people, putting the final hurt on his former club, Kenny Williams must be wondering how his seemingly brilliant off-season turned out to be such a bust. He must have wondered for a brief moment how the Sox might have looked with the village idiot still on the roster. Sox fans never thought they’d ask, but: Was Jim Thome really necessary?

Many fans cringe at the mention of Aaron Rowand, whether it’s because they miss him or because they’re tired of hearing the theory that his absence was costly. But take a minute to imagine a season without Brian Anderson’s strikeouts or Rob Mackowiak’s misplays. Imagine a year void of the centerfield soap opera that plagued the club from start to finish. Imagine a red-hot Frank Thomas putting the Sox on his shoulders and carrying them through the dog days of August and September.

Far fetched? Maybe. But instead, the Sox finished with a slumping Thome constantly grounding into the shift. They had a mess of minor leaguers attempting to contribute during a pennant race.

Those who are sick of hearing about Rowand will immediately argue that pitching is to blame. And they’d be right. It’s always about pitching. Following that line of logic, though, the Thome trade was superfluous. It was unnecessary. It didn’t matter because the fate of the season was in the pitchers’ hands anyway. So why break up the chemistry that won a World Series? Why trade away a centerfielder who had already demonstrated he could hit major-league pitching and track down major-league fly balls? As for the DH, wasn’t Thome just as much a risk as Thomas?

Funny how we ask these questions now, but we never asked them before. Some of us fell into the trap of thinking Williams was bullet proof. We assumed he had the blueprint to the master plan that would deliver multiple World Series to Chicago.

And maybe he did. Maybe he was sabotaged by lack of heart and queer managerial decisions. (That’s right, Ozzie, I just called your managerial decisions queer.) Guillen would be the first to admit he didn’t have a great year. Will the players admit they didn’t have the same drive in ’06 as they did in ’05?

The Tribune ran an interesting article detailing ten games from 2006 that got away—games the Sox clearly should have won, which, if they had, may have put them in the playoffs. When it’s that easy to find ten games, there are probably five more. And that points to a lack of execution and lack of focus.

What hurts fans the most is the possibility that the men on the field simply didn’t want to repeat as much as they did. Baseball is a cruel game, muddled in a long season that requires a lot of ambition to perform on a daily basis. Clearly, Kenny needs to get his grinders back.

“You win a championship or you don't, and if you don't, the grade is an 'F,' regardless of the different reasons for it,” Williams said. “It's funny because every day that we lose, I feel like I haven't brought in the right ingredients for us to win. I feel like it all rests on my shoulders.”

Those are the kind of comments we love to hear. When they’re spoken, we’re willing to give Williams several more chances to repeat October glory. But just days later, Williams contradicts himself by saying that 20 years from now, he’ll still believe in the team of 2006. Sox fans appreciate the first quote much better.

Make no mistake, the window of South Side momentum is already closing. One successful Cubs season could turn the tide faster than a tsunami. As Hawk might say, the Sox had a “golden opportunity” to expand their fandom this year. But going M.I.A. for the post-season will stall that effort in its tracks.

The Sox need to erase ’06 with a magical ’07. For a franchise that is often too quick to cut loose its legends, it seemed oddly fitting that Thomas would be the one to turn off the lights on the party that had been going on since October 2005. Kenny and the Sox have a critical off-season in front of them. The diehards will never leave, but casual fans are a fickle bunch. Last year’s World Series gripped them like no other baseball season had. They crave more of the same. Unfortunately, Part II was tragic. But, as stories go, it often is.

Part III needs to deliver the goods.


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.

More features from Guy Bacci here!

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