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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Ron Rapoport.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive! ††

Every month Mark Liptak will speak with a former White Sox player or member of the media on the team, the history, and the issues. We hope you fans will get as much enjoyment reading it as White Sox Interactive does bringing it to you.

He may be one of the most distinguished sports journalists in the country. Sun-Times† columnist Ron Rapoport is a graduate of Stanford University and the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

In addition to his work for the Sun Times, he is a sports commentator for National Public Radioís "Weekend Edition with Scott Simon" and if you watched ESPNís "SportsCentury" you often saw him talking about the Chicago athletes featured in that series.

Rapoport has been a regular on the Chicago media scene since 1977, when he saw up close, the "Southside Hit Men." His career also includes stops at the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News and the Associated Press.

Sports isnít his only passion. He loves the "legitimate theater", a good movie, and is an afficionado of track and field. He is the author of "See How She Runs: Marion Jones & The Making of a Champion", as well as "Betty Garrett and Other Songs: A Life on Stage and Screen".(For those of you who donít know who Garrett is, she played Archie Bunkerís neighbor Irene on "All In The Family" and starred opposite Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly in the movie "Take Me Out To The Ball Game.")

Rapoportís wit and humor are his trademark in his column and he displayed those same characteristics when he spoke with WSIís Mark Liptak about the Chicago media, the White Sox organization and Sox fans.....

ML: Ron what was it about sports that attracted you; with your background going to Stanford and Columbia, why didnít you do something else?

RR: "I was always interested in sports and I always liked writing. Even as far back as high school I knew I wanted to write. It just happened that I went to Stanford and Columbia. I wasnít very good at sports but I enjoyed them. Iíve done some other things besides sports, not a lot, but thereís something about sports that attracted me."

ML: How did you get to Chicago to work?

RR: "I was working in Los Angeles in the 70's. I saw where the Sun Times was looking for a columnist so I applied and got the job. Newspaper writers are a lot like gypsies. Iíve worked twice in Chicago, twice in Los Angeles, New York, Minneapolis and San Francisco. Iíve been with the Sun Times from 1977 to 1988 and came back in 1996 so thatís what, 19 years."

ML: You use humor a lot in your writing and youíre one of only a few columnists who solicit input from the readers, I know youíve used a dozen or so items that Iíve sent you. Why do you take that approach to your column?

RR: "Iíve always felt that these were games. Fans should have some fun, the fate of the world isnít hanging in the balance. Iíve always thought if you canít have fun, whatís the point? I understand that a lot of serious issues go on in sports... drugs, crimes, greed by the owners and players, and thatís being covered to a greater extent then ever before by the other writers."

ML: Do you have any stories or incidents you can tell us from your days covering the Sox?

RR: "Nothing specific. I do remember the Sox when Bill Veeck owned them, he was a larger then life character. I remember him talking with Bob Lemon (then Sox manager), in that large complex the Sox had in Sarasota. I remember beers in the bards room. The Sox have had some wonderful people in the organization, like Roland Hemond. I enjoyed the "South Side Hitmen" guys like (Richie) Zisk, (Oscar) Gamble. 1977 was an interesting introduction to the team. I remember that 1983 team with characters like LaMarr Hoyt. I remember Jerry Dybzinski and his mistake in the playoffs and I remember him afterwards talking about it, not hiding. He was a man"

ML: A lot of Sox fans feel the Chicago media is "biased" against the team. Iím sure youíve run into this. When you do, how do you respond?

RR: "Itís an old idea. Bill Veeck for example, used to measure the inches in the newspapers devoted to the teams. Naturally I donít agree. I think it has to do with the fact that our job isnít to boost a team, itís to report. Itís a fact, one team draws about three million fans a year, the other canít draw two million. That reflects how the city feels and the media follow that lead. I also think the fact that the Cubs play day games help them. A reporter can go to the game, talk to the players, write his story, take his time and do other things. The Sox play so many night games, that it makes it a lot harder to do things other then just cover the game. Itís harder to write sidebar stories (Editorís Note: "sidebar stories" are features or profiles on players or events not directly connected with the game story), harder to assign extra writers. In 1997 when the Cubs made the playoffs, they got the bulk of the stories. The Sox got tremendous coverage in 2000 when they were winning."

ML: Youíve worked with the current ownership of the Sox for a long time. What do they do right and where have they gone wrong?

RR: "I couldnít comment on that, but the fans just arenít there. The Cubs have found a way to have success whether they win or lose. The Sox only draw when they win. I donít know if itís antipathy, anger...except what does it say when the Sox have basically a full house on half price Monday and the next day the park is empty? Iíve sat in Comiskey Park and I understand about the upper deck problems but the downstairs area is great. The sightlines are tremendous. It may be the best in baseball. It doesnít seem to make sense."

ML : Perception is a powerful thing and many Sox fans feel that current ownership hasnít done everything needed over the years to position the team to get to the World Series. What are your thoughts on that?

RR: "Is it that different from the Cubs? They havenít got to a World Series. Each team has to make their own decisions. Youíve got some like Jerry Colangelo (Diamondbacks owner) who felt it was worth the price to win. Down the road that may not turn out to be the best move but thatís what he decided. The Sox have decided to try to do it their way and not spend a lot of money. Itís very hard for me to spend someone elseís money. However, the Sox also have to live with the consequences of their decisions, the fans are displeased, and this is a two team market."

ML: Sox fans have heard a lot about the teamís financial problems. When Kenny Williams says the team canít even afford its current payroll, do you believe him?

RR: "I believe that he believes it. Someone in the organization showed him the numbers and he thinks they are believable."

ML: With all of the problems, why doesnít Jerry Reinsdorf sell?

RR: Because he genuinely loves baseball. Iíve been in his office and he has ticket stubs from games at Ebbets Field when he was a kid. When he made that comment about trading the six Bulls titles for a World Series title, I believe it. I think the Bulls success also has carried him through the tough times with the Sox."

ML: I sent you a one liner that you used a few years back. It was when the Sox had that "Turn Ahead The Clock" day. I asked if the Sox would have Mexico City on the jersey front. Unless ownership and the fans can come to an understanding could you see this franchise being moved or contracted?

RR: "I wouldnít think so. Despite all the faults they have, the Sox do really well in attendance when they win. If you remember this wasnít always a Cubs market. In the 70's there were many times the Sox outdrew the Cubs, in part because the ballpark held more fans then Wrigley Field,"

ML: Some in the media have written that Sox fans are overly critical of the organization and the team. In fairness to Jerry Reinsdorf, the Sox have had 12 winning seasons and three divisional titles in the 21 years heís owned them. Do Sox fans have legitimate reasons to be angry? Can the organization do more?

RR: "Short of winning, I donít think so. Sox fans are a pretty contentious bunch. Iíve browsed over the websites on the Sox, and there are a lot of very, very angry fans out there. If Iím the owner though, Iím glad that Sox fans care like they do. The worst thing that could happen would be if nobody cared at all."

ML: How do you think the team will do in 2002?

RR: I havenít been out to Arizona but from all Iíve seen, it doesnít look good. Both teams havenít done well; the Cubs are all injured and the Sox will be taking volunteers soon for the pitching staff. All the signs are not favorable."

ML: Do you think the Sox will ever get to a World Series? Say in the next fifteen years?

RR: "Who knows for sure. Why not? I mean thereís nothing in the water that keeps it from happening. I donít know why they couldnít, if they just get to the playoffs anything can happen."

ML: Talk to me a little bit about the current labor situation. Can we see another strike or lockout soon?

RR: "The climate is very bad. It reminds me of 1994 all over again. Both sides are sniping at each other, the owners are doing things and not even bothering to tell the players union about them, no one trusts each other. I think a lot of owners feel that they have a chance to get control of things again even though they havenít been able to do it for thirty years or so. I donít think anything will happen this year but I can certainly see a strike coming in 2003."

Editor's Note: †Mark Liptak is an experienced sports journalist, holding several awards for both his electronic and print media work. †He has held numerous sports reporting positions for various TV and newspaper†organizations, including Director of Sports for KNOE-TV (Monroe, Louisiana)†and KPVI-TV (Pocatello, Idaho), and sports writer for the Idaho Falls Free Press, where his column "Lip Service" has appeared for for a number of years. †"Lip", his wife, and cats presently live in Chubbuck, Idaho, where they collectively comprise 100 percent of the Pocatello River Valley's long-time Sox Fan population. †

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