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WSI News - Sox Interviews

Flashing Back...

...with Chris Rongey.

another EXCLUSIVE from White Sox Interactive!   

By Mark Liptak 

 At first glance, or first listen, it seems so easy. Just take phone calls and talk baseball. Cool. Anyone can do that

In reality though what Chris Rongey, the current pre and post game host on the White Sox radio network, does is far from easy. In its own way it’s just as difficult as what the Sox players and coaches have to put themselves through during the regular season.  

162 games…162 pre game shows, 162 post game shows. Sitting through three hour rain delays, waiting until a 16 inning marathon ends, coming back the next morning for a day game after a night game, going out to U.S. Cellular Field for interviews and to get background information, occasionally going on the road, hosting a weekend baseball show… and the homework…having to know what this pitcher’s ERA is against right handed hitters, or what the rookie just called up from Birmingham did or why Ozzie Guillen decided to bat this person against that pitcher based on the numbers.


Chris Rogney speaks!
The hardest-working man in White Sox baseball broadcasting, speaks directly to WSI's totally biased Sox Fans in this EXCLUSIVE interview!

It…is…a…grind (no pun intended). 

Now throw in the fact that in the heat of a pennant race, after a tough loss or because of a fluke play, fans are irate, some ready to hang anyone and everyone by their entrails. You have to try to control them (and yourself), you have to keep the message on point and analyze the game itself because that’s part of the job. 

Not so easy now is it? 

Yet Rongey loves his job. As a kid growing up in central Illinois, baseball became his passion. You can hear it in his voice during the shows and like another former Sox broadcaster, Harry Caray, Rongey is a fan first, a broadcaster second. He wants the Sox to win, he lives and dies with the team…the difference is though that when the studio light goes on he has to turn that part of himself off and do his job, where the average fan can just keep releasing that pent up emotion be it good or bad. 

I caught up with him after he spent a hectic week following the Sox in an August pennant race as well as moving into a new apartment complex (where current Sox outfielder Brian Anderson lives). It wasn’t easy because of the time issues, but it was a chance to talk a little more about White Sox baseball. For that Chris always has the time. 

ML: Chris tell me about growing up in central Illinois and weren’t you a Cardinals fan? 

CR: “I grew up in Granite City right across the river from St. Louis and yes the Cardinals were my National League team. If you live in that area basically it’s just the Cardinals and just baseball.  Other then the Cardinals there’s really not a whole lot to do in St. Louis. It’s funny, most people can tell you exactly when they went to see their first major league game but I was so young I don’t remember it. I’m thinking I was around five and that maybe it was a Cub-Cardinals game.” 

ML: So how did the White Sox connection get started? 

CR: “It was arbitrary at first. Growing up you collect baseball cards and you can’t just have a favorite National League team, I didn’t want to root for the Royals, so I picked the White Sox. But as I got older, when I went off to college at Illinois State I got to know a lot of Sox fans, some of my roommates were fans and we bonded. Both of us didn’t like the Cubs, then when I moved up to Chicago of course it got even stronger. I remember thinking in 2005 as I was watching the Sox season go along that ‘you know I wouldn’t mind if they won, if they beat the Cardinals. These fans have been through a lot… that would be OK with me.’ 

ML: So how did you get into the broadcasting business? 

CR: “That’s a funny story. Folks in this business know for a long time that is what they want to do. I didn’t…I knew that somehow I wanted to be in the entertainment business but I was originally thinking about film or TV production. At Illinois State I enrolled in some of those courses but they weren’t what I’d thought they’d be. The TV stuff was challenging and all but it just wasn’t right for me.” 

“Then my junior year a friend of mine and I tried out for the campus radio station. It was kind of on a whim. She didn’t make it and I did. I did that for a few years covering games and eventually becoming the news / sports director.” 

“After I graduated I was going to go to grad school to buy a little time. I didn’t want to leave the area and I know that at first in this business you generally have to go somewhere like Montana, for little pay and start working your way up. I didn’t have a problem with the low pay but I wanted to stay in this area so I was going to keep going to school.” 

“How I got my first “real” radio job is one of those things you can’t explain. It was at the end of my senior year, it was like in April or May, we were finishing up and I answered the phone in the broadcasting department. It was R.C. McBride who wanted the advisor; he was the guy who ran the station in Bloomington, WJVC. Anyway after I gave the phone to the advisor they talked and when the conversation was over she said to me, ‘he wanted to know why you didn’t send him a tape…he liked the sound of your voice.’  

”Well I got a tape together, sent it to him and got a job. It was an all news station like WGN radio is and I did the weekend news reports. I didn’t like it because it wasn’t sports and nothing much really went on there anyway, maybe some occasional bad weather. One of the things that I still remember from my time there was a lady called and wanted to know how late the mattress store was open! Seriously!! I’m thinking, ‘lady what would make you think that we’d know how late the store was open?’ We got another call one time from someone who wanted to know if anyone reported a lost turtle. (laughing) She was driving and saw a turtle walking along side the road, thought it was lost and checked on it.”   

ML: Well you said it yourself, to get to Chicago you go via Lexington, Kentucky…Louisville, then Indianapolis then if you’re good, you get a shot in Chicago. You didn’t, you went from Bloomington to Chicago in one jump. Chris that doesn’t happen very often and you know it. 

CR: “Again I was lucky. I was in the right place at the right time. I loved Chicago, this was where I wanted to be but at the time I was trying to find my way. A friend and I were at a Cardinals game and the guy directly behind us was talking about how he knew all these NFL guys and that he was an agent and so on and I’m hearing this thinking, ‘yea right!’ So I turned around and started talking to him and honestly he was an agent named Harold Lewis! I told him I needed a job and I wound up getting an internship with his company. I didn’t work with him but with the marketing side, I helped arrange charity events for guys on the Rams and the Chiefs. It was a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong but it wasn’t fulfilling. So I made two tapes and sent them out to ESPN radio in Chicago and WSCR. A few weeks later I got a form letter back from ESPN radio and figured I was out of luck.” 

“But then one day I got a call from Mitch Rosen, the program director at WSCR. He heard my tape, liked it, and asked what I was doing because there might be an opening in a month or so. I told him that I always wanted to work in Chicago and would do anything and sure enough the guy who was doing score updates left to take a job at WBBM radio and I replaced him. That’s how it all started. I did that for about a year along with some occasional fill in work, I covered the Sox World Series parade for example.” 

“Around that time period Mitch told me there was a chance that they’d be getting the Sox radio contract and I immediately let him know that I’d love to be a part of the operation. I’ve loved baseball since I was a kid in Little League and like I said, the Sox were my American League team.” 

ML: So you get the gig to do the pre and post game shows starting on opening night 2006. But you were replacing a really popular guy in Dave Wills. That’s not an easy thing to do… he was a known commodity, his love for the Sox and dislike for anything Cub was well known and he was a broadcasting pro. How did you approach trying to take over for him? 

CR: “The first thing I said to myself was that I would not try to be like Dave. I have to be me and do this the way I want to. Dave was great in this job and he’s a very good announcer because he got the chance to do the Rays, I just saw him when they came to town but I knew that if I tried to be him, the fans would see right through it. I’ve taken my share of criticism but at least no one can say, ‘why are you trying to do this like him?”   

ML: You’ve been doing this now for almost three seasons, how have you changed from the first show in April 2006 to today? 

CR: “That’s a good question. I’ve gotten more comfortable in the role. I’m a very, very passionate fan, I’d put my feelings for the White Sox up against any other fan. That’s where I think I’ve changed, I’m better now at being more level headed after a tough loss or in dealing with a fan who just makes a really ridiculous comment. When the game is over I’m better able to take a step back and say, ‘OK, let’s take a good look at things, especially long term, not just right now in the heat of the moment.” 

ML: You mention criticism. At White Sox Interactive there appears to be two schools of thought on your show. One is that you have every right to say just about anything you want to a fan that comes across frankly as dumb. The other is that this is the fans show and that unless they are drunk on the air or are making racial, sexual or vulgar comments, it’s your job to be courteous, hear them out and comment in a respectful manner. My sense of you Chris is that you don’t suffer fools gladly, to quote Shakespeare and that if you are going to make a comment on the air you better be prepared to back it up. 

CR: “That is exactly correct, 100% on the mark. If you are going to make a claim that ‘Konerko sucks’ you need to back it up. I try to think everything through when the game is going on and when it’s over. I’m not perfect but I try to do that, sometimes I don’t think the fans do. Here’s an example, after the Sox blew that Saturday game to Tampa I got a call from a fan who said that Javier Vazquez didn’t pitch a great game and why did I keep saying that. So I asked the guy, ‘you watched the game right? You know he had a perfect game in the 6th inning?’ The guy said yes but said that if he was pitching so well why did he allow four runs? I explained to him that those runs were charged to him but it was Matt Thornton who gave them up, not Vazquez… when he left he only allowed one run to score. I asked the guy does he judge the performance of a starting pitcher by the runs he’s charged with, even though it was the bullpen who allowed them to score? He said yes and that’s fine I give him credit for sticking to his guns, but that’s what I mean by, you need to back it up.”  

ML: At least to some degree, your job is dependent on the White Sox saying ‘OK’ to having you do the show and that’s a fine line to balance…how to be critical of the team without possibly jeopardizing your job. So how do you make the distinction? 

CR: “I hear the words ‘mouthpiece,’ ‘company man’ a lot. I can only tell you that the only time the White Sox have ever said anything to me about the show is when they have some available tickets, they’ll ask me to mention it. When some of the players are doing a charity event, they’ll ask me to let the public know about it. I was recently asked to mention the fantasy camp that takes place in Tuscon in January but that’s it. They have never told me what to say or to not say anything bad about the team.”  

“There have been times when Bob Grim and I have talked about some of the things I’ve said directly to a caller. (Author’s Note: Bob is the White Sox Senior Director Of Business Development & Broadcasting) But that has never been ‘don’t say anything bad about the team,’ it’s been along the lines of why I got into it with the caller and a suggestion that I should try to avoid that.” (Author’s Note: Bob and I spoke about Chris when I interviewed him for White Sox Interactive. It never appeared in the story itself because it didn’t really fit, but what Bob said was that he thought Chris was doing a very good job and that the issues that he sometimes finds himself in are caused by “inexperience.” Bob said that over time Chris will learn how to better handle these things when they come up.) 

“It’s funny because this is what I do, but I’ve never been a fan of sports talk radio. It’s too reactionary. I don’t like to jump on players because it is very hard to perform on a day to day basis in front of 40 thousand fans, but that being said, I will do it, but I’ll do it respectfully. I don’t have to make my comments personal. That’s what a lot of sports radio does and that’s wrong.” 

ML: True, talk radio does appeal a lot to the emotionalism of the moment. How do you try to avoid that? 

CR: “There is a middle ground in this, that’s what I try to find. Fans should have the right to express an opinion but I also have to be conscious of the fact that if a person is saying something that’s ‘off’ there are a lot of fans saying to themselves ‘tell this guy to shut up’ or to ‘let it go.’ This is talk radio right? And to me that’s a chance to exchange ideas so I also have the right to question where this fan is coming from. There’s nothing wrong with thinking differently but again if you are going to do that, give me a reason or two. I don’t like people to overreact. I’m a fan yet I try to logically look at the situation.” 

ML: What have you learned about Sox fans in your time spent dealing with them? 

CR: “I don’t know if I’ve learned anything new remember I’ve been around a lot of Sox fans since college. Both Cardinal and Sox fans are among the best in baseball, very passionate, very smart, both are good fan bases but there are differences.” 

“I know the Cardinals have this reputation of being ‘perfect fans,’ but that’s not true. I’ve been in the stadium when they were booing Dennis Eckersley and he was screaming right back at them on the way to the dugout.”  

“Sox fan are less forgiving than other fan bases like the Cardinals, and I think a lot of that has to do with history. St. Louis has had 12 championships including two in my lifetime… until 2005 there were very few Sox fans alive who remembered 1917.” 

“Sox fans also demand a good effort and I understand that although sometimes I think Sox fans and a lot of fans confuse effort with success. You can be playing as hard as you can and still lose the game or have a bad season.” 

ML: How would you sum up your three years and where do you want to be in five years? 

CR: “I understand I’m not perfect, I’m very passionate about the Sox and sometimes that spills over. I’m working on getting over tending to argue and letting certain fans get my goat and I’ll continue to stress taking a step back and letting the logical side of my personality take over. Ultimately my dream job would be doing play by play for a major league team. If that was with the Sox that would be absolutely great.” 

ML: Let’s step back to on field action. As of this conversation, no one knows if the Sox will win the division, take the wild card, or be sitting at home again the first week of October, letting another golden opportunity go past them like in 2003 and 2006. However this season winds up though, do you have any overriding feelings about it? 

CR: “I’m so happy that the Sox have played the way they did and have been in the race. So many people were saying things during the winter and remember the “experts” said this was a 3rd place team, some even said a 4th place finish. It’s just great they have shown those people to be wrong.” 

ML: The team does have issues though, the inconsistent ‘station to station’ offense, the streakiness, the injuries… what do you see as the biggest issue they’ve had, win or lose in 2008?  

CR: “I don’t think the team is as station to station as some people claim, sure they could use more speed but when they are hitting the ball, running the bases doesn’t seem to be a problem does it? To me the biggest issue is the lack of two out hitting. Look at that suspended game in Baltimore (Author’s Note: A game the Sox lost 4-3 in 14 innings). If Jermaine Dye can get some kind of hit with two out and the bases loaded, they win the game. That game was just so unusual and normally when the game is over I start to let it go, but I don’t know, that day it was bothering me all through the between games show and even into the nightcap. Those games that you should win eventually add up. I don’t know why they struggle so badly with two out and guys on base.” 

ML: Again, however this season turns out, the off season figures to be very interesting. Orlando Cabrera is gone, Joe Crede is probably gone, Jose Contreras is probably done as a pitcher so they are going to need another starter. They may try to trade Paul Konerko and give first base to Nick Swisher, you’ve got the Jim Thome contract situation and they may ask Ken Griffey back at a severely reduced contract… but I’m hearing the names of Chone Figgins and Orlando Hudson a lot, from a lot of different sources as the new 3rd baseman and 2nd baseman respectively next year with Alexei Ramirez moving to shortstop. If that’s true what does that tell you? 

CR: “It tells me that Kenny (Williams) is trying to do what Ozzie Guillen has been asking for and that’s more balance. He wants those two guys because of their bat control. Put them in the Sox lineup and suddenly Ozzie can hit and run more, he can put guys in motion on the bases and those guys can advance them around for the sluggers.” 

“Now that doesn’t mean that Kenny hasn’t tried to do this in the past. Remember every team has a list of needs but if you can’t get plan A for example, or plan B, that doesn’t mean you just don’t do anything. You go to plan C. Take getting Griffey at the deadline… I know the Sox needed pitching help, Kenny knew that and he tried very hard to get it. (Author’s Note: Newspaper accounts quoted two G.M.’s anonymously as confirming this.) But because he couldn’t, does that mean he shouldn’t do anything to help improve the team? He gave up two spare parts in Nick Masset and Danny Richar for a guy who can help…I don’t have a problem with that.” 

“I also know that the Sox would really like to move Dye to DH next season so we’ll have to see how that plays out.” 

ML: You also have some thoughts on Josh Fields don’t you? 

CR: “I wasn’t there when Josh was told that he was being sent back to Triple A – Charlotte but I’ve spoken to a number of people who were and they tell me he was absolutely devastated. I don’t understand that response. Did Josh really feel that if Joe Crede was healthy that he was going to get the starting position? Crede is a guy who plays Gold Glove caliber defense and who had some of the biggest moments in the Sox drive to a World Championship. Josh was not going to be starting over him. I know that Josh has been hurt at times this year and maybe he didn’t get as much of a chance when he was called up in July but there are a lot of people who think he has regressed. It wouldn’t be a shock to me if the White Sox traded him this off season, and based on Ozzie Guillen’s comments at the time, Boone Logan either.” 

ML: As we start to wrap this up Chris, I’m wondering, what’s a typical day for you like during the season? 

CR: “When the Sox are at home, I'll get to the park when the clubhouse doors open...for a 7:11 game that's 3:30.  Of course, I conduct the daily Don Cooper interview and then grab someone for "Inside the Park".  Other than that, you're having conversations with some of the players to find the little things about what's going on, how they feel, etc.  When you're in the clubhouse and dugout before the game is when you'll find out a lot about what is happening with the team..the stuff you can't get by just watching the games.  At around 5:30 - 6, I'll head upstairs to the broadcast booth and send the interviews to the station for the pregame and look over the game notes for both teams and see if there is anything I missed.  I also have internet access so I can look for any last minute stuff before we go on the air.” 

“As for the postgame show, during the game I'm naturally keeping score and taking notes (either written or mental) about things going on during the game.  What's funny is that during the course of the game, I see things that I know will be post game topics for callers.  I pretty much know every phone call I'm going get before I get it because as it's happening on the field, I have a good idea of whether or not it's something that will prompt discussion.” 

ML: And finally Chris what happens during the off season? I assume that as soon as the season is over you don’t want to have anything to do with baseball for at least a little while. 

CR: “I usually take the first couple of weeks off after the season ends...hopefully this time that won't happen until November.  Other than that, I still work at the Score doing White Sox Weekly on Saturdays and anchoring at the update desk a couple of times a week.  A lot like what I was doing before I started with the Sox.” 

 


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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