Saturday, September 24, 2011

White Sox readying to set foundation for a decade of on-field mediocrity

The way things are looking these days, I expect the 2010s are going to be a period of mediocrity for the Chicago White Sox.

Forget about any American League championships or World Series titles. Heck, this team will be lucky to get a lone playoff appearance – as in they’ll be the team that gets knocked out in the first round.

NOT EXACTLY WHAT White Sox fans desire, particularly since many still want another league championship to help verify the historic legitimacy of 2005. Six seasons and counting since the White Sox actually fulfilled the goal of 29 of the 30 major league teams.

The Chicago Cubs seem more interested in promoting ivy and cheap beer, but that’s a commentary for a different day – and an issue upon which I sympathize for legitimate baseball fans who happen to be deluded enough to pay attention to activity north of Roosevelt Road.

What’s causing me to be in this depressive funk?

It is the fact that everybody seems to be counting down the days until the season’s end – which is Wednesday when they play their final game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

I’M SURE THERE are many people who are eagerly anticipating an announcement by the ballclub that field manager Ozzie Guillen (who, like it or not, has been one of the most successful in team history) has been let go.

As in fired! Dismissed! Terminated! Canned! Stuffed in the toilet bowl of life and flushed into the Chicago River!!!!!!!

Which is an act that I think would be a mistake.

Yes, I’m one of the few people who’d like to see Guillen remain with the ballclub for another season – and for much longer if there are signs that the funk of 2011 can be overcome.

THIS WAS AN annoying season for White Sox fans – who at times rooted for a team that showed signs of why it was a legitimate contender for a championship this season. With the way the players played, I can't envision how Guillen could have done better?

With that depressing season start back in April, the only reason the White Sox remained serious contenders until early September was because everybody else in the American League’s central division was mediocre to bad.

Put Justin Verlander and his 24 victories on the New York Yankees (which may happen someday, regardless), and the Detroit Tigers without the league’s real MVP become depressingly mediocre.

Everybody wants to blame it on Ozzie, even though one could say he did the best he could with a roster provided to him by General Manager Ken Williams that had as its big bat a ballplayer who had one of the worst seasons ever in major league history.

WHAT WHITE SOX fans ought to be desiring is a serious assessment by their favorite team as to whether Adam Dunn is worth retaining – even though I realize his multi-million dollar contract would make him difficult to unload without taking a serious loss.

Had Dunn ever started hitting this year at the rate he had throughout his career (38 or more home runs per season for seven straight seasons), this would have been a radically different season.

What needs to be determined is if 2011 was truly an aberration? Or are the Chicago White Sox such a funk hanging around Dunn’s neck that there is no way he will ever amount to anything as a ballplayer here?

Does he need a change of scenery in order to regain his hitting stroke? If so, then the White Sox ought to unload him for whatever little they can get – even though they will then get forever mocked for trading him away to see him hit hard and heavy for another team.

INSTEAD, TOO MANY people are focusing on the quickie fix that really doesn’t fix anything (that, and wondering if Tuesday’s game against Toronto will be the last for pitcher Mark Buehrle with the White Sox). They want to say that Guillen is such an emotional drag with his outspoken temperament that the team needs a character change.

They’re willing to believe the speculation that Guillen and Williams (who have known each other since those 1980s days when both played for the White Sox) just hate each other too much to continue working together.

It makes me wonder how many of these people are the ones who didn’t like it back when Guillen was hired for the 2004 season. I recall a few who wanted former White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk to be considered as a manager (who fits their idea of a U.S. baseball manager closer than an outspoken Venezolano, and I couldn’t help but notice one newspaper columnist who proposed the idea of Fisk as manager, with Frank Thomas as some sort of hitting coach.

Of course, I have never got the sense that Fisk wanted to do the work of being a baseball manager, and have always sensed that Thomas merely wanted to be the former star who hangs around the team while also engaging in his own life out-of-baseball.

SO I DON’T know why people would seriously want that alternative, particularly since so much of the White Sox’ public image is tied up in Guillen.

Dump Ozzie and replace him with some conventional baseball man, and you’re going to see the White Sox become just another generic team. They’d be completely ignorable.

And you just know that would sway into the local perception and attendance – where the Cubs this season managed to sell just over 3 million tickets while the White Sox are going to have to have one heck of a late-season surge to surpass 2 million.

We all know that attendance surge ain’t gonna happen.

NOW BEFORE YOU complain to me about those attendance figures, I realize that many of those 3 million Cubs tickets were part of season-ticket packages that wound up going unused. There’s no way 3 million fans packed their way into Wrigley Field this year.

But unless serious thought is put into the on-field product by the White Sox, that 1 million-plus attendance gap will grow larger and larger in coming years, and the amount of attention paid to the team will drop back to the early Jerry Manuel years.


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