Monday, October 31, 2005

 

Reflections of a White Sox Fan

Friend and fellow White Sox fan Dave offers his thoughts on the team's championship season, the conclusion of which coincided with the arrival his daughter, Dagen, who was born with a diaphragmatic hernia. Its a very interesting read, particularly for those who aren't from Chicago and wish to understand the perspective of South Side Sox fans. Please keep Dagen and her family in your thoughts and prayers. Here's the article:

I am writing this as a fan of the Second Team in the Second City. The White Sox not only have to deal with the obvious East Coast bias, but the White Sox take a back seat in Chicago to the Cubs –- for the simple reason that we do not have a nice park and we do not have our own newspaper and superstation.

This year, while following my team into and through the playoffs, I have witnessed the very obvious east coast bias of the media, the networks and the league. I will not go on about the obvious ESPN favoritism of the Red Sox/Yankees that started at the beginning of the year showing back-to-back Red Sox/Yankees game in lieu of the first home game of the new Washington Nationals. I will not go on about the obvious bias showing the complete Red Sox/Yankees game as the last game of the season when both were in the playoffs or at least guaranteed a playoff for the wildcard – all while the Indians, Astros and Phillies were fighting to get into the playoffs. Coverage was split on ESPN2 while the meaningless repeat of the Y/RS series was shown in its entirety. The network bias placing the Yankees in prime time, even though they did not even earn home field advantage (just as they did in 2000). I am most concerned about the subtle biases.

I saw (supposedly) national coverage of ESPN consistently referring to the SOX in their headlines at the start of the playoffs. The only problem is that there are two different colors of SOX in the playoffs. Whenever they mentioned SOX, they meant Red Sox. That is fine for the Boston Herald, but not a national network.

The day after ESPN’s SOX were drubbed 14-2 by Chicago’s SOX with a record number of home runs, their website headlines read Yankees win 4-2. I have heard the ESPN announcers refer to the Angels/Yankees series simply as the Yankees game, as if they were playing themselves or it did not matter who they were playing.

Even my spell checker is biased, because as I type the word Yankees it keeps capitalizing the word -– the same does not happen when I forget to capitalize white sox.

Minutes after the White Sox swept the Red Sox in Fenway, I heard Peter Gammons state that the Yankees will be favored against the White Sox in the ALCS. There is one problem -– the Yankees have not won anything yet and as a matter of fact hours later Peter Gammon’s east coast backup team lost to the other team by a score of 11-7 in Yankee stadium. By the way, the Big Unit which was one of the basis for Peter Gammon’s declaration of superiority was shelled for 5 runs and did not last half the game. At that time, the self proclaimed fans of the universe booed there bazillion dollar off-season acquisition as he left the field…which takes me to the fans.

The yankee fans are the worst -– and I have one story that sums it all up. The first game after Sept. 11th, the Yankees played the White Sox in Chicago. I was there cheering on the fire and police representatives showing support for their New York brethren – it was truly emotional and you could not help but be supportive of New York. Within minutes of this tribute, I heard the Yankee fans around me yelling profanities at the White Sox and carrying on as usual. By the second inning I was back to hating the Yankees again -– can they show any decorum at all under any circumstances? The answer is “no”.

Then there are the Red Sox fans -– I worked in Boston, went to a number of games and enjoyed everything about the game, except the Fenway Franks, which were served in bread disguised as a bun, instead of an actual bun and the seats that gave you less room than an airplane on a cheap airline. I guess what initially annoyed me about the Red Sox fans was not their accents as much as the whining that they did with those accents. As someone who has lived in a city with two baseball teams that have not won anything at all since 1917, it was difficult to sympathize with a smaller city with only one team that has gone one less year without a championship, and a lot of success in the interim.

You would think that a team that has gone that long without a championship would show gratitude and humility when those dreams were realized, but that was replaced with arrogance. Maybe they just reflected the attitude of their team, in particular their left fielder who not only likes to stand at home plate and admire his home runs, but I have even seen him stand and admire a single. Maybe it his “fenway frankish’ way of throwing the ball in from left field. Even with the Red Sox down two games against the White Sox, they made it seem like they spotted the White Sox the two game lead just to make it interesting. There is a fine line between optimism, confidence and arrogance. Maybe the Patriots championship in combination with that of the Red Sox helped with the head swelling.

It would be difficult for me to fathom Cleveland fans or St. Louis fans becoming arrogant if they were to win a championship. Maybe it is a Midwest thing. A friend of mine from the Northeast tried to explain to me that so many people are crammed into such a small area of the country that everyone is on top of each other, in traffic with each other and it makes them overall very grumpy.

The Cubs vs. White Sox rivalry is one steeped in history that is not replicated in any other city in any other sport. Although New York has two teams in baseball and hockey (football doesn’t count because the teams play in NJ), there is no historical explanation for who is a Mets fan and who is a Yankees fan – the same with hockey. The fact that the Mets are a relatively new expansion team established in 1962 does not really contribute to a great rivalry. Although Boston and New York are crammed into the same area of the country, you could hardly get on the same El (subway) line and stop at both ball parks.

The Cubs vs. Sox and therefore the North Side vs. South Side rivalry goes back to the politics of the city of Chicago in the early 1900’s and is even evident in the gang rivalries of the 1920’s. The Bugs Morand north side gang was in competition with the south side gang of Al Capone. This rivalry was fought with more deadly weapons than just bats and is summed up in the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Even the Chicago flag depicts the separation of the city into the North, South and West sides.

The sports loyalties of North Side vs. South Side were further solidified by the addition of two football teams when Goerge Halas started the NFL. The north side Bears played at Wrigley Field, when the south side Cardinals played at Comiskey Park. It was very common to root for the Cardinals/White Sox and the Bears/Cubs. When the Cardinals moved on to St. Louis, that left only one team in Chicago – Da Bears. This is probably the only common ground that the White Sox and Cubs share and as a Bears fan, it is difficult to swallow the fact that the Bears name is actually derived from the Cubs. I focus on the colors of the Bears that were derived from the colors of my alma mater and that of George Halas, Red Grange and Dick Butkus – the University of Illinois.

Enough for the history lesson and digression into football, but it is difficult for me to see the fascination with Boston’s “New York envy” and I don’t understand the fun in rooting for a team that has so much money that it discards players like an 18 month old boy discards his old toys for a brand new toy truck. One of the most satisfying aspects of this year is the fact that the White Sox success in built in part on the shoulders of the discarded Yankee pitchers – Jose Contrares and “El Duke”….all in favor of their new toy – “The Big Unit”, which the fans booed off the field in his first post-season start as a Yankee.

Whatever happened to rooting for the underdog?

You will not believe me when I say this – but I actually feel sorry for Yankee fans. It’s true. The feeling that the true White Sox fans feel and that the Red Sox felt last year is one that no SOX fan under 100 years old has ever felt. The bond and unity, the anticipation the joy of experiencing something for the first time is lost on teams like the Yankees. Unless you are a 5 year old Yankees fan, you have seen more than your share of success and to want even more at all costs is simply gluttonous.

Rooting for the yankees must be like rooting for the USSR hockey team in the pre-professional olympics. You have nothing but expectations to win – so there is only underachieving. If you win, it was expected – and if you lose, you are sent off to Siberia. Just as the NHL scooped up discarded Soviet hockey players, so has baseball scooped up the excommunicated yankees. These playoffs are overflowing with ex-yankee pitchers and the White Sox and Astros are certainly happy about that.

I would much prefer rooting for the South Side Miracle on Grass even if I have to wait years and years, instead of fielding a bought All-Star team. We still talk about and relive the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team’s accomplishment, but how many people in the former Soviet Union gather to celebrate the past victories of the Olympic hockey teams that were expected to win the gold? It is still fun to root for the underdog, unless of course that underdog is the Cubs.

And now on to Anaheim, which is a fine team and not at all pretentious or crude like the Red Sox and Yankees. But their power to annoy is strong. What is the deal with those Thunderstix -– who is the marketing genius that thought inflatable plastic blow-up sticks are the wave of the future? Not being a Thunderstick person I have alot of questions -— Do you travel to the game with the Thunderstix fully inflated?? Or do you inflate them at the game? If your Thunderstick gets a hole in it, do they have Thunderstick repair facilities at the park, or do you have to get new Thunderstix -- do they sell Thunderstix repair kits? Are there official thunderstix -- do you have to look for the fancy hologram? Are imitation Thunderstix a big problem? Is there a problem with accidently Thundersticking the person in front of you? Has there been any Thunderstick injuries? How do you know which Thunderstix are yours? If you leave the Thunderstix behind would someone steal them -– do you have to put your name on them? Do you take the Thunderstix to the bathroom? Is there alot of Thunderstix maintenance? So many questions...

...and then there is the rally monkey. I am mixed, because this is potentially the most annoyingly corny, cheesy gimmick...but at the same time, I want to see the rally monkey alot because that would mean that the Sox are ahead. What do you feed a rally monkey?

If someone showed up at the Sox game with Thunderstix, the headlines in the paper would read, "Fan killed at the SOX game with own Thunderstix."

Security was tightened in Anaheim for fear that AJ Pierzynski would be pelted with beach balls as he entered the field at Anaheim, Los Angeles or wherever it is that the Angels play.

One can't help but wonder about the coincidence of key games being decided by former White Sox players -- first there was Tony Graffanino's Bucknering of a ground ball in game two and then Josh Paul's failure to tag AJ at the plate. Coincidence or conspiracy?? Maybe the White Sox learned from the mistakes of 1919 and this time conspired to WIN the World Series of 2005.

I have to spend some time on the AJ Pierzinski call. After seeing the play at least fifty times I am amazed that some of the brilliant announcers turned judges and jury failed to mention a couple of key points. First, if you look at the replay again or just replay the image embedded in your own brain based on the excessive repetition -– please notice the key timing of Josh Paul rolling the ball back before the umpire pumps the ambiguous “strike three” fist. The fist pumping could not have had any influence on Josh Paul’s actions because it comes after he rolls the ball back to the mound. Also, let’s not forget the fact that Josh Paul had a chance to redeem himself by throwing out Ozuna at second. And then there was the two strike pitch over the plate to Joe Crede -– why anyone would throw a hittable pitch in that situation is beyond me.

For those who would like to see a picture of the author of this article, you only need to go to the Chicago Tribune archives of the day after the last game at the Old Comiskey Park in 1990 -- My friends and I were on the cover of the sports section of the Tribune hanging a sign that read "The Reign has Ended for the Baseball Palace of the WORLD." I was the X in the body painted poor physiques that made up the SOX.

As a little kid, I showed up at school every day just so that I could get tickets to the SOX game for Perfect Attendance. The SOX would give out tickets to grade school students with perfect attendance. My dad loved the White SOX but as a fireman that worked another job, he was so busy with work that it was tough to get to the game. It was tough to turn down a kid with perfect attendance, so I enjoyed these games with my father. He talked quite a bit about Luis Aparicio fouling off pitch after pitch sometimes directing the foul balls into the opposing team’s dugout.

I went to the old Park with my little league team riding down Archer in the back of a pickup truck. I watched the SOX on the same channel 44 that brought Chicago Dick the Bruiser, The Crusher, Baron Von Ratschke not to mention Earl Scheib on the comercials "Ill paint any car, any color, no ups no extras"

I have 6 seats from the old Comiskey Park... which I now simply get to call Comiskey Park because it can no longer be confused with the New Comiskey Park, since the new Comiskey Park is Cellular Field, until Cellular Field goes bankrupt or gets bought out. Basically, I am your typical South Side White SOX fan.

While I am on the topic of baseball parks, I have to defend the SOX fans here. For those of us that have fond memories of haircuts in center field, the upper deck outfield bleachers, the many layers of paint on the golden box seats of Comiskey Park --- none asked for Comiskey Park to be torn down. We had the oldest and greatest “Baseball Palace of the World” until it was replaced by the salad bowl on top of a bunch of plates that is Cellular Field. The fans from the north tend to hold our park against us as if we personally tore it down with our own bare hands. What it did do was force us to focus more on baseball and less on the park – after all if we want to go drink in a park, we will sneak beer into Grant park for Blues Fest. I have watched many games with plenty of empty seats and you know what –- it was great!! You know the fans are there to enjoy the game – not as a status symbol or some tourist attraction. I stretched out my legs and sat in seats that few cub fans could afford. You have to be really insecure to need to have 42,000 people around you to enjoy a game.

A true story. I was waiting in line for playoff tickets for the White Sox last playoff appearance in 2000. One baseball fan waiting in line with me was from DC and was visiting all the baseball parks. He said that his worst baseball experience was at Wrigley Field. He could not watch the game -- people were standing and talking in front of him. He hated the experience.

I must admit – I went to Wrigley Field once in my life and that was only because I got extra credit in my high school Spanish class. We had a new Spanish teacher at my all-male Catholic high school on the South Side. He was from the north side and planned a Spanish Club trip to a cubs game. Nobody was interested. He was so desperate that he offered to drop our lowest test score if we went to the cubs game. I went, rooted for the Mets and based on dropping my lowest test score I was able to skip the final exam. I have gone to confession many times for this youthful indiscretion.

Speaking of the 2000 season I have to complain again about the yankee favoritism that pervades MLB. The White Sox with the best record in the AL that year were forced to play the Mariners at Noon on a Thursday. Meanwhile, the yankees, with the worst record of any AL team in the playoffs was put on prime time. I was at the SOX playoff game against the Mariners and it was very weird. Even a cubs fan would be thrown by a Noon start. I didn’t know whether to drink a bloody mary, Irish coffee, beer or what? The park was not full because the blue collar Sox fans cannot just skip work. If you don’t work, you don’t get paid. The home field advantage was taken away by the weekday afternoon games. The same thing happened to the Cardinals this year – the best record in baseball rewarded with a Noon start at home…luckily, they had no problem with the “how did they get in the playoffs?” Padres.

Speaking of the Cardinals, I was disappointed that the Astros won. I really wanted the White SOX to play the Cardinals -two Midwest teams. Ozzie facing his old manager, but most of all driving the cub fans crazy by giving them nobody to root for since they hate both the SOX and the Cardinals. This was the same predicament that we almost faced if the Cubs played the Yankees back in 2003 until the South Side hero of Steve Bartman intervened. I dreamed of the cubs losing with Sammy Sosa dropping a routine fly ball, but I never thought the so called “greatest fans” could actually contribute to the Cubs demise. I just did not dream big enough. By the way, I wonder how much leftover Sammy Sosa cubs merchandise is sitting in a warehouse somewhere?

I would also like to take the time to defend the White SOX fans that get a bad rap for not filling the park for every game. First, the park is much larger than Wrigley or Fenway and from what I understand, it was difficult to even give away cubs tickets at the end of the year. If you notice, the White Sox tend to draw large crowds on Monday, Tuesday and Fireworks night. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to figure out that price makes a difference for working-class fans and Monday and Tuesday nights are half-price night. It takes money to go to a game and if you are going to take the family, you might as well make the most of it which is why fireworks nights are popular. Cost is a factor – and the fans should not be penalized for not making a lot of money.

Also, the White Sox have been betrayed by the current owner and despite the praise that Reinsdorf has been getting this year, he has certainly alienated the fans over the years. First, he tore down our Comiskey park in favor of more skyboxes. Even if the park needed to be torn down, why not build a fan-based park. At the same time the owners settled on the Salad Bowl design, the same architectural firm was designing the beautiful Camden Yard. While Reinsdorf was threatening to move the Sox to Florida, the Orioles were working with the city of Baltimore to build a light-rail system into Camden Yard. Once the fans started to accept the new park, Reinsdorf did it again. As a season ticket holder in 1997, I was very optimistic about a team with a great pitching staff. Then comes the White Flag trade that got rid of the pitching aces that it requires to win a World Series. I was stuck with season tickets for a team that was abandoned by its owners and I certainly was not offered an opportunity to transfer the remaining tickets to the future. It took Kenny Williams 7 years to convince the owners what is obvious to the fans and that is that pitching wins World Series. My optimism about the 2005 season started in 2004 when not only did the White Sox trade for pitching – Freddy Garcia, but they signed him to longer than a 1 year contract – unheard of for Reinsdorf. That’s when I started to think that maybe Reinsdorf is starting to get it. Thanks Kenny Williams!!

My worst fears regarding the White SOX facing the Astros in game 1 came true. Given the announcers infatuation with the Yankees, the next best thing for them to talk about is ex-yankees, and with Clemens and Pettitte they would get their yankee fix. Sure enough, the first two innings you almost didn’t know who the Astro’s were playing—the announcers recapped Roger Clemens career seemingly inning by inning. As a matter of fact, they spent more time talking about Clemens than Clemens spent pitching. This dominant World Series ace only lasted 2 innings…which got me thinking – they flashed the “Rocket’s” World Series record of 9 games and a 3-0 record…then I started thinking –what happened in those other 6 no decisions? It would appear to me that he did not last very long in those games or left the game without the lead? It hardly seems dominant to me. Maybe he exited the game after the second inning to preserve that 3-0 WS record and record yet another “no decision.”

I would also like to take this time to express my overall dissatisfaction with the FOX baseball coverage thus far. First we have the talking baseball, which I might even be OK with for entertaining young kids, but the only pitch that cartoon baseball knows is the “change up” – for any complicated pitch we have to see some professional hand model, maybe it was George Castanza?? showing us how the various pitches are held. It also seems that the cameras cut to the batter just as the pitch arrives and it is difficult to follow the entire pitch. Then there are the interviews with the pitching coaches, which in one instance had us watching Joe Crede’s homerun in a little box on the TV. If I wanted to watch a tiny screen I would have watched the game on my computer over the Internet.

Game 2 brings us the other ex-yankee that the announcers get to drool over -– Andy Pettitte. Every one of his pickoff attempts has been a balk --- I do not understand how your foot can wind up that far toward home and the pitch not be a balk. Again, controversy brews and the White Sox stole the game via Jermaine Dye’s hit-by-pitch that actually hit the bat. Not that any the HBPs for the Astros in the previous game were questionable – from Bagwell not getting out of the way to a slight uniform grazing. Again the announcers telling us that we are going to “get a treat with Oswalt pitching” game 3. This is finally a break for White Sox fans who have had to endure terrible pitching during the playoffs (sarcasm). The wonderful thing about Scott Podsednik’s walk-off homerun was not only the dramatics and the fact that your weakest home run hitter hits a walk-off homerun, but it is listening to the replays with Tim McCarver saying that “Lidge has lost the bad taste of the home run against Pujols” just as Podsednik drives the ball over the fence. If having a home run hitter like Pujols hit one out leaves a bad taste in your mouth, then it would take a lot of mouthwash to get rid of the taste of Podsednik’s home run.

Game 3 had not even started when yet another controversy brews. Bud Selig mandates that the roof be open and the players and fans react as if the game had been moved back to Chicago and they lost the home field advantage. Somehow, artificially amplifying the noise in MinuteMaid Park (what is the deal with the parks being named for orange juices?) was a huge advantage that they “played for”. I just don’t get it. First of all, why go through the extra expense of making a roof retractable if you plan on leaving it closed all the time? It’s like paying a lot of extra money for a convertible car when you never plan on having the roof down. Also, why do you need an artificial mechanism to make noise? What’s next, giving everyone bullhorns or amplifiers to scream into to make you sound louder?? Game 3 also brings us the pitching treat of Oswalt promised by Tim McCarver. The treat came in the form of a 5 run inning that put the Sox ahead 5-4. The most important controversial call of the entire playoffs seemed to get very little attention – certainly not as much attention as the Pierzinski play. That was the home run that wasn’t really a home run based on the bizarre taped outlines on the walls in the outfield. This call did not seem to become much of a controversy, despite the fact that it is the only mistake by an umpire that directly resulted in a run being scored –and in a close one run game. The game goes into extra innings – what is with the Astro’s and these long playoff games? What was more exhausting than staying up past 2:00 AM was the horrible camera coverage of FOX. The announcers commented on the fact that Oswalt barely set before coming home from the stretch – for us fans, we couldn’t make up our minds because the cameras cut to pitcher right at the release…for some reason it was necessary to show the same fans in the crowd rather than simply watch an entire pitch from wind-up through delivery. You couldn’t avoid the camera person’s fascination with the sleeping baby, the facepainters, or the lady that seemed to be on the phone the entire game --- somehow she must have been giving the play-by-play to someone in one of the few countries on the planet that was not covering the game. At one point, the statistic of 1700 camera cuts was shown. Think about it – if you were at the game and someone in front of you distracted you 1700 times, you would beat them to death with a thunderstick. That made the 5+ hour game seem like an 18 hour game. What a great move to bring in Beurhle for the save. It seemed as though nobody was going to win that game until Geoff Blum makes use of his only WS at bat. For those who went to bed during that game, you would have had to assume that there was a misprint in the boxscore – Damaso Marte gets the win, Mark Beurhle gets the save and Geoff Blum gets the GWRBI in the form of a home run. It seems as though a sweep is inevitable.

At this point, I can’t help but get a bit annoyed by the Red Sox comparisons –- everyone seems to think that it was 1918 since the White Sox won a WS -– no it was one year longer -- 1917, which is why it has been difficult to sympathize with the Red Sox fans. The Red Sox story was their own and their comeback sweep against the team they envy and hope to become, made it even better for them…so there really was no comparison. The White Sox series had nothing to do with comebacks, because the White Sox truly dominated the playoffs. We as White Sox fans started the playoffs out not knowing much about what a playoff win felt like – and by the time the Sox made it to Houston we forgot what a playoff loss felt like.

Before I get to game 4, I would like some time to explain the purpose and background of this letter. As someone who has lived in Chicago until I moved to Florida in 2003, I would certainly love to be in Chicago as I was for the Bears Super Bowl and all but one of the Bulls championships. I had a blast watching the games at various Western bars (it’s a South Side thing – no cowboy hats and chaps at these Western bars) and chanting “Drink from the head” as we paraded around the bars with Bulls head filled with beer. I have been very fortunate to be around during some great times, but now like so many other SOX fans I happen to be away from Sweet Home Chicago during the World Series. One of the intentions of this letter has been to share these thoughts and feelings with those SOX fans that could not be in Chicago -– our job is to spread that support and enthusiasm to other parts of the world. I would certainly like to have been at my brother’s house or brother-in-laws on the South Side —- or at one of my favorite bars.

Instead, since I now live in Florida, I spent the first game at home watching the Weather Channel’s coverage of Hurricane Wilma during the lengthy commercials. The car was packed and we were ready to move. As we left the path of the Hurricane, my family had moved up to St. Petersburg for Game 2 -– to the Ronald McDonald house at All Children’s Hospital to be exact. You see, my wife was about to give birth to our daughter any day now and we know that the baby (a girl) would need to immediately be put on a ventilator and have surgery. So I watched game 2 in a community room in the Ronald McDonald house – waiting out Hurricane Wilma and preparing for an emotional Monday. Our baby girl was supposed to be delivered on Monday—perfect coincidence, given that it was a travel day, but Hurricane Wilma delayed the surgery until Wednesday. That means that she will be born during the day of Game 4.

This takes us to game 4 -- October 26, 2005 a day that I will remember for ever, but not due to the White Sox historic World Series win. At 12:08 PM Eastern Time my daughter was born in St. Petersburg, Florida down the street from Tropicana Field. She was then immediately transported to All Children’s hospital. Our precious new Sox Fan was born with many challenges and symbolically, my hospital gown and surgical hat covered my favorite Sox hat and shirt. This day there was something even more important than a World Series win. Instead of getting the beer and chips ready for watching what we hoped to be the final game of our baseball dream, I was hurrying my wife over to see our precious girl before her first of many important surgeries. My wife and I watched Game 4 from her hospital room. I watched with quiet excitement as the White Sox completed my dream as a baseball fan -– it is something that I would have to celebrate over time during the offseason. I was unable to jump up and down doing my White Sox dance that my wife came to enjoy during each exciting moment of the playoffs. My family called immediately after the SOX win and I enjoyed hearing the hoots and hollers in the background from Chicago.

I certainly never expected to celebrate the White Sox World Series victory this way, but the game of life does not allow for pinch-hitters or relief-pitchers. I placed a SOX sticker on the side of my daughter’s incubator, not as a crazy fan (which I certainly am) but as a symbol of hope and overcoming all odds. It was appropriate given that she was born on the historic day in White Sox history. My family has been accumulating newspapers, taping the games and celebrations and some day I hope to relive these moments with my daughter.

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