It’s been a rough first two months for the Southsiders. Deep under .500, they’re a notoriously injury-prone team that doesn’t demonstrate a fierce desire to win. Bad chemistry? Bad psychology? Lack of character? Their prospects look dismal to say the least.
With four long months ahead, if you’re a Sox fan, how do you cope?
I took refuge in Richard Roeper’s 2006 book, Sox and the City – A Fan’s Love Affair with the White Sox, from the Heartbreak of ’67 to the Wizards of Oz. He wrote it after the White Sox did the unimaginable: winning the 2005 World Series. Part historical survey, part memoir, it is an engaging, lively, well-researched book from the Sun-Times columnist, film reviewer and lifelong Sox fan.
My brother gave me the book years ago, and it sat on my bookshelf until I needed something to take my mind off this year’s disappointment. It helped.
I was 7 years old in 1959 when the White Sox finally beat out the hated Yankees and Cleveland Indians to win the American League pennant for their first World Series in 40 years. If you know baseball history, you know 1919 didn’t turn out so well — and 1959 didn’t turn out well either, but getting to the World Series was enough to bond me to this franchise, apparently for life. It’s been a love/hate relationship ever since. For Roeper, though, it appears to be true love.
He rolls through the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and ends with the gobsmacking, stupefying, ultra-astonishing 2005 World Championship season, something most Sox fans had given up on ever experiencing. Eighteen years after, many of us still can’t quite believe it happened.
Roeper’s tour really starts in 1951 when, after decades of misery, the Sox began an almost-as-astonishing feat that many fans may not even be aware of: For 17 straight seasons (1951-1967), they finished over .500. Only two teams have ever exceeded that: the Orioles (1968-1985) and, of course, the hated Yankees (1926-1964), who neutralized almost every Sox success. From 1957 to 1965, for instance, the White Sox finished second five times and first once.
But though they always came up short, they were consistently good. Known as the Go-Go White Sox, they had speed, pitching and defense. Hitting was their Achilles heel. Whenever the Sox managed to score a run or two, my father, a lifelong Cubs fan, would playfully proclaim, “another White Sox rally,” which usually consisted of a walk, stealing second, advancing to third on a ground ball, and scoring on a sacrifice fly. Some of their best hitters were pitchers. In one game I attended, Gary Peters was sent up in extra innings to pinch-hit for a position player and won the game with a walk-off homer.
What a long strange trip it’s been — owners like Bill Veeck with a wooden leg and a heart of gold, Jerry Reinsdorf with a wooden heart and a hollow leg full of gold; managers ranging from the dignified Al Lopez to the excitable Ozzie Guillen; broadcasters like the well-lubricated Harry Caray (pre-Cubs), the mercurial Jimmy Piersall, and the annoyingly folksy Hawk Harrelson; a Disco Demolition Night promotion that literally blew up; a group of castoffs known as the South Side Hit Men in 1977 who lived up to their name but were forced to wear funky uniforms, including shorts(!); the “winning ugly” team in 1983 that went 60-25 in the second half to clinch their first division championship then broke our hearts in the playoffs; an aborted attempt to move the team to Tampa, Florida, a ploy most likely to leverage a new stadium to replace creaky old Comiskey Park; another division champ in 1993 and an even better team in 1994 (we’ll never know how good since Reinsdorf led an owners’ revolt that canceled the season); and finally in 2005 squeaking into the playoffs, then turning into a juggernaut, sweeping the defending World Champion Red Sox, taking four out of five from the 2002 World Champion Angels (four complete game victories by four different pitchers), and sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series.
Reading Roeper’s book revived my own store of memories — players who entertained like Minnie Minoso, Early Wynn (who won early and often), speedy Louie Aparicio, Nellie Fox (who had fewer strikeouts over his entire career than many hitters tally in a single year), a string of graceful center-fielders (Jim Landis, Ken Berry, Tommie Agee, Chet Lemon), elegant pitchers (Gary Peters, Joel Horlen, Tommy John, Black Jack McDowell, Chris Sale, Mark Buehrle), and eventually even sluggers: Dick Allen, Carlton Fisk, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Jose Abreu.
Going back in time made me realize that playoff and World Series glory is overrated. In baseball memory, the sun is forever shining.
The White Sox will always be a quirky, oddball franchise but I’m coming to terms with that. Let all those obsessively successful franchises elsewhere keep struggling to please their unpleasable fan bases. I think I’ll stay wedded to this group of crazies.
If you’re unable to watch the current crop of unlovable losers, I recommend you read Richard Roeper’s book — and also Veeck as in Wreck (Bill Veeck’s autobiography), which I just started.
As I did, you might find it therapeutic.