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White Sox becoming Chicago's team
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
"Jerry Reinsdorf has always said that he'd trade all his Bulls championship rings for one World Series ring. I don't know if he really would, but everyone who works here knows this: that what he wants most in his professional life is to win the World Series. Well, the foundation is now there. The fans, the marketing and everything else will fall into place. Don't worry. It already is."
-- Rob Gallas, White Sox VP, Marketing and Broadcasting
Remember, Chicago has gone longer without winning a world championship than Boston. Actually, the last time Chicago witnessed a World Series game was the day the ageless Mike Morgan was born, Oct. 8, 1959, when the White Sox lost to the Dodgers 9-3 to complete L.A.'s six-game series win.
But, presently, the White Sox hold the best record in the American League, something Reinsdorf truly cherishes.
The question begs, however: Are they for real?
Look, they're nearly halfway through a stretch (May 29 to June 18) in which they play three home games -- this weekend they are playing the crosstown rival Cubs -- and Monday begin a two-week stretch during which they'll play the Yankees and Indians seven times each.
Can they win?
"All I know is that they're a very tough team and they're on one of those rolls that can last all season," says Indians manager Charlie Manuel.
No one knows if they will continue to play well. But with Magglio Ordonez, Ray Durham, Paul Konerko, Carlos Lee and Chris Singleton surrounding Frank Thomas, they have the makings of a tremendous offensive team. Ordonez, in fact, has emerged as the team's top star and Konerko is the team's personality, all of which is fine with Thomas, who'd prefer to be a backseat guy.
On the Triple-A horizon, the White Sox have a monster third baseman named Joe Crede and catcher Josh Paul, whose makeup is tremendous. They have one of the best bullpens in the league, led by Keith Foulke, who is a young Trevor Hoffman. They also have two veteran starters, James Baldwin and Cal Eldred, to stabilize their young pitching.
"We know next year was supposed to be our year, but we didn't feel like waiting," Konerko said. Maybe, maybe not. But with young righty Kip Wells maturing and a number of top-side pitching prospects -- Jon Garland (7-1 at Triple-A), Matt Ginter, Jason Stumm and reliever Lorenzo Barcelo -- coming, this is a team that barring a rash of pitching injuries should be one of the American League's premier teams for the next five years or so.What makes Chicago's future so stable is that, unlike so many organizations that are hit-and-miss on young players and have to rely on the free-agent market to build their teams, the White Sox organization -- GM Ron Schueler and his aides Dan Evans, Larry Monroe and Duane Shaffer -- has shown a unique ability to judge talent, especially pitching.
In the infamous '97 trade of Wilson Alvarez and Roberto Hernandez to the Giants, they got Foulke, Bobby Howry and Barcelo. They also grabbed Singleton from the Yankees for a minor-league non-prospect and traded Mike Cameron for Konerko. And they also pulled off a gem last winter when they acquired Eldred and Jose Valentin from Milwaukee for Jaime Navarro and John Snyder.
If they are close on July 31, Reinsdorf has instructed Schueler to do what's necessary, knowing that Schueler will not surrender any parts of what could be a dominant rotation come 2002. And then at the end of this season, one can be certain Reinsdorf will make a run at what Schueler thinks he needs, and that might include free agent Alex Rodriguez.
So, raise your voice and utter South Side clichè No. 2,000: "How come the White Sox draw so fewer fans than the Cubs, when the Cubs haven't had consecutive winning seasons since before Sammy Sosa was born?"
Gallas isn't concerned. "History shows that in this town, the attendance has always been cyclical," he says. "The White Sox dominated the first half of the '80s, the Cubs the second half. The White Sox dominated the first part of the '90s, then the Cubs dominated the second half. But our performance the last few years has had something to do with it. They have the restaurants and the bars and the atmosphere around Wrigley, and they have Sammy Sosa.
"But when people point to our averaging fewer than 20,000 a game right now, they are being unrealistic. They don't understand that tickets in April, May and early June are sold in February and March, not in April and May. The weather has been dreadful, too. But the indicators are good. Our TV ratings on WGN were 2.5 last year, they're up over 4.2 now, and rising. Even if we don't stay right near the top, we'll draw 1.8 million fans (about a 70 percent increase from last year). If we're in the race, we have a lot of home games in September and might make a run at 2 million. But you don't get the bump the first year, you get it the year after."
That's what Marlins GM Dave Dombrowski tried to explain to Wayne Huizenga after Florida won the World Series in 1997, but Huizenga wouldn't listen. Look back at the Cubs/White Sox attendance race. When the Cubs won the division in 1984, the White Sox outdrew them because the Sox had won the division in '83 (the Sox beat the Cubs in attendance four straight years). In 1990, when the Sox burst back to respectability, the Cubs outdrew them because they won their division in '89. As for this point in history, the Cubs are two years off making the playoffs and have had two years of history and theater provided by Sosa.
Gallas insists "no team was more hurt by the strike" than the White Sox. In '93, they came close to winning the ALCS against Toronto, losing in six games because Cito Gaston's astounding pitch-recognition skills had Jays hitters knowing every pitch that Jack McDowell was throwing, and because Juan Guzman outdueled Alvarez in the critical fifth game. Then came '94, and when "The Strike" went down the White Sox were in first place, a game ahead of the Indians, and people in Chicago believed that Gene Lamont's team was going to make it to the World Series.
"Then we came back off the strike, a lot of players were not in shape," says Gallas, "and thus began an incredible succession of bad public relations moves." It actually started when Reinsdorf sold off McDowell, fearing that the pitcher's congenital hip problem was a huge concern, which it turned out to be. (Ironically, while the divorce with McDowell was bitter, this week the White Sox drafted a Stanford center fielder named Joe Borchard, whose agent is, believe it or not, Jim McDowell, Jack's brother.)It continued with the firing of Lamont. And then came Lamont's replacement, Terry Bevington, who while being a wonderful fellow, was what Gallas now admits "a PR nightmare."
Reinsdorf went on to sign Albert Belle, who produced but was perceived as not being fan friendly, as was the case with Tony Phillips (who did his fair share of fan-unfriendly acts, including going into the stands after a fan in Milwaukee). Then came the July 31, 1997 surrender with the Sox just 3½ games behind the Indians. The two-year fade of The Big Hurt followed that.
The White Sox didn't even make a realistic play to re-sign Robin Ventura after the '98 season because they didn't think they could afford him, especially with Belle still on the payroll. But they soon lost both Ventura and Belle when Belle went on to sign with the Orioles prior to the '99 season.
And to make matters worse, while all this was going on Chicago has continued to rebuild all its major highways, especially the principle road that runs to Comiskey Park. "On a Friday night, it can take two hours to get to the park," admits Gallas. "That's a killer."
But now that the club is a contender again, the fans are back in love with the team.
"Fans didn't like our team three years ago," says Gallas. "Now they love Ordonez, Konerko and Singleton. They told us three years ago that they were sick and tired of spoiled players who ignored fans. They love this team because they're a scrappy, young team who appreciates the fans. Make no mistake -- fans understand these things."Reinsdorf hopes to soon complete a naming rights deal that should get Comiskey spruced up and modernized right around the time the All-Star Game comes to the South Side in 2003. By that time, Ordonez may be a five-time All-Star and the king of the city, while Garland, Wells and the rest of the young pitchers are dominating the American League. And, hey, maybe A-Rod, or someone like him, will be there by then.
What they have there on the South Side is not a big problem in terms of attendance in relation to the Cubs; the White Sox are in the third month of a five-year restoration of the franchise.
"Check back even one year from today," says one NL GM, "and tell me whose shoes you'd rather be in, the White Sox or the Cubs? The Cubs are living on the past, looking for a future. Put it another way: Go back to when the strike hit in 1994. Today's White Sox are the Indians. The Cubs are the White Sox when they came back in April of '95."News and notes
With the Jays on the market, it raises this observation from a GM: "It appears that they are going to have to slash payroll to make the sale more attractive. On our board, we have David Wells, Paul Quantrill, John Frascatore, Alex Gonzalez, Homer Bush and Shannon Stewart as possibly being available at the All-Star break. If so, that is sad, because if the Jays could get a veteran starter, another reliever and maybe a couple of bench guys, they could beat Boston or New York."
Meanwhile, Texas has not yet called about Moises Alou, but don't be surprised -- even though he has a no-trade clause -- if he and Daryle Ward are offered around in order to get more pitching and a young third baseman as Ken Caminiti will likely be gone at the end of the season. Don't be surprised to see Boston make a run at acquiring Caminiti with John Valentin out for the season.
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