November 1, 2005

White Sox Find Redemption

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2005 was not supposed to be the year of reprisal for the White Sox. The Yankees still had too much offense, the Angels still had too strong of a pitching staff, and the Twins were the expert pick based on their ability to “do the little things.” So much for a scripted season.

Even a 15-game lead in the middle of July did little to dispel the specter of an 88-year-old World Series drought; and the cynical media and public did a hell of a job making sure the Sox knew that their legacy was still a daunting presence. Chicago accomplished what it accomplished with doubters and naysayers riding its back from September on. A month ago, they were a team of choke artists, about to drown in one of the worst regular season collapses of all-time. Now, they are world champions. Shame on us for not having more faith in a team that sat in first place in its division every single day of the 2005 season. Shame on us for doubting them just because they didn’t have the star power to wow us night in and night out. Shame, shame, shame.

Chicago’s road to victory was not paved with gold. The White Sox were the embodiment of the American dream this year, proving a strong determination brings its own rewards. This was a team of hard-working, hard-nosed players, all operating towards the single goal of winning a championship. These Sox were the Patriots of baseball, proving to all the Fifth Avenue snobs out there that money can’t buy every kind of ring. The team was comprised of smart, fundamentally sound players, anchored by an old-fashioned, eccentric manager who preached the doctrine that home runs will come and go, but fundamentals and defense aren’t streaky – they show up every day, they win games, and as Ozzie Guillen and his boys just demonstrated, they bring home championships.

Look at this team’s roster – a bunch of utility nobodies. They didn’t have anyone close to a Gary Sheffield or an David Ortiz to come up in the clutch and hit that 400-foot winner. Instead, they called upon regular Joes to perform heroically. Scott Podsednik was homerless during the entire regular season. Excuse me? Baking powder? I know a leadoff hitter isn’t expected to provide his team with too much power, but to go 507 at-bats without a home run, and then hit two in 12 postseason games – one of which was a walk-off to win Game 2 of the Series – is astounding. Not impressed? How about Game 3 hero Geoff Blum? (Who the hell is Geoff Blum??) The definition of a utility player, he only went deep once during his regular season stint of 31 games. But come October, with two outs and no one on, Blum took a 2-0 fastball yard to take the lead in the top of the 14th, the eventual game-winning hit and run. Whether it was shortstop Juan Uribe making an improbable catch, reaching into the stands and plucking a foul ball away from swarming fans to record the 26th out of the deciding Game 4, Jermaine Dye batting an absurd .437 during the four-game set (enough to earn MVP honors) or the timely hitting of the often-streaky Joe Crede, this team’s never-say-die attitude helped them piece together one of the greatest postseason runs of all-time. They went an overall 11-1 during the playoffs. They were a perfect 6-0 on the road during that stretch (even the 114-win 1998 Yankees lost a postseason road game). They had but a single offensive all-star on the roster in Paul Konerko. Their starters pitched four complete games – back-to-back-to-back-to-back – to win the pennant. Just because nobody was watching doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The Sox ended an 88-year losing streak with hard work and close attention to the often-overlooked details of the game, not with all-stars and $100 million contracts.

While it may have taken 88 years for the Sox to rise to the top, they were not always bottom dwellers. From 1901-1920 the team had a .553 winning percentage – the best of any American League team. It won the World Series twice, first in 1906 and then again in 1917, when the Sox posted 100 wins en route to capturing both the pennant and the franchise’s second championship. But that’s where the success story ends and the horror movie begins. In 1919 the Sox had once again captured the American League pennant and were set for a showdown against the Reds. But everything wasn’t as peachy as it may have seemed. Between the end of the regular season and the start of the Series, first baseman Chick Gandil and known gambler Joseph “Sport” Sullivan conspired to throw the championship. Gandil convinced seven of his teammates to join in on the fix, and nine days later the heavily favored boys in black lost the chance at winning two championships in three years, as they fell to Cincy five games to three. However, it wasn’t until September of the 1920 season, a year later when the Sox were again in a pennant race, that the league unraveled the plot. There was an investigation, a grand jury intervened, and within weeks the scheme was cracked, as one by one players began confessing their sins. Among the conspirators was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, the team’s best offensive player, and the most famous participant in the scandal. Seemingly destined for Cooperstown before the incident, he and the other seven men were banned from baseball for life. The franchise and the city have never been the same – until now.

Folklore abounds in baseball – curses, voodoo and witchcraft make for excellent plot devices. Accepting this manufactured drama for what it is, the White Sox are really the only team that has a legitimate gripe with its past. Trading Babe Ruth away to the Yankees wasn’t the seed for a Red Sox curse; it was just a pathetic decision by an owner who was so whipped by his girlfriend that he was blind to the injustice he was committing. The Cubs’ curse of the billy goat? Nothing more than a crazy fan venting his displeasure about not being allowed into a game (and to the credit of the usher who stood his ground and refused to admit the notorious William Sianis, I wouldn’t let some loon with a pet goat past the front gate either). The ChiSox on the other hand have a seedy past, replete with liars and cheaters. Their franchise has been marred by scandal for close to a century. But as of last Wednesday night, the team and the city are finally finished repenting, done suffering for past transgressions. They can now sit back, relax and soak in every last drop of well-deserved and overdue glory.

Ben Kopelman is a Sun Staff Writer. 2 Legit 2 Quit will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Ben Kopelman