Chicago White Sox

White Sox Rebuild Year Two…But Questions Remain

CBM Editor’s Note

One third of the White Sox season has past and now in year two of the “Sox Rebuild” the team has the worst record in baseball with a 16-35 mark and is ten and half games out of first place.

Attendance at G-Rate Field is down. After 26 dates the White Sox have only drawn 415,654 fans or 15,987 per game, down from 20,244 a game a year ago. The Sox are trying to offer value with their 4 pack family offer ticket packages, that includes seats, hot dogs, and drink for around $50 in contrast to the Cubs that continue to raise their ticket prices, making attending a baseball game a once or twice a year event rather than a regular source of entertainment.

However, some long time Sox fans are starting to question whether this rebuild strategy will succeed with attendance now the third lowest in baseball in a city that is the number three market in America.  Further hurting matters is that the Sox media coverage has been poor compared to the Cubs with no regular beat reporter covering the team at the Chicago Tribune, who are using a Cubs “College of Coaches” approach to cover them due to financial budget cuts.

To give a fan perspective on the “State of the Sox Rebuild”, the CBM welcomes guest editorialist Mark Liptak, who has contributed to our site in the past and who for 11 years was associated with White Sox Interactive for his thoughts.

White Sox Rebuild….But the Questions Remain

By Mark Liptak

For every franchise there comes a moment of truth. A period when decisions made or not made can reverberate for years or even decades. For the Chicago White Sox that time came after another disastrous season, 2016. The Sox lost 84 games after a 23-10 start. It marked their fourth straight losing season and seventh out of ten dating back to 2007.

 

2nd baseman Yoán Manuel Moncada was the big prize in the Chris Sale deal

It was then when General Manager Rick Hahn was finally able to convince owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Vice President Kenny Williams that the “go for it” or “stars and scrubs” approach simply wasn’t working. That unless the franchise was willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to lure the top free agents the only way to change the fortunes of the organization was with a total rebuild or “tanking” in popular parlance to get the needed young talent to give the franchise a shot for sustained success.To get Reinsdorf and Williams to give that approval after years of trying to win another title was very hard in Hahn’s own words.

 

 

But the path was decided upon and out the door over the next 18 months went players like Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, Dan Jennings, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Tyler Clippard, Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak. In return the Sox got arguably the greatest collection of young, unproven, cost-controlled talent in baseball. It was hailed across the national media landscape as a job well done by Hahn. Most Sox fans and even some of the more caustic members of the mainstream media in Chicago approved of it.

 

Given the successes of teams like the Astros, Royals,  and Cubs in recent years the general feeling was that with a little bit of luck, the Sox had a very good chance to completely turn around their fortunes. But… (you knew there had to be a “but” in there)

Not every Sox fan approved of the decision. Going around the various Sox web sites you still see a segment of the fan base that wondered why a major market franchise was acting like the Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres or the Cincinnati Reds.

They and others, including again, some in the media brought up valid, uncomfortable points that in their mind didn’t guarantee the Sox anything given their history.

Those generally break down into five areas, which we’ll examine. Then I’ll give you my take on the situation.

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It’s 10 p.m. — do you know where your favorite Sox, Cub has shifted?

You can tell the players without a scorecard under Joe Maddon, but you better keep a sharp eye where they’ve shifted defensively in the field.

An accompanying Chicago Baseball Museum story details the historic defensive brilliance of Albert Almora, Jr. in center field. But at any time, Almora, Jr. could be flanked in the outfield by former MVP Kris Bryant, a pretty good defensive third baseman. Or by energetic starting catcher Willson Contreras, taking a break from behind the plate. Bryant has played every position on the field except second and catcher.

Bill Melton’s mood had improved considerably by the time this photo was taken, compared to the days he broke his nose playing third base and got shifted to right field.

Under Maddon, Ben Zobrist plays anywhere, and will continue to do so as long as he’s a Cub. Javy Baez is a wizard at second base, but you’ll also see him at shortstop and maybe even third. About the only Cub who is safe at his natural position is first baseman Anthony Rizzo. But he had batted leadoff, and if Maddon got some kind of brainstorm to play Rizzo in, say, left field, the affable team leader would be game.

Notice that none of these players are Hall of Famers, yet, or has led the  NL in homers. Apparently, being able to take your glove anywhere, under duress or via an ill-advised management decision, toughens you up. That’s what Chicago baseball historical (sometimes hysterical) annals show.

Some of the top achievers in the town’s history have played well out of position, and if you remind present-day fans who haven’t done a forensic research of the game, they won’t believe you when informed of their on-field wanderings.

Ernie Banks in left field and third base. Ron Santo at shortstop, second and left field. Billy Williams at first base. Bill Melton in right field. Carlton Fisk in left. And Kenny Williams, GM of the only Sox team to win the World Series since 1917, survived a trial by fire playing Melton’s old natural position at third after being a good center fielder.

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Sox Organist Nancy Faust Slated for Induction into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals

How appropriate Tommy John and Nancy Faust get inducted into the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals together in Pasadena, California on July 22.

Nancy Faust is set to be honored by Baseball Reliquary’s Shire of Eternals

Lefty John was the savvy White Sox starting rotation veteran for whom rookie team organist Faust played appropriate theme music in 1970, trying to provide some entertainment for a lost 106-defeat season.

And even 48 years later, Faust — who always ad-libbed theme songs for her players — came up with John-oriented songs that she likely would have played for the tiny crowds at her center-field organ at old Comiskey Park.

“I probably played ‘Big Bad John’ or the theme for ‘Tommy,'” said Faust, the latter for the then-recent rock opera from “The Who.”  “Or maybe ‘Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.'”

“I couldn’t be more honored to be on the same (induction) ceremony with Tommy John.”

The West Coast audience likely will associate John much more with his groundbreaking elbow ligament reconstruction surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974 instead of his original Sox tenure. But they’ll sure know about Faust, whom the Baseball Reliquary described as “the most famous ballpark organist in the last half century.”

Still blonde, perky, and youthful, the far north suburban Mundelein resident at nearly the same time originated the seventh-inning singalong with Harry Caray and the playing of “Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Them Good-Bye” when a Sox opposing pitcher was pulled from the game. Her 41 seasons  at the organ at two ballparks, ranging from that horrible ’70 season to the World Series champions in 2005, was a true pinpoint of joy in Chicago baseball history

Dave “Baby” Cortez crafted “The Happy Organ,” the first instrumental to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Top 100 charts in 1959. But “Baby” still had nothing on Faust in full keyboard throttle.

Faust was so popular she was the No. 3 vote-getter in the Reliquary’s version of the Hall of Fame. The top three gain entry into the Shrine of the Eternals. John got 44 percent, the recently deceased  Rusty Staub 29 percent, and Faust 26.5 percent. And how delicious was it that the cheery Faust beat out the second runner-up: Leo Durocher at 25 percent. At 23 years-old Faust was up-and-coming in 1970 while Durocher should have still been going at 64, his sclerotic managing eight miles north wasting a fine collection of future Hall of Fame Cubs.

Baseball honors should not be limited to just the Hall of Fame or post-season writers’ awards votes. The Baseball Reliquary is a nonprofit, educational organization http://www.baseballreliquary.org dedicated to fostering an appreciation of American art and culture through the context of baseball history.  The West Coast-based Reliquary gladly accepts the donation of artworks and objects of historic content, provided their authenticity is well-documented.

A grant from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission supports the Reliquary, which is affiliated with the Whittier College Institute for Baseball Studies. The Institute, the first humanities-based research center of its kind associated with a college or university in the United States, is a partnership between Pasadena-based Baseball Reliquary and Whittier College.

Thus honored by this prestigious academic institution, Faust joins some fellow White Sox eternals with whom she was associated in her long career.

John was traded at the 1971 winter meetings for Dick Allen, an enshrinee. She had no shortage of inspiring songs to play for the 1972 American League MVP. She would play “Jesus Christ Superstar” when Allen came to bat. Faust also played for fellow Eternal Minnie Minoso in his brief comebacks in 1976 and 1980. Ditto for Bo Jackson when he played for the Sox despite hip-replacement surgery in the early 1990s. Bill Veeck, who masterminded the Caray-Faust seventh-inning combo, is a member. Jimmy Piersall, Caray’s partner in their guerilla-theater-of-the-air presentation under Veeck, has been inducted.

The old upper-deck organ loft at Comiskey Park, where Nancy Faust could make eye contact with Harry Caray in the broadcast booth for their seventh-inning singalongs.

Amazingly, a second Veeck drew votes in this year’s balloting. Mike Veeck, Bill’s son and instigator of the famed Disco Demolition promotion-gone-bad, drew 17.5 percent of the votes.

Our own CBM Founder, Dr. David Fletcher was the winner in 2005 of the Baseball Reliquary’s Hilda Award for his work trying to get MLB to reinstate banned Sox third baseman Buck Weaver.  Named in memory of legendary Brooklyn Dodgers baseball fan Hilda Chester, the Hilda Award was established in 2001 by the Baseball Reliquary to recognize distinguished service to the game by a baseball fan.

You wish Faust could play at the Pasadena ceremony. But at 70, she likely hits the keyboard only for her family these days. She is mostly retired, only playing for specific events that suit her. In 2006, she began cutting back her South Side schedule to day games only before leaving the Guaranteed Rate Field organ booth for good in 2010.

“I wanted to quit  when I was still good,” she said. “I want the memories to be good. Forty-one years was a long time.”

Faust played Sunday home games for the Class-A Kane County Cougars for a couple of years, but even that gig is in the rear-view mirror as she wanted her Sundays free.

Now she travels around the Midwest and winters in Arizona with husband Joe Jenkins. She played at the Cactus League kickoff luncheon at a Phoenix hotel in February. At home in Lake County, the animal-lover tends to beloved full-sized female donkey Mandy and miniature donkey Gigi on the couple’s five-acre  spread.

It’s always great to be remembered,” Faust said. “You like to think you made a difference in people’s lives. I am most humbled and pinch myself to have had the career I did. I feel fortunate my life took me in the direction it did. If I had any notoriety, it’s because I’m a good musician. Hopefully my fingers spoke for themselves.

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End game of Ron Kittle and his Harley Pooch a triumph, not a tragedy

Ron Kittle the 1983 American League  Rookie of the Year. Ron Kittle the strongman who belted rooftop homers at old Comiskey Park. Ron Kittle the ultimate self-deprecating White Sox ambassador.

All now pale thanks to social media and his own ongoing diary for Ron Kittle, the devoted “parent” to his beloved “Harley Pooch” soft-coated wheaten terrier.  Anything that preceded him in his rise to the Sox from Wirt High School in Gary, Ind. now must take a back seat to the story of the eternal boy and his dog.

Harley Pooch and devoted dad Ron Kittle at their favorite ballpark.

The scores of followers of Kittle’s Facebook site got to love the furry Harley, not Kittle’s foil in any way, but the star of the show. By the time Kittle’s better half appeared in most of his posts, he was slowed from an old injury in which he jumped up for joy one day and landed awkwardly on his back. But as winter grimly hung on in April, Harley Pooch’s health began to fail. His back legs were paralyzed, he lost his appetite and was incontinent.

Any veteran dog parent is initially in denial and tries veterinary intervention. Yet in the back of one’s mind the outcome looms. The process to end a pet’s life never gets easier, and one feels like a jerk even though it’s the right thing to do. So one Monday Kittle relayed the sad news on Facebook he had to terminate Harley’s suffering, though only after some two-way chatting as only a boy and his dog could do.

Kittle said he had his “talk” with Harley. In turn, he surely tapped into the “aura” — not proven by science quite yet — that perceptive pet owners know exists involving humans and dogs. After all, aren’t dogs employed to sniff out cancer and warn of coming epileptic seizures? Taken further, just because dogs can’t speak human language does not mean they can’t communicate clearly. Kittle got the message from Harley it was all right to let him go.

Before and after the tough call, Kittle got the word that Harley had an impact on everyone who interacted with Kittle. He was the people’s dog.

“I got well over 5,000 comments and messages,” said Kittle. “I got back to everybody.”

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Daily WGN Cubs-Sox baseball telecasts in 1948 spurred TV’s growth

Too bad a WGN engineer did not set up a kinescope — a film made directly off an internal feed of a TV broadcast — in 1948 to preserve even a snippet of  “Good Ol’ Channel 9’s” first season of WGN-TV baseball telecasts that have continued uninterrupted into the present day.

Such a highlight would have been the topper on WGN’s impromptu April 16 special marking the 70th anniversary of the station’s first ballgame, a Cubs-Sox pre-season affair at Wrigley Field. Executive producer Bob Vorwald and crew did a yeoman’s job putting the two-hour show together in a few hours after the vintage highlights were originally scheduled to be scattered through The Leadoff Man and the Cubs-Cardinals game, both postponed by frigid weather.

Vince Lloyd (left) and Jack Brickhouse were staples of WGN’s Cubs telecasts when the station still competed for baseball viewers against WBKB-TV in 1951.

The elongated version of video highlights and a film (not an actual kinescope) off a TV monitor of Stan Musial’s 3,000th hit in 1958 caused my own postponement of other programming, such a DVR of James Comey’s ABC interview. That’s how precious Jack Brickhouse’s 1969 play-by-play of the entire Henry Aaron at-bat concluding Ken Holtzman’s strikeout-free no-hitter and Ron Santo’s heel clicking: “C’mon, Nijinsky, let’s have it…that’s it. Hah. There you go Ronnie…weeee!”

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Where’s Players Association to mitigate dangerous cold-weather playing conditions?

Even top baseball management realizes major leaguers needed a playing conditions advocate.

Some 15 years ago I approached then-Cubs president Andy MacPhail in the Wrigley Field pressbox cafeteria after researching the four consecutive doubleheaders his team played Friday through Monday over the Labor Day weekend at home in 1967.

Manager Leo Durocher, quickly morphing into a slave driver, started Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, 36-year-old Ernie Banks and Adolfo Phillips in all eight games. Catcher Randy Hundley started seven of the eight contests, and came into the eighth late for backup Johnny Stephenson via a double-switch.

Barbaric, right?

“That’s why you needed the Players Association,” MacPhail said of the country’s now-most powerful union, in 1967 getting acquainted with new executive director Marvin Miller, whom I rated in a book the fourth-most impactful “game changer” in baseball history.

From left, Players Association chief Tony Clark, Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend and Commissioner Rob Manfred before the Fort Bragg Game in 2016. Clark needs to reach across the table to Manfred to establish a baseline of safe playing conditions.

So, that’s why I wonder where Miller successor many-times-removed Tony Clark was when teams played in, again, barbaric conditions over the past two weeks in the extended winter of April 2018?

Worst of all was the now-infamous Saturday, April 14, literally slipshod Cubs’ 14-10 victory over the Braves at Wrigley Field, coming back from an early 10-2 deficit. The conditions were quasi-Arctic, so cold, wet and miserable baseballs were literally squiring out of players’ hands. The risk of serious injury was greatly heightened. Football fans in December at most northern stadiums sat through better conditions.

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A look back at the late Joe McConnell’s White Sox broadcasting career

By Mark Litpak

Contributor to CBM

Joe McConnell, a truly underrated White Sox radio announcer spanning the Bill Veeck and Jerry Reinsdorf ownership groups from 1980 to 1984, died at 79 on April 8.

McConnell’s time with the Sox overlapped his eight-year stint (1977-84) as the Bears’ chief radio announcer. Timing is everything – McConnell left the year before Super Bowl XX.

Like Jack Brickhouse, Joe McConnell broadcast the Bears and Chicago baseball at the same time.

He worked alongside two of the best loved Sox announcers in history, Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall. In that time he saw a young manager and future Hall of Famer, Tony LaRussa get his first taste of success. He saw new Sox ownership in Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn take over for Veeck. He saw the formation of a team that had three straight winning seasons, capped off by the 1983 Western Division champion “Winnin’ Ugly” White Sox.

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White Sox hit hardest in media-coverage cuts

Where is Bill Veeck when you need him to complain about media-coverage cuts?

If the longtime Baseball Barnum was alive and still ran the White Sox, he’d be pounding his peg leg on his desk, dialing up Chicago Tribune editors with his cigarette dangling from his mouth and would rant and rave—sans any cuss words– far unlike his more genteel Hinsdale upbringing.

Bill Veeck was the type who’d be screaming bloody murder if the largest newspaper in town did not cover the Sox.

Although Veeck grew up in the Cubs organization, for which his father William, Sr. served as all-powerful President, he created a lot of noise in his two tours heading up the Sox ownership group. One loud tactic was measuring newspaper column inches of Cubs and Sox coverage to show the former team had a huge advantage.

What would Veeck think now that the Chicago Tribune, overstaffed back in his time, laid off Chris Kuc, its Sox beat writer, leaving the team temporarily uncovered near the end of spring training?

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Cubs in fine shape, but October a crapshoot; Sox place holders await phenoms

The 2018 MLB season is about to start and all the pundits come out with their predictions. Here are my thoughts for the new season. It’s hard to pick against the Cubs to win the National League Central.

And how many years have any of us had that experience of knowing the Cubs were odds-on favorites? It’s still unchartered territory and takes getting used to.

The days of having to contort mentally, if not physically, into finding a way to justify a prognostication of a Cubs division title are still too close for comfort. And maybe in the baseball, by far the most unpredictable sport of all, it’s best to never be comfortable in forecasting.

But at this juncture, the Cubs would have to fritter away an NL Central title, while the White Sox are still in a place-holding juncture for expected waves of prime prospects to build a contender in future seasons.

Even an average power and RBI output from Jason Heyward would be welcome after two mediocre seasons at the plate.

Both outcomes are satisfactory to their respective fan bases. And when has that ever been the mindset going into a new season?

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Michael Kopech born too late to get the rush act like former White Sox phenoms

Michael Kopech is a man out of his time.

The White Sox’s flame-throwing prospect, from all accounts, is ready for the major leagues. By the standards of the 1970s, Kopech — after 155 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings in Double-A Birmingham — would start the season in the Sox rotation. But since the date registers 2018 and a series of Collective Bargaining Agreements have codified service time, Kopech will likely cool his heels for a short time in Charlotte before the call to G-Rate Field.

Sox GM Rick Hahn does not want to rush his cache of prize prospects gathered from all over baseball and foreign shores anyway. And if Kopech’s aim catches up to his golden arm, the Sox brass want control of him for a full seven years from his big-league debut. Should he break camp with the Sox, he’d be contractually beholden on the South Side for just six seasons. Delaying the full season accrual of service time is now a fact of life for the best young players.

Bart Johnson’s high-kicking style added the illusion of speed to his fastball.

Kopech, turning 22 near the end of April, would have loved to play in the early days of the Marvin Miller-run Players Association if a fast track to the majors was free of such hindrances. However, he would not have favored the rock-bottom rookie salaries ($12,500 in 1969, for instance) or the near-servitude status of the players to their bosses.

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