Experience 2005: early April voicemails

Thanks, Dad: You know I recognize your voice, right?


As the 2005 season got underway, I started to keep things — ticket stubs, newspaper articles — and I began to jot thoughts down. I started an essay after the 2005 season that I never finished. All of those writings have never seen the light of day, but here we are, 15 years later, so maybe it’s a good time to drag them out. Some of these entries will be full-length, others shorter, like this one.

After the Opening Day victory, the Sox win Game 2 of the season in a thrilling, 9th-inning comeback. But they miss the chance to sweep Cleveland in the series finale to start the season 3-0, with the bullpen imploding in the 11th inning.

I get home from work, and there’s a message on my answering machine. “Uh, hi, Laura. This is your dad. (He always announces himself in this way. As if I don’t know.) Looks like the Sox aren’t going 162-0 after all.  Alright, bye.”

***

The Sox have a pattern going: they win the next three series by winning the first two games of each, then dropping the third. Minnesota, Cleveland again, Seattle. The pitching is so good, but I am irked at their inability to get a sweep. Bad sign for the future, I think. It’s all smoke and mirrors. No killer instinct. Blah blah, other cliches.

“Uh, yeah,  hi, Laura. This is your dad. You know, if the Sox win every series, then they’ll win the whole thing. OK, bye, talk to you later.”

[Note from the future: My answering machine – actual tape and all – got quite the workout in 2005.]


 

Experiencing 2005: Opening Day, 4/4/05

Love at first sight: It’s possible Bitmoji has changed her mind about Scotty Pods already.


The day is beautiful, low 60s and sunny, as good as it gets in early April. I’m on the Red Line, rumbling toward the South Side to meet up with Wally. Wally is a Missouri native and a Cardinals fan first and foremost. But the White Sox are his 1(a) team, and he’s nearly as passionate as I am. I know this is for real, because his love for the Sox goes back to the days of Frank, Robin, and Jack McDowell. Wally and I have attended two Sox games together, and they lost both. Badly. This is our last chance, and we both know it. We’re superstitious enough to realize that there is no way we’ll ever attend another game together if we get our third strike today.

The train is screaming through the subway tunnel, and the couple behind me is debating the best way to Midway Airport. The woman says that she called CTA, and they told her to transfer to the Orange Line at Lake. I turn around. “That’s actually not the best way. There are lots of stairs involved, which is annoying with a suitcase, and it’s not that well marked. Transfer at Roosevelt Road. Lots of signs and an escalator. Much easier. In fact, I’m getting off there. You can follow me.”

The woman, Kathy, is grateful. She’s heading to Florida to visit her sister. Her husband, Roger, is wearing a Sox hat. He’s going to Opening Day, too. We trade fan stories for the rest of the trip: best games, favorite players, funniest ballpark memories.

At Roosevelt Road, I guide Kathy to her train. She is genuinely thankful and seemingly a little surprised to find such a friendly soul. It’s good karma, I tell myself. And you need all the good karma you can get on Opening Day.

I meet Wally at a bar on South Michigan Avenue for a drink and remote broadcast by a sports radio team that I like. At the park, I walk to Parking Lot A to step on old home plate. As I do this, a man nearby asks, “Why are you doing that?”

“For luck. I do it every game.” I reply.

“Doesn’t seem to be working,” he grumbles.

“Maybe I just haven’t been doing it enough yet. Maybe luck is cumulative.”

I buy a scorecard outside Gate 4 at a kiosk manned by an older African-American. I decline the pencil, because of course I brought my own.

* * *

“What do you think the keys are to the season?” Wally asks in between handfuls of peanuts.

“Two things,” I say, popping a nut into my mouth, the spent shells falling to my feet. “One: Can Jermaine Dye even come close to replacing Mags in right field? And two: Is A.J. Pierzynski just a troublemaker or is he That Guy that we’ve been needing for so long?”

While nervous about offensive capabilities — new guy Tadahito Iguchi looked terrible in each of his three strikeouts — I’m thrilled with the show of pitching prowess. And other new guy Scott Podsednik does looks to be speedy. Wally and I decide to put a stamp on our euphoria and buy some Sox merchandise. When we get to Grandstand — if they don’t have it in Sox colors, you don’t need it — I can’t believe my eyes: there’s a line to get in. To a store. Selling Sox merchandise. There’s a bouncer at the door and everything. What is this, Studio 54? Wally and I wait in line for 10 minutes, and the bouncer says this is typical early in the season, and when the Sox win. “When they lose,” he says, “people walk by like they got blinders on, like we’re not even here.”

New purchases in hand, Wally and I wander the neighborhood a bit. We come across guys playing bags in the street and drinking Modelo Especial out of the back of their minivan. They invite us to join them, and how can we say no?

We then hit a couple of neighborhood bars, also packed. One bartender shrugs, “On Opening Day, everybody thinks they’re going to win the World Series.”

On our way out of one bar, I run into Roger, my friend from the morning’s El ride, on his way in.

“Must be destiny,” he says. “It’s going to be a good season.”

To top off the day, I win $265 in my NCAA office pool when North Carolina beats Illinois that evening. The only sour note is a local sports columnist’s take on the upcoming season: He writes that White Sox fans have no reason to think this team will be more than .500, they let their best player go, their pitchers are B+ at best, they will be offensively inept. Perhaps he is right, but that doesn’t matter right now.

Tomorrow, I will worry. Today is Opening Day. And anything is possible.

Experiencing 2005: The Offseason

Looking Back: LL Bitmoji didn’t exist in 2005, but man, she would have loved it.


As the 2005 season got underway, and the White Sox were regularly winning two of every three games they played, I started to keep things — ticket stubs, newspaper articles — and I began to jot thoughts down. (I also did this in 1983, at the age of 12, but that’s a retrospective series for another year.) I started an essay after the 2005 season that I never finished. All of those writings have never seen the light of day, but here we are, 15 years later, so maybe it’s a good time to drag them out. Some of these entries will be full-length, others only a paragraph or two. But they were my thoughts and feelings at the time, edited very little in present day. Expect a new post every seven-to-10 days.

I have, stored in a box under my bed, a scorecard from a baseball game. I have many such scorecards from many baseball games, but this one is special. This one told the future. White Sox vs. Twins, Sept. 22, 2004. The Sox won, 7-6, on a bottom-of-the-ninth double by Paul Konerko. Our beloved Mighty Whities, as my dad was fond of calling them, were long out of it by this point, having predictably swooned in September, once again outdone by the Twins. Still, a win is a win is a win, and they must be celebrated. Across the top of the scorecard, in my dad’s block-letter scrawl are the words, “Wait ‘till next year!”

* * *

The 2005 season begins during the Hot Stove league, December 2004. I wake one morning, turn on ESPN, and learn that the White Sox have traded left fielder Carlos Lee, he of lots and lots of home runs, to Milwaukee for some light-hitting guy I’ve never heard of. Scott Podswhositswhatsit?

My first action upon hearing this news is to call my father. I do not make pleasantries, I don’t even say hello. “What do you think?” are the first words out of my mouth.

Dad sighs large, and I imagine him at the kitchen table, maybe just finishing breakfast, rubbing his hand across his forehead in the weary frustration that long-suffering Sox fans know all too well.

“Well, Laura,” he says with an edge of bitterness, “I can tell you this: I’m not real keen on spending $3,000 of my hard-earned money to go see that team.” He and Mom have been considering celebrating their 35th anniversary this summer with a large group gathering at the park; this is the $3,000 of which he speaks. I don’t blame him.

Then in February, Magglio Ordoñez, probably the Sox’s best all-around player, signs with the Tigers. I have been a White Sox fan as long as I can remember, from the moment I knew what a baseball was. I share my dad’s disappointment. I’m bitter, too.

* * *

Winter passes, and so does my bitterness, and even little of my skepticism. At least, I point out to Dad as spring training approaches, when they lose, we’ll see them lose in a different way. We’ve had many seasons of Sox teams that slugged eight, nine, 10 runs in a game and the next day are unable to scrape together a single measly run and lose 2-0. Maybe this year, they’ll lose 3-2. I am interested in seeing this new-look team play.

At a family gathering in mid-March, my parents and I engage in our annual prognosticating.

“I don’t know,” Dad says, sipping a beer in my parents’ basement, one corner of which has been dubbed The Shrine for its collection of Sox memorabilia. The collection is about quality, not quantity — a seat from Old Comiskey anchors the corner, and the only two autographs are from Bill Veeck and Harry Caray (when he was with the Sox, of course). “They’re going to have trouble scoring runs, and the pitching has lots of question marks. I think they’ll win 85 games.”

I shake my head. “I’m more confident. They’re going to be better than that. I say 88 games.” Dad laughs at what passes for confidence — a whopping three games difference.

“You’re both wrong,” my mother challenges. “They’re going to win 100 games.”

I look at her and ask her what the hell pipe she’s smoking.

My optimism eventually becomes strong enough that I decide to do something I’ve never done before: attend Opening Day. [Note from the future: Yes, my very first Opening Day happened to be in 2005. Was this unprecedented event solely responsible for the Sox’s success that year? Discuss in the comments.] I make plans with my friend Wally and consider myself slightly mad as I purchase the tickets. What am I so excited about?


 

A century later, contemplating the Black Sox scandal with 200 other baseball nerds

No gum, though: Gummy Arts 1919 White Sox cards. (@gummyarts)


In 1919, heading into the World Series, the Chicago White Sox were a “popular and well-known team.” Let that quote sit with you for awhile.

A little more than year later, on Sept. 28 1920, Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte confessed to his part in fixing the 1919 World Series.

Exactly 99 years after that, on Sept. 28, 2019, I spent four hours at the Chicago History Museum at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) Black Sox Scandal Centennial Symposium.

(“You are such a nerd,” I’ve been told multiple times recently about this — always lovingly, of course. Also, site note: Of the roughly 200 attendees, I counted only 15 women and 10 people of color. Props to South Side Hit Pen for having the most inclusive bunch of writers in the Sox-fan-blog-sphere.)

You can listen to the entire symposium here (including a question by yours truly!), which I highly recommend for every Sox fan. If all you know of the scandal is Eight Men Out (book and/or movie) and Field of Dreams, you owe it to yourself to spend some time digging into the SABR website. Did you know that the Black Sox probably threw the 1920 pennant, too? There was a clear and bitter divide between the “Clean Sox” and the Black Sox on those 1919 and 1920 teams. (Did you also know that you can watch bits of Games 1 and 3 on YouTube?)

The day began with a panel discussion on the cultural legacy of the scandal: Why does it endure? It is a stubbornly unsolved mystery, with a vast cast of characters and multiple plot lines. With no trove of papers to find (gambler Arnold Rothstein destroyed all of his, for example), some facts will forever remain unknowable. Therefore, we can each paint our own story on the canvas: Labor vs. management, greed and innocence, do you rat on your friends or not?

The panelists gave both credit and blame for the myths that have arisen to Eight Men Out author Eliot Asinof: “it was a book flawed in its fact, but genius in its narrative.” Asinof was an underpaid minor league ball player and a writer who was blacklisted in the 1950s; these facts influenced the story he painted. But with documents from the time being released to the public in the early 2000s, the last 15 years have seen a revised interest in researching the facts of the story.

For example, Charles Comiskey was not a cheap bastard. Well, he kinda was, but not as cheap as all of the other owners. For real, the White Sox had the highest payroll in the American League in 1919. Players may have felt underpaid (and salaries weren’t public then, so they didn’t know what players on other teams were making), but we now know they weren’t. In 1919, teams allocated 1/3 of their revenue to payroll. Today, that amount is 2/3. This eventual shift of power, more than the permanent ban of the Black Sox, is what ensured that scandal this large would never happen again.

So, without the “cheap owner, disgruntled players” narrative, what was the motive? This is one of those facts we’ll likely never know. At the time, baseball and gambling were intertwined. The sport had far more dirty players than eight guys from Chicago. Hal Chase, for example, was known to be gambling on and throwing games as recently as 1918; baseball knew, and baseball did nothing. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker fixed a Tigers-Indians game. There was some evidence that the Cubs and Red Sox conspired to lengthen the 1918 series. Eight players from the New York Giants were eventually banned for various crooked behavior. The list goes on and on. And the money was good: for Cicotte, the money he was promised for throwing the Series was equal to his salary. Therefore, it was a low-risk, high-reward proposition. The players simply had no reason to believe they would get caught, or punished.

The day concluded with another panel, “Eight Myths Out: Shedding New Light on Baseball’s Darkest Hour.” Again, I refer you back to SABR, whose Eight Myths Out project is enlightening. You can’t really be angry at Comiskey for the salaries, but you can be angry at him for knowing about the fix as early as Game 1 (possibly even earlier) and doing nothing, just hoping nobody would ever find out. You can be mad at Chick Gandil and Cicotte, who were the clear ringleaders and were plotting the fix for weeks before the season even ended.

During the Q&A, I was chosen to ask a question (here at the 1:03:40 mark). “(1) Did banning the Black Sox in fact, save baseball? (2) It’s been said that the White Sox had the talent to compete with the Yankees in the 1920s, and their banishment helped lead to the rise of the Yankee juggernaut we all love to hate. Is that valid, or another myth?”

To the first half of my question, panelist Bill Lamb (author, Black Sox in the Courtroom) noted that if the goal was deterrence, particularly with the Buck Weaver banishment, then “mission accomplished.” Bruce Allardice — professor of history at South Suburban College, White Sox fan, and author of numerous articles about the scandal — added, “The more I read about the dead ball era, the more amazed I am that any games got played. The gambling was so prevalent, and the money was so big, it’s amazing the players were as honest as they were.”

But it’s Jacob Pomrenke, chair of SABR’s Black Sox Scandal Research Committee, who jumps on the second half of my question first: “The 1921 hypothetical American League pennant race between the Yankees and the White Sox sure would have been a lot of fun, but we never did get to see that one. It is very interesting to think about what the White Sox would have done in the 1920s … It’s very likely that the White Sox would have continued to stay contenders.”

There may have been a funereal pall that fell over the room at that moment, or maybe it was just in my own heart as I imagined this alternate White Sox history. This is the canvas on which I paint my story. If the players just flat-out hadn’t done it. If it had only been Gandil and Cicotte, and they were then the only ones banned. If Jackson and Weaver had enjoyed long, prolific careers. If the “clean” pitcher Red Faber wasn’t sick, with his starts going instead to conspirators Cicotte and Lefty Williams. If the Sox had won multiple pennants, if not another World Series, in the ’20s. What if, what if, what if …

These are the questions that haunt a Sox fan’s soul. What would a history of being good, being relevant, actually feel like? Would we even be White Sox fans with such a history? So much of our Sox-fan identity — the dismissal, the national irrelevance, the chip on our collective shoulders — is rooted in this original sin.

I left the symposium buoyant to be surrounded by so many other baseball nerds, and to hear the facts of history, even if (and maybe especially because) they didn’t match up to the stories of my youth. I also left a bit sad, for generations of White Sox fans. There are missing pieces in the research, they told us — notes from the White Sox secretary, for example, interviews in old newspapers, court documents — stories still to be told. But the main story for me, and for a century of South Side fans, has already been written.

Shut up, haters: Tim Anderson wins batting title


It’s always a little sad when baseball is done for the season. (Well, not last year; it was a relief when that mess was over.) But this year’s White Sox team was just better enough (with some putrid exceptions — hello, month of July) that there is a hint of bittersweet in the autumn air.

This year, there was some actual good baseball played and several accomplishments to celebrate. Give it up for José Abreu and his AL-leading 123 RBIs, Yoán Moncada for finishing third in the AL batting race (and being the clear, all-around best player on the Sox), and Lucas Giolito for a miraculous turnaround that will garner him a few Cy Young votes.

And, most pleasantly surprising of all, Tim Anderson won the American League batting title, joining only Luke Appling (1936 and 1943) and Frank Thomas (1997) as South Siders to accomplish the feat. Anderson and Appling in 1936 are the only White Sox to lead all of baseball in batting average.

Oh, hey, Bitmoji. Good to see that you’ve recovered from your um, unfortunate Lucas Giolito incident. But why are you looking so … pissed off? You love Timmy.

Is it because all the advanced stats folks say batting average is meaningless?

Or that Tim’s OBP is disappointingly low because he doesn’t take many walks?

Or that he just makes too many gosh-darned errors and should be moved to the outfield?

I hear ya. Look, Tim is who he is — he will never take many walks. A few more would be nice, sure, so he could steal a few more bases, but that just ain’t his style. And some of the simple errors can be confounding, particularly with his ability for truly spectacular plays. But when Timmy is on, he is fun as hell to watch. And by all accounts, he loves Chicago and genuinely wants to help his community. He’s an easy guy to root for.

Some people only want to see Tim for his shortcomings. But you know what? At the end of the day, he’s a batting champion and they’re not.

That’s right, Bitmoji, let them stew. We’re going to celebrate Tim being Tim. And if other players, like Eloy Jiménez and Zack Collins, take similar steps forward, and Luis Robert is all that and a bag of chips …

That’s the hope, isn’t it? With TA and his bat flips leading the way.

Hit parade continues as Sox beat Tigers 5-3

Hi, I’m back! Did you miss me? Lurker’s Bitmoji approves of all the hitting.


The White Sox collected 17 hits this evening, on the heels of 19 hits last night, with the roster going all Oprah on the Tigers: You get a hit! You get a hit! Everybody gets a hit!

José Abreu led the way, going 3-for-5 with 2 more RBIs, bringing his total to 121 so far, leading all of MLB. Whether you like the RBI stat or not, 121 of them ain’t nothin’. Also, he’s like your dad, making sure everybody drinks their water:

Yoán Moncada had two RBIs of his own with a triple in the fifth. Tim Anderson started the scoring with a solo shot in that same inning; his batting average sits at .335.

The score was all zeros going into the fifth, when the Sox got the aforementioned three runs, then proceeded to give two of them back in the bottom of the inning on a Victor Reyes ground out and a Brandon Dixon sacrifice fly.

Iván Nova continued his post-May competence in Nova fashion: allowing plenty of hits himself (eight), but also inducing plenty of ground balls, including two double plays (Yolmer, TA, and José looked very good together tonight). Evan Marshall and birthday boy Aaron Bummer combined for three scoreless innings, and Alex Colomé got the save.

For all of their hits, the Sox wasted plenty of opportunities that would have come back to haunt them against a better team: 12 left on base, including leaving two men on three separate times, and an Adam Engel TOOTBLAN in the sixth to end a scoring threat. That left the score at an uncomfortably close 3-2 going into the eighth. With one out, Yolmer Sánchez singled, and Leury García followed an out later. Then, an extraordinary thing happened: Anderson walked. He looked disgusted about it, too; the guy wants to hit. But the bases were loaded, and Abreu came through:

Colomé made things a bit too close for comfort in the ninth, giving up two hits and a run (and not helped by a passed ball from James McCann) before a spectacular stretch from Abreu saved a double play, and a strikeout of Reyes brought things to a close.

Tonight’s three things:

This rebuild may work: If we play the Tigers for 162 games.

I watched so you didn’t have to: It was an unseasonably warm September Saturday evening. I stayed inside watching two teams who will both pick in the top 10 of next year’s draft. This whole game was “I watched so you didn’t have to.”

This is what being a Sox fan feels like: Sweating out the ninth inning against a 108-loss team.

The good guys go for the series sweep tomorrow at 12:10, Reynaldo López on the hill.

Gamethread: White Sox at Tigers

The future:Two reasons to watch a Sox game in September, no matter how meaningless. (Clinton Cole/South Side Hit Pen)

It would be easy to wonder why you, Reader, are watching a meaningless Chicago White Sox game vs. the Detroit Tigers in late September on a Saturday evening. Surely you have something, anything, better to do.

But we know why: soon, there will be no more baseball, only winter and snow and polar vortices, and we will all miss baseball, no matter now meaningless. So we may as well watch while we can.

Is it me, or does 2-6 almost look like a real, honest-to-goodness, professional lineup? Nice work, Ricky:

Meanwhile, the Tigers are trotting out something less encouraging for their fans: