Ho-lee Cow: On a first-pitch opportunity to stab the Red Sox in the heart, Carlton Fisk drove the knife in deep. (YouTube)
1959 The season opener to a memorable, pennant-winning year started in Detroit where Billy Pierce faced Jim Bunning. The Sox blew a 7-4 lead when the Tigers got three runs in the eighth inning, and matters weren’t decided until the 14th. That’s when Nellie Fox, who hit home runs as often as he struck out, blasted a two-run shot to give the Sox the 9-7 win. Fox would go 5-for-7 and knock in three runs that afternoon, despite freezing temperatures.
1961 White Sox outfielder “Jungle” Jim Rivera was always good for the unexpected. Right before the Sox played in Washington D.C. to open the season, President John Kennedy threw out the first ball. Rivera came up with it and was escorted to the President’s box, where both Kennedy and Vice President Lyndon Johnson signed the ball.
After Rivera looked at it he said to the President, “You’ll have to do better than that, John. This is a scribble I can hardly read!” So Kennedy, in block letters, spelled out his name on the baseball. Oh … the Sox went on to win the game, 4-3, getting single runs in the seventh and eighth innings. It was the first game the expansion Washington Senators ever played.
1968 Social unrest on the West Side of Chicago after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King held the Opening Day crowd at Comiskey Park to fewer than 8,000. The White Sox got shut out by Cleveland’s Sonny Siebert, 9-0. It was the first of a franchise-record 10 straight losses to open the season. Coupled with the five straight losses to close out 1967, the Sox would end up dropping 15 in a row.
1981 If you had written the script and pitched it to Hollywood, it would have refused it on the grounds of corniness — but reality is sometimes stranger than fiction. Carlton Fisk, native son of New England, returned to Boston on Opening Day mere weeks after leaving the Red Sox for the White Sox. Fisk was declared a free agent after the Red Sox mailed him his contract past the legal deadline, and he left. With a new team, in a new uniform, Fisk immediately began making Boston pay as he ripped a first-pitch, three-run home run in the eighth inning off of Bob Stanley to put the White Sox ahead 3-2 in a game they’d win 5-3.
Spirit of ’76: Rudy Schaffer, Paul Richards and Bill Veeck went all-out in Veeck’s return to Chicago on Opening Day.
1963 The start of the season found the White Sox in Detroit, and it was a highlight game for third baseman Pete Ward. Ward smacked a seventh-inning, three-run home run off Jim Bunning to push the Sox into the lead, and he also made a barehanded pick-up-and-throw-out of a slow roller hit by Al Kaline. The Sox would win, 7-5, and it would be the start of Ward’s co-American League Rookie of the Year campaign.
1971 It was the largest home opener in years, as 43,253 fans poured into Comiskey Park to see the “New Look” White Sox under GM Roland Hemond and manager Chuck Tanner. Ownership was completely caught with their pants down by the turnout, as concession stands and vendors ran out of items by the middle of the game!
The Sox wouldn’t disappoint, as Rich McKinney’s two-out, ninth-inning single scored Rich Morales with the game-winning run in the 3-2 victory over Minnesota.
1976 Owner Bill Veeck was back, and 40,318 fans turned out to say welcome home on Opening Day. They got their money’s worth, as in a tribute to the U.S. Bicentennial, Veeck, manager Paul Richards and front office executive Rudy Schaffer presented the colors dressed as the fife player, drummer and flag bearer of the Revolutionary War. Wilbur Wood tossed a complete game six-hitter and Jim Spencer had a two-run home run in the 4-0 win against Kansas City.
1977 The White Sox defeated the Blue Jays, 3-2, in Toronto for the franchise’s first-ever regular-season win outside of the United States. Oscar Gamble’s home run in the fourth put the Sox on top to stay, and the team added two more in the fifth. Chris Knapp got the win and Lerrin LaGrow earned his first save in what would be the best season of his career. He’d end 1977 with 25 of them and a 2.46 ERA.
1985 For future Hall-of-Famer Tom Seaver, it was his record 14th Opening Day start. For Ozzie Guillén, it was his major league debut. The two of them combined to help the Sox beat Milwaukee, 4-2, at County Stadium. Guillénwould get his first hit in the big leagues that day, a bunt single off of future Sox pitcher Ray Searage in the ninth inning.
1990 It was the last home opener at the original Comiskey Park, and the Sox made it a good one in beating the Brewers, 2-1. Scott Fletcher’s sacrifice fly scored Sammy Sosa with what turned out to be the winning run. Barry Jones got the win, with Bobby Thigpen picking up the first of what would be a record-setting 57 saves in a season.
1993 During the home opener with the Yankees, Bo Jackson showed that the human spirit is simply amazing. Jackson, playing with an artificial hip, hammered a Neal Heaton pitch into the right field seats for a home run. It was Jackson’s first at-bat since his hip replacement, caused by an injury he suffered during his days as an All-Pro running back for the Raiders.
Jackson would end up with 16 home runs, including one in late September against Seattle that won the White Sox the Western Division title. As far as the baseball hit off Heaton, a fan returned it to him and he later had it encased and welded to his late mother’s headstone.
1963 On this date, one of the biggest “what if’s” in franchise history took place. Per the rules at the time, the White Sox had to choose between two pitchers signed to “bonus baby” contracts; only one player signed to a deal for more than a certain amount of money could remain in the organization. The other would have to be waived.
With that in mind, rookies Bruce Howard and Denny McLain squared off in an intrasquad game to see who would be released and who got promoted to Double-A Lynchburg. Howard won, 2-1, so McLain got his walking papers and was claimed by Detroit the following week. He’d go on to win 131 big league games including 31 in 1968.
1991 Baltimore was always a “house of horrors” for the White Sox, but on this day they got the last laugh. The South Siders spoiled the last home opener in old Memorial Stadium by ripping the Orioles, 9-1. Sammy Sosa clubbed two home runs off of Jeff Ballard to lead the rout. He’d knock in five runs on the afternoon. Jack McDowell went the distance, striking out 10.
Great White North: Jack Brohamer of the White Sox turns shin guards into snow shoes before Toronto’s MLB debut in 1977.
1970 The worst White Sox team in history began their forgettable season by getting pounded 12-0 at home by the Twins. Sox starting pitcher Tommy John only lasted into the fifth inning. The Sox would go on to lose a franchise-record 106 games.
1971 Charlie Finley, the A’s owner, got the first regularly scheduled Opening Day doubleheader in history but was stunned when the White Sox beat them twice, 6-5 and 12-4. Tommy John and Bart Johnson were the winning pitchers. The Sox clubbed five home runs on the day, including a grand slam by Bill Melton. It should have been six homers, except that Carlos May somehow missed touching home plate on his blast. The A’s picked up on it and tagged him out when he was sitting in the dugout.
This was also Harry Caray’s first regular season game as a White Sox announcer, although at the time not a whole lot of folks could hear him. Three straight awful years caused the Sox to lose their radio contract with any mainstream Chicago station. For the next two years Sox games were broadcast on WTAQ (LaGrange) and WEAW (Evanston), two low-powered stations.
On Opening Day in Texas, Mike Andrews became the first White Sox DH. He hit sixth in the lineup for manager Chuck Tanner. He went 1-for-3 in the 3-1 win behind Wilbur Wood.
1977 The White Sox introduced American League baseball to Canada, as they played the first ever game in Toronto Blue Jays history. The Jays outslugged the Sox in a driving snowstorm to win, 9-5. But it was the start of something much bigger; the “South Side Hit Men” were born.
1984 Detroit’s Jack Morris threw what turned out to be the last no-hitter at Comiskey Park, shutting down the White Sox 4-0 on the NBC Saturday “Game of the Week.” The Sox had their chances, including loading the bases on walks in the fourth inning with nobody out.
1993 On his first swing of the season, future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk would blast his final major league home run. It would come off of Minnesota’s Jim Deshaies in the third inning, and was the only run scored by the Sox in a 6-1 loss. Fisk would be released by the Sox in June.
In the annual “Crosstown Classic” charity game between the White Sox and Cubs, Michael Jordan wrote his name into Sox lore. His double in the late innings tied the game and prevented the Sox from losing for the first time in this series. The game would end in a tie. The Sox would go 10-0-2 in the Crosstown Classic series (1985-95, with two games played in 1995).
General Gio: A few hours after his first Twitch stream (with the username GeneralGio), Lucas Giolito pitched admirably in a win over the Mariners. (Sean Williams/South Side Hit Pen)
It was a pitcher’s duel at Guaranteed Rate field, as offense was hard to come by. The White Sox scored twice, and that was enough to secure a victory, as they beat the Mariners by a score of 2-1.
White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito was terrific once again. The Mariners struggled to make contact, as Giolito racked up nine strikeouts in his six and two-thirds innings on the mound. The only hiccup came in the top of the third, when left fielder Mallex Smith hit a two-out home run of the solo variety. The home run was Smith’s second of the year, and it gave the Mariners a 1-0 lead.
On the other side, Mariners starter Marco Gonzales was nearly flawless in his first few innings. However, Gonzales ran into trouble in the fifth. After issuing a dreaded leadoff walk to Edwin Encarnacion, Danny Mendick doubled, and the White Sox had runners on second and third with no outs. Adam Engel cashed in on the RBI opportunity by slicing a single to score both baserunners, and the White Sox took a 2-1 lead. Despite this clutch hit, Engel is off to a slow start at the plate (.125/.152/.156). Hopefully, this will help him turn things around.
The Mariners could not put up a rally against Giolito, as their bats went quiet after Smith’s home run. Giolito’s final line was the following: six and two-thirds innings, three hits, one run (it was earned), one walk, and nine strikeouts. Giolito now has a 1.89 ERA, and he boasts 0.7 Baseball-Reference WAR through just three starts. Giolito is averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings, his WHIP is 1.000, and he is allowing only 6.6 hits per nine innings.
The bullpen had no margin for error, as the White Sox could not add any insurance runs. However, relievers Evan Marshall and Aaron Bummer got the job done. Marshall retired all four batters he faced, striking out one of them. Bummer took over in the top of the ninth, and he worked around a single to pick up his third save of the season. Marshall has not allowed an earned run in five and one-third innings, and Bummer also has a perfect ERA, in three and one-third innings.
Now, for some updates on how players are performing in this simulation. First, we will start with the bad news. Eloy Jiménez has no extra base hits yet, slashing .238/.360/.238. Sure, he has drawn a lot of walks, so his OBP is high. But, the surprising lack of power to open the season results in him being worth -0.1 WAR. Yasmani Grandal has a similar story, as he is slashing .167/.302/.278. Like Jiménez, Grandal is drawing lots of walks (as expected), but he is otherwise not hitting well, resulting in 0.0 WAR. On the other hand, Danny Mendick is slashing .458/.480/.625 (0.5 WAR), so there is no need to rush Nick Madrigal to The Show. Yoán Moncada is also off to a hot start, slashing .333/.429/.571 (0.6 WAR).
After today’s victory, the White Sox’s record stands at 8-3, while the Mariners fell to 8-4. The White Sox will take on the Mariners again tomorrow, and they are seeking a sweep. If the White Sox manage to pull off the sweep, it would be their second in the young season.
We’ll wrap this up with some trivia related to the events of today’s simulation:
The White Sox designated Carson Fulmer for assignment and placed him on irrevocable waivers. In 2015, the White Sox drafted Fulmer out of which school?
This was Giolito’s third start of the year. Giolito has had at least eight strikeouts in all three games. How many pitchers in White Sox history have had a season with 15 or more games with at least eight strikeouts?
Two. Only Chris Sale (18 times in 2015) and Lucas Giolito (16 times in 2019) have done that.
Solid as a: Rock Raines was a stalwart in the leadoff spot for the 1993 White Sox. (Pinnacle)
1993 A division championship season began with a night game in Minnesota and a big 10-5 win over the Twins. Tim Raines knocked in three runs on the night. The White Sox would wind up winning the AL West by eight games and compiling 94 victories.
Baseball’s Opening Day this year was a bummer, to say the least. Mostly because, well, there was no baseball. I’m like a lot of us who find great comfort in the game of baseball, and everything else it represents. Changing of the seasons, the weather getting warmer, and the smell of grilled onions on the concourse at Guaranteed Rate Field, are just a few of those comforts I had taken for granted. Well, I mean it’s still been getting warmer outside, and the seasons will change, and I still made bratwurst and grilled onions in my apartment on Opening Day, but nothing is really the same these days, is it?
I mention all of this because a week later, sports postponements, like the MLB season being delayed, just don’t seem nearly as troubling as they did a week ago. That’s not to say I’m not bummed out about it, but so much more has risen to the surface regarding our world’s new (hopefully) temporary reality. Millions of people are losing their jobs, the numbers of COVID-19 related illnesses and deaths are rising, and the deeper you dive into the daily news, the more sadness you’ll find. Even as I write this piece, just today, longtime White Sox radio play-by-play man Ed Farmer passed away.
All of that said, and I know it’s a lot, the last few weeks have shown me lots of beautiful things, too. I’ve seen more than ever people finding the importance in communicating with one another. I’ve had virtual happy hours and hangouts with friends, including some great conversations that we may not have had otherwise. My birthday was a couple days ago, and my lovely girlfriend even set up a Zoom call with my entire family, which was touching as hell. In the absence of normality, I’ve learned to appreciate what I had always taken for granted.
We are all human, and I know it sounds cliché, but in these extremely unprecedented, times, we have to be there for each other to get to the light at the end of the tunnel. That means responsibly social distancing for one, but also reaching out to our loved ones, and really anyone who you think might need it. I’ve needed it, and fortunately I’ve had a beautiful group of people to talk to. Please try to take a few minutes out of each day to reach out to those you care about. I promise you it will help us through all of this madness.
Circling back to where we started, on Opening Day, I had the absolute joy of speaking with Shane Riordan from 670 The Score. It was his birthday, and he took some time out of his day to chat. Shane is truly one of the coolest people I’ve ever spoken to. He’s one of a kind, and to say he works at 670 The Score in the operations department is really only scratching the surface. He’s a masterful chef, specializing in meats, and if you don’t follow him on Instagram, go do that now @shanesmeat. You will not regret it.
A few weeks ago, he even started raising money on Venmo and sending it to people who need some financial help during this crisis, which is just fantastic.
He’s hilarious, and has so many passions outside of the sports world. I had a great time talking to him, and I think you’ll enjoy our chat as well. After you read the edited transcript below, listen to the full conversation included at the top of the page.
Stay safe, keep in touch with your loved ones, and please enjoy my chat with the tremendous Shane Riordan.
Sam Sherman: What have you been up to since the start of the quarantine?
Shane Riordan: I’ve been trying to not watch The Circle on Netflix for the longest time, because I watched one episode, and it was insufferable, and cringy, and everything just seemed so planned, but when my roommates go to bed at night, I turn it on in the living room. I got outed the other day. I put a video of my dog on my Instagram story, and you can hear it in the background, and I got called out from everybody for talking shit about the show, and then watching it when they go to sleep.
I’ve also been reading a little bit. I was always a big reader in high school, just novels and stuff. I don’t really read sports books and I’m not a big sports guy outside of work and baseball, but I’ve been reading some novels. I’ve been into a collection of essays by David Sedaris called Calypso.
Doesn’t The Circle have a Brazilian spin-off, too?
I don’t know about Brazil, but I think it started in the U.K., and then they just brought Americans to the same place they were shooting it. The funny thing is when they zoom out and do wide and geographical shots, they’re showing Chicago, but it’s in a building in the U.K. The other night they were showing a cityscape and it was Pittsburgh; you’re not pulling a fast one on anybody, we know where it’s at.
It’s like on those Chicago PD or Chicago Fire shows where they’ll drive from one side of the city to another in like five minutes when it would really take a half-hour.
Yeah, exactly, the hospital is supposed to be on the far west side, but they’re having lunch in the Signature Room.
Speaking of reality TV, I forgot, are you a Bachelor fan?
I had a podcast with a guy who was on a season of either Bachelor in Paradise, or the Bachelorette, I can’t remember. I watched a couple seasons, but I like Bachelor in Paradise.
OK, so I had never really given it a shot, but I got into in with the last season of Bachelor in Paradise, and I ended up watching this last season of The Bachelor with my girlfriend and roommate, and it seemed like, from what I had heard from longtime Bachelor fans, that this was a terrible season.
Oh, it was horrible.
Yeah,, I mean for the first few episodes it was fun, but by the last couple, it just became dreadful. I enjoyed some of the drama and whatnot, but I feel like that had to have been bad even for longtime fans.
Yeah, I think I watched the first four or five episodes, and then I just had to stop. Victoria is smoking hot, I liked her, and I definitely follow her on Instagram still. Usually with The Bachelor, the first few episodes are great with the introductions and then the final with the tell-all. It’s cool drama to follow, but it’s just so mind-numbing. I have other mindless television shows that I prefer to watch over that, It’s just so goddamn long. They were doing like two episodes a week at two hours each. Who has time for that? I mean, now I guess we all do.
I’m a former Score marketing intern, so I was handing out the flyers, walking in the parades, doing all of that. What was your path to ultimately working in operations at The Score?
It takes a little while to get to me working at The Score. I started college at Holy Cross in South Bend, Ind. I thought I was going to be the next Rudy, I didn’t have the grades to get into Notre Dame out of high school, but I thought I’d be that. Then I realized that South Bend sucks, and nobody should be in South Bend for any extended period of time.
I transferred to Columbia College in Chicago after three semesters in South Bend, got into the radio program, and tried to find an internship on my own. I emailed Mitch Rosen (Operations Director, The Score) without going through Columbia’s internship coordinators or anything like that. Mitch interviewed me, and gave me an internship, and I went back to Columbia and said, “Hey I’ve got this internship” and they just flat-out turned it down. They said we have requirements for you to start an internship, you’ve got to have X amount of credits and X amount of classes. Fuck that, that’s part of the problem with our current upper education system, the fact that a radio station deems somebody ready, but then because of educational requirements … whatever, that’s just rehashing stuff for me. So, I go back to Mitch and say, never mind you’ve got to start interviewing more people, Columbia’s not letting me do it.
I went back to Columbia and ended up starting an internship at Total Traffic Network, reporting at Cubs and White Sox games. I’m still 20 years old and I’m in these clubhouses getting audio and streaming it to stations in southern Illinois and Indiana that still cover the teams but can’t afford to send a reporter. I worked one season as an intern, and then I worked for them for a full year.
From there, you have to start supplementing your income a little bit like everybody does in the early stages of this industry. I worked a job at Starbucks, I worked at Best Buy, I worked as a bar bouncer just to support what I wanted my career to be. You have to pay those dues, but the problem is, you have to tell those retail jobs you have to call off sometimes like a day or two before because the job that I want to be my career needs me for something, and that’s priority. At first, they say that’s OK, but after it happens so many times, they tell you you’re kind of out of here now, aren’t you? I was working at Best Buy, and Kristin Decker who was an executive producer at WGN Radio came in because she needed to get her computer fixed or something like that. I recognized her voice because I was a P1 for WGN, and I said I’m in radio at Columbia, what are the chances you guys are hiring over there? She said not really, but she could bring me in and get me an interview with somebody.
I went and I interviewed with Kristin, Stephanie Menendez and Todd Manley, and they gave me a gig working for The Game when that had launched, and then about a month later, The Game went away. But then I said, well, I don’t want to leave, I want to stay at WGN. I interviewed for other jobs there, and ended up getting a Blackhawks producer job, and from there I got moved up to executive producer of the Dean Richards Show and then the Amy Guth Show on the weekends. Even though I was getting kind of tired of working weekends and Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, I did that for a year-and-a-half.
Then I got a call from Mitch Rosen one day and he said we’re hiring part-timers, do you want to come over here? I did that two years, executive producing Cubs and Bulls games, basically just doing every single thing I can to become irreplaceable for Mitch Rosen and Brendan McCaffrey (former Score sports director). When Brendan left for Sirius XM NFL in New York, I stepped up into his job. It was formerly called sports director, and now it’s just called operations, just a broader term.
I love stories like that, especially hearing from people in the sports media world, and the paths they had to take. It’s easy to look at lots of those jobs and say how great they look, but not everyone realizes the path it takes to get there. What is your day-to-day look like working in operations?
I’m basically there to support the on-air staff, and support Mitch, and anything the air staff needs. It’s a lot of scheduling, and mini-projects like with the Cubs Radio Network, trying to plan out content and events. I work in marketing and promotions, while still editing lots of audio, and booking guests for the shows. I’m there to support all of the shows, producers, staff and talent.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, pretty much all sports have been postponed. What is sports radio, or specifically The Score, when you take away sports?
The Score has always been personality-driven radio. We’ve always had talent here, and all you’ve got to do is turn on the microphone and let them go. That’s what we have now, top to bottom. From Les Grobstein at midnight on the overnight, to Mully and Haugh, to Dan and Connor, to Laurence, to Mac and Parkins to Joe Ostrowski to Spiegel, to Julie to Maggie, to all these people make up a dynamic on-air team. [This interview took place before the layoffs that eliminated postions like Connor McKnight’s and Julie DiCaro’s.]
These are people who are willing to pull their weight, and others’ weight when they can’t handle it. It’s been very challenging to plan out this content. We still have to worry about the demographic. It’s a sports demographic, and how far over the non-sports line can you go and still retain a listener? Just like in the Great Depression when people went to go see movies as an escape, we’re an escape. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about, people just want to know in this age of fluctuation and worry that we’re a constant for them. They can still turn on the radio and get exactly what they would have if they weren’t in quarantine.
You mentioned earlier that you have a lot of hobbies outside of sports, probably most notably, Shane’s Meat. What is the story behind Shane’s Meat?
I was cooking a lot of meat, and Julia Lepidi (who hosts the night show at B96) came into my office one day and was like, why isn’t your Instagram handle just Shane’s Meat? I said I don’t know why it’s not, but we should probably change that right now. Everybody’s got to have a brand, right?
I find myself pretty insufferable most of the time, a lot of people attest to that and say the same thing, but if you’re not known for something in this age of social media, and you don’t have some kind of association to your name, then you’re invisible and you’re nothing. I’ve got to prepare myself for new media, and this ever-changing industry. I’m not always going to be working in the operations department at The Score. There’s a next step, another move for me, I don’t know what it is, and I don’t know when that is, but you just have to always be ready for something. If I find something I’m passionate about, it’s like the old saying, if you love your job you never work a day in your life, and that’s where I’m at right now.
If I can couple sports media with cooking content and music, it makes waking up every day fun. Also, there’s a crossover with our demographic. Our demo is men, ages 25-54. Men 25-54 love grilling, learning new things, barbecuing, listening to music and making dinner when they’re done working so they don’t have to think about work anymore. It’s the same thing for me. I monitor sports news on social media, but when I get home, I put my stuff down, turn on some music and make dinner, and that’s how I unwind. It’s stupid not to try and monetize that and turn it into content for other people to enjoy.
Well, you’re definitely good at it and the brand is strong.
Thank you, I appreciate that.
I love seeing people on Twitter sending you photos of different foods that they’ve cooked, as if to get your approval or feedback. It’s been fun to see your following grow more and more over time.
Thank you. It’s hard not to blow those people up, by the way. I get so many tweets that I don’t respond to because it’s just trash, they do such a bad job, but you don’t want to ruin somebody’s spirit.
My girlfriend and I will scroll through Instagram and see people post pictures of the food they’ve made, and while it’s fine for people like you to post their food, there’s so many people who post pictures of bacon and eggs that don’t even look very good, and we wonder what the point of even posting that is.
Exactly, as you’re saying that I’m thinking of like four people in my head that do the same thing daily. Why are you posting your trash-ass food?
I also want to talk about your presentation. It’s one thing for food to taste good, but the way you make it look is beautiful as well. When did you start taking that part seriously?
That’s something that I’ve always not really been that good at until I started learning about color contrast and garnishes, and how to light something. I’m looking at my Instagram feed now as we’re talking, and there’s just a bad white plate with a pile of steak on it, not arranged in any certain way. Then I started throwing some asparagus on there, and it contrasted with the brown and the green and maybe there’s a little sauce on the side. Then it’s photographed from above instead of an angle, and there’s focus and a drizzle of hot sauce or something like that. Anybody can cook decent food and put in on a plate, but if you can make it look like something you’d want, even if it doesn’t taste good, that’s the goal. The presentation is what makes a difference and might draw an eye where the eye doesn’t always go.
I feel like I’ve always either just prepared or eaten dinner right when I see your food posts, and I’m like, shit I’d rather eat that.
Yeah, I know what you mean.
You were invited to the Score House this year. (670 The Score hosts and producers rented a house in Arizona for a week during spring training) While I know there has to be stories you can’t share; did anything happen this year that you can tell us that we may not have seen on social media?
We were pretty open about the things that can be shared. I don’t think people understand that we legitimately had a very good time with each other. This is 12 grown men in one house for six days. Nobody got tired of anyone there, and Bernstein was drunk every night, and we still weren’t tired of him, and he’ll be the first to admit that he was. It may not come off on the air all the time, but we all get along very well, and that’s rare. You put sports media, or media people in general together, and everyone’s trying to one-up the next guy, and that doesn’t happen at The Score, and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen. We all got along so well, and it’s a trip I’m going to remember for the rest of my life. It was a great learning experience and we all got along, and I hope that came across to the listener.
All right now, a few White Sox-specific questions. What’s the best thing about White Sox fans?
The dedication of White Sox fans lately has really restored my faith in this fan base. It’s a resilient fan base, it’s a fan base right now that doesn’t give a flying fuck about what the national baseball audience thinks of us. This is a team that’s going to surprise a hell of a lot of people, and I’m glad to be a fan from day one and not a bandwagoner. What I have noticed is this fan base is welcoming of bandwagoners: Bring on anyone who wants to support this team, if we ever get to play again, bring them in and support this fun, young baseball team. I think about the resilience and the restored faith, even after having eaten shit as a fan for the last 12 to 13 years. Even though it might be smaller than others, it packs a punch.
How about the worst thing about Sox fans?
Stop caring about the Cubs. It’s annoying. I don’t care about the Cubs, I don’t care what my Cub fan friends think about the White Sox. I’m worried about the Twins, Indians, Royals and Tigers. I don’t care about the Cubs, and I don’t care about their stupid fans.
I agree, and hopefully when baseball returns, the White Sox will have a better product on the field for fans to support.
Yeah, that’s what happens. When you’re a fan of a good baseball team, you can stop caring about the Cubs.
Although Cub fans still seem to care a lot about low attendance at Sox games …
Oh, of course they do.
OK, so you’re a country music fan. It took me a long time to get into country, but like any other genre of music, there’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff. Have you always been a country fan, or was it an acquired taste?
Yeah, day one. My first concert was Garth Brooks’ 1992 tour. I wasn’t a year old and my parents took me to see him. I’ve always been an outlaw, old-school country fan. One of my better friends is the marketing and promotions director for US99, so we go to all the shows that the station puts on. I can tolerate Top 40 country, like the Florida Georgia Line country, but I don’t really like it because the country I associate myself with is storytelling country music. Like Jason Isbell songs, every one of those three or four-minute songs can be turned into a movie. That’s what I love about Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, and guys like Cody Jinks and Chris Stapleton. These are stories and they put real effort into writing them, not just singing about jumping up and down on a pickup truck bed by the lake with a beer in your hand. I understand there’s a market for that, obviously it’s huge and those are the songs of the summer everywhere you go, but it’s just not my market. You can get behind it when you’re drunk, and everyone is signing along to a Luke Bryan song or a Florida Georgia Line song when you’re tanked, but I like the storytelling of my brand of country music.
What’s one album that you don’t think I’ve ever heard, but you think I should check out?
There’s a band called Houndmouth, and the record is Little Neon Limelight from 2015. That’s like the combo between folk and kind of country, but also XRT-ish, Mt. Joy-ish music, but still kind of twangy. They’re huge in Austin. I think they’re all from Austin, so kind of fits in that hipster music. I would check that out.
Spectacular start: Buehrle didn’t just win to begin 2010, he made a defensive play for the ages. (YouTube)
1960 Shortly before the season opened, the White Sox further decimated their stock of young talent by shipping future All-Star and power-hitting catcher Earl Battey along with future power-hitting All-Star first baseman Don Mincher to the Washington Senators for power-hitting first baseman Roy Sievers.
Sievers gave the Sox some good years, averaging 27 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .295 batting average in two seasons. He had a 21-game hitting streak in 1960 and made the All-Star team in 1961. But Battey, who cried when he was told he was traded, may have won the Sox the pennant in 1964, 1967 or both just by himself (to say nothing of other players shipped out that offseason like Johnny Romano, Norm Cash and Johnny Callison.) Battey would go on to make four All-Star appearances and win three Gold Gloves at catcher. Mincher would become a two-time All-Star.
1974 The White Sox opened the season at home under freezing conditions versus the Angels and Nolan Ryan. The Sox started Wilbur Wood, which prompted broadcaster Harry Caray to comment that the game was “The tortoise against the hare.” This time the hare won, as Ryan and the Angels got an easy 8-2 victory.
The game did have its moments, however. The streaking craze had hit college campuses and on this day a few young ladies in the upper deck decided to partially streak while a young man jumped the outfield fence and ran naked through left field before being hoisted back into the stands by his friends. Sox manager Chuck Tanner had one of the best lines anywhere when asked what he thought about the outfield streaker: “I wasn’t impressed by him.” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink … say no more!)
1977 Literally a few hours before the team was to head north to open the season, owner Bill Veeck traded shortstop Russell “Bucky” Dent to the Yankees. Salary was the reasoning behind the deal, and Veeck’s comment that “I’d trade Dent even-up for any other starting shortstop in the American League” didn’t help matters.
In return the White Sox got outfielder Oscar Gamble, pitcher Bob Polinsky, minor league pitcher LaMarr Hoyt and $200,000. Gamble would be a big part of the 1977 hitting orgy, while Hoyt would have some good seasons with the Sox culminating in the 1983 Cy Young Award.
2004 New Manager Ozzie Guillén figured he had his debut game all wrapped up, as the Sox took a 7-3 lead into the ninth inning at Kansas City. Over the next 20 minutes, the Royals scored six runs to take the game, 9-7. The amazing rally set the modern record for the most runs scored in the ninth inning to win a game on Opening Day.
2010 Mark Buehrle made his eighth Opening Day start, setting the franchise record and breaking the tie he had with Billy Pierce. Buehrle was brilliant in the 6-0 win over Cleveland, but what everyone was talking about after the game was the play he made on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Lou Marson in the fifth inning. Both ESPN and the MLB Network called it the play of the year.
Marson’s shot ricocheted off Buehrle’s leg and ricocheted towards foul ground on the first-base side of the field. Buehrle sprinted off the mound, fielded the ball with his glove and flipped it between his legs to Paul Konerko, who made a barehanded catch to nip Marson by a step. It was simply an incredible play.
1982 One of the most highly-anticipated Opening Days in franchise history got snowed out. The White Sox were set to host Boston and the organization was expecting a crowd of around 50,000. That got torpedoed when a blizzard hammered the entire Midwest, cancelling games for days. In fact, the season didn’t open until April 11 in New York, with a doubleheader win over the Yankees.
1983 The same night North Carolina State upset Houston for the NCAA basketball title, the White Sox opened their division championship season dropping a 5-3 game at Texas. The Sox scored three times in the top of the first but were handcuffed after that. Errors by rookies Scott Fletcher and Greg Walker were costly to pitcher LaMarr Hoyt. The Sox would drop all three games to the Rangers, but rebounded to win 99 of the final 159 to take the division by a record 20 games.
1988 It was Ken Williams’ one moment in the sun as a player. On Opening Day, Williams belted a two-run homer in the fifth inning off of California’s Mike Witt to help the Sox to an 8-5 win. Williams would drive in three runs on the afternoon.
1994 The bittersweet shortened season started in Canada with a rematch of the 1993 ALCS. Toronto won this Opening Day 7-3 by blasting Jack McDowell (the reigning Cy Young Award winner) just as they did twice in the postseason the year before.
2005 The World Series season got off to a great start, as a packed house saw Mark Buehrle and Shingo Takatsu shut out Cleveland 1-0 in a game that took less than two hours! That season the White Sox would roar out of the gate at 26-9, the best 35-game start in franchise history.
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.