I am just about to turn 27, and I feel like there have been a few people I’ve always been aware of throughout my existence. This could technically apply to family or friends, but I’m not really talking about them. I’m thinking more about people like Mr. Whitchurch, one of my neighbors growing up, who used to walk his dog, a golden retriever he called the Mayor, every single day.
I recently found out two things on a visit to my parent’s house. The first was that Mr. Whitchurch is still alive, which, to be honest, I was surprised about, but that’s only because he’s one of those people that when I was young, he was very old, and I guess now he’s just older? But good for him, he’s still kicking, and walking the Mayor around the block. Oh, and the second thing is I learned that there have been at least three Mayors in my lifetime, I always thought it was the same dog, but I was wrong. There has never been a time in my life that I wasn’t aware of Mr. Whitchurch’s existence.
So, what does any of that have to do with Chuck Garfien? Well, Chuck Garfien is another one of those people.
I’ve never not known about him. I remember years ago watching one of the White Sox post game shows and telling my dad that I liked “that guy” not knowing who Garfien was by name, but always seeing his face associated with White Sox baseball.
Garfien has been covering the White Sox for NBC Sports Chicago since 2004. I was 11 in 2004, and can’t say I remember a whole lot from before then, so for all intents and purposes, Chuck Garfien has been around for as long as I can remember. I always liked him because he was and is a prominent Chicago media figure who actually talked about the White Sox, and while there are a few more now, when I was growing up that just wasn’t very common. On paper, the newly rejuvenated White Sox should be getting more local and national media attention over the next few years, but one man has been covering and talking about this team through the good, the bad and the very ugly. Here’s my conversation with that man: The Bruce Springsteen-loving, USC-graduating, White Sox-hyping, and all-around great guy, Chuck Garfien.
SS: Where were you when you heard that the start of the baseball season was going to be delayed?
CHUCK GARFIEN: The White Sox were off that day at spring training, so I was sitting on the couch at the place I was renting in Arizona basically bracing for the news to come out that they were going to halt spring training and delay the regular season. They simply had to. The NBA had just announced that their season was suspended. I felt like it was only a matter of time before MLB would do the same thing. Then came the news. And here we are.
What has been the overall vibe you’ve felt from the players you’ve spoken to regarding the news of the last couple weeks?
I had Lucas Giolito on the White Sox Talk Podcast a few days after the news broke. Not knowing when baseball will return, he said he had dialed everything back as if it was January and spring training hadn’t even started yet. Players seem to have put their baseball preparations in reverse, and are hoping to maintain some form of status quo so that when they get word that baseball is coming back they can ramp up from there.
It’s definitely an unsettling time for everyone. Nobody knows where this is going or when we’ll have a baseball season. Some are still doing work at Camelback Ranch, while many players have left Arizona to return to their homes. Not being able to work out at local gyms is a challenge, but it sounds like they’re all doing whatever it takes to get their work in.
What have the last couple weeks been like for you, as someone whose day-to-day life is so involved with sports?
It’s definitely different. Something I’ve never experienced before. The same with everyone who’s reading this. Very unique times. Without games to cover and almost zero baseball news to report, I’ve had to take a sharp left turn in how I cover the White Sox. I’ve continued to put a lot of my energy into the podcast. With all the changes we’ve had to make in our daily lives, I look at the podcast as a safe place for White Sox fans to go when they want to be distracted or to just feel normal again. I’ve had Jason Benetti on several of the podcasts. We’ve talked about everything from what we’re doing to pass the time to a weird dream I had about Hawk Harrelson. This week we spoke with Bob Comstock, our broadcasting teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, who had a tremendous impact on our careers at a very young age. He also tells the story about taking a student to Disco Demolition. Mr. Comstock was a really cool dude.
I’ve also been doing interviews and shows on Zoom, which has done wonders for all of us, keeping people connected during this time. Because we can’t use our studio in Chicago, we’re actually starting to do shows on Zoom from our homes.
And without games to broadcast, NBC Sports Chicago is filling a huge void for all of us, re-airing 70 games from the 2005 championship season every single day, starting on Opening Day. Not only will this be fun for those of us who experienced that special season, but a whole other generation of White Sox fans who are younger than 20 will get to see and feel for the first time what all the hoopla was all about.
I might be the last person to ever watch it, but I just started The Wire since I’ve been working from home. Is there anything you have done, or are planning to do, with potentially a little extra time on your hands?
I’ve been catching up on the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Laughter is good for the soul and Larry David has done it again. This is one of his best seasons ever.
I really enjoy your in-game interaction with the fans. I’d imagine putting yourself right in the heart of the crowd can lead to some strange encounters as well. What is the most bizarre fan interaction you’ve had?
I don’t know if I would call any of my fan interactions bizarre. A better word might be “unexpected.” Every time I go into the crowd, I keep an open mind. I’m not always sure who or what I’m going to find. Every White Sox fan has a story to tell, and you never know what that story is going to be until you start talking with them.
There was the fan who had around 100 autographs on the neon White Sox jersey he always wears to the park and he refused to wash it (why would you, right?). There’s the couple that got engaged at the game while the White Sox were down big to the Tigers. I just wanted to talk to them about their engagement, why he popped the question that night, etc. The White Sox were down 10-4 at the time, but as soon as I went over to interview them, the team suddenly went on this huge rally. Jason and Steve wouldn’t let me leave them until the inning ended. They scored five runs and eventually came back to win on a Tim Anderson walk-off home run.
Going into the stands and interacting with White Sox fans is just as much fun for me as covering the actual White Sox team. I can’t wait to be back doing that again!
What’s the best thing about White Sox fans?
Their passion. You can see it on their faces. It’s in their blood. It runs deep.
What’s the worst thing about White Sox fans?
There’s no worst thing. I’ll just say the worst thing is not having a good team to root for, not having a team of players you believe in and want to invest your time, money and energy in. That’s not the case with this team. They’re talented, fun and want to do something special.
While it looks like brighter days are ahead for the White Sox, you’ve covered this team through some pretty treacherous stretches. How do you balance the need to maintain professional relationships with the players, coaches, and members of the organization that you cover, while also having to at times criticize either poor play or decision-making?
It’s a fine line you have to walk. You want to find that authentic place, somewhere in the middle between being overly critical and being a homer. Players and coaches know that I have a job to do, but they also want me to be fair. Guys are going to have bad games, bad weeks, bad months, bad years. When that happens, I won’t ignore it. I won’t sugarcoat their struggles, but I’m not going to act like a carnival barker screaming that the White Sox need to run a player out of town. I’m just not like that. These guys are human beings. Baseball is a tough sport. I give the players rope, especially early in the season. Remember how bad Yolmer Sánchez was defensively at the start of last season? He ended up winning a Gold Glove.
When I was a kid, my dad used to play one of four things every night while I was going to sleep: The Clash, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Costello, and of course, Bruce Springsteen. That became the foundation for my musical taste, with Springsteen being at the very top. I know you’re a Springsteen die-hard, so how did you become a fan?
Well, your dad has impeccable taste in music. That’s for sure. When I was a teenager, Springsteen came out with the Born in the USA album, which was immensely popular. You’d turn on the radio, watch MTV and Springsteen would be there. That opened the door for me. But I didn’t really discover him and become a die-hard fan until college, when I started listening to his live bootlegs. That’s where you really hear the essence of Springsteen: the power, energy, fun, excitement, storytelling, and you understand the meaning of what Springsteen is all about. It sticks to your bones. I could go on and on about Bruce. One thing about Bruce that I really connect with is his passion and dedication to his work. He gives all of himself to his music. I do the same for my job, and for White Sox fans.
Top three Springsteen albums?
This seems to change every few years, depending on where I am in my life. As we sit here right now, here’s my top three:
1. Darkness on the Edge of Town
2. The River
3. Born to Run
Other than Springsteen, what’s one song or album that you’ve been listening to a lot lately?
I’ve been all over the map lately. Everything from “Texas Sun” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges to “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck.
What’s an album you don’t think I’ve ever heard, but I should check out ASAP?
I’ve been telling people for years about Shuggie Otis. Get the album “Inspiration Information.” His music will fill up your room (or your headphones) and take you to a happy place.
Last week I interviewed 670 The Score producer, Herb Lawrence, and he said he thought Scarface is the most overrated movie of all time. Thoughts?
I haven’t really given this much thought. But considering I saw “Scarface” in high school and haven’t felt the need to ever watch it again, Herb might be onto something.
When friends from out of town say they are visiting Chicago, and ask for food recommendations, what do you tell them?
Depends on the people and what kind of food they like. Generally, you can’t go wrong with Chicago staples like Manny’s Deli, Portillo’s, Smoke Daddy, Farm Bar and Aurelio’s Pizza (I grew up on it in Homewood).
What’s something that most people get wrong about Chicago?
The wind. People who have never been here think they’re going to get off an airplane and be swept away by a mammoth wind gust. In truth, Chicago is called the Windy City, not because of the wind, but because of the hot air coming from our politicians.
You’re going on a weekend trip to anywhere in the world, where are you going, and who are you taking? Pick five, living or dead/current or former, from these categories:
Place Barcelona, San Diego, Vancouver, Las Vegas, Cape Town (really long weekend)
Member of the E Street Band (not named Bruce) Clarence Clemons, Max Weinberg, Steve Van Zandt, Roy Bittan and Garry Tallent.
White Sox player Frank Thomas, Ozzie Guillén, Mark Buehrle, Chet Lemon, Jim Thome
Actor or Actress Robert Redford, Bill Murray, Leslie Nielsen, Albert Brooks, Gilda Radner
USC athlete Reggie Bush, Keyshawn Johnson, Harold Miner, Cheryl Miller, Fred Lynn