With the White Sox mathematically eliminated from the A.L. Central race on Monday night, I decided to turn to a group of my Sox fan friends for their perspectives of the season.
My "Sox Posse" is quite impressive. There's a doctor, a Hall of Fame sportswriter, a former White House bigwig, a successful marketer and author, a businessman extraordinaire, a financial advisor and a group of sports communications gurus. The one common denominator is that they all love the Sox.
Here are their thoughts:
As Bill Veeck once famously said, "The White Sox had long ago tested the loyalty of their rooters; the weak and faint of heart had fallen by the wayside and only the strong, the dedicated and the masochistic remained. If there is any justice in this world, to be a White Sox fan freed a man from any other form of penance.”
I've never been able to quite figure out whether I'm strong, dedicated or masochistic, but I did not suffer this year's collapse at a level even approaching the despair of '64, the near suicidal depression of '67, the emptiness of '72, the horror of '83 or the anger of '94. Rather, I found myself serenely accepting the unceremonious exit of our favorite team with a twinge of pride. Perhaps I have reached a new level of Zen or have gone insane. Perhaps the afterglow of 2005 still shines in my soul. But I did not expect 150+ games of excitement from this team. They hung in to the end, even though many prognosticators picked them to finish last in the division. So, yeah, I'm disappointed while tipping my authentic replica 1959 cap to the little engine that just couldn't quite make it to the top of the hill.
Dr. Jeff Weiss:
I get really depressed when I think how close we came and couldn't seal the deal against some really weak teams this past month. Then I look back to April when I was predicting a likely fourth or last place finish in the Central. It was a "gift" to be able to follow my team all summer long with aspirations for the postseason. I'd take that over a summer without baseball anytime. As for the collapse, I can't put my finger on any one thing. Losing Danks certainly hurt and relief pitching was spotty to say the least. Several of our starters need to hit for better average [Beckham, Viciedo, Ramirez]. I am perplexed as to what moves to make in the off-season.
I started studying the September schedules for the Tigers and Sox back in August so my A.L. Central expectations were well managed. Going into the season, I was just hoping the Sox would be relevant and in contention in September, so overall I'm pleased with the season. Realistically, I just don't think we're as good as the Tigers, especially when their starters pitch well. That was proven by the regular season head-to-head. The Tigers underachieved against lesser teams, but they had our number. Only wish the Royals could have played as well against the Tigers as they did against us.
A lot of young arms got major league experience in big spots, which is encouraging for the future. I hope Chris Sale can continue to develop as an ace and that John Danks returns to health. Robin Ventura did a terrific job and the coaching staff seems solid. It will be interesting to see what happens this off-season regarding third base, catcher and possibly second base. I think we still need to get younger.
It's hard to be disappointed when we went into the season with such low expectations. Being in first place for such a long period sure kept your interest and enthusiasm. To see players like Dunn, Rios and Peavy have years like they did was terrific.
Guess my question would be, did they play over their heads for quite some time and September was back to what they really are? (As Dennis Green said, "they were what we thought they were").
Even though the Sox are not in the playoffs and September was a disaster, it was a good season. It will be interesting to see who is back next year.
My expectations for the 2012 Sox were probably the lowest they had been since the Terry Bevington years. The club entered spring training with much the same personnel as the disappointing 2011 season, minus the innings-eating horse and team leader on the pitching staff (Buehrle) and a few assorted pieces (Pierre, Quentin, a chunk of the bullpen). With a new manager and several new coaches, I was quite frankly expecting a rather nondescript year in which we would see how young players developed and whether or not Adam Dunn and Alex Rios could rebound to be the productive Major Leaguers they once were.
So, imagine my surprise when the team enjoyed a strong month of May and I had the chance to sit in Tropicana Field on Memorial Day and watch Chris Sale strike out 15 Rays and start a three-game sweep of the highly-regarded Tampa Bay club.
First place started to feel sort of comfortable but still I knew that there would be some lean times. Every team has them at some point in the season. That stretch where you lose nine of 11, 10 of 14 or maybe even 15 of 20. It's inevitable unless you're on the level of the '27 Yankees or some other powerhouse club.
Unfortunately for the Sox, that swoon didn't happen until the final two weeks of the season. If it happens in June, July or even early August, it's considered a mid-season slump. If it happens in the last two weeks of September, it's labeled a "choke."
That's too bad because I don't think this team "choked." In my view, it simply ran out of gas.
I'm not as distressed by this season as I am about next season. I never expected this team to contend into late September. They were fun, at times entertaining and usually gritty. Eliminating the Ozzie/Oney drama was a major plus.
But even after they jumped into first place in July I never expected them to win the division. Never could extend the lead beyond 3 1/2 games against a Tigers' team that persisted in underachieving. My sense was that Detroit was better -- legit ace, excellent No. 2 starte, functional bullpen, the best hitter in baseball and another very solid power hitter. The Sox didn't have all that. Eventually the Tigers would drop the hammer and it would be over. Bingo.
The Good: DeAza's emergence as a decent leadoff guy who can play CF; Solid bounce back by Rios; career year by A.J.; strong evidence Sale can become a No. 1 starter; two good young bullpen arms in Reed and Jones and the solid work by Quintana -- out of nowhere. Viciedo is a functional left-fielder who has a chance to become a very good player -- if he can increase his walks and cut back on his Ks (no sure thing).
Ventura and his staff were extremely impressive -- setting a consistent, positive vibe.
The OK: Solid power numbers from Dunn, although I'm never going to be a big fan of a guy who strikes out that often; signs that Paulie is human and has moved onto the downside; maddening inconsistency from Floyd, Thornton and Crain; a few good months from Youk.
The Bad: ARam's failure to develop into an elite shortstop; Beckham's utter inability to become an elite hitter and fulfill the promise he showed at Georgia. I expected him to become an all-star, but his sub .300 on-base percentage is a sign of mediocrity at a higher price as he moves into arbitration; Danks giving us nothing before his injury; Peavy pitching like a No. 3 starter while getting paid like a No. 1 starter and talking like a Cy Young winner. Brett Morel giving us an eight-man lineup for about six weeks (a major reason the division was lost).
The downside of Ventura as the manager is there wasn't much sizzle. AJ was really the only personality on the team. Appreciate the Game isn't going to go down with Got Milk or You Deserve a Break Today in the marketing Hall of Fame.
I'm happy that Rick Hahn will be taking over. I hope he'll keep more of the guys like Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Hudson, Chris Young, Michael Morse, Clayton Richard and Brandon McCarthy, who came up through out system. I know the Sox haven't had the high draft picks that the Rays and Royals have enjoyed, but the Sox have to stop whiffing on guys like Jared Mitchell, Aaron Poreda, Lance Broadway and Brian Anderson.
But I fear it's going to be a rough few years. Detroit will continue to spend -- and Verlander and Cabrera are still in their primes. KC has a much more athletic and dynamic core of players. Terry Ryan will get Minnesota back.
The Sox don't have any top pitching prospects above High A ball. There's no catcher to replace A.J. (not a Flowers fan). The jury is out on Trayce Thompson and Jared Mitchell (both strike out at an alarming rate) and Keenyn Walker (two surgeries after the season). Courtney Hawkins had an excellent debut in rookie and A ball, but he's three years away. We got nada at third base.
So that's a wrap. I sense many Sox fans felt the way I did, as proven by the disappointing attendance. Nice team. But not a team that was going to win in October.
I'm in the "expectations were so low, that the collapse was not as painful as I would have thought" camp. Rockin' Robin can manage...and as for next season, in Kenny We Trust...and in Rick Hahn We Trust...I remain hopeful...when is Opening Day 2013?
In my relatively short time as a Sox fan (beginning in 1987) it is indeed strange to see the Chicago White Sox in this situation. This is what happens to other teams--not ours.
The primary emotional points--the delight of a "look what I found" run atop the division, and the disconnect that arrives when that situation alarmingly dissolves. We'll get over it and soon. (We're Sox fans).
For now, it sucks. Longer term...how great is it to be in the midst of the current White Sox era? Still pretty great.
Even though I've really lived my life with a very positive slant, I have always tried to be a realist at the same time. After watching several spring training games this year, I pretty much settled into the mode of this being a rebuilding year---one from which to launch the next few seasons of South Side memories. I don't recall exactly when I took the stance that "hey---this may actually turn out to be the real deal!"
I couldn't believe what we all witnessed during the slump, after the three-game lead with 16 to play, but I look upon it as a season which closed-out as one which NONE of us truly believed would be as good as it had become. Yes, I'm disappointed but truly I am not down for the count. We WILL be contending going forward with the brass making their 'tweaks' & Robin settling-in with a much more comfortable knowledge of his roster.
I guess the true difference for us as Sox fans is when we say "wait until next year," it carries with it a firm belief that it really could and should be even better than the last one.
• Seasons of unexpected success are the most fun. So 2012 certainly qualified for Sox fans.
• Robin Ventura was the right fit for the situation, an anti-Ozzie of sorts. He deserves much of the credit for the team's turnaround from its miserable 2011 campaign. There was little or no clubhouse controversy, a quiet ride from April-October.
• Soft, declining attendance was the most disappointing aspect of the season. It is difficult to understand how a 100-loss team on the other side of town can continue to field lousy teams yet fill its deteriorating ball park while the Sox field a contender in a comfortable, modern stadium.
• The performance of unheralded young pitchers was the personnel highlight, a group that includes the emergence of Chris Sale as a true staff ace and a promising closer in Addison Reed.
• The Cuban Missile & Gordon Beckham have emerged as a solid major-league double-play combo.
• The aging core of veterans — Konerko, Peavy, Pierzynski, Youkilis — must be addressed. It's better to part company a year too early than a year too late. Was Konerko's second-half decline due to a wrist injury, onset of age, or both? How much longer can A.J. squat with effectiveness? Is Peavy's dicey injury history worth investment? Is Youkilis spent?
• Player development remains an organizational concern according to pundits. Yet is the chattering class to be believed when one considers the contributions of unsung young players to this year's success?
• Looking ahead: The Cubs have the fans but the White Sox have the ownership!