Six years ago...and very much right now

Six years ago...and very much right now
Hard to believe // Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo

On October 26th, 2005, the Chicago White Sox captured their first World Series in 88 years.  For any team, winning a championship is a stand-alone moment in franchise history, but perhaps more so for the White Sox.

Their triumph was not a culmination of years of buildup, and despite a formidable 2006 squad, did not lead to a long run of contention.  A fantastic, world-beating team emerged, accomplished the ultimate goal, then saw itself out

Surelym everyone remembers the ’05 squad for tremendous pitching, and how they were able to lead the AL in ERA despite playing in U.S. Cellular Field, and the four-straight complete games to win the ALCS.

Which is why it was pretty bizarre to realize while investigating the Arnie Munoz saga the other day, that the White Sox began the previous season with a rotation that consisted of Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, and the help.  Dan Wright was out of the rotation after a month, Esteban Loaiza had managed to burn up most of the goodwill earned in his Cy Young runner-up 2003 by August, and was dealt off, at which time Schoeneweis was booted as well.  Not to mention the fact that Garland was seen as a disappointment up until his surprise career-year in ’05.

Even though acquiring Freddy Garcia required the White Sox to cull resources from what was then a not-shameful farm system, that only gave the White Sox two frontline-but-not-ace starters, a mediocre soft-tosser, and Jose Contreras–acquired in a junk-for-junk swap–from which to build next season’s best rotation in baseball from.

$3.5 million to El Duque Hernandez–39 years-old and 5 years removed from anything resembling a full season–rounded out the starting five.  This wasn’t exactly a parallel to the 2011 Phillies off-season.

To even further drive home that the dominant 2005 White Sox pitching staff came together via an incredible series of well-timed small moves, their bullpen centered around 200 elite innings from Neal Cotts, Cliff Politte, and Dustin Hermanson, all of whom never had another effective season again.  And then there was a Bobby Jenks waiver claim…

This has led to some accusations of the team’s success all being a “fluke”; which is a pretty funny thing to call a baseball team that won 110 of 174 games, and takes attention from the real marvel.

This was simply an incredible display of on-the-fly roster transformation by Kenny Williams & Co., who turned a mediocre club treading water for four-straight years into a juggernaut with a series of buy-low acquisitions (Dye, Pierzynski) and well-picked rehab projects (Contreras, Jenks), and of course, Tadahito Iguchi.

It helped that his young manager submitted his masterwork of pitching staff management, forever justifying his inclination to lean on and trust his starters, and his creative bullpen usage.

It also justified inefficient basestealing (67% success rate) and way too many sac bunts (led all of baseball with 53) when home runs were clearly the offense’s lifeblood, but had just as clear of an effect on Kenny Williams.

Every season has been entered into on the very correct notion that making the playoffs whenever possible is worth it, and on the more dubious notion that contending was no more than a few more clever and well-timed tweaks away.

That mindset has the backing of a World Series championship, which has not only reaffirmed the approach in the minds of upper management, but also with ownership and to a deteriorating extent, the fan base.

And why not?  As much as the activities of the White Sox Baseball Operations Department have continued to confuse and amuse the rest of the league; relying on veterans to match their career numbers, shipping out minor leaguers, and rarely acknowledging Latin American countries other than Cuba brought a World Series to a team that had otherwise won 3 playoff games in 45 years.

If you ignore rational thoughts and expectations, it’s possible to notice that the pitching staff certainly doesn’t look worse than it did going into ’05, and wonder about what kind of Phil Humber-like strings can be pulled to possibly make the 2012 team competitive (Plenty of rebound candidates in the lineup!!).

It’s not like having the specter of a past World Series championship hanging over could ever be a remotely regrettable thing, but one wonders what kind of adjustments or adaptations to the White Sox way would have been made if everyone on the organization’s payroll didn’t have one hell of a 2005.  What would this team be if the front office didn’t trust themselves to find the magic every year?

Perhaps it’s finally been long enough that everyone will get to find out in 2012, or perhaps I’ll be busting out the old World Series DVD in early-October next season too, and figure it’s better off not knowing.


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