White Sox

The Devil in the White Sox city

The Devil in the White Sox city

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Upon moving to Chicago in 1995, I was fascinated by just about everything about the city. Being a native east-coaster, I never dreamed in a million years that I would move away from the Atlantic Ocean and head to the heartland. But thats what love will do and thats also another story for another day, although I never get tired of telling it. (Ask my eye-rolling co-workers!) The thing about the city that excited me most, and this should not come as a surprise, was that it was a two-baseball team town. How cool is that? I can see every team in the Majors if I want. For a baseball geek it doesnt get any better than that. That one of the stadiums that I would get to go to was Wrigley Field made it even better, if that was possible.

Like much of the new city that I was about to inhabit, I knew about the White Sox, but there was a lot for me to learn. My eventual move to the far, far Southside would help with that and would also help balance the fact that I work in a Cubs bar. For me, it was never about drawing lines, I could enjoy both sides. In this town though, you are supposed to choose. I might have more of a rooting interest for one over the other, but since I pay attention to every game that both teams play, you could say Im a follower of both and not the typical Chicagoan. (Big shock!) And I do believe that gives me a different perspective on the two teams.

They are as different as you can get, while being very similar, kind of like brothers. From the neighborhoods they inhabit, to the feel of the ballparks and the TV and radio broadcasts that fans watch and listen to, there is a distinction between the two that is unmistakable. The common bond being the city they play in and the passion in their base fans.

But being an outsider, I realize that this should be the case, since that is the way it is with the 28 other teams in MLB. Each team and every dynamic around them are unique.
The big difference here is that they are sharing the same house.

And the even bigger difference being that while I dont think the Cubs give it a second thought, it drives the Sox crazy. Well, crazy for one specific reason: Attendance. (Some would say the dollars that go with it, but Im not that cynical, yet.)

Because of the ballpark and the location, the Northsiders have become a national treasure, albeit a non-threatening one, given the whole 104-year thing and all. This didnt always reflect in the attendance as much as it did the public consciousness. I remember when I first moved here it was always easy to get tickets. (On both sides of town, as a matter of fact). The Cubs always drew relatively well, but they werent an attendance juggernaut, they were always around the league average for years. Then in June of 1998 Hippity-Hopity hit 20 homers and it all changed. In the chicks-dig-the-long-ball age, Wrigley became a happening, a place to be. By 2003 there also came a thirst for success and everyone wanted to be a part of it, and they came oh so close. Maybe you heard about it? They didnt win but for some they became something better, a three-million-fans-a-year behemoth (8 straight years and counting.). They are the definition of a financial player.

Now consider on the Southside, they did something their Northside brethren havent in the last 104 years, well actually they did it twice but had their own drought, (Theres a new definition for that word!) and thats winning a championship in 2005. (Seems like a long time ago.) What did they get? A spike in paying customers in 2006, but then it has declined every year since, from a high in 06 of 89.9 capacity, all the way down to this years current rate of 50.9 Ouch.

This makes me understand what I thought to be a curious statement by Sox GM Kenny Williams after they won in 05. When posed a question about the Sox position in baseballs hierarchy, he felt that the Sox needed to win another title to remain relevant on a national and local scale. I guess he couldnt have been more right.

Although I will say, I wonder if this is some of his and the Sox own doing.

Kenny has never been shy about expressing the opinion that fans need to come out to support the team. Or else.

That was the message last year, when after signing Adam Dunn he said the fans need to come out or the team was going to have to start slashing its highest payroll ever by dumping players at the trade deadline. Not a white flag moment, but at least a shot across the bow.

That the season kind of turned into a circus and their competitive level was not what was expected (understatement) might have taken away from those comments, but I wondered what effect they still would have.

Is that being expressed this year? Are there other factors?

I know that a lot of fan bases take pride in showing up no matter what, take St. Louis for instance, but then I consider, they live in St. Louis, what the hell else are they going to do?

In Chicago, all summer long, people have options. And when the price of going to any game is getting out of control for most working-class folks, things have to be considered before you drop a couple hundred going out to a game.

But it still surprises me a bit that people arent going out to watch this team play. In my post last week, I mentioned that I was hopeful that they could capture the public's attention. All theyve done since then is sweep Cleveland and Tampa Bay to extend their win streak to eight and take over first place in the Central.

And I still dont hear a buzz. All I hear is the GM playing chicken with the fans by calling them out in public.

Kenny Williams: Every day that you dont fill the seats at least to a greater degree than we are, it hurts.

Meaning: If you want the team to compete, and you want me to buy at the trade deadline, get your but in a seat so I can pay for it.

Again, I am fascinated and entertained by Williams to no end. He is one guy that I would love to see pull up a stool at the bar to talk baseball.

But I dont know if everyone else feels that way, and by everyone I mean paying customers, since for six years in a row now, there are less of them coming out.

Even worse, and this has to gnaw at him, is that he has a first place club, yet a team 8.25 miles to the north, that doesnt have a prayer, is outdrawing his by 16,500 a game. (Figure the real math)

I guess I would call my fans too if I had a team in 1st and they were playing in front of 50 of capacity.

I cant wait to see how this plays out. I know Ill be watching and rooting on TV and going to U.S. Cellular Field on at least two planned occasions. And now thanks to Kenny, maybe Ill have to plan a third trip. Every little bit helps I guess.

Oh, and about the title. Its just a play on words, nothing sinister, but feel free to have your own interpretation. In my eternal quest to learn more about Chicago, Im currently listening to the audio version of the book that details the Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. Its about the Worlds Columbian Exposition hosted by Chicago in 1893. It is a great listen, almost as good as Kenny, and makes my trip home from work fly by.

Only a smart aleck like me would point out that a lot of folks that went to that once-in-a-lifetime event also saw the Cubs play in 1908.

Ill play nice and leave it at that.

Talk service time all you want, White Sox have decided Michael Kopech is ready for the big leagues now

Talk service time all you want, White Sox have decided Michael Kopech is ready for the big leagues now

There were plenty of people who thought Michael Kopech was the White Sox best pitcher when the team left Glendale, Arizona, to start the 2018 season.

Whether or not the team shared that opinion, Kopech spent the next four and a half months as a minor leaguer.

The prevailing preseason thought was that it wouldn’t take the flame-throwing Kopech, who struck out 172 minor league hitters in 2017, long to breeze through Triple-A and arrive on the South Side. But it did.

A dominant beginning to the season was followed by a bumpy stretch in which his ERA and walk total consistently grew. But the last seven starts were terrific, and so Kopech’s call to the majors has finally come. He’ll make his big league debut Tuesday night against the Minnesota Twins.

It’s news that will please many White Sox fans because it’s something they’ve been waiting all season to see happen. Ever since Sox Fest back in the winter, the No. 1 question has been: When will Kopech and Eloy Jimenez reach the bigs? Jimenez, the team’s top-ranked prospect, is still a minor leaguer for now, but Kopech is about to hit the South Side with a heck of a lot of fanfare. It’s a pretty tangible example of this rebuilding effort moving in the right direction.

The recent conversation among fans and media members, though, has centered around service time and whether the White Sox handling of Kopech and Jimenez would mirror how the Cubs handled Kris Bryant back in 2015, keeping a star prospect from the majors until a couple weeks into the following season to start the clock a year later and essentially add a year of team control to the end of his contract. A lot of Twitter-using White Sox fans have whole-heartedly bought in to such a strategy.

But general manager Rick Hahn has insisted all along that the only determination of when these guys would come up was that they hit all the developmental milestones the team wanted them to hit in the minor leagues. For what it’s worth, Hahn answered a question about service time earlier this summer, saying that it had nothing to do with keeping Kopech at Triple-A. That question was specifically in reference to when Kopech could become arbitration eligible, not a free agent even further down the road. But the response is an interesting one as a similar conversation keeps happening surrounding this team and these specific decisions.

“It was all baseball. It’s never been the arbitration three years from now. It’s been about baseball,” he said back in mid June. “Again, not getting too far down into Michael’s checklist of what we want to see him accomplish, but he hasn’t checked them all off yet. He’s had some real good starts. He’s getting closer, and it’s not going to surprise me seeing him here at some point in the not too distant future, but he’s not there yet.”

Several tremendous outings later, and Kopech is there now. The numbers have been unreal in his last seven starts: a 1.84 ERA, 59 strikeouts and only four walks in 44 innings.

Hahn also talked about how the team’s handling of pitching prospects Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito a season ago could be a kind of template for how it would handle Kopech this season. Both those guys were called up in August, just like Kopech will be in a couple days.

Just like Hahn’s season-long declaration that the fortunes of the major league team and of the players on the major league team had no bearing on when top prospects would be promoted, at the very least in Kopech’s case, the same seems to have been true about the issue of service time. Some might lament the fact that the White Sox didn’t wait on Kopech, and it’s not a point without merit, as a large number of injuries to top prospects this season robbed them of developmental time and perhaps shifted the timeline of the entire rebuild. Maybe. In the event that is a concern shared by the White Sox, the extra year might have made a difference down the road.

But as White Sox fans have seen first hand this season, there is development that needs to happen at the major league level, too. Giolito and Lopez gained valuable experience pitching at the end of last season. Those two, plus Yoan Moncada and other young players, have gone through growing pains throughout this year’s campaign. Kopech will face the challenges of the big leagues, as well, and the sooner he does, the sooner he can learn how to overcome them.

Hahn has said all along that the organization’s focus remains on the long term, and though there might be arguments out there that not waiting could potentially shorten the team’s window of contention many years down the line, Kopech’s promotion does an awful lot to open it in the first place.

With youth, pedigree and good fortune, Bears OL has rare opportunity to reach rare heights

ol.jpg
USA TODAY

With youth, pedigree and good fortune, Bears OL has rare opportunity to reach rare heights

As the Bears leave Denver and prepare for Kansas City, sorting through a couple of conundrums on the interior of their offensive line—James Daniels or Cody Whitehair at center? Best five?—a budding conclusion is this:
 
Mixed preseason numbers notwithstanding, the Bears stand on the brink of a potentially elite offensive line, in the hands of one of the most highly regarded coaches in the game.
 
It has not performed to “elite” yet, although not with traces of upside. A hyper-conservative run game that averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 2017, with defenses facing neither a pass offense nor subterfuge, is plodding to 3.8 ypc through three preseason games.
 
Mitch Trubisky was sacked once every 11.6 pass plays as a rookie; this preseason, he and Chase Daniel have fared a bit better, sacked once every 15.8 pass plays (No. 2 Daniel is included because his protection includes offensive linemen factoring into current deliberations). Against the Denver Broncos, albeit without rush leaders Bradley Chubb and Von Miller playing the entire game, Bears quarterbacks were sacked just twice in 44 pass plays, with a total of five hits. 
 
But consider a bigger picture, beyond one game or even one season:
 
Right guard Kyle Long turns 30 in December and the roster has zero offensive linemen currently older than 29 years of age. While the spotlight was on adding weapons around quarterback Mitch Trubisky, GM Ryan Pace was also continuing a methodology that included making sure the ONLY weapons around Trubisky are ones wearing the same uniform.
 
“It’s up to us to find the guys who want to work hard and have the right attitude about getting better,” said offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. “If you have that, we’ll overcome things like never being in a [three-point] stance or how to get leverage in the running game. We have guys who are tough enough to do it.”
 
And ones who will be around for awhile.
 
Four of the projected starting five are under some significant degree of contract control: Daniels, Long and left tackle Charles Leno are signed through 2021, Whitehair through 2019. Right tackle Bobby Massie becomes a free agent after this season but Rashaad Coward, a promising prospect at either guard or tackle after converting from defense this spring, does not hit unrestricted free agency until 2021, with the Bears holding future tender-offer options on the 23-year-old former nose tackle.
 
“[Defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio pointed out when I first got here that we’ve got a young guy [Coward] who really has some good traits about him as a football player,” Hiestand said. “He’s tough. He works his tail off. He’s learning on the job really well right now. Very positive growth.”
 
The overall situation is the result of some organizational commitment – if Daniels starts and Whitehair moves to center, the Bears will have a No. 1 (Long) and two No. 2’s as the three individuals closer to the football than anyone not named Trubisky.
 
And the result of luck – Leno was the 246th player taken in the 2014 draft, meaning that GM Phil Emery phoned in picks of Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Ka’Deem Carey and David Fales, plus a punter (Pat O’Donnell) before opting for Leno in the seventh round.
 
Maintaining perspective
 

A titanic offensive line is no solution by itself (besides the obvious fact that things dubbed as “titanic” can, you know, sink).
 
The Dallas Cowboys fielded an offensive line in 2015 that included No. 1’s Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Tyron Smith, plus rookie La’El Collins, with a top-10 grade but undrafted over character concerns. That Cowboys team went 4-12.
 
With Frederick, Martin and Smith still in place (Collins was injured), the 2016 Cowboys 180’ed to 13-3 after they got the quarterback (Dak Prescott) and running back (Ezekiel Elliott) things addressed. In 2017, the line even added another No. 1 pick (Jonathan Cooper) but the Cowboys dipped to 9-7 after Elliott was suspended for six games and averaged a full yard per carry less than the year before, and Prescott more than tripled his interceptions (to 13 from 4).
 
Even elite protectors have their limits if the protectees don’t do enough with the protection.
 
Health is a critical, annual issue, but where injuries have thrown several recent offensive lines into chaos. The Bears started four different right guards in 2017; Whitehair started at a different spot each of the final three games.
 
“I think our biggest thing,” said Whitehair, “is playing together under one set of eyes, seeing the field together and playing together.”