Ghosts of SoxFests past

SoxFest 2012 is in the books, and perhaps the major takeaway is that things did not go in accordance with what you’d expect for a team coming off a horribly disappointing season, and just spent the winter waving goodbye to three top contributors.  Kenny Williams was booed a bit, but not pelted with tomatoes.  Adam Dunn was cheered and encouraged rather than placed in a makeshift stockade, and no one rushed the stage and started chanting Ozzie’s name, despite some indicating that they were considering it.

But while there was a cautious optimism for an upcoming season that most feel will be fraught with troubles, nothing too outlandish was promised or boasted.  Sure, Adam Dunn thinks he’ll bounce back, and Don Cooper wants 200 innings from every member of the staff (despite the fact that there were only thirty-nine 200 IP guys in baseball last year), but all that stuff sounds overly optimistic now.  How harshly will history really judge a team that asked “Why not us?” in their pre-season weekend pep-session?

For contrast, and to provide some statements that look genuinely silly now, let’s search the records of SoxFests past to find some real gems to be picked over with hindsight.  If we wanted, this whole post could just be filled from stuff from 2011; giddiness over Adam Dunn, World Series aspirations, etc.  But to provide a cheerier beginning, let’s start with SoxFest 2008.

“Talking about the big free-agent fish that wriggled off the hook, [Ed] Farmer asked the fans how many would have paid the $90 million spent by the Angels for Torii Hunter.

Not one fan raised a hand. Farmer then posed the same basic question, only this time he asked how many fans would have offered Aaron Rowand the $60 million given to him by the Giants. A significant number of fans quickly raised their hands.

“You don’t have a center fielder,” the fan yelled from his seat in the Red Lacquer Room, not completely satisfied with the options of Jerry Owens and Nick Swisher. “I want a center fielder.”‘

Yeesh, guy.  Way to put Kenny off of listening to the fans for life.

In a sense, though, the fan was right.  Center field remained a hole in 2008 that was filled piecemeal for the rest of the year, and in a competing year–as Prince Fielder just proved–most fans are perfectly willing to see their team overdo it to fulfill a need.  Sandblasting a soup-cracker is permissable if it ends in a title.  And besides, the 2010 Giants brought home the trophy with Aaron Rowand’s disastrous deal still on the payroll.  He’s an albatross you can win with!

I was able to find one mention of Quentin, with Ozzie saying that he, “may get time versus tough left-handers”.  His role gradually expanded over time, as it were.

That’s a fun contrast to 2007, which is just full of horrible famous last words.

First, there’s the caption on the picture of the recap article

“GM Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen like the makeup of the bullpen.”

2007 White Sox relievers: 5.49 ERA, 4.49 BB/9.

“If there was a theme to this year’s initial question-and-answer session at SoxFest…it was implicit trust in the architect of the 2005 World Series championship and the man who ran the show on the field.”

Really, what’s the point of implicit trust if you’re not going to incinerate it like a blowtorch?  You can’t collect interest on it.

“If we continued on without making any adjustments, I believe in the next couple of years you would see a 90-loss type team.”

“Specifically, this particular year,” Williams forgot to add.

Kenny was right, but just not committed enough to his concept.  He ducked out at the right time on Garcia and McCarthy, but hung on to the dying embers of Podsednik, Iguchi, and Contreras in ’07, while Pierzynski and Dye had down years as well.

It’s not something that could have taken place in the rational plane of existence, but if Kenny Williams had sold high on Jermaine Dye after the 2006 season, he’d have a fringe case for immediate enshrinement in the Hall of Fame for a single moment of brilliance.  It would also have been a posthumous honor, after an angry mob torched his office.

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2005 was surprisingly positive in tone given that the White Sox had just said goodbye to two boffo corner outfield mashers with nothing but a mason jar full of scrappiness and a bullpen arm to show for it.  The fans were really eating the promise of small-ball and grinding out games by the spoonful, and given how things went, who could blame them?

Tadahito Iguchi was actually not signed yet at the time of SoxFest, and Williams displayed his now trademark coyness in response to pleas to sign him.

The only other reaction smacking of last year’s Jerry Springer-like rowdiness came when one fan asked Williams about the possibility of signing Japanese second baseman Tadahito Iguchi. Numerous fans yelled for Williams to find the money to bring in the Japanese All-Star second baseman, leading the general manager to remind the crowd they have never seen him play.

“Funny how that works,” said Williams with a wry smile, when talking to the media about Iguchi after meeting with the fans. “This Iguchi person we’re talking about, I just assume he’s good because people like him so much.”

People were still referencing Jerry Springer back in 2005?  Man, time is a funny thing.  The contract Iguchi signed (2 years for $4.95 million guaranteed) wasn’t insignificant, but was right around what the team committed to Shingo Takatsu, so it’s hard to believe Williams was wringing his hands about the expenditure at the time.  And hey, look what I found digging around on the internet.

You can kind of predict how SoxFest 2006 went after that.

Of course no looking back on SoxFest statements with short shelf lives without touching on 2010.  The fateful moment where Ozzie was placed in the GM’s chair, and made a decision on Jim Thome that not only reflected his philosophical divide with Kenny Williams, but also greased the track to their split.

On Saturday afternoon, Guillen had said how he wanted to have a decision finalized regarding the possible addition of Jim Thome by the time he left for Miami on Sunday evening. On Sunday, in response to the first fan’s question, Guillen said that he moved his flight from 4 p.m. Sunday to Monday afternoon.

The Thome debate continues on for at least another day.

“It’s a funny thing. I’m doing this for the respect of Jim Thome and the fans and for what Jim Thome has done for the game,” said Guillen

This is like watching a horror movie, where you’re shouting at the screen and the characters can’t hear you.

Omar Vizquel would stand as the lone utility infielder if the White Sox stayed with 12 pitchers, a highly improbable scenario. And Guillen played the respect card on Sunday as another reason why the return of Thome would mean 11 pitchers.

“I put this on the table, too,” Guillen said. “Let’s say we are down 11-0 in the sixth inning and I want to give a guy a day off. Well, I’m not putting Vizquel in there.

“They did it to me and I’m not going to do that to anyone else. It’s [disrespectful] to put a Hall of Famer there, so we need someone else to cover that role. It’s the same for Andruw Jones. I might get him some at-bats, but I’m not going to put him in the outfield in that situation. I have more class.”

I have all the optimism in the world for the White Sox future return to greatness, but I don’t think the day where they can afford hinder their roster for ancillary concerns about veteran bench players having convenient and comfortable roles is ever coming.  Of course, why Guillen was ever even put in this position is probably the greater question.

Perhaps that’s not the best example of hindsight, since adverse reaction to the decision to pass on Thome was widely available in the immediate.  What it should remind us is that SoxFest exists not as a frank and sober assessment of all that has transpired a since the close of last season, but is rather an attempt to rationalize it all as purposeful, positive, and the next step toward greatness.  History can often prove this to be a fairly futile pursuit, but if fan reaction to the horrors of 2011 and the cautious optimism of 2012 is any indication, people appreciate the effort.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @ JRFegan.  Also check out his full-time, daily blog, White Sox Observer

Tags: A.J. Pierzynski Aaron Rowand Adam Dunn Alex Rios Baseball Brandon Mccarthy Carlos Lee Carlos Quentin Don Cooper Ed Farmer Freddy Garcia Jermaine Dye Jerry Owens Jim Thome Jose Contreras Kenny Williams Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim Luis Vizcaino Magglio Ordonez Nick Swisher Ozzie Guillen Prince Fielder San Francisco Giants Scott Podsednik SoxFest Tadahito Iguchi Torii Hunter

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