Within fifteen minutes of arriving at SoxFest, all notions of being “star-struck” or finding it bizarre to see highly-televised people in real life, are stripped from you. They’re everywhere, wearing nicer versions of normal clothes, chatting and moving through rooms like nothing is special, and you need to get used to it.
After the last panel had wrapped, at 4pm, White Sox GM Rick Hahn and his kids were standing right by the front entrance as people streamed out. That’s not strange. What’s strange is that no one was talking to him, or really acknowledging his presence. After two days, people had more or less gotten their fill of Rick Hahn.
World Series Memories
The World Series panel featured Paul Konerko–who looked in shape, Aaron Rowand–who looked to be only recently retired, Joe Crede, and Jermaine Dye, who looked a bit more settled into retirement. There were, of course, familiar themes and stories from every commemorative DVD on the season ever produced, and Konerko repeated the disappointing phenomenon where the biggest moment of every player’s career is always “a blur” in their memories–in this case, his grand slam.
However, beyond Crede’s retirement being announced in the most bleak way possible (“I’ll probably never swing a bat again”), Konerko did drop an anecdote I had never heard before, regarding the level of focus the team had at the time. He recalled an Astros player reaching first base during Game 1 and beginning to chat him up, as is typical in normal games. Konerko said that the player asked him how he was, and remarked at the beauty of the opening ceremony, prompting Konerko to conclude “Alright, if we just play, we’ve got these guys. They’re just happy to be here.”
The crowd applauded the incisive cold-blooded judgement of their captain.
This panel covered the topic of “record-setting” in minimal detail. But if someone simply decided, “Let’s throw Bill Melton, Tom Paciorek, Frank Thomas, Greg Luzinski, Harold Baines, and Ed Farmer on stage, and then name it something,” well, then, more power to them.
It wasn’t much more than 40 minutes of banter between the guys. Frank Thomas cited Baines as an early mentor to him as a major leaguer, and claimed that “People think he doesn’t talk, but he only talks to who he wants.” Baines, in easily his most talkative moment of the day, downplayed his role. Additionally, Melton and Luzinski talked about being terrified of the fireballers (Nolan Ryan and J.R. Richard) of their day, Thomas razzed Farmer for scouting him as an amateur but still recommending that the Orioles select Ben McDonald with the first overall pick of the draft, and Tom Paciorek recalled flipping off Vin Scully. Fun times.
After the panel
Thomas was grabbed for about five minutes by the beat writers after the panel, but dropped quotes that launched easily a half-dozen columns, simply because he–as the kids would say–went in on PED users.
“They put up some big numbers, but they were fake,” Thomas said, in a calm voice that suggested that he had thought of this statement beforehand. He reaffirmed his hope and confidence that he would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer next year, and also explicitly endorsed Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Craig Biggio as non-PED associated colleagues that he felt should join him.
Frank has a real foothold for Hall voting as this anti-PED crusader, but he’s also been talking this way for too long for his stance to be anything but genuine. If he was really one of the few clean players of his era, it’s not hard to understand his bitterness.
Pitchers having fun
Jack McDowell was lopped onto a panel with John Danks, Gordon Beckham, and Jake Peavy–who arrived around 10 minutes late, and thus had his empty chair submitted to the standard wave of Manti Te’o and Clint Eastwood jokes from host Richard Roeper.
They started off on an odd tangent of decrying the expansion of media coverage. Peavy did have a picture of him chugging Jaegermeister at a charity bar event make the rounds when he was in San Diego, and I can’t imagine many athletes see Deadspin’s rise as a positive, but for the most part, this was a panel full of players that use the media very effectively. Except for, of course, McDowell.
McDowell’s incident of flipping off Yankee Stadium provoked a discussion of times where each player “snapped.” Peavy claimed that all of his “snaps” come out on the mound for everyone to see, while Beckham testified to destroying a few water coolers. Danks brought up his most famous “snap”, which had him yelling at Jose Bautista in the midst of a shelling in Toronto, at which point Peavy jumped in and reminded everyone that the Blue Jays were stealing signs. Just in case you thought that story was dead, or wonder why the Sox seemed to relish winning in Toronto so much last season.
Talking bad about other teams didn’t stop there, as Danks, Beckham, and Peavy quickly brought up Jose Valverde and Chris Perez as examples of annoying closer celebrations. McDowell’s contempt for closers in general then emerged, “You’re celebrating like you did something, when all you did was not screw up a win your team gave you for 8 innings.”
On topics more relevant to the 2013 team, Peavy begged (his words) fans to give a fair shot to Tyler Flowers as he replaces A.J. Pierzynski, John Danks reaffirmed that he had not had any setbacks in his rehab and would starting throwing breaking pitches during his three-times-a-week mound sessions, starting on Monday. Beckham cited his .254 BABIP as a reason to be optimistic about his performance next season. I doubt many people followed along, but it was still fun to see.
After the panel, Danks said “he would be disappointed” at this point if he was not deemed ready to make starts in the first week of the regular season, but understood the level of caution being exercised, and defers to it, since he’s never had this sort of extensive rehab before. He didn’t seem to mind being interviewed that much.
I had to sit out the Pen Pals session on Saturday, but Larry from South Side Sox had the main takeaway from the panel being new bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen‘s extensive rapport with nearly every member of the current relief corps, especially Nate Jones. There was a case to be made that Jones was overworked last season, and Thigpen will be able to manage that a bit better.
Winning Ugly Reuinion
There should be a post on the 1983 Winning Ugly panel on CSN Chicago Sunday that has far more of me thinking about that season’s White Sox than I possibly have in life. I love history as much, or more than the next guy, but it required a lot of new investigation to dive that deep into a team I never experienced personally.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan