As it turns out, the White Sox haven’t ended the season with a lifeless series against the Royals since 2004, it just feels like it’s happened a lot more.
Something about pointless, poorly-attended games played quietly in the poorly-lit yellow haze of Kaufman Stadium in 2003 and 2004 earned a permanent association in my head with the sadness of the baseball season not just ending, but ending ignobly. Perhaps Royals fans could offer some notes on the this feeling.
Part of it was being 16 and 17 and watching mediocre late-season baseball being an especially solitary activity, but also those lineups. Stacked with names like Magglio Ordonez, Frank Thomas (both of whom were hurt in 2004), Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko and eagerly-awaited prospects like Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand, there was no way to dissociate the Sox presence in a meaningless final weekend with failure and disappointment. One half of the roster had sorely wasted the other.
Since the White Sox have been gunning for the playoffs to varying intensities since the last they time they actually made it, that’s been equally in escapable for the last four season-ending sets. The White Sox Sox haven’t played a team that wasn’t already eliminated from playoff contention going into their final series since 2009, when they dragged the Tigers out of the slapfight the AL Central had devolved into after their own collapse from the scene, when an 87-win pace became too much from them.
That streak will continue this year, since Kansas City’s 6-0 shutout loss in Seattle eliminated them from post-season contention and snuffed out any air of mystery to their final four games. Since the White Sox playoff ambitions going into this season were obviously stillborn, it should be possible for the season to end in less of a celebration of self-pity, but no, no, no, no, no, not with this team.
The broadcast booth has become a forum for airing grievances, with Hawk regularly announcing his eagerness for the season to end, how it’s been the first year that’s made him pine for the off-season and how depressing it is that it’s come to this point. Without much choice but to follow Harrelson out on the plank, Stone regularly acknowledges that the Sox just want to get the season the hell over with too.
This sort of feeling of total failure would seem to be the point of differentiation with the Sox and franchises that were executing a rebuilding plan, but the Astros fired their manager after last season, and the Cubs are reportedly pondering doing the same thing to the man handpicked by their front office regime after this one. Losing of this magnitude just causes chaos, or just rigid self-examination.
It doesn’t help that most of the roster is circling the drain. The bullpen combination of Nate Jones and Addison Reed is showing fatigue from a laborious season, Paul Konerko is drifting toward what is believed to be the end of his career, partly because it’s hard to see the Sox willing to re-sign him, Adam Dunn is in a brutal slump that calls into question how much he can actually be trusted to help, Gordon Beckham is generally banged up, Conor Gillaspie is limping, Tyler Flowers and Jeff Keppinger have already reached the point where the torture of the season wasn’t worth further putting off shoulder surgery and Avisail Garcia can only come up to bat so many times per hour.
A lot, even most baseball seasons end mercifully. “It’s a long season,” as some might say, but like with everything this season, the curiosity is now whether the White Sox powers that be are taking this level of failure to heart, but how. A teenage White Sox fan might notice that every year ends with the battered and weary misfit parts of an aging and ineffective offense dragging themselves through the final set like men whose sense of professionalism is barely holding off their physical weariness. The failure of 2004 brought about some interesting philosophical changes. Now might be a fun time for some more.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan