The myth of renewal


Still the same, Phegley Phegley’s still the saaaaame. Losing game-to-gameeeee // Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

It’s probably not good practice, nor a good sign personally for me after four seasons of blogging, to still be getting embroiled in a dissection of Hawk Harrelson’s analysis of his favorite team.

Hope always springs eternal for Hawk–especially in, you know, Spring–but more than ever this season, that requires a blistering disavowal of the previous year as an isolated event with no bearing on the future.

"“‘That was the worst performing team I have ever seen that I have been associated with as a player and as an announcer. The fans saw the same thing that you and I saw every day,’ he said. ‘It was the worst season I ever experienced. It was just a nightmare. That’s what it was — just a nightmare.’…‘What Rick Hahn has done has been just terrific. Just absolutely terrific. He has turned the perception around coming off the worst year I have ever experienced in my 54 years in the game.’ Harrelson said. ‘You can never go wrong by going out and getting good, young players. That’s what he’s done. We have some very good, young talent on that ballclub. That’s one reason I’m excited to go to spring training.'”"

Perhaps the most incendiary quote is the non-specific request of “Give me some guys who want to win a [bleeping] baseball game.” Which seems closer to a disavowal of last year’s team approach and mentality than anything else. The only problem is that like many tear-downs of awful teams, awful performers are hard to sell off. It’d be nice to pin everything on a player that Rick Hahn angrily sent packing, but that’s hard to do here.

Was Jake Peavy part of the negative culture? Perhaps an argument about the effects his constant self-flagellation could be made. Was Hector Santiago realizing 170% of his potential a drag on the team? Addison Reed? Matt Thornton? Jesse Crain? Alex Rios was an easy target even before he stopped hustling out grounders, lulled into a slump and filled the basepaths with brain farts. But he’s also the guy who embraced “TWTW” from the start and was near tears when the 2012 division bid fell apart. Scapegoating is hard to get perfectly right.

Alexei Ramirez is still around after an error-wrecked 2013 season, Alejandro De Aza is around after pacing the league in baserunning gaffes, Jeff Keppinger is still guaranteed semi-regular work, there will be plenty of violent Dayan Viciedo cuts this season and the brutal catching tandem is still the same brutal catching tandem. There are as many, if not more remaining avatars of the sloppy and listless 2013 White Sox than purged problem players.

Writing off these players–or any members of the 2013 team–as permanently unmotivated is as much of a case of treating players like strat-o-matic cards as reducing them to their career averages and PECOTA projections. Just like physical performance, players have peaks and valleys in their level of focus and motivation, and if anything it’s harder to track than the aging patterns we have gotten used to.

Hawk seems to play it safe and assume it all reboots at the end of every year. That can be a breath of fresh air from the rigid armchair psychology that spurts from the bleachers of how players have no heart or aren’t winners, but creates the illusion of a sea change that not even Rick Hahn’s quietly impressive off-season can live up to.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan