White Sox Aren’t Your Father’s (or Grandfather’s) Sox
White Sox culture changing for the better with the current rebuild, focus on future long-term success.
James Fegan’s White Sox update in The Athletic this week and the “blossoming bromances” insight read like music in my ear. Jake Burger and Nicky Delmonico working out together and attending hockey games together at night. Eloy Jimenez and Micker Adolfo reuniting from their amateur days together in the Dominican Republic. Yoan Moncada looking out for and mentoring to the fellow youngster and Cuban signee Luis Robert.
It means phase two of the rebuilding effort is beginning to take hold. The more they invest in each other, they more they invent in themselves and their collective success. The cake ingredients are coming together but it is starting to bake itself. This is special.
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I wondered to myself some time ago what to make of Chris Sale’s attacking club Executive Vice President Ken Williams during the Adam and Drake LaRoche drama, that absurd distraction during 2016’s Spring Training when a child’s presence in the clubhouse seemed more important to certain members of the team than focusing on the upcoming season. Then when Sale sliced up team jersey’s in a juvenile display of a commitment to winning my suspicion began to take hold: Sale was a goner. Whether either episode played into Rick Hahn’s determination the team was mired in mediocrity isn’t known, but it couldn’t have helped and may have forced his hand.
Shortly after Adam Eaton was traded to Washington, some comments emerged suggesting he was less than a total team player and not the best clubhouse presence. I have no way of knowing anything about that or what degree any truth existed in it all, but I recalled the home run he hit while blowing a bubble. Sounds silly, but who in the world is focusing on blowing a bubble while a pitch is coming in?
Maybe he’s such an incredible bubble-blower that his unconscious motor-control functions blew the bubble without his awareness. It’s possible. I mean, he did go yard on it – but if he would have struck out I would be expressing a different sentiment. To Eaton, bubble-blowing belonged in the batter’s box.
Ick. Recalling all of this I feel like I need a bath. And when the bathwater becomes dirty, time to let it out and start fresh.
The best way to improve culture and start fresh is to bring in a bunch of kids. This is precisely what the Sox have done. And when you bring a bunch of kids together, you tend to notice they do things as a group. Go to the mall, drop in on a matinee, or hit a fair or festival and there they are: groups of kids. They stick together as if they are magnetic.
Welcome to White Sox 2.0. The kids are all right. Young people are optimistic, they don’t believe they fail, they take risks, and after they fall down they tend to pop right up and get after it again. All this is great, but it means they’ll make mistakes. But that’s acceptable because mistakes are how one learns.
Do something successfully and no one questions themselves. A mistake is followed by “What did I do wrong?” The error is memorized followed by the development of an alternate approach to do things differently and drive a different outcome. This is why patience is so important for the success of this rebuild.
Kevin Costner as Crash Davis imparts this advice to Tim Robbin’s character fire-balling pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh as he departs for his Major League call-up. “Those major league hitters are going to light you up like a pinball machine for a while. Don’t worry about it. Be cocky and arrogant even when you’re getting beat. That’s the secret. You gotta play this game with fear and arrogance.”
The players understand this, but it may take the fans a while to pick it up. There is so much expectation surrounding the franchise and the rebuild, and expectation often breeds impatience and disappointment. One poor start and they’ll say you don’t belong or should be sent to the bullpen. Just ask Carson Fulmer.
Aaron Judge bats .179 in his rookie season and the Yankees don’t give up on him. Adam Engel bats .168 in his rookie season after winning MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League in 2015 and he’s no longer under consideration – despite some of the most amazing circus catches anyone will ever see. Impatience could be the eighth deadly sin for those who root for the South Siders.
This is nothing new. It’s what it means to be a White Sox fax. We’re fragile, we’re hungry, and we want success as quickly and conveniently as we can get it. It’s because of the stains of the past. We want the Black Sox scourge erased like the changing of a television channel. Even a World Series ring in 2005 has not washed away the wound of 1919, and we view every possibility with equal amounts of hope and skepticism.
Humorist and legendary White Sox Jean Shepherd once wrote, “If I were going to storm a pillbox, going to sheer, utter, certain death, and the colonel said, ‘Shepherd, pick six guys,’ I’d pick six White Sox fans, because they have known death every day of their lives and it holds no terror for them.”
Watching this group of young men who possess incredible talent looking out for each other and having fun means the clouds are clearing and there are better days ahead. 100 years after the best team in baseball fixed the World Series, a new set of players may be contending for what may be an extended run.
Next: The importance of building team chemistry
If Shepherd were still with us, I would tell him the war is over. These new guys are focused on storming a mound and not a pillbox and with a goal of taking a different kind of flag. And when they do I suspect no one will be focused on cutting up jerseys or blowing bubbles.