Its been a rough offseason for White Sox fans. Mental strength will be needed from fans, players as another losing season could be on the horizon.
As many White Sox fans will tell you, despite the fact that the team has not been successful the last few years, their rebuilding efforts have left much room for excitement. Looking at their roster of prospects, that’s quite an easy point to defend.
However, in light of losing star pitcher Michael Kopech until 2020 due to injury and the unsuccessful effort to sign “he who should not be named”, this season could present bigger mental hurdles to overcome for players and fans…something all teams must do on their way to becoming a contender.
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Coming off of a 100 loss season, it’s difficult enough to go back to work with confidence. The drive and determination are there. Nobody loses 100 games because they want to, and it’s obvious to see that the White Sox are working harder to improve their weaknesses as any team should. However, it’s important to find the right balance mentally.
Many years ago, in his book Long Balls, No Strikes: What Baseball Must Do to Keep the Good Times Rolling, Hall of Famer Joe Morgan spoke of an underachieving Houston Astros team and stated: ” they put added pressure on themselves to perform well, which invariably choked off their natural abilities so that they can’t play their best.”
What’s interesting about this quote is that it doesn’t speak of the talent that underachieving Houston Astros team had (featuring Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell). It speaks of the mentality.
The Sox want to win without a doubt. They seem confident and determined, and are probably still seething from last year’s 100 loss campaign. If they weren’t motivated to improve, Sox fans would have major reason to be concerned. This isn’t about desire.
Yet, when a team has been losing for a while, uncertainty can easily begin to sink in. As a result – trying to avoid mistakes – a team or player tries doing too much that need not be done to succeed; the definition of “trying too hard”. Worse, because they’ve lost already, any sign of struggle could lead to a worrisome feeling of “Here we go again”. Desperately wanting to win and frustrated that things aren’t working out, going to work can feel like carrying a heavyweight. Any team would have to be strong to overcome this type of negativity.
One of the earliest challenges for the White Sox may have come this past week in spring training.
Yes, yes, it’s spring training and some players won’t be around for the long term.
Yes, yes, it’s spring training and the games “don’t count”.
Yes, yes, it’s spring training and the records don’t mean anything. (Though the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox were the best team in spring training last year, that aura of dominance carrying into the regular season and through the playoffs is relatively unusual).
However, what’s interesting is not that the White Sox lost their first three spring training games, but how.
Each game was lost by one run. Many will argue that the best teams out there are the ones who figure out ways to win one run games. The 2005 White Sox won countless one run games.
Also, unfortunately, they lost in three different ways:
1. A blowout against the Dodgers
2. A bullpen letdown against the A’s
3. Being consistently outplayed by the Padres
Does this indicate that the White Sox are going to struggle this year? Absolutely not.
It’s February. The game’s not over until “the fat lady sings”, and with the exception of a team like last year’s Oakland Athletics who catch fire midseason – it generally takes a month or two into the regular season to identify the real contenders (remember how hot the Mets were last April!)
Still, for the players who went through last season, this can seem eerily familiar…especially if the beginning of the regular season starts out the same way. They’ll have to be careful not to fall into a “Here we go again” mentality.
On one side, many fans remain optimistic and hopeful. Even those who are disappointed in last week’s dealings still anticipate a bright future.
However, what would be bad is to have a season surrounded by the question “What if?”
It’s likely that – especially if San Diego is doing well and the Sox are struggling – the “What if?” question will float around a bit. It’s only human to be curious, right?
Still, it’s not about what could have been but what is and what could be. There will be plenty of other fresh talents around, so let’s not spend any more time this season than we have to wondering what could’ve been.
On the other side, fans remain frustrated and upset. Some may feel like they’ve had enough. The White Sox have just promised them one more losing season while playing with their hopes one too many times.
If this season doesn’t go according to plan, you may hear – or continue to hear – a thing or two about who or what is the problem. Ken Williams is the problem. Jerry Reinsdorf is the problem. Rick Renteria is the problem. Jerry from Foot Locker is the problem. This may be in the form of everyday discussion or it may be in the form of vitriolic anger, but either way, it’s going to be critical.
There’s nothing wrong or unusual with making a critical assessment of a team’s weaknesses and trying to see what to improve. In any line of work, people do that. The only concern – for those fans – would be to not lose hope entirely, throw the paper down, and walk away to join another squad. It does happen at times, but it’s obviously not something any White Sox fan wants to see.
The White Sox have a lot to be excited for in the future, but they’ll have to avoid any hangover effect from the deal involving “He who should not be named” and negative feelings that may reemerge if the team struggles.