The 2022 season, I am ashamed to admit, forced me to hate the Chicago White Sox.
I hated it all, from Go Go Joe McEwing waving home runners that almost passed out from exhaustion just getting to third to trying to add up how many hot dogs Steve Stone ate on the last homestand with the number of letters in Michael Kopech's hometown on Sox Math.
My hatred of the 2022 team even stooped to hoping the beast dog from the movie Sandlot would come bouncing out of the stands to eat the endless stream of Scotty Smalls wannabes in right field. Even Jose Abreu's rubber band hanging off his chin beard became annoying.
I am not proud of my hatred. But the White Sox simply took the fun out of baseball last year.
The entire season was like waking up on Christmas morning expecting to find Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots under the tree and instead getting a new pair of pants and a shirt to wear to school.
It was Easter without the chocolates and the Fourth of July without the fireworks. Remember Tito Landrum hitting a homer off Britt Burns in the 10th inning in 1983? Of course, you do. That was 2022, almost on a nightly basis.
I should have known better. When your Sox fandom begins with the likes of Wayne Causey, Tommy McCraw, Duane Josephson, Pete Ward, Cisco Carlos, Walt Williams and Ken Berry, you should act your age. But I let my Sox guard down last year. I bought in.
The Chicago White Sox need to bring the joy back to thier fans.
There I was last spring, ignoring the wake-up call that should have been the 2021 playoffs and the beatdown that the Sox suffered. I didn't complain all that much when general manager Rick Hahn took a do-nothing approach to improve that team in the offseason. Bought I was already too far gone.
The rebuild had swallowed me up. They'll all get better, I said to myself and any Chicago Cub fan who asked me. This team is loaded. You'll see.
All I ended up seeing was my Sox fandom being destroyed with each passing day last year. I became the punch line to every smarmy Jason Benetti joke, the long-in-the-tooth, landline telephone-using, newspaper-reading, get-off-my-lawn Sox fan.
By the end of the year, when it finally, thankfully and mercifully came to an end, I found myself questioning all of my major life decisions.
Maybe I shouldn't have pressured my dad to buy an extra pair of rabbit ears for the black-and-white TV in 1968 so I could find Channel 32 and watch the Sox lose 90-plus games the next three seasons.
Why didn't I learn from the 1967 pennant race punch to the gut? But this past season and my Sox hatred truly rocked me.
I'm the same guy, after all, who was thrilled with the 1971 Sox that went 79-83 with their new fancy red uniforms and now I'm treating an 81-81 year like the Sox just stole my lunch money and my green Schwinn Stingray Fastback bike with the slick rear tire and banana seat.
Again, I am not proud. But that's what 2022 did to me. By the way, as a side note to the two guys who stole my green Schwinn back in 1969 when I was safely inside getting a clarinet lesson on the south side of 111th Street, you can bring it back now, no questions asked. Hey, you must be pushing 70 by now and that banana seat probably isn't so forgiving anymore, is it? I forgive you.
I still, however, haven't found the inner strength to forgive the 2022 White Sox. Not totally. The hurt still runs deep. The betrayal still lingers. But I'll come around. I almost always do. I am well aware, after all, that I need the White Sox more than the White Sox need me.
I'm just another get-off-my-lawn guy who thinks homers, RBI and batting average are really all you need to judge a hitter, no matter what Benetti says. Hey, if it was good enough for Pete Ward, it better be good enough for Yoan Moncada, who couldn't even handle Pete's tobacco chew.
The bottom line is I won't let one miserable season in 2022 rob me of even more miserable seasons in the future. It's the true Sox fan's motto. That's why I'm putting all of my hate for the 2022 White Sox in a shoe box, lighting it on fire, placing it on my neighbor's doorstep, and ringing that Cub fan's doorbell. Call it my closure for 2022.
Even though Hahn has obviously taken the build-out of the rebuild in recent years, I'm giving him one more chance. To prove my good faith I won't even point out, for example, that Hahn has been the Sox GM for 10 seasons (2013-22) and has produced just two winning seasons.
And one of those successful seasons was the 60-game pandemic tournament in 2020. Kenny Williams, Ron Schueler, Larry Himes, and Rollie Hemond, all past Sox GMS, used to call 35-25 merely a winning record in the middle of June.
Hahn has it in bold letters on his resume. But that's OK. Hahn still has his fingers on the Sox nuke button and my Sox psyche is at stake. I don't want to anger him or myself. Not in February.
But Hahn's Sox career is definitely on the clock. His rebuild, thanks to 2022, is fast approaching its make or break, do or die, put up or shut up the season.
The time for we'll-get-'em-next-time pats on the back are over. Hahn and a few of his treasured rebuild pieces are now at the get-'em-now-or-get-out-of-town stage.
That's what 2022 did, more than anything else. It has hardened Sox fans. Our anger from 2022 might not be on the surface anymore but we know where to find it.
White Sox baseball is now serious business. The carefree early days of the rebuild are gone. The everyone-gets-a-trophy-and-an-orange-slice era the White Sox sold us from 2017-19 can never return.
Thanks to last season the White Sox are now forced to become a results-based, bottom-line business. They promised us championships but so far have only delivered slick marketing and sales pitches. Last year wasn't fun for anybody.
This year should be even less enjoyable because it is time for the entire Sox organization to stop living on its potential and promise and start living on production.
The goal this year for the Sox should be to get a half dozen or so players attracting serious consideration for Comeback Player of the Year. They certainly have a lot of candidates, which is why we are in this put-up or shut-up season in the first place.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal and third baseman Yoan Moncada, for example, might be facing the make-or-break season of their Sox careers. Others, like Lance Lynn, Eloy Jimenez, Lucas Giolito, Tim Anderson, Michael Kopech, and Luis Robert also need to rebound from a disappointing 2022.
And there are others who just might be facing the first pressure-packed season of their major league careers.
Grandal, in the fourth year of a four-year contract, hit .202 last year with five home runs and 27 RBI over 327 at-bats. He's now 34 and one has to wonder if he has any comebacks left. He had 513 at-bats with the Milwaukee Brewers to go along with 28 homers, 77 RBI, and 109 walks in 2019 when Hahn grabbed him.
But the next Carlton Fisk and A.J. Pierzynski in Chicago have turned out to be the next Ed Herrmann and Ron Karkovice. Only less durable. After three seasons in Chicago Grandal has produced just 36 homers and 116 RBI over 767 at-bats on a .222 average.
Moncada, who will turn 28 this May, also has had three dismal seasons in a row. He hit 25 homers and drove in 79 runs on a .315 average in 2019 and looked like a future All-Star.
But in the last three years he's hit just .238 combined with 32 homers and 136 RBI. Defensively he has become Joe Crede at third base but with the bat, he's been, Conor Gillaspie. You don't trade a Chris Sale for a Conor Gillaspie even if you get Michael Kopech in the same deal.
The Sox, for good reason, didn't seriously consider cutting their losses with Moncada this offseason. His talent, after all, is still off the charts and could make him Joe Crede with a glove and a bat.
Grandal is an aging, beaten-up catcher with bad knees. Moncada is just a disinterested bundle of talent. The potential to fix him still exists.
The reason it is not all that difficult to go from hating the 2022 White Sox to believing in the 2023 version, even though many of the faces are the same, is because of all the injuries a year ago. The real 2022 White Sox never truly stepped on the field last year.
So who, exactly, are we mad at? Danny Mendick, Romy Gonzalez, Seby Zavala? Stop it. Jimenez, Kopech, Robert, Lynn, and Anderson all got hurt a year ago. You can't get mad at a guy for getting hurt. Right? Lynn will be 36 in May but the others are all still young and productive.
Lynn, who is a mix of Early Wynn and LaMarr Hoyt, is a valued team leader and he did come back last year to win eight games on a 3.99 earned run average on just one good leg.
It is not drinking the White Sox Kool-Aid to believe Lynn, Jimenez, Robert, Kopech and Anderson will all rebound nicely this year. To do otherwise, well, we'll leave that to the get-off-my-lawn guy who spends his days peeking through cracks in his living room drapes.
Jimenez, when he's on the field, has always produced. He's hit 71 homers and has driven in 211 runs on a .276 average in his four seasons with the Sox. He's averaged one home run every 16.7 at-bats and one RBI every 5.6 at-bats.
His problem the last two years, of course, is that he's only played a total of 139 games and given the Sox just 505 at-bats.
But now that he likely won't need a glove with Andrew Benintendi in left field, Robert in center, and rookie Oscar Colas, and others in right, he should be able to stay in one piece. Jimenez is still just 26 years old and his bat can carry him to a Most Valuable Player award someday.
The 28-year-old Giolito, a free agent after the year, is likely facing a do-or-die season this year as far as his White Sox career is concerned. Durable pitchers like Giolito (he's rarely missed a start in the last five years) are always in demand and Giolito might be too pricey for the White Sox.
So it was understandable the Sox didn't move him elsewhere this off-season to fill a perceived hole. The Sox starting staff, other than Dylan Cease, is a giant question mark heading into spring training.
Giolito was just 11-9 with a 4.90 earned run average last year but odds are he'll return to the pitcher that went 29-21 with a 3.47 ERA from 2019-21 combined and finished in the Top 11 in Cy Young voting in each of those three years.
Anderson, another treasured Sox leader, was limited to just 79 games in 2022. He hit over .300 (.309 over 332 at-bats) for the fourth year in a row so there is also no reason to believe he's in decline at the age of 28.
Robert, who will turn 26 in August, was limited to 98 games and 380 at-bats last year and hit 12 homers, drove in 56 runs, stole 11 bases, and hit .284. Don't be surprised to see Jimenez and Robert both competing for the league's Most Valuable Player award in the not-too-distant future.
Never in White Sox history have so many faced so much pressure as they will encounter this coming season. Can Vaughn, who will likely decline the chin beard and rubberband, become the next Abreu? Are Benintendi and his five home runs of a year ago worthy of a $75 million contract?
Is Colas a future star or simply the next Dayan Viciedo? Can Kopech ever give the Sox a full season? Is Pedro Grifol a real manager or simply another Hahn mistake?
Can someone from a group of a half dozen or so potential closers fill in for Liam Hendriks? Is there a major league second baseman on the roster?
The entire organization is on the clock. And it is clicking louder with each passing day.