A Pennant Flies in Chicago

For all the talk about one-run games, the mislabeling of Ozzie Ball, the late-season surge of the Indians and phantom dropped strikes and hit batters in the postseason, the White Sox are the undisputed World Champions of Major League Baseball.

For the first time in four years, a Wild Card team didn’t win the World Series. The White Sox did, though some folks seemed to consider them the equivalent of a Wild Card team. You know how people say that the postseason is a crapshoot, that the best team doesn’t always win? Well, the White Sox won 99 games during the season, one fewer than St. Louis’s top mark of 100. And they went 11-1 in the postseason; Only the 1999 Yankees have posted such a superlative record since the beginning of the current playoff structure. The Sox outscored their opponents 67-34 in the postseason too. There is no question that 2005 belongs to them.

2005 belongs to Kenny Williams, the oft-criticized GM of the Sox. Williams is not a sabermetric favorite because he has made some questionable deals in the past. But he provided manager Ozzie Guillen with all the pieces he needed to compete this year. In no particular order, he…

– Pulled off a doozy of a deal by sending Esteban Loaiza for Jose Contreras last year.

– Upgraded the bullpen by signing Dustin Hermanson, trading for Luis Vizcaino and snatching Bobby Jenks off waivers.

– Let Jose Valentin and Magglio Ordonez walk, the right choice in both cases.

– Signed El Duque, Jermaine Dye A.J. Pierzynski and Tadahito Iguchi as free agents in the offseason. Not a superstar or outrageous salary in the bunch, just good solid baseball players.

Yes, he traded Carlos Lee for Scott Podsednik and Vizcaino. Despite all the media fawning over Podsednik, the Sox would have been better off keeping Lee. But rumor has it that Lee was a divisive presence in the clubhouse, and the deal freed up enough money to sign El Duque. I may not like the deal, but who am I to argue with the results?

2005 belongs to Manager Ozzie Guillen, who seems to have a knack for showing faith in his players and bringing out the best in them, particularly his starting pitchers. Jon Garland finally broke through the prospect ceiling under Ozzie, and Jose Contreras found his Inner Ace this year, too. I particularly hope that Ozzie’s creativity with his pitching staff—his belief and dependence on his starters and his willingness to try different combinations in the bullpen—will augur a move toward more creative pitching staff management in the major leagues in general.

2005 belongs to Paul Konerko, one of the best, most consistent batters of the past two years. He’ll be a free agent this offseason, so 2005 is really looking good to him. 2005 belongs to Tadahito Iguchi, who made a much more comfortable transition to American baseball than his more celebrated counterpart, Kaz Matsui. 2005 belongs to the enigmatic left side of Chicago’s infield, Juan Uribe and Joe Crede, who tantalize with talent and, this year at least, deliver often enough to make a difference.

2005 belongs to Jermaine Dye, the right fielder who took Magglio Ordonez’s place for much less money, stayed healthy and was the second-best batter on the team. It belongs to Aaron Rowand, who looks lost at the plate these days but whose defense is still first-rate. And it even belongs to Podsednik, whose hot start helped get the White Sox rolling in the first place.

2005 belongs to Dustin Hermanson and Jenks, who found their own personal redemption in the Cell bullpen. And to Vizcaino, Politte, Marte and Cotts, who provided phenomenal key middle relief that was easy to overlook but critical to the team. It even belongs to rookie Brandon McCarthy, hopefully on his way to a bright future in Chicago.

2005 certainly belongs to the controversial Pierzynski, who was a non-tendered free agent this past offseason after the Giants dumped him due to alleged personality conflicts. But at least one Sox pitcher credited him for his resurgence this year, and none of them complained about him publicly. AJ’s hustle to first base on the supposed dropped third strike against the Angels was one of the Sox’s defining moments in the postseason.

But 2005 belongs most of all to the White Sox starting rotation: Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland and Orlando Hernandez. Every single one of these guys has had his detractors in the past, and they will probably have them in the future. But in 2005, they were the absolute core of the world champs. In my book, the defining moment of the postseason was El Duque’s work in the division clincher against last year’s World Champs, after he had been exiled to the bullpen. It was perhaps the most magical moment in this magical season.

At the beginning of the season, the Chicago media talked a lot about the “Curse of the Billy Goat.” They said that the Cubs were due to reverse their curse, just as the Red Sox had reversed theirs last year. Well, right city, but wrong team and wrong curse.

Never mind that this was a trumped-up curse, not nearly as compelling as, say, the curse of the 1919 Black Sox, or even the Curse of the Chicago Fire, which started three miles from U.S. Cellular’s current location and wiped out the original White Stockings’ ballpark, equipment and schedule.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

No, this wasn’t the media’s team in the beginning. But the White Sox eventually converted the Chicago gang. The Tribune, owners of the Cubs, started posting their magic number in July. One Trib reporter even gushed that the White Sox’s steal of Garland from the Cubs several years ago was equal payback for the Bell/Sosa deal.

Still, many Chicagoans have hesitated. Chicago may be a two-team town, but the White Sox/Cub rivalry is as geographically based as New York and Boston today, or Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx used to be in the days of three New York teams. The big debate among most Cubs fans I know has been whether to root for the Sox or against them. The Cubs are the North, the Sox are the South. There is no common ground.

Come on, people. The last time a Chicago team won a World Series was the same year Lenin led the Russian Revolution. It’s been a long time coming. Enjoy it, everyone.

References & Resources
Here’s what we thought of the Sox’s chances at the beginning of the season. For more Sox stuff, you should also check out the South Side Sox blog.

Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

Comments are closed.