The term “White Sox” in baseball basically means anger. Or at least a heavy pinch of it to go with however else it might be defined. There is always an undercurrent of seething with the White Sox and their fans. It’s part of their identity. The White Sox are a symbol of their part of Chicago, the Southside, which means they carry the feeling of bitterness that comes with it, springing from the idea that that half of town is generally ignored and discarded by those who run this place from City Hall (and that’s not really wrong either. Though the funny thing is that the two mayors who really instilled the “Fuck the Southside” form of policy were both Daleys, supposedly “Southside guys”).
Even when the White Sox are good and winning, the joy they generate is tinged with a sneer and defiance. “No one wanted us to be good but we are anyway so fuck you!” They’re happier if people are pissed off at their success than enjoying it for themselves, even if it is only perceived. Sox fans will tell you they hate it when they get ignored by local or national media for “that team up north,” but they kind of love it, deep down, so that when they are a story they can rub it in everyone’s face.
But it’s easy for that bile to turn inward, especially when the fans, and players, think that kind of dismissal and indifference is coming from their own front office. And it turns Comiskey (you call it Guaranteed Rate) into a cauldron of animosity aimed in every direction — at the field, out into the city, back into the stands, and everywhere else. It becomes a Mexican standoff of baseball discontent.
And as the Sox ramp up toward the season next week, even though they should be a favorite to come out of the American League, they are returning to their natural state of a roiling pool of unhappiness.
The big complaint for fans is that the Sox have had an inert offseason, other than a couple relievers. Carlos Rodón and his magical exploding left arm decamped for San Francisco, but he hasn’t been replaced in the rotation. They’re going to try and replace him internally with Michael Kopech, but though he throws 187 MPH, he has 83 innings pitched in the majors, split three years apart. And this was a team that couldn’t get the Astros out in the playoffs, with all of Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Rodón pretty much getting shelled. They could use another bullet come October, even if Giolito and Lynn carry over their regular season form.
The Sox also haven’t addressed holes in right field or second base. Those holes got a little deeper when Andrew Vaughn got hurt in spring training, and a hip pointer seems like something that could flare up throughout the season. Leury Garcia or Gavin Sheets will take most of the reps out there, and neither will save Luis Robert in center from charing his lungs sprinting between them and the constant calamity/danger to society that Eloy Jiménez is in left when wearing a glove (though he needn’t really bother wearing one, given his skills out there).
The Sox went bargain hunting with Josh Harrison to play second. Harrison makes a lot of contact, which the Sox could use more of, but his defense eroded last year and the Sox already have a pretty wonky defense, and that’s if we’re being kind (though Tim Anderson greatly improved at short last year and that makes up some ground). Still, Javier Báez or Marcus Semien were out there, and while there are plenty of teams not trying, when you’re in the penthouse it’s an arms race. There is no “too much” for playoff teams.
It would help if the team’s mouthpieces were in anyway sympathetic, but as tends to be the White Sox way they just do the I’m-rubber-and-you’re-glue routine, as evidenced when Tony La Russa stepped to the mic to address fans’ concerns about Vaughn’s injury and the shortage in right. It wouldn’t have been difficult for La Russa to say he understands fans’ concerns but thinks they have the horses in the dugout to make it work. Instead he chose antagonism, because that’s what they do there. The White Sox themselves have always had no problem blaming their fans for their inaction, usually citing their disappointing attendance as cause for not spending. Hence fans are less enamored with the team and less likely to show up, and the whole cycle continues. It didn’t help that in the next breath the manager couldn’t wait to praise Cardinals fans in the wake of the team bringing back cadaver Albert Pujols for a three-pronged retirement tour with Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina. Sox fans have little patience for anyone batting eyes at anyone else, as they should when it’s someone their owner forced upon them.
The antagonism spreads to the players, where the team tried to nickel and dime Lucas Giolito to an absurd degree, who only happens to be the team’s ace. And given the team’s history with re-signing pitchers (there isn’t one, because Jerry Reinsdorf hates paying any pitcher with more than anything than gift certificates to the team store), it felt like the first step in Giolito’s lindy-hop out of town.
And none of this should be happening. This should be a massively exciting time for the Sox and their fans. Even with the Twins’ signing of Carlos Correa, the Sox should waltz out of the Central. The Twins rotation is playing card thin and Byron Buxton is never more than three minutes away from some ligament or bone turning to flubber. The Guardians aren’t even trying, and the Royals and Tigers are in various stages of a rebuild.
From there, it’s a crapshoot in the playoffs. But the Astros haven’t improved really, and looking around the AL really only the Blue Jays have. What’s frustrating for Sox fans is that a path to the World Series is so obvious and could have been paved with a couple ambitious moves instead of left as a dirt and rocky road. Why leave it up to so much chance? Sure, Lynn and Giolito could get on a heater in October, the Sox pen is loaded even if they don’t, and they can still mash. But more things have to go right than the Sox had to leave it to.
But then, optimism and excitement never sit comfortably with the White Sox. They’re happier watching a season grinding their teeth with a barely concealed rage bubbling under the surface. Even if it carries all the way through the playoffs. I guess you could say the White Sox are now ready for the 2022 season, in a way only they can be.