That Was Then And This Is Not

Remember where you were that night? Of course you do, as you should and as you, like me, probably always will.

But as these calendar pages keep turning and we fans sit back wondering how far our favorite team has or has not fallen since those juggernaut days of 2005, more often than not I find myself thinking more about what really changed when the pieces all came together.

Before the championship, the Sox were a perennial also-ran built to win softball games and home run derbies just so close to being a contender; after the championship, the Sox have been a perennial also-ran built to win softball games and home run derbies just so close to winning it all again.

Before the championship, all we only collectively asked for just one title, one for which we would be oh so grateful; after the championship, all we ever asked for was another title to validate the first one.

Before the championship, winning was a byproduct of the handful of times the Sox’ clumsily assembled pieces actually fit together; after the championship, winning somehow became the standard, even though winning was almost never the standard for most of the franchise’s previous 104 years.

But before, we also only had general baseball knowledge to guide our own versions of what the team needs. “You need a true leadoff hitter.” “You need better arms in the middle innings.” “You need someone who can play solid D.” These used to be paeans to the baseball gods; now they’re highly specific demands for the sequels to Scott Podsednik, Cliff Politte, Aaron Rowand et al, proposals all theoretically well and good, except often ignored in all these specific pleas is the simple fact that, outside of 2005, most of those White Sox players were terrible. Would any sane, knowledgeable fan ever demand their team go out and sign a poor-fielding hitter who’ll score 80 runs with an OPS+ of 86(!) and fight leg injuries to top off the order? Of course not, but that’s exactly what the White Sox had in the 2005 model of Pods, but by building a team only exactly as good as it needed to be the team could hide the fact that it wasn’t good, just balanced; their run scoring abilities were alright at best, but their run prevention skills were strong enough to hide that.

You wonder how an organization that previously anchored its infield with Jose Valentin and later banked on a healthy Carlos Quentin to carry its offense could pull off such a feat – and in such spectacular fashion – but that only leads to dangerous ideas about luck, magic, grindyness and all the other hyperbole that surrounds such conversations, and we ought to be better than that by now. We have memories and we have our stories about Where We Were That Night, and I think for some of us that ought to be enough. The Sox’ next trip up the mountain will be nice, for entirely different reasons, and when it happens we will have a whole new cast of journeyman relievers and past-their-prime designated hitters to mythologize, and that and that alone keeps me tuning in; that on days like this, hope and nostalgia need not exist at cross purposes.