When it’s all over, even when they say the 2000s belonged to Ozzie Guillen and the game belonged to Jermaine Dye, who will they point to as the team of the decade? Not who represented the ten-year high-water mark (that question ought to answer itself), but who, in a nutshell actually was White Sox Baseball?
You would think a team coming off a very strong 2000 season that trades a damaged Mike Sirotka for David Wells and still has a mighty lineup and solid-enough bullpen could do something as simple as win the 2001 Comedy Central. But you’d be wrong, because Dan Wright still couldn’t pitch, and Jim Parque was never really coming back, and any infield with both Jose Valentin and Herb Perry automatically belongs in the discussion for “worst defensive infield of all time.” And so it went, 83 wins, third place, and a return to the days of looking up at Cleveland. Sigh.
Esteban Loaiza went 21-9 that year, striking out 207 in the process, while Bartolo Colon of all people threw 242 innings and nine (9!) complete games; upon their respective returns five and six years later, these two would represent everything that was wrong with the organization, and I think we can extend that thinking even further because in hindsight, that 2003 team had everything wrong with it the past ten years on the South Side would everntually have wrong for them as welll.
Weird obsessions with late-90s Indians? Check. (Colon, Roberto Alomar.)
Trading for other teams’ problems? Check. (Alomar, Carl Everett.)
Achingly streaky Paul Konerko? Check. (.568 OPS in the first half to an .853 in the second.)
Gaping hole at the back end of the rotation? Check. (Dan Wright got 15 starts despite a 6.15 ERA.)
Stupid power? Check. (Frank Thomas, Magglio Ordonez, Jose Valentin and Carlos Lee combined for 130 home runs and 638 hits, but only 1182 total bases.)
What if Frank wasn’t more power than his frail old body could handle?
What if Magglio hadn’t shredded his knee on Willie Harris?
What if Esteban Loaiza wasn’t actually Esteban Loaiza?
What if Joe Crede had become Joe Crede a year sooner?
What if Scott Schoeneweis had ordered better juice?
What if Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras and Jon Garland were awesome when they were supposed to be, as opposed to when they actually delivered the goods a year later?
What if we never had to learn the names Felix Diaz, Arnie Munoz, Jeff Bajenaru, Josh Stewart?
Would they have gone the distance? Here’s a dangerous proposition we’ll look at another day, but I’ll be bold enough to say it now: yes. The 2004 White Sox could, theoretically and based solely on hindsight and a lot of imprecise calculations, have won the World Series. And why not? The Yankees were done down the stretch, the Red Sox really only had two pitchers, the National League was exceptionally weak that year, not to mention the American League had home field advant…you know what, this line of thinking is probably fairly poisonous. And a waste of time. And in the end, we still had Shingo to cheer for.
The Winner: With a fantastic front of the rotation, a non-existent back end and a lineup consisting almost entirely of cleanup hitters, the 2003 White Sox also sported a winning percentage almost equal to the decade-long score (.531 for the year to .528 for the decade). It’s as though for one magical, infuriating summer, they played all those ten years at once.