Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated weighs in on what some among us already knew (and what all of us agree with to at least some degree): Kenny Williams is a pretty darn good general manager.
And on the whole, not even the most jaded among us can argue that. The Williams Era has brought respectability to a franchise long worth ignoring by way of seven winning seasons of the last eight, two division titles in four years and, you know, that time the Sox beat the Astros. Put that in a second-tier market like the South Side and you can understand why Williams might often be passed over for more glamorous names like Theo Epstein and Brian Cashman in the informal poll of “best executive in baseball.”
Or, in the case of 2005 Executive of the Year voting, less glamorous names like Mark Shapiro and the World Champion of Missing the Playoffs Cleveland Indians.
The thing with Williams is that, superficially, it’s easy to say he’s awesome because the end product looks great. Over .500? Playoffs? Turning trades into full-out con jobs? Genius! But what the results ignore are the execution which otherwise couldn’t be faulted were it not for Williams himself putting forth huge expectations of winning it all and fantastic notions of the type of team he’s going to build – even though he already delivers exactly what matters to every Sox fan: respectability and a reason to hold your head high and say “Yes, I am a Sox fan.”
In 2006, the team got better in some respects but was worse off for it. In 2008 they were an average-at-best team that needed 163 games to win a terrible division and narrowly avoid a repeat of 2002, 2003 and 2004. Every winter of Williams’ tenure has made some mention of speed and defense yet every single winter has also treated each of those as mutually exclusive properties.
Spending has ceased this offseason, which is odd not because of the economy but because the Sox’ mantra has continually been that money would follow winning, yet here they stand set to defend a wholly repeatable AL Central title and chose instead to divest. Did certain players have to go? Absolutely. But those players also need to be replaced, and there the criticisms of Williams come full circle: he makes the team better, but only by making the team worse.
But you know something? He wins, and he puts something to cheer about on the field. He’s good, but not in the way people think he is. His lame squads excel in spite of themselves and his juggernauts come up short. To paraphrase the 2007 campaign, He Is White Sox Baseball.