This season will mark my attempt at a fourth consecutive wildly inaccurate statement about the Sox’ immediate future.
In 2006, I declared to one and all they would repeat as World Series champions. They did not.
In 2007, I wrote for the now-defunct Reservoir magazine that the Sox would finally emerge as the achingly average team they always just missed becoming. They did not.
In 2008, I looked at the roster and front office and came to the conclusion they would finish third behind the Tigers and Indians. They did not.
All of which merely stand to prove several things. For starters, baseball predictions (and mine in particular) are almost entirely useless once you get beyond generalities of good and bad. But more importantly, not only have I been wrong but in fact all but the most random of guesses by the interested parties have as well. The machines might do okay, but the problem with relying on the machines is not their lack of glamour or soul but the mere fun of it. Reading PECOTA projections is interesting, but sitting around a bar drunkenly debating the comparative value of sixth-inning relievers in the National versus American Leagues is entirely stupid, probably a waste of time, and a totally awesome way to spend an evening.
So when you take a look at someone like these White Sox, so widely heralded as the realization of Kenny Williams’ rebuild-on-the-fly dreams, it’s tempting to dismiss the chance to talk them up. You want to say they are nonspectacular and just another gamble of a squad whose season will end in either absolute triumph or total disgrace. You want to hang your head in sorrow at the sight of the old guys and cringe at the inevitable awkwardness of the kids trying to prove last year wasn’t a fraud and next year is a sure thing. You want to sigh at the preponderance of one-dimensional hitters and curse the organizational lie of speed and defense as they trot out a lineup that almost parodies itself:
- Whatever, CF
- Kid, 2B
- Home Run Or Nothing, LF
- Home Run Or Nothing, DH
- Home Run Or Nothing, RF
- Home Run Or Nothing, 1B
- Home Run Or Nothing, C
- Crazy, SS
- Home Run Or Nothing, 3B
Almost reflexively, you want to hand the division over to the Twins or Indians, but then you realize those guys are in the exact same position, surrounding their own question marks with cartoonish exclamation points. They too have players on the decline. They too have problems in their rotation. They too have injuries and guys whose best season may have just happened.
And then you start doing what you always do: you put your hopes in check by qualifying your optimism. These White Sox, you know, they can pull this off if things go right. If someone finally decides to be a well-rounded center fielder. If the kid can do in the majors what he did in the minors. If the South Side Power Company delivers the thunder more often than it delivers a hollow nothing. If the afterthought arms don’t fall off. If the reliable arm stays reliable. If the reclamation projects are finally reclaimed. If if if if if.
So what happens? What happens is that the Sox win the worst division in baseball with an embarrassing number of wins. What happens is the Twins are lost without Joe Mauer and the Indians don’t have half the team so many experts say they do. What happens is the Tigers fold up the tent early and the Royals make huge strides yet remain a few pieces away. Eighty-six wins take the Central; seventy take the seat in the basement. We’ll hear a lot about grinding and winning and chips on our shoulder and the economy is killing us all, all this while ticket prices are up, payroll is down and ticket sales, to hear the club say it, are apparently doing just fine.
On the South Side of Chicago, insecurity rules the game and the Sox start the season exactly where they ended the last one: on top with a lot of room to fall down with a team not even close to being either the well-rounded dynamo or the penniless pauper its masters claim it to be. If things go as planned, we all just might be very happy come October.
But again, that’s a big If.