'Winning Ugly' White Sox enjoy SoxFest reunion

'Winning Ugly' White Sox enjoy SoxFest reunion
January 28, 2013, 1:30 am
Share This Post

It's been 30 years since the Winning Ugly White Sox lit up summer nights on the South side of Chicago. The stadium they played in has since been demolished, their rookie manager has completed a Hall of Fame career and retired in 2011, and a World Series banner has been hung above the division title the 1983 team earned.

But for this weekend at SoxFest, they were the focus again once more. Tony La Russa, Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle, Roland Hemond, Tom Paciorek and Harold Baines all reunited for two days of panels, stories, and many, many jokes at one another's expense.

"We could outdrink any team in baseball," said former Sox outfielder and broadcaster Tom Paciorek, who then pointed to his old teammate Greg Luzinski and said "And this guy right here was our leader."

Over the crowd's laughter, Luzinski said: "Don't laugh. I'm from Chicago, so you're all in the same boat with me."

Such descriptions of partying might elicit cringes these days, but for the 1983 squad, it was all part of a famous level of team chemistry that included mandatory team parties instituted by their 34 year-old first-time manager Tony La Russa.

"It was really a good thing because it kept the guys together on the road,' La Russa said on Friday night. "They just kept reinforcing 'let's win tomorrow' and then you mixed in a lot of baseball talk when you were all together. It was just really a great atmosphere."

The longtime manager could only spend a night in Chicago before heading out for the funeral of Cardinals legend Stan Musial, but said that All Jerry Reinsdorf had to do was ask to get him to show up to honor what was such a fun year.

The fun was heightened by a raucous home atmosphere, as Comiskey Park saw a nearly 600,000 jump in attendance that year, and topped two million total fans for the first time in franchise history.

"You get 30,000-35,000 people there a night in Comiskey Park," said Luzinski, "Especially with Nancy Faust over there on that organ, she could get that place hopping, and it was a lot of fun. There were teams after a while that didn't want to come in to Comiskey."

Of course, it's a lot easier to have fun and pack the ballpark when the team wins 99 games and claims the division title by 20 games. With their playing careers in the rearview mirror now, the time was ripe for the panel to place the accomplishments of the 1983 club in historical perspective.

"No question it was one of the best teams I've played on the best pitching staff, obviously, starting-wise," said Luzinski. "Tremendous ballclub."

That starting rotation was headed up by two 20-game winners in Richard Dotson and Lamarr Hoyt, that latter of whom won the American League Cy Young that season. Not only did 1983 represent the best year of Dotson and Hoyt's careers, but it also was the last year the team had with hitting coach Charley Lau and scout Loren Babe, as both died of cancer before the 1984 season started.

"We kind of dedicated that season to them," said Paciorek at the Saturday panel discussion, "Why we won 17 games in a row at home, why we came back from that 18-24 start, I think had a lot to do with those guys, because we knew they were fighting a tougher battle than we were by just playing a baseball game."

With that inspiration and a once-in-a-lifetime pitching staff in tow, the White Sox still fell to the Baltimore Orioles three games to one in the American League Championship Series. The franchise wouldn't make it back to the playoffs for ten seasons and by then, Carlton Fisk was the only player left from the 1983 squad.

But any moments of bitterness still present from that defeat and the opportunity at a World Series championship that went by the boards were quickly diffused. A fan asked the panel how come the 1984 team that added Hall of Famer Tom Seaver to the staff could not repeat the magic.

"Well, he wasn't any good," said Paciorek quickly, eliciting chuckles from the crowd. When it came to discussing on one of the most fun seasons of their lives, the players in attendance just did not have much room for regret.

"We were walking away dejected," said Ron Kittle, describing the feeling after the White Sox were eliminated from the playoffs. "But we played hard for the city of Chicago, they rocked the place with two million people that year, we heard 'Na Na Hey Hey', I got to play my rookie year in between Wimpy Paciorek, Bull Luzinski, and Carlton Fisk that was my dream, I watched them when I was a kid and I was just fortunate to be part of that team."

That feeling was clear. 15 minutes after the panel ended, a crew looking to set up the Red Lacquer Room at the Palmerhouse for Sunday's events had amassed near the media entrance, but they were being held up.

"Ron Kittle is still out there signing autographs," one of them noted, before they decided to wheel their gear out toward the back entrance. They must not have seen Luzinski, since he was still out there too.

CSN White Sox Insider Dan Hayes contributed to this story.