The Devil in the White Sox city

The Devil in the White Sox city

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Upon moving to Chicago in 1995, I was fascinated by just about everything about the city. Being a native east-coaster, I never dreamed in a million years that I would move away from the Atlantic Ocean and head to the heartland. But thats what love will do and thats also another story for another day, although I never get tired of telling it. (Ask my eye-rolling co-workers!) The thing about the city that excited me most, and this should not come as a surprise, was that it was a two-baseball team town. How cool is that? I can see every team in the Majors if I want. For a baseball geek it doesnt get any better than that. That one of the stadiums that I would get to go to was Wrigley Field made it even better, if that was possible.

Like much of the new city that I was about to inhabit, I knew about the White Sox, but there was a lot for me to learn. My eventual move to the far, far Southside would help with that and would also help balance the fact that I work in a Cubs bar. For me, it was never about drawing lines, I could enjoy both sides. In this town though, you are supposed to choose. I might have more of a rooting interest for one over the other, but since I pay attention to every game that both teams play, you could say Im a follower of both and not the typical Chicagoan. (Big shock!) And I do believe that gives me a different perspective on the two teams.

They are as different as you can get, while being very similar, kind of like brothers. From the neighborhoods they inhabit, to the feel of the ballparks and the TV and radio broadcasts that fans watch and listen to, there is a distinction between the two that is unmistakable. The common bond being the city they play in and the passion in their base fans.

But being an outsider, I realize that this should be the case, since that is the way it is with the 28 other teams in MLB. Each team and every dynamic around them are unique.
The big difference here is that they are sharing the same house.

And the even bigger difference being that while I dont think the Cubs give it a second thought, it drives the Sox crazy. Well, crazy for one specific reason: Attendance. (Some would say the dollars that go with it, but Im not that cynical, yet.)

Because of the ballpark and the location, the Northsiders have become a national treasure, albeit a non-threatening one, given the whole 104-year thing and all. This didnt always reflect in the attendance as much as it did the public consciousness. I remember when I first moved here it was always easy to get tickets. (On both sides of town, as a matter of fact). The Cubs always drew relatively well, but they werent an attendance juggernaut, they were always around the league average for years. Then in June of 1998 Hippity-Hopity hit 20 homers and it all changed. In the chicks-dig-the-long-ball age, Wrigley became a happening, a place to be. By 2003 there also came a thirst for success and everyone wanted to be a part of it, and they came oh so close. Maybe you heard about it? They didnt win but for some they became something better, a three-million-fans-a-year behemoth (8 straight years and counting.). They are the definition of a financial player.

Now consider on the Southside, they did something their Northside brethren havent in the last 104 years, well actually they did it twice but had their own drought, (Theres a new definition for that word!) and thats winning a championship in 2005. (Seems like a long time ago.) What did they get? A spike in paying customers in 2006, but then it has declined every year since, from a high in 06 of 89.9 capacity, all the way down to this years current rate of 50.9 Ouch.

This makes me understand what I thought to be a curious statement by Sox GM Kenny Williams after they won in 05. When posed a question about the Sox position in baseballs hierarchy, he felt that the Sox needed to win another title to remain relevant on a national and local scale. I guess he couldnt have been more right.

Although I will say, I wonder if this is some of his and the Sox own doing.

Kenny has never been shy about expressing the opinion that fans need to come out to support the team. Or else.

That was the message last year, when after signing Adam Dunn he said the fans need to come out or the team was going to have to start slashing its highest payroll ever by dumping players at the trade deadline. Not a white flag moment, but at least a shot across the bow.

That the season kind of turned into a circus and their competitive level was not what was expected (understatement) might have taken away from those comments, but I wondered what effect they still would have.

Is that being expressed this year? Are there other factors?

I know that a lot of fan bases take pride in showing up no matter what, take St. Louis for instance, but then I consider, they live in St. Louis, what the hell else are they going to do?

In Chicago, all summer long, people have options. And when the price of going to any game is getting out of control for most working-class folks, things have to be considered before you drop a couple hundred going out to a game.

But it still surprises me a bit that people arent going out to watch this team play. In my post last week, I mentioned that I was hopeful that they could capture the public's attention. All theyve done since then is sweep Cleveland and Tampa Bay to extend their win streak to eight and take over first place in the Central.

And I still dont hear a buzz. All I hear is the GM playing chicken with the fans by calling them out in public.

Kenny Williams: Every day that you dont fill the seats at least to a greater degree than we are, it hurts.

Meaning: If you want the team to compete, and you want me to buy at the trade deadline, get your but in a seat so I can pay for it.

Again, I am fascinated and entertained by Williams to no end. He is one guy that I would love to see pull up a stool at the bar to talk baseball.

But I dont know if everyone else feels that way, and by everyone I mean paying customers, since for six years in a row now, there are less of them coming out.

Even worse, and this has to gnaw at him, is that he has a first place club, yet a team 8.25 miles to the north, that doesnt have a prayer, is outdrawing his by 16,500 a game. (Figure the real math)

I guess I would call my fans too if I had a team in 1st and they were playing in front of 50 of capacity.

I cant wait to see how this plays out. I know Ill be watching and rooting on TV and going to U.S. Cellular Field on at least two planned occasions. And now thanks to Kenny, maybe Ill have to plan a third trip. Every little bit helps I guess.

Oh, and about the title. Its just a play on words, nothing sinister, but feel free to have your own interpretation. In my eternal quest to learn more about Chicago, Im currently listening to the audio version of the book that details the Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. Its about the Worlds Columbian Exposition hosted by Chicago in 1893. It is a great listen, almost as good as Kenny, and makes my trip home from work fly by.

Only a smart aleck like me would point out that a lot of folks that went to that once-in-a-lifetime event also saw the Cubs play in 1908.

Ill play nice and leave it at that.

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

Veteran outfielder Peter Bourjos eyes role with White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he surveyed the landscape this offseason, Peter Bourjos thought he and the White Sox would make for a good fit.

Adam Eaton had been traded and Austin Jackson departed via free agency, leaving the White Sox with Melky Cabrera and several young players to man a thin outfield. Bourjos, who lived in Chicago until second grade, pursued the White Sox and last month agreed to terms on a minor-league deal in hopes of earning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Last season, Bourjos, who was born in Chicago, hit .251/.292/.389 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 383 plate appearances for the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I always liked playing in Chicago,” Bourjos said. “It was a good fit and then spring training is here. I have two young kids. So packing them up and going to Florida wasn’t something I wanted to do either.

“We definitely look at all those options on paper. Evaluate what might be the best chance of making a team and this is definitely one of them. It seems like a good fit on paper.”

If he’s healthy enough, Charlie Tilson will get the first crack at the everyday job in center field. Tilson, who missed the final two months of last season with a torn hamstring, is currently sidelined for 10 days with foot problems. Beyond Tilson, the White Sox have prospects Adam Engel and Jacob May with Cabrera slated to start in left field and Avisail Garcia pegged for right. Leury Garcia is also in the mix.

But there still appears to be a good shot for Bourjos to make the club and manager Rick Renteria likes his veteran presence for the young group. Bourjos has accrued six seasons of service time between the Phillies, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals.

“Bourjy has been around,” Renteria said. “He knows what it takes. He understands the little nuances of major-league camp and how we have so many players and we want to give them all a look. We want to see Bourjos, we want to see him out there.”

Bourjos, who turns 30 in March, has an idea what he wants to do with his chance. A slick defensive outfielder, Bourjos wants to prove he’s a better hitter than his .243/.300/.382 slash line would suggest. He said it’s all about being relaxed.

“Offensively just slow everything down and not try to do too much,” Bourjos said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself and it hasn’t translated. I think last year I got in a spot where I just tried to relax in the batter’s box and let everything go and what happened happened. I had success with that.

“I now realize what that feels like and it doesn’t work. Just take a deep breath and be relaxed in the box and good things are going to happen.”

Why Brett Anderson called Cubs fans ‘f------ idiots’ and loves the idea of pitching at Wrigley Field

Why Brett Anderson called Cubs fans ‘f------ idiots’ and loves the idea of pitching at Wrigley Field

MESA, Ariz. – On an October night where you could literally feel Wrigley Field shaking, Brett Anderson fired off a message on his personal Twitter account: "Real classy cubs fans throwing beer in the Dodgers family section. Stay classy f------ idiots."
 
The Cubs had just clinched their first National League pennant since the year World War II ended, beating Clayton Kershaw and playing as close to a perfect game as they had all season. Anderson kept up the entertaining commentary during the World Series, previewing Game 7 – "We can all agree that we're happy it's not Joe West behind the plate tomorrow" – and tweaking his future manager: "Aroldis (Chapman) might puke on the mound from exhaustion." 
 
In another generation, a veteran pitcher might walk into a new clubhouse and wonder about any awkwardness with a hitter he once drilled with a fastball or some bad blood from a bench-clearing brawl. But overall today's players share the same agents, work out together in the same warm-weather offseason spots and understand the transient nature of this business. When pregame batting practice is filled with fist bumps, bro hugs and small talk between opponents, it becomes trying to remember what you said on social media. 
 
"I'm kind of a sarcastic ass on Twitter," Anderson said Monday. "I kind of sit back and observe. I'm not a huge talker in person. But I can kind of show some of my personality and candor on some of those things.
 
"You look at stuff (when) you get to a new team. I'm like: ‘Wow, man, did I say anything about anybody that's going to piss them off?' But I think the only thing I said about the players is that Kyle (Hendricks) looks like he could have some Oreos and milk after pitching in the World Series. 
 
"But that's kind of the guy he is. Just the calmness that he shows is something that we can all try to strive for."
 
Anderson essentially broke the news of his signing – or at least tipped off the media to look for confirmations – with a "Wheels up to Chicago" tweet in late January. The Cubs guaranteed $3.5 million for the chance to compete against Mike Montgomery and see which lefty can grab the fifth-starter job. Anderson could max out with $6.5 million more in incentives if he makes 29 starts this season. 
 
After undergoing surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back last March, Anderson made three starts and didn't earn a spot on the NLCS roster.  
 
"I obviously wasn't in the stands," Anderson said. "Supposedly from what I was told – it could be a different story – but there was just some beers thrown on where the families were. I'm going to stick to my family and my side.  
 
"I wasn't calling out the whole stadium. (It wasn't): ‘Screw you, Cubs fans.' It was just the specific (incident) – whoever threw the beers on the family section. Everybody has their fans that are kind of rowdy and unruly.

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"That just happened to be a situation. But you like those people on your side. I played in Oakland, and they had some of the rowdiest fans. In the playoffs, it seemed like ‘The Black Hole' for the Raiders games.
 
"You have your bad seeds in every fan base. When people are rowdy and cheering on their team and have one too many beers, the next thing you know, you're throwing them.
 
"Just visiting (Wrigley), it's a fun crowd, because it's such an intimate setting and you feel like they're right on top of you and it's so loud." 
 
Imagine the matchup nightmare the Dodgers could've been if their pitching staff hadn't been so top-heavy and manager Dave Roberts could've confidently gone to someone other than Kershaw, Rich Hill or closer Kenley Jansen. The Dodgers had made Anderson the qualifying offer after a solid 2015 season – 10-9, 3.69 ERA, 180-plus innings, a 66.7 groundball percentage – and he grabbed the $15.8 million guarantee. 
 
Anderson turned around and did the knock-on-wood motion at his locker, saying he felt good after completing a bullpen session with catcher Willson Contreras at the Sloan Park complex. Anderson is a Tommy John survivor who's also gone on the disabled list for a stress fracture in his right foot, a broken left index finger and a separate surgery on his lower back.
 
"Yeah, it's frustrating," Anderson said. "When I'm healthy and able to go out there and do my work, I feel like I'm a pretty good pitcher. I don't think I've ever been able to put everything as a whole together in one season. I've had some good spots – and some good seasons here and there – but hopefully I can put it all together and have a healthy season and do my part."
 
The Cubs are such a draw that Shane Victorino signed a minor-league deal here last year – even with more than $65 million in career earnings and even after a fan dumped a beer on him while he tried to catch a flyball at Wrigley Field in 2009.   
 
Anderson wanted to play for a winner and understood the organization's pitching infrastructure. He saw his pitching style as a match for the unit that led the majors in defensive efficiency last year. He was even intrigued by Camp Maddon and the wacky stunts in Mesa.  
 
"It's obviously an uber-talented group," Anderson said. "(It's also) seeing the fun that they're having. I'm more on the calm and cerebral side, but I think doing some of the things that these guys have in store for me will hopefully open me up a little bit and break me out of my shell. 
 
"'Uncomfortable' is a good word, especially for me. You don't want to get complacent. You don't want to get used to rehab. You want to go out there and do new things and try new things and meet new people and have new experiences. All things considered, the Cubs offered the best mix of everything."