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Rebuilding And Racists

A couple of Sundays ago at Sox Park in the ninth inning of a White Sox 6-2 victory over Cleveland, fans laughed hysterically when an over-served patron took off from the right field foul line, eluding security until he was finally tackled in left field. The first security guard to confront the fan merely got a handful of a Paul Konerko jersey - it being of the tear-off variety - enabling the scoundrel to make his way across the outfield, arms waving and bare chested with his ample belly hanging over his belt.

Despite warnings from management, this scene is repeated on a few occasions around baseball each season, and most of the time spectators get a good chuckle and say things like, "The Bears should sign him," or "Give that guy another beer."

In Sox annals the stunt has taken an ugly turn at least three times.

In 1960, a disgruntled fan vaulted the wall behind first base at Comiskey Park late in a September game to confront Fenger High School product Sammy Esposito, who happened to be playing second base for the South Siders. Sammy had booted an easy double-play ground ball against the Yankees, leading to a Sox loss. Since the fan had a bet on the Sox and quite possibly because he was drunk, he figured he would go to the source of his frustration. He took a swing at Esposito, who promptly decked the guy who then was taken off to the local lock-up.

An even uglier incident occurred in 2002, when a father-son duo jumped the wall to assault Kansas City first base coach Tom Gamboa, who suffered facial injuries and permanent hearing loss as a result. The elder degenerate - no stranger to the criminal justice system - eventually went to prison for five years for violating probation.

The very next season, a spectator was sentenced to six months in jail for running on the field and tackling umpire Laz Diaz.

Any moron whose judgement results in a foray onto a major league diamond in the midst of a game risks arrest, a court appearance, and other assorted penalties. The most recent fan to do so on the South Side has a pending court date. In the meantime, the judge gave him a mild admonition, instructing him to abstain from alcohol (yeah, sure!) and to stay away from Sox Park until further notice.

Another instance of fan misbehavior in the form of racism was in the news last week when Baltimore centerfielder Adam Jones, who is African American, claimed that the "n-word" was yelled in his direction as he stood in front of the Oriole dugout at Fenway Park.

Witnesses confirmed Jones's account, and 34 fans were ejected from the ballpark. The investigation is ongoing.

Commissioner Rob Manfred called the incident "completely unacceptable," adding, "Any individual who behaves in such offensive fashion will be immediately removed from the ballpark and subject to further action." We can only assume that the veins in his neck were protruding and his face a crimson red when he uttered his displeasure.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker tweeted, "Fenway fans behavior at Red Sox game last night was unacceptable. This is not what Massachusetts & Boston are about."
Former pitcher Curt Schilling, perhaps auditioning for a cabinet position, suggested that Jones was making up the story, telling Sirius radio listeners, "I think this is bullshit. I think this is somebody creating a situation."

Jones didn't quite see it that way, suggesting that maybe the offending fan should receive more than banishment from the ballpark.

"What they need to do is that instead of kicking them out of the stadium," he said, "they need to fine them 10 grand, 20 grand, 30 grand. Something that really hurts somebody. Make them pay in full. That's how you hurt somebody. You suspend them from the stadium, what does that mean? It's a slap on the wrist. That guy needs to be confronted, and he needs to pay for what he's done."

Or, aside from the amount of the fine, sort of like what happens when a fan runs on the field.

Jones returned home to Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday to a supportive ovation from the hometown fans as Baltimore opened a three-game series against the White Sox.

And Jones and his mates found the Chicago crew a little more compliant than the Boston bunch who had split a four-game series with the Orioles.

The White Sox had been riding high at 15-12, after splitting four games of their own in Kansas City. But this was Baltimore where the Orioles now have an 11-3 home record after sweeping the White Sox.

The weaknesses of our rebuilders were out in force during the weekend. While Miguel Gonzalez, the former Oriole who is resurrecting his career with the White Sox, pitched well enough to win on Friday evening, the defense behind him doomed the Sox to a 4-2 loss.

Shortstop Tim Anderson's woes in the field continued, as his first-inning error, his seventh, gave the Birds an early lead. The Sox were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. They literally knocked out Oriole starter Wade Miley in the first inning as Jose Abreu's liner smacked off Miley's left (his pitching side) wrist followed two pitches later when Avi Garcia's smash caught Miley right in the butt.

In came Gabriel Ynoa (no relation to the Sox's Michael Ynoa), who earlier in the day was recalled from Norfork ,where he had a 6.65 ERA in five appearances. Apparently Ynoa found Sox hitters a lot easier than those in Triple-A since he pitched six shutout innings. Furthermore, Ynoa went on the DL after the game with a strained hammy. Translation: an ineffective minor leaguer shut down the Sox despite being hurt.

Once again falling behind early on Saturday behind starter Dylan Covey, the Sox fought back - Abreu's two-run homer in the eighth helped - but fell 6-5. More than anyone, Covey illustrates the Sox shortage of starting pitching. The kid - he's 25 - has made five starts, three for losses. In 25 innings he has been tagged for 37 hits and seven home runs, while walking 11 and striking out the same number. His ERA is 8.28. But hey, Covey never pitched above Double-A before this season. He's more of a sacrificial lamb at this point.

The Sox had little left on Sunday in the final game of a 10-game road trip. Oriole ace Chris Tillman, coming off the DL, made his first start of the season and was on the ropes in the first inning as the Sox loaded the bases with one out. But Todd Frazier lined out and Cody Asche grounded out, and the Sox remained scoreless the remainder of the day. It was the fourth time this season the boys have been shut out. On six other occasions, they've scored just one run.

Nevertheless, they have split the season's first 30 games. Few observers would have predicted that much success at this point. The Twins will visit for three games beginning Tuesday before a weekend set against the San Diego Padres.

The nights will be cold. The crowds will be sparse. Spending $9.75 for a Modelo Especial is excessive. The drama won't come from the fans. No, it will be all about whether this ballclub can maintain respectability as the rebuild continues. Just the way it should be.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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