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Kopech, Schmopech

Why so glum, Sox fans? The ballclub to which we swear allegiance has won the World Series exactly once in the past 101 years. If you were born after 2012, you've never experienced a .500 season, which could be a reason why children being raised in a White Sox household don't like baseball. The greatest hitter in team history, Joe Jackson with his .356 lifetime average, will never be in the Hall of Fame.

On the other side of town, "Lovable Losers" was bandied about until a few years ago. Never would a team created within smelling distance of the Union Stockyards be tagged with such a defeatist attitude. With its blue-collar reputation playing in cavernous Comiskey Park, Sox fans have been strong, resilient and realistic. Comiskey Park. Wanna feel better? Write those two words side-by-side. Better yet, say them out loud.

So Michael Kopech can't pitch next season. Big deal!

None of us were around in 1919 when the favored Chicagoans cemented their place in history as the only team convicted of throwing a World Series. Imagine the sadness, disgust and emptiness of young Sox fans upon discovering that Shoeless Joe, Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver succumbed to the sirens of the underworld rather than hanging a championship flag on the South Side.

There have been other setbacks and tragedies.

Consider the young 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Monty Stratton, who went 30-14 in 1937-38, surely displaying as much promise as the present-day Kopech. A hunting accident cost Stratton his right leg in the fall of '38. At the time the Sox were on the rise after 10 lackluster seasons, and they actually won 85 games in 1939, finishing fourth. Think what they might have accomplished had Stratton been in the rotation.

The Stratton story, however, continued as he hung around the team, pitching batting practice and offering advice to young hurlers. However, he retained visions of pitching again, and in 1946 at the age of 34, he pitched 218 innings with an 18-8 record for Sherman, Texas in the Class-C East Texas League. A feature-length film starring Jimmy Stewart as Stratton was made about the pitcher's life.


More recently we had Wilbur Wood, a superb knuckleballer, who had as many as 21 saves before manager Chuck Tanner made him a starter in 1971. He won 106 games - he lost 89 - over the next five seasons, pitching as many as 376 innings in 1972. Wood started a minimum of 42 games in 1972-75, leading the league those four seasons as the Sox rebounded from the 1970 campaign when they lost a franchise-record 106 games. Wood once started - and lost - both ends of a doubleheader.

However, a season prior to the South Side Hitmen of 1977, Wood's career basically came to a shocking conclusion when a line drive off the bat of Detroit's Ron LeFlore shattered his right knee cap. Like a true White Sox combatant, Wood came back but never regained his mastery, retiring after the 1978 season.

What if Wood had won another 20 games in 1977 when the team finished 90-72?

Then there was outfielder Carlos May, a promising 20-year-old rookie in 1968. After that season, May blew off most of his right thumb with a mortar round while serving with the Marine reserves. But that didn't stop him. He came back in 1969, hitting .281 with 18 homers and 62 RBI. May went on to play 10 years in the major leagues including nine with the Sox. He twice made the All-Star team before going to Japan where he played an additional four seasons. May's lifetime average was .274. Not bad for a guy with one-and-a-half thumbs.

Let's not forget Joe Crede, one of the stars of the 2005 World Series champions. He became a fixture at third base in 2003 when he was 25. He slammed 92 home runs from 2003 to 2006 and was one of the top clutch hitters in team history. His classic walk-off dinger in late September of 2005 against Cleveland put a dagger in the Indians' drive to overtake the Sox. Joe then hit four homers in the post-season including two in the World Series.

Crede was destined to play third base for the Sox for many years except for one small problem: He had a chronic bad back which forced him out of the game when he was just 31.

So don't lament Michael Kopech's torn ulnar collateral ligament. Those get fixed with great regularity. But try to field a ground ball when you can't bend over. We're talking Joe Frickin' Crede here. Now that's tragic.

To cap off this litany of woe for the White Sox, the scheduled surgery for Kopech bears the name of the left-handed pitcher who wore a Sox uniform from 1965 until 1971. Tommy John won 82 games for the Sox before the historic procedure that idled him for the entire 1975 season. John came back to pitch until 1989 when he was 46 years old. If you're reading this, Michael Kopech, please take note.

While Sox fans were aghast when this news broke last week, it didn't stop them from coming out to the ballpark over the weekend to see the lowly Angels complete a three-game sweep of the even lowlier South Siders. Saturday's 12-3 Sox loss drew 27,146, the sixth-largest crowd of the season, followed by 24,020 on Sunday.

The Sox are averaging 19,388 paid admissions this season, a 6 percent drop from last year. Attendance for all of major league baseball is down 4 percent this season, which will be the sixth straight year of diminishing attendance, although an average of 28,695 fans still show up for a big league contest.

Assuming that the Sox rebuild goes according to plan, things will change rapidly on the South Side. While Sox attendance ranks 26th among all teams - curiously the Sox have outdrawn the season's two biggest surprise teams, Oakland and Tampa Bay. History dictates that the fans will flock to The Grate to watch a winning ballclub.

Sox fans are a discerning bunch. They appreciate a team that can execute and play efficient baseball. There is no mystique surrounding the ballpark or the franchise. If the fans weren't behind the current strategy of piling up prospects for future success, attendance would be much less than it is.

The Kopech news is little more than a speed bump in this process. Once Eloy Jimenez and others assume their rightful positions at 35th and Shields, the repair of a UCL will be but a small glitch in the overall picture.

As mentioned, we've been there before.


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

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