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Sitting in the September warmth last Thursday as one of the announced crowd of 12,406 at the miserably named U.S. Cellular Field, I couldn't help but think that my beloved team is rapidly becoming irrelevant.
This was even before heralded closer David Robertson was tagged for a ninth-inning, three-run homer off the bat of Billy Butler, giving the Oakland A's a 4-2 win and a split of the four-game series.
I can understand if most observers realized long ago the irrelevancy of this team and its franchise, but there is this emotion called loyalty which gets in the way for many of us. Some might call it stupidity.
However, last week ghosts from across the street might have been stirring. Not White Sox ghosts from the old ball park called Comiskey which, of course, resided exactly where we had parked our car last Thursday. Cardinal ghosts.
Perhaps the fact that an NFL game would be played a few days later less than three miles away featuring the remnants of that ancient Cardinal football team had something to do with thinking, "How is this White Sox mess ever going to be salvaged?"
The Cardinals, you see, were original members of the National Football League, one of three franchises - the Bears and Packers being the other two - remaining from the league's first season in 1922. For the next 37 years, the Cardinals pretty much played bridesmaid to the more popular Bears.
There certainly were high points, such as a league championship in 1925, and another one in 1947 featuring the backfield of Paul Christman, Charley Trippi, Elmer Angsman and Pat Harder. But for the most part, the Bears were the favored darlings of football fans in this city. Sound familiar?
The death knell for the Cardinals occurred in the 1950s. The team, whose home was Comiskey Park while the Bears played at Wrigley Field, had a decade record of 33-84-3. (Ties were just that. No overtime.)
Meanwhile, the Bears were 70-48-2. Papa Bear George Halas coached the team with an iron hand. Furthermore, no one - especially poorly paid players - had recourse ever to complain to ownership, since the buck stopped with Halas and he was the owner.
The Cardinals had their own Papa - Pop Ivy, their coach. And like the White Sox of today, they had some notable players, like Ollie Matson, Heisman Trophy recipient John David Crow, and quarterbacks Lamar McHan and King Hill. Also similar to our current Sox, the Cards had a Night Train, he being Dick (Night Train) Lane, a Hall of Fame defensive back. Today the Sox have Night Train Veeck, manager of fan engagement. But Night Train's granddad, Bill, also was a Hall-of-Famer.
So there are obvious similarities between the 2015 Chicago White Sox and the departed Cardinals. The Bears, who played in the NFL championship game in 1956, losing 47-7 to the New York Giants, were entering a new phase because of quality young players like Mike Ditka and Ed O'Bradovich to join standout veterans such as Bill George and Rick Casares. The across-town Cubs of today boast an even more impressive array of young talent.
Seats for football games at Wrigley Field usually were filled with home attendance averaging more than 44,000 in 1959, while the Cardinals attracted about 23,000 enthusiasts - not including the near-capacity crowds when they played the Bears - at Comiskey. The Cardinals even played games in Buffalo and Minneapolis in the late '50s as the NFL tried to stymie the invasion of the American Football League, which began play in 1960.
For a late November game in 1958 against the Rams, only 13,014 fans showed up at Comiskey.
The Bidwill family owned the Cardinals, and they control the franchise to this day. The patriarch Charley, whose daddy was a Chicago alderman, died in 1947, putting his wife Violet in charge. However, son Bill more or less pulled the strings, and he has continued to do so for the past 68 years. He obviously pulled the right ones at Soldier Field on Sunday as his Arizona team embarrassed the Bears.
Bill fully understood that his team was second fiddle in Chicago. Once the AFL existed, the NFL was more than happy to have the Cardinals move to St. Louis to thwart the new league from settling in the Gateway City. After 27 years in St. Louis, Bidwill, ever the opportunist, left for the growing metropolis of Phoenix.
I'm not suggesting that the White Sox should contemplate investigating greener pastures in another location. This is a different time. The Cardinals paid rent for Comiskey while U.S. Cellular basically is controlled by Jerry Reinsdorf. But the Cubs are only scratching the surface of potential success for the future while our guys are in the throes of a third straight losing season without an apparent strategy for righting the ship.
Rick Morrissey in the Sun-Times last week called for Reinsdorf to "clean house" by replacing manager Robin Ventura, general manager Rick Hahn and president Kenny Williams. Why did he stop there? The Chairman and his group have owned the franchise for the past 34 years. They won a World Series once, and that was glorious. They qualified for post-season play four other seasons. So 29 of the 34 years he's owned the team, the athletes have packed up and gone home after the regular season.
Reinsdorf, of course, still has his Bulls, where his son Michael is chief operating officer. Is there anything misguided about owning just one pro sports franchise in a town?
Jerry paid Bill Veeck and his investors about $20 million for the White Sox in 1981. Today Forbes values the franchise at $975 million. That's a nice return for The Chairman and his group of investors. We should all do as well. Wouldn't it be refreshing if new ownership could be found to at least bring a different perspective, a new approach, and a much-needed change?
No matter what you think of the Ricketts family, there's owner Tom in the box seats, rooting for the team along with the other fans. Anyone strolling by 3600 N. Clark sees the activity and construction and changes that are taking place. Things are happening both on and off the field.
Many Sox fans still recall Bill Veeck strolling throughout the grandstand, talking to fans and getting a feel for the average guy's sentiments about his ballclub. He had a weekly Sunday morning radio show during the season where fans could call in to talk about baseball and the White Sox.
Reinsdorf always has been aloof. He grants a few long interviews which usually receive a lot of hype because they are so rare. That's his style, and he's entitled to it. But the fans are entitled to a breath a fresh air, a sense of a new beginning, and an end of more of the same.
Without it, you have to wonder whether history will repeat itself.
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the Sox. He welcomes your comments.
1. From Rory Clark, in Phoenix:
In answer to your query . . .
Wouldn't it be refreshing if new ownership could be found to at least bring a different perspective, a new approach, and a much-needed change?
I'd settle for someone, anyone, who gives a shit. Reinsdorf doesn't. Not about the Bulls and not about the Sox.
Thanks for having the courage to say it.
And on another note . . . Bill Bidwill doesn't give a shit, either. He got lucky by getting Bruce Arians as a coach. But he has the Halas mentality about money, and still pays people with food stamps. I make more than most of his players. We're lucky to have Carson Palmer, but if he goes down we are screwed.
Bidwill walked into a new stadium for free - $330MIL from taxes; $115MIL from naming rights (U of Phoenix). He dresses like an old man, so the money isn't going for clothes. :)
So I wonder how much money is enough for this guy?
He could buy some players with the interest on the money from the stadium alone. Not to mention TV rights payments. Cheapskate.
My definition of loyalty since I moved to Phoenix:
Giving your heart to someone who cuts it into a million pieces.
That's what it's like to be a Bears fan, a Bulls fan, a Sox fan, and forever a Cubs fan (although things are changing).
Thank God for the Blackhawks lately, but only after 50 years of the same crap - owners who don't give a shit.
Love reading your column!
2. From John Station:
I totally agree with you. Five post-seasons in 34 years demonstrates that somebody doesn't really care very much. I don't think I'll be going to any more White Sox games so long as Jerry and the present crew own the club. I've wasted too much time and money to date, waiting for different results. 2005 was great, but it seems like a fluke to me now.
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