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Unlovable Losers

Let the losing begin. As if it hasn't already.

I mean, we really should be prepared for this thing called "rebuilding." As recently as 2013, when the R-word wasn't part of the White Sox vocabulary, the club stumbled and bumbled to 99 losses. The over/under for wins this season is 68.5. If the team hits either side of that number, it still will outshine - OK, poor choice of words - that team of four years ago.

Sports Illustrated has rated the Sox the worst team in the American League. The magazine says the final record will be 65-97. Vegas odds put the Sox at 500-1 to win the World Series. (My pal Bud called from Laughlin, Nevada, where he said the Sox are 300-1 at Harrah's. For some strange reason he was excited.) At least they're not alone at the bottom of the pack. The pitiful Padres join the Sox as the longest of the long shots.

Historically bad ballclubs on the South Side have been a custom rather than an aberration. Long before the fellows on the other side of town were tagged "lovable losers" playing in the Friendly Confines, the other team in Chicago was the prime example of ineptitude.

Consider that the Cubs appeared in six World Series between 1918 and 1945. Of course, not even alternative facts can alter the truth that they lost all six. But at least they won the National League pennant a half-dozen times.

Meanwhile, after the infamous Black Sox scandal in 1919 in which eight players were banned from the game for tanking in the World Series, the Sox didn't make another post-season appearance for 40 years, losing to the Dodgers in six games in the 1959 Series, the culmination of the resurgent Go-Go Sox of the 1950s.

After '59 in the ensuing 47 seasons the White Sox qualified for the expanded post-season on just three occasions before the four-game sweep of the Astros 12 years ago. No, it wasn't 108 seasons between championships, but two World Series' appearances in 97 years ain't so hot.

The difference is Sox fans don't find losing enjoyable or attractive. There's nothing cute or lovable about a bad ballclub on the South Side. The empty seats are testament to that fact. Call it disloyalty if you wish, but many Sox fans register their displeasure by staying away.

Despite all the futility, Ernie Banks' "Let's play two!" resonated delightfully on the North Side, even though his team finished above .500 just once in the first 14 of his 19 seasons in Cubbie blue. Being the team's first black player apparently was enough of a reward for the dignified Banks.

But let's consider two other Hall of Famers who played at 3500 South as opposed to 1060 W. Addison. Like Banks, Ted Lyons and Luke Appling never appeared in a post-season game. Lyons pitched for the Sox from 1923 until 1946, although he missed three seasons serving in World War II. Appling was a rookie in 1930 and played until 1950 except for one year during the war. Lyons won 260 games - he lost 230 - and Appling won a couple of batting titles en route to a .310 lifetime average.

How inept were the teams of Lyons and Appling? Between 1923 and 1950, the Sox were a .500 team just six times and never finished above third place in the American League. I could be mistaken, but I've never been aware that Teddy and Luscious Luke ever were passionate about playing a doubleheader when one White Sox defeat per afternoon was sufficient.

While the Cubs played only day baseball until 1988 in a verdurous, almost quaint neighborhood, a southwest breeze from the Union Stockyards less than two miles away filled Comiskey Park with the stench of freshly-slaughtered hogs and cattle. All that losing and fans also knew that laundering their outfits once they returned home was part of the package of being a Sox fan.

As Jose Quintana readies himself to face Justin Verlander and the Tigers Monday afternoon in the season opener, we've been forewarned by the front office that this year is the beginning of a process. The team is going to lose - maybe like never before if that's possible - until all the young players develop into legit major leaguers just like, you know, the guys on the North Side.

General manager Rick Hahn procured a treasure trove of youngsters for Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. They'll pay dividends but just not now. A rival scout's assessment in Sports Illustrated: "I think [the Sox] will be better in 2018, but it's probably the following season when they really establish these guys."

What's the big deal? The Sox have played sub-.500 ball the last four seasons. What's another 90-95 losses while we await the emergence of Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez? We're Sox fans. We can handle it.

I can recall the worst season in Sox history in 1970 when the team dropped a franchise record 106 games. Rebuilding wasn't part of the landscape in those days. So the Sox brought in Roland Hemond as general manager and Chuck Tanner as manager. Without major improvements in the starting eight, the team bounced back to win 79 games - a 23-game bounce - in 1971 primarily because Tanner tweaked the pitching staff, making reliever Wilbur Wood a starter. Wood won 22 games. Tommy John was then traded for Dick Allen, and the Sox were contenders by 1972.

While 79 wins this season appears unlikely, the change to Rick Renteria will make a difference. He may not gush enthusiasm as readily as Tanner, but his upbeat, positive and outgoing demeanor is reminiscent of the Sox skipper more than four decades ago.

I kind of favor the over. I think the Sox can win at least 69 games, which is such a meager number. The team should have some pop with Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier and Melky Cabrera doing the heavy lifting. Tim Anderson's upside is eye-opening. Tyler Saladino is underrated. Who knows? Maybe Avi Garcia can play. We'll definitely find out very quickly.

Moncada, who awakened to hit .317 in spring training, should join the club in six weeks or so, and if Carlos Rodon can beat bursitis, he'll help a truly horrifying starting rotation led by Quintana. To think that Miguel Gonzalez, James Shields and Derek Holland can pitch effectively is pure folly.

What would behoove the Sox would be strong performances from Frazier, Cabrera and closer David Robertson so that they would be attractive to a contender at the trade deadline. None figures to be part of a long-term solution for this franchise. Flip any or all for young prospects. But they have to produce in the first few months.

In the meantime, it's all about patience. The flowers are being planted. Let's just hope they bloom.


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


1. From Rory Clark, former Sox batboy in the Dick Allen days:

Yes Roger . . .

The losing will continue until morale improves.

I get it.

But I would never trust the people who tore down my home to rebuild it.

Please encourage Jerry Reinsdorf to sell the team.

It's time for the absentee landlord to ride off into the sunset with his seven championship rings, his fat checkbook, his humongous estate plan, and his tiny testicles.

It's never been easier, in the history of mankind, to spot ineptitude. Sox fans have a knack for it. Cub fans don't. Bear fans don't.

Loyalty is one thing - idiocy is another. To waste part of your life watching losers is idiocy, because it is contagious. You do it because it is your job. I may do it because I don't have anything better to do. Reinsdorf does it because he is rewarded for doing it. But how much money does a person really need?

Love you man!

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Posted on Jun 21, 2021