Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Most Interesting Man(ny) on the South Side

I attended college (and graduated in 2006) at a small liberal-arts college named Holy Cross, which is located in the heart of Redsox Nation.  It was here in Worcester, MA (pronounced wustah), during my junior year, where I was able to witness up-close and personal, the pinnacle of Red Sox fans’ existence, their first World Series victory in 86 years.  While many of my friends were in completely ecstasy and committed themselves to a weeklong celebration full of drunken debauchery and riot-like behavior, I was miserable.  As a Chicagoan and White Sox fanatic who had endured many years of heartbreak, I went to Holy Cross with an open mind about the Red Sox and their long-suffering fan base.  It took me about a week however to realize that my team away from home wasn’t going to be the Sawx, no, I decided to go with the Yankees.

Fame doesn't make you any less annoying
See, I found out the truth about the Red Sox fan base.  They were whiny, they were obnoxious, they were illogical (we’ll get to this later), they were attention whores, they were jealous of the Yankees success (at a Holy Cross basketball game, the entire crowd broke into a “Yankees Suck” chant for no apparent reason), but worst of all, they were just simply annoying.  While good people and great friends of mine, I couldn’t bear the thought of them finally breaking “The Curse”.  (Side Note:  It wasn’t a curse.  If my friend strikes out time and again at a bar, that doesn’t mean he is cursed.  He’s probably just really ugly, really weird, or a combination of both.  Similarly, the Red Sox weren’t cursed, they just weren’t good enough. ).In fact, I was so anti-Red Sox, that one of the greatest sports moments of my life was when the Yankees’ Aaron Boone hit the home run off of Tim Wakefield to win the 2003 ALCS (this moment ranks third behind the 2005 White Sox World Series and the Cub’s Bartman Game of course).  While it may seem malicious to get enjoyment out of watching your friends, grown men mind you, literally cry their sorrows away, if you lived in the Boston area during this time, and were not a Red Sox fan, believe me, you’d understand.

Manny at his best
The one thing that I never got about Red Sox fans was how illogical they were when it came to Manny Ramirez.  During and after the 2003 ALCS, they all were saying that Manny needed to go (not just my friends, but everyone).  In fact, the Red Sox faithful believed that Bill Mueller and Jason Veritek were the only irreplaceables and were the teams' heart and soul.  Makes perfect sense right?  An average defensive third baseman, having a career year and an overrated catcher who drove in 22 less runs, hit 12 fewer homers, and who batted almost fifty points lower than the guy they wanted to run out of town, were untouchable.  Keep in mind, that Manny was the best right-handed hitter in the game and was the baseball clutch equivalent to Michael Jordan.  He was the real heart, the soul, and in retrospect, the syringe that made the Fake Sox go.  Sure his defense was questionable, his antics were a little over the top and his head wasn’t always in the game, but his production was top-notch.  I mean really, does the fact that Bill Clinton liked to have a little extra-marital fun every now and then mean he should be kicked out of office?  Does the fact that Charlie Sheen spends more time in rehab than he does on set, make him dispensable to ‘Two and a Half Men’?  Does the annoyingness of Bono’s repeated political statements mean people are going to stop shelling out hundreds of dollars to see U2?  No, absolutely not.  The same goes for Manny.  You have to take the good (a severe understatement) along with the bad.  If they didn’t want him, I along with all other White Sox fans, were willing to have him.  I’d let them keep their boys Tek and Mueller.  And people wonder why he quit on them in 2008.

With the real Sox having officially acquired Manny on Monday, I may have gotten my long-awaited wish.   With Andrew Jones and Mark Kotsay having unforgettable seasons at DH, filling that spot with someone of Manny’s caliber could be just what the Sox need.  I’m hoping that White Sox fans focus on what Manny brings to the table, and not on the distractions that may come with it.  As Kenny Williams has said, it’s only for one month, so production is all that matters.  To me, a great analogy is the dilemma that a television producer might face when confronted that he or she must boost ratings.   In my opinion, you hire the likes of a Shannon Daugherty in a heartbeat and live with the onset catfights and co-stars threatening to quit as long as she delivers the goods.  Similarly, if the goal for the Sox is to win this year, then you absolutely have to roll the dice and get Manny.  I know Kenny Williams is comfortable with his decision, I just hope that more Sox fans would be as well.

While the knock on Manny is that he is done, we shouldn’t be so quick to believe that.  The guy is batting .313 in limited plate appearances due to an injury-plagued season.  How quickly we forget that many people thought he was done when he headed to the Dodgers, and yet, he had one of the greatest 53 game stretches in baseball history, after the trade, to close out the season.  As Sox fans, we just have to hope that Manny is able use his head or possibly even his pharmacist to summon up the motivation, strength, and desire to prove everyone wrong again.  For God’s sake, if Brittney Spears was able to raise herself from the dead after a bald head and drug problem, I’m pretty sure Manny’s got one last push in him.

Even if he doesn’t produce, daydream with me for a second about the entertainment value that would come from a Manny-Ozzie combination.   I picture a lot of exaggerated man hugs in the dugout, practical jokes galore, awesome joint broken English interviews, and no doubt Ozzie would be seen at least once wearing one of those dreadlock hat things that were so popular when Manny first arrived in LA.  I can even imagine a game of maniacal one-upmanship, as Manny and Ozzie compete at a game of who can out crazy who.  For instance, Ozzie might verbally abuse a female reporter with a few coarse remarks, but Manny might respond the following day by mooning the fans in the left-field bleachers.  Ozzie might counteract that a week later by convincing his son to tweet that he saw Kenny Williams at a local southside brothel, rolling with Bin Laden.  Not to be outdone, Manny might do something like crawl from third to home on his next homer, touching home plate with only his pinkie.  And the game would go on and on until either Ozzie was fired, Manny was suspended indefinitely, or the Sox drew inspiration from the antics to somehow win the World Series.  Either way, we would all be amused and satisfied. 
I could even see the Sox marketing staff getting into the act with something along the lines of a Dos Equis parody.  Cue the sweet background music.  The phrase strike three (pause), does not apply to him…..He prefers to call it (pause), a home walk ….He gets behind in the count (pause), for the thrill of it…. Singles, doubles, and triples (pause), are his version of errors….Speaking English (pause), is a sign of weakness….He swings and misses (pause), to cool the fans off….An XL cup (pause), would be six sizes to small….He is (real dramatic pause now), the most interesting man on the Southside.  Cut to Manny in a club, surrounded by 10 girls.  “I don’t always wear socks, but when I do I prefer they white.  Stay tuned my friends.”

The possibilities are endless, both on and off the field.  He is a perfect fit, in the final year of his contract, and looking to get paid.  The only way he will be able to do that is by producing monster numbers in the final month of the season.  Knowing Manny’s penchant for cash, and for making the previous teams he was on  hate him even more, I believe he will deliver.  If so, my long-distance bill is going to be outrageous, because you better believe, I’ll be asking my buddies from beantown if they still believe Bill Mueller and Jason Veritek were the heart and soul of the Sawx.  I’d think they would say no, but then again, this is Red Sox Nation we’re talking about.  I’m sure we’ll see their true feelings this weekend in Boston.    

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why couldn't we get that guy?

You can't tell me you wouldn't want to party with this Guy

A man crush is not something to be ashamed of.  In fact, a guy’s ability to admit a man crush proves that they are completely comfortable with their sexuality.  Having a bromance with another guy doesn’t have anything to do with sex; it’s about the infatuation with the thought of great friendship.  Thoughts like,  I’d love to go have a beer with that guy, I bet he pulls or pulled (at one point in life) a ton of chicks, it’d be great to have him on my men’s league team, or I bet he could catch the hell out of a fish.  Currently, if US Weekly wanted to, they could have me bromantically linked to three men.  The first, Hawk Harrelson, has been a twenty year courtship that began when I first started following the Sox in about 1990 (By the way, I could go on and on about how awesome Hawk is, and probably will at a later date, but the focus of this article is not about him).  The second, Wes from the Bachelorpad and The Bachelorette (Jillian’s season in case you were wondering) acclaim, has been a brief two year fling, although I don’t know if it is meant to last.  I’m just not sure that I can trust him after what he put Jillian through.  The third, most recent, and subject of this column, Rex Ryan, was a case of brove at first sight and a guy that undoubtedly has potential to be the man crush of my life.

Ryan is the head coach of the New York Jets, who happen to be the subject of the HBO reality documentary series ‘Hard Knocks’.  For those of you who don’t have HBO or are just plain old anti-football people, the show is an all-access, behind-the-scenes look that follows one NFL team through its training camp as they prepare for the upcoming NFL season.  In other words, it is basically Heaven for one hour on Wednesday nights for most football fans.  This particular season of the show has been phenomenally entertaining, in large part due to the funny, crude, boisterous, yet charming, behemoth of a man that is Rex Ryan.
In talking about 'Hard Knocks', I haven’t seen someone steal the show or dominate a scene quite like Ryan since the creepy  German dude from Inglourious Basterds.  Every time Ryan appears on screen, a smile forms on my face in anticipation of the laughter that is sure to ensue from something that he does or says.  He speaks with a normal, everyday guy vocabulary and crassness, and is not afraid to drop a few f-bombs or a dirty joke or two to liven up a practice or a team meeting.  He is able to portray himself to his players as just another one of the guys, yet at the same time he is still able to draw the line and make it clear to them that he is the boss.  At times, he acts like a complete clown (in a good way) by pulling practical jokes on members of his coaching staff, having punting and passing contests like he were a kid at recess, and even organizing a Mr. Ugly competition for guys to vote on who they think is the ugliest player in camp.  He is even seen at one point, blatantly orchestrating a pre-meditated fight, where he and his coaching staff, discuss who they should send at Vernon Gholston (a talented but docile linebacker turned lineman), in an attempt to fire him up at the next days’ practice.

If there is one bone that I have to pick with Rex, it would be that he did not exercise his "final cut" (According to Herm Edwards, whose team was on the first season of 'Hard Knocks', the head coach gets to tell HBO what they can and can not show) rights on one particular scene with current Jet and former Chargers pro-bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie.  In the scene, the interviewer from HBO asks the player about his family (clearly HBO already knew the answer).  Cromartie proceeds to go through each one of his eight kids, all under the age of three, clearly from different mothers. The worst part of it all is that he struggles to remember a couple of their names (he even refers to one as "my daughter who just turned three").  While HBO was irresponsible to ask the question, knowing the answer, Ryan was even more irresponsible to allow them to air it.  It makes one of his players look absolutely awful and feeds into every bad stereotype out there about the dumb jock.  Maybe I'm looking at all wrong.  Maybe Ryan looks at from the perspective of proud papa (pun intended) glowing with pride about his new player on the verge of breaking a once thought to be unbreakable record.... children out of wedlock (currently held by Sean Kemp).  But really, I think like most people, he just thought it would be funny, even if everyone was laughing at one of his guys expense.  Who am I kidding though?  No one's perfect, and Rex Ryan is no exception.  Let's get back to praising him.     
While Ryan’s act has rubbed some people the wrong way, most notably Tony Dungy, I’d argue that his unique style is what makes him a great coach (The Jets were a playoff team last year and Superbowl contenders this year).  As a decent former athlete and current high school basketball coach, I know firsthand that getting players to buy in is the greatest challenge in the coaching profession.  There are many different strategies to do this.  The Bear Bryant “I’m going to make you wish you never met me and make you so scared to let me down” approach used to work, but in this day and age, is pretty impractical and why Bobby Knight couldn’t get it done after about 1994.  The John Wooden “I’m going to kill you with kindness and be the greatest teacher who ever lived” style is very effective but you need tremendously talented players and an inordinate amount of patience to make it work.  The Ozzie Guillen “Say whatever I want no matter how crazy, outlandish, or politically incorrect it is to deflect negative criticism off of my players” managerial style will work, but it will also get you fired.  There’s even the John Calipari “I’m going to send shady, hair slicked back, assistant number one to out-pay, I mean “out-recruit”, everyone even if it means leaving every school I ever coached at on double-secret probation” type of leadership which will give you quality teams, but will never get you to the mountaintop, and certainly will never get you respect.  And then there is Rex Ryan.  Leaving the X and O’s and all other things football out of the argument, Ryan has an uncanny ability to interact with players and manage personalities better than anyone I have ever seen.  In doing so, he is able to create a relationship where they will do whatever he asks, whenever he asks it.  His big personality and downtoearthedness (yeah it’s a word now) breeds respect and loyalty.  Considering the fact that 99 percent of NFL coaches probably have the same football acumen and IQ, this is what separates him from the rest of his peers, and in turn, makes the Jets a good football team.

No Rex Ryan
‘Hard Knocks’ has made me envious of Jets fans.  Sure, Lovie Smith seems likes a nice guy and I certainly don’t know enough about his football intelligence, game planning, or teaching ability to comment on those particular aspects of his coaching.  But I do know that he has an emotionless personality that is just as evident in his interviews as it is on the field.  If Rex Ryan is Zack, then Lovie is Screech or for the younger generation, Ryan is Jim Halpert to Lovie’s Toby Flenderson (Not to leave the baby boomers out,  a Michael-Fredo analogy would suffice as well).  His lack of personality leaves many bears fans empty and wanting more out of the coach of their football team.  Before, I wasn’t particularly sold on him one way or another, but after watching ‘Hard Knocks’, I started to lean towards the anti-Lovie side of town.  Shoot, even if we still sucked, with a guy like Rex Ryan at the helm, at least we as fans would still be entertained.  With Lovie, we stink and we’re bored.  Not a good combination.

Here's where Ditka weights in on the debate
Just in case you thought I was blowing Rex Ryan’s greatness out of proportion, I asked a friend of mine, who’s a Jets fan, “What do you New Yorkers think of this guy (Although I had a pretty good idea what his answer was going to be).”  His response: “He’s a cross between Jesus Christ and well...... Jesus Christ.”  Well, after hearing that, I can’t even begin to think how big of a rock star this guy would be in Chicago.  I’ll even ask the question that no one wants to ask, would he be……no I’m not going to say it…. shame on me for even thinking it….the fact that I even started to write about it should automatically force me to lose my Da Bears man card….hell I might as well just ask it for the sake of discussion….okay fine, I’m going to do it…. would he be bigger than Ditka if Rex coached the bears?  Before you answer that, watch a couple of episodes of ‘Hard Knocks’, and if you could with 100 percent certainty say that he wouldn’t be, then I’d respect your opinion but I'd still think that you're a liar.  I’m of the opinion that he would be bigger, but maybe I’m just lost in the heat my man passion.  Maybe, once the show is off the air and the allure is gone, Ditka will be the only thing on my mind.  Until then, there is one thing I am certain of, the current bears need a new leader.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I simply don’t Lovie you anymore.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Thome Predicament

The Grass Isn't Always Greener
My mother was asked out by David Hasselhoff multiple times when they were both in high school.  Repeatedly she said no because according to her “He was 6’6” and didn’t like or play sports” (A woman after my own heart).  Often times I wonder what life would be like if she had said yes.  Growing up as Jimmy Hasselhoff would definitely have its upside.  The access to an endless supply of money would be nice. Affectionately being known as “Lil Hoff” by the entire country of Germany would be nicer.  And of course, being on set just as I reached puberty to watch Pamela Anderson and Yasmine Bleeth run like the wind (in their primes no less) would be the nicest.   If I had blinders on, I might think that life would be better as a member of the Hasselhoff family.  But what about having to endure the dreadful German music career, being constantly teased as a kid about dad’s terrible acting, and let’s not forget about the embarrassment that his drunken escapades might have on my life?  While there might be glitz and glamour to being a Hoff, the negatives far outweigh the positives.  I’ll happily take my life and my dad as is.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, how in the world does this connect to the Sox?  Well, I’ll tell you.   Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the newspapers and on the radio about Kenny Williams’ and Ozzie Guillen’s decision to not resign Jim Thome this year.  Many people are pointing to Thome’s decent numbers (.269 AVG, 17 homers, and 44 RBIs) and his clutch 9th inning walk-off home run against the Sox last week as Exhibit A and Exhibit B of why it was a mistake to let him walk.  Twin’s supporters keep trying to push Exhibit C by saying he is one of the main reasons their team has climbed back into first place.  While that’s all fine to fantasize about just as I can dream about having the opportunity of a childhood summer internship as a sunscreen applier on the set of Baywatch, people are forgetting about exhibit D, Thome’s negative effect on the Sox, just like I might have a tendency to forget about something like this.
.269, 17 Homers, and 44 RBIS

Even when he was putting up big numbers for the Sox in 2006-2008, he always seemed to come up empty in clutch, late-inning situations.  With two outs, in the bottom of the 9th, and Thome stepping to the plate, I had no confidence whatsoever.  In fact, I would usually have the remote up in the air, pointed at the receiver, with my finger firmly on the power button so that I could turn the television off as quickly as possible as Big Jim disappointed me once again.  To go along with his inefficiencies in the clutch, he had (and still has) horrendous speed.  The Sox realized that if they wanted to win, they could not be so reliant on the long ball anymore.  Instead, they needed a lineup who could manufacture runs in late-game situations with speed and timely hitting.  With Thome and Konerko clogging up the basebath’s with their tortoise-like speed, manufacturing runs was not possible.  It’s kind of like a community recognizing that they have a teen drug problem and still retaining Lindsey Lohan and Robert Downey Jr. as the leaders of their DARE program.  It just doesn’t make sense; therefore, Thome (since he can’t play first base anymore) had to be the one to go.  As a result, the Sox are a much better team for it.  They are able to go first to third on a more consistent basis and don’t need to wait around for the long ball.  If Thome still was a member of the Sox, I guarantee they are a .500 team at best.

Even with that said some would argue that even if I’m right, and Thome made the Sox worse, they doesn’t negate the fact that he has made the Twins better.  Absolutely true But, and I mean a Kim Kardashian sized one, I’d argue that Sox are a .500 team this year with Thome (81-81) and the Twins win the division with a 85 wins (85-77) without him.  Now, let’s say this race goes down to the wire and there has to be a one game playoff to decide who wins the division with both teams finishing at (89-73).  That would mean (all other factors being equal), that the subtraction of Thome calculated out to eight more wins for the Sox, while the addition of Thome added four more wins for the Twins.  Thus, while both teams benefited, the Sox benefited at a greater rate. 

Furthermore, if the rumors are true, not having Thome leaves the Sox in a situation where they can pick up Manny for the final month of the season to help put them over the top.  I know, I know, this completely contradicts the idea about the Sox being able to manufacture more runs because of greater team speed, and thus why they are better off.  My counter-argument, although it may be a case of selective memory (particularly excluding post-PED Manny), would be that Ramirez’s ability to come through in the clutch balances that out.  The fear for opposing pitchers when Manny Ramirez comes to the plate with the game on the line dwarfs that of 99 percent of other hitters in the league.   Although seeing THAT Manny ever again might be a pipe dream, it is certainly fun to think about and an idea that I hope Kenny Williams gives serious consideration.  Just the thought of having Ozzie and Manny in the same clubhouse makes me giddy. 

So.............. if you didn’t read anything from this column and skipped to this paragraph, basically I discredited everything Jim Thome did for the Sox based on his lack of speed.  Yet, I also pushed for the acquisition of Manny Ramirez even though it completely went against everything I said about Thome being a detriment to the Sox ability to manufacture runs.  I did this by praising Manny’s clutchness while conveniently misrembering (along with Andy Pettite) that he is no longer the player he once was.  On top of that, I lauded my mother’s decision to refuse David Haselhoff’s advances and somehow used that as justification as an irrefutable defense of Ozzie and Kenny’s Thome decision.  With all that said, I will now explain my inconsistencies with the help of the immortal lyrics of my quasi-father in which he stated “In us we all have the power but sometimes it’s so hard to see.  And instinct is stronger than reason; it’s just human nature to me.”  (Unfortunately, although I don't know how, this verse didn't make the final cut for TV).  From that it is as clear as night and day.  My baseball instincts are stronger than any Sabermetrics guru who might try to use things like statistics or reason to prove me wrong.  The Sox made the right decision and that’s final. 

So in the end, I am grateful because different decisions by different people have benefited my life tremendously.  Thank you Ozzie and Kenny for making the Sox better, thank you mom for marrying dad, and last but not least, thank you Hoff for bailing my flawed argument out with the eloquently written words from your Baywatch theme song.  Life would not be the same without all of you.   

For Sale (8/24)

First 2010 draftee in the Bigs
If there is one thing I’m certain of during the Sox 2010 season, it is that a rest was definitely needed on Monday.  A rest, albeit short, which would allow a man who is physically, emotionally, and mentally spent from a long season to recharge his batteries, relax, and get away from the game.  The time to clear the mind of negative thoughts and bad feelings that come with a hugely disappointing road trip could be just what the baseball doctor ordered (The metaphorical doctor, not Gooden…I don’t even want to think about what he would recommend on a day off) to get a guy who is slumping back on track.  Everyone associated with the organization, from the owner, GM, manager, player, announcer, and hell even the bullpen catcher could definitely benefit from a little R and R.  But I’m not talking about them, I’m talking about me.  I’m spent.

I live and die with every game, every inning, and every pitch.  In case you haven’t been watching the Sox lately, if I were a cat, I would have well exceeded my nine life limit over the past couple of weeks.  Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it), I am reincarnated at about 7:05 (or 6:05/9:05 depending on time zone of the game), in hopes that my disappointment will be turned to baseball bliss.  Lately though, I’ve been in a perpetual state of discontent.  Baseball purgatory if you will, which is why I needed a break Monday night.

Did what needed to be done to get a Rose
What better way to do that, then to sit down with the wife, and have a relaxing, yet intellectually stimulating viewing of one of television’s most captivating human dramas…. ABC’s The Bachelor Pad.  While I thought a blindfolded kissing contest, awkward three on one dates, and grown men on the verge of tears could take my thoughts away from the diamond, it couldn’t.  In fact, it only drew me closer because even as I watched Natalie go topless in a pool as a ploy to win David’s heart (which worked by the way…weird, who would have thunk it), all I could think about was my love affair (strictly platonic, I promise) with the South Siders and which player I would have given a rose to give them immunity after the recent stretch of sub .500 baseball.  As obvious as David going with the topless chick, my rose would go to a rookie with unlimited potential, Chris Sale.  While he may not have the physical attributes of Natalie (Sale’s probably 20 lbs short of his listed weight of 170 and Natalie’s measurements are well…just right), I believe that he is destined for greatness and thus why amidst a week of letdowns, he has been the one bright spot for Sox fans.

The name Randy Johnson comes to mind when I think of Sale.  A tall, lanky, lefty who brings a fastball in the high nineties with a funky delivery that sneaks up on batters, rendering them helpless (See Joe Mauer and Jim Thome).  Unlike the Big Unit at an early age, Sale can control his heat.  While Johnson was a cross between effectively wild, actually wild, and “good god, he might kill somebody” wild in his early years, Sale has great control.  At the same time, like the young Unit who often times did it on accident, he has the ability to be effective on the inside part of the plate.  For a young pitcher to have the guts and skill set to pitch inside, spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E for the rest of the American League Central for years to come.  But I don’t want to think about the future right now when this team has the ability to win in the present.   If only Ozzie could brush of the rust from the DeLorean and travel back to 2005 and learn a lesson from his managerial past, then the season might be saved.

You see, in 2005, the Sox were searching for a closer just as they appear to be now.  In the middle of the most important pennant race in White Sox history, Guillen decided to go with an unknown and virtually unproven flame-throwing rookie with a penchant for embarrassing opponents with a wipe-out curveball.  Throwing Bobby Jenks into the fire changed the course of White Sox history forever, and was probably the greatest move of Ozzie’s tenure.  It’s time to do it again.  With Jenks and JJ Putz not getting it done as of late (hopefully it is because of their injuries and not simply ineffectiveness) and Matt Thornton being too valuable in his set-up role, the young, unknown, and virtually unproven flame-throwing rookie Chris Sale is the answer to the problem.  As a fan, I beg you Ozzie to give the kid a chance to let history repeat itself.

Now I know what some of you might be thinking.  “There is one big difference between Jenks and Sale.  Sale has potential to be a number one starter.   Why potentially pigeonhole him in a closer role along the lines of what the Red Sox did with Jonathan Papelbon and limit the value he has to the team?  My response would be, you’re right (well partially).  Sale is most definitely going to be a number one starter by 2013, and a good one at that, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a great closer in 2010.  With the Sox trying to limit his innings anyways, it is the perfect fit.  Even if he has unheard of success this year like Papelbon, that doesn’t mean they have to keep him in that role in the future.  It would be a temporary thing that Sale could be temporarily really good at.  The question is, does Ozzie have the intestinal fortitude to go with the kid and remove his former prodigy from a role that has long since passed him by?  I’m not sure, but if there is one thing that we all know about Ozzie, it is that he has some of the biggest baseballs in the managerial profession, and because of that I tend to think that you’ll see the kid closing by the end of the week.

Ozzie better make a decision quick though because time is running out.  Down five games with a little over a month left means that every series is a big one, starting with tonight against the Orioles.  The good news is that the bats have come alive as of late.  The bad news is that even with a strong offensive output (unless they completely blow the O’s out of the water), the game will still rest in the hands of the pen.  I’m just hoping the hands belong to the 21 year-old from Lakeland, Florida because I’m one hundred percent confident that he will shut the game down.  That’s not a Jenks, I’m just for Sale.

This Season is Ovaaaaaaaaaaaaah (8/17)

The ultimate homer sometimes lets true feeling show
I gave up on this team in early May.  Did that mean I stopped watching or making the trek out to the ballpark formerly known as Comiskey?   No, I sat through and painfully watched as Gordon Beckham waved his Louisville Slugger at sliders in the dirt.  I witnessed a promising starting rotation repeatedly not live up to preseason expectations.   I winced at the thought of the words Alexi Ramirez and routine ground ball being uttered in the same sentence.  I heard Ozzie stumble his way around poignant questions about possibly rebuilding for the future.   To me, the season was lost but I kept watching because A.)  That’s what a true fan does and B.) I love individual stats and wanted to see if Rios and Konerko could keep up their torrid starts and C).  I think it is funny listening to a Hawk Harrelson during a broadcast when he makes the decision to no longer hide his disgust for what’s going on in the field.  Though there really seemed to be no hope, I was still able to muster up some enjoyment from watching my beloved Sox, even with the errors, blown saves, and Mendoza-like batting averages being part of the overall package.

Honestly, If a crazed mad man came to me and told me “If the Sox are never able to sneak into first place, I’ll give you fifty grand buuuuuuuuuuuttt If they get hot and get back into the race, I get to punch you in the face repeatedly until you die”, I would have jumped at the opportunity in a heartbeat.  I would have pushed down on the red button with all my might and screamed “Deal” at the top of my lungs and laughed my way to the bank.  I mean really, why pass up easy money?  I was that confident.

Fortunately for the Sox and myself (real me, not hypothetical situation, glass is half empty me), something miraculous and unforeseen happened in Mid-May.  The starting rotation began to put together quality start after quality start, which plummeted their team ERA faster than Enron stock circa 2001. Batting averages which were once clustered around the .200 mark became somewhat respectable again.  Most important of all, the glove work of Omar Vizquel at third base had a flu-like contagiousness to it as Alexei Ramirez put together the best stretch of defensive play at shortstop in his young career.  Even the thought to be severed relationship between Ozzie and Kenny seemed no longer to be an issue.  Instead of divorce and separation, winning counseled the White Sox brass to a peaceful reconciliation. 

Winning streaks of 11 and 8 games combined to give the south siders a 25 and 5 record in their last 30 games which put them into first place by the all-star-break.  Both the team and I couldn’t have been more alive (Real me that is, hypothetical me had been beaten into the afterlife by aforementioned crazed man).  Even after the break, we were able to extend our lead in the division over the piranhas of Minneapolis.  Instead of watching and wondering how they were going to find a way to lose, my optimism soared as I now thought “when and how are we going to take back the lead from these chumps?”  We were now the Alpha Dog, and the once might Twinkies had been reduced to Suzy Q’s.  Man… life was good.

Just as I started to get playoff tickets lined up, disaster struck.  The bullpen collapsed.  Bobby Jenks couldn’t get any outs and found as many new ways to blow a save as Jenna Jameson found to blow something else.  JJ Putz (pronounced puts unfortunately), who earlier in the year had put together an incredible streak of scoreless appearances, looked to be the answer to our prayers.  Instead, he “Jamesoned” a couple of games and has had many Sox fans questioning the pronunciation of his name.  Even the reliable Matt Thornton has looked shaky as of late.  I can’t even be happy about the promise of rookie Chris Sale, because the rest of his mates in the pen simply aren’t getting it done. 

This brings us to Tuesday in Minnesota.  Heading into the series, we (I mean the sox, I hate when fans say we like they have anything to do with it) were three games back in the loss column.  Though they had been struggling, I still had reason for optimism.  Just a couple months ago, we were 9.5 games back and were able to make that up in no time.  Three games is nothing in the grand scheme of a baseball season.  We still have a fairly good chance right?  Wrong.

Delmon could learn from them
The loss on Tuesday was the epitome of a backbreaker and a dagger to the heart of our playoff aspirations.  In the bottom of the eighth, it looked like the Twins would once again beat us in a close ballgame.  Up one run, Delmon Young raced to the plate to try to extend the lead to two.  The ball beat him to the plate by a good twelve feet.  He had two options.  One, he could have slid into home, be out, and look like a complete pussy to all his teammates.  Two, he could try to barrel through AJ and hope to dislodge the ball from his mitt (the right baseball play) ala Kit vs. Dottie of League of Their Own acclaim.  Instead, he made up his own option which was the “don’t try to score, and instead try to inflict damage on AJ’s face with forearms” option.  While novel, his choice was bush league, and to me, could have been just what the Sox needed to right the sinking ship and switch the momentum back to our side.  For awhile, it appeared that it was.  After Alexei Ramirez homered to lead off the ninth and tie the game off of Twins closer Matt Capps and his RBI single in the top of the tenth which gave the sox the lead, all the Sox recent troubles had been forgotten.  At that moment, I thought to myself, “Man, if they could just find a way to close this game out, then that cheap shot by Young may be looked at as the defining moment of the 2010 campaign.” 

Wishful thinking on my part because the real defining moment of the season was the walk-off two run homer by former Sox slugger Jim Thome in the bottom that inning.  To me, this sealed the Sox fate for good.  What could have been a turning point for us (them I mean, God I hate when fans do that) ended up being the exact opposite.  Right as Thome hit the ball, I turned off the television immediately, not even wanting to see the final result.  I knew the moment the ball left his bat that it was destined for the right field seats.  As confident I was in that, I’m even more confident in my assertion that Sox are once in for all, done.  I gave up on them before and they surprised me, but this was just too crushing of a blow.  I’d bet my life on it…..again.