White Sox Cannot Escape the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity

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White Sox Cannot Escape the Gravitational Pull of Mediocrity
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Working hard to get my fill,
everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice,
just one more time
Some will win, some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on…

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to the feelin’…

I suspect that I don’t have to tell you what song those lyrics are from. Nor, I would imagine, do I probably need to remind you of the importance of that song to Chicago baseball fans and, specifically, to White Sox fans.

It was the anthem of that glorious run in 2005 that put the win in Windy City baseball.

After the last week and a half, 2005 seems like eons ago. And even for me, Mr. White Sox Positivity, the guy who can usually find a silver lining even in every home run given up by Scott Linebrink, it is becoming really, really hard to continue believing in 2009.

Oh sure, I know that the White Sox are working hard to get their fill, and doing their best to give everyone on the South Side a thrill.

And Ken Williams certainly has proven that he is willing to pay anything (too much?) to roll the dice...even just one more time with the current core of veterans.

And yes, in any given year some will win, and some will lose, and I am a Chicago baseball fan which makes me predisposed to singing the blues.

But the 2009 season has just been a terribly frustrating movie—one of those ones with a great director and really good actors that you like, and you keep thinking it will get good, but the script just never fulfills its potential—that just goes on and on and on and on...

I am reluctantly writing this post to say that I have officially stopped believing in the 2009 Chicago White Sox.

Certainly, I will not stop rooting for them. I will not stop hoping beyond hope that this team has a six or seven game winning streak in it somewhere that can get us back into legitimate contention.

I will not avoid tracking the White Sox every night by listening to Ed Farmer on my iPhone. No, I am a fan. I will suffer while mired in frustrating mediocrity with the rest of the fan base and the organization.

But no matter how hard I try, it will be hard to not lament what has been such a wasted opportunity in 2009. I really thought the White Sox had the potential to be better in 2009. And maybe they did. It just hasn’t happened yet.

I don’t remember where I read it, either at Sox Machine or South Side Sox, but someone described the White Sox in 2009 perfectly by saying that they have a “gravitational pull towards .500.”

No description could be more apt.  

Every time we’ve gotten two or three games below even, we go on a winning streak. Every time we taste prosperity and show signs of turning things around for good, we lose games we should win and fall right back.

Now, today, on Aug. 27, we are a game under .500, four-and-a-half games back of Detroit in the pathetic AL Central, and tied with Minnesota for second place.

And our last loss came off the bat of one of the best clutch hitters of my lifetime, David Ortiz, but a guy that has appeared washed up for the majority of this season.

The White Sox have lost four in a row, five out of six, and are 9-13 thus far in August. As we sit mired in one of our worst team-wide slumps of the season, another game at Boston, plus two more road trips to New York and Minnesota beckon.

New York is the best team in baseball and the Metrodome is a constant house of horrors for the White Sox.

I want to believe, I really do…I just can’t find any genuine belief left in me. I wonder why…

  • Carlos Quentin, a guy that at one point early in the year I called the best player in the American League, is hitting .234 and slugging .448.
  • The White Sox bullpen, which I lauded as one of the best in baseball, has been shaky at best in some of the most important moments of the season.
  • Mark Buehrle, who I have called a true ace to anyone who would listen, has been nothing more than a No. 4-type starter since his perfect game.
  • Jermaine Dye is hitting .264 and struggling to produce runs, while Paul Konerko is down to .278 and had 20-some at bats recently without a hit.
  • Our two most consistent offensive players have been A.J. Pierzynski (.315 batting average), a guy with only 38 RBI, and Scott Podsednik, a guy that was sitting on his couch when the regular season began.
  • The guy that I have the most confidence in right now is a rookie third baseman and his cheesy 80s walk-up music.
  • Our two key in-season acquisitions have done little to provide a shot in the arm. Jake Peavy has yet to pitch in Chicago, while Alex Rios has one hit in his last 16 at-bats.

And, honestly, I could keep going. But I don’t want to. It’s depressing.

Sadly, I am beginning to wonder now if my hope and belief in this team was misplaced all along.

In 2007, the White Sox were an abomination. Last year, we surprised everyone by winning the AL Central and making the playoffs.

Perhaps I should have expected 2009 to settle in somewhere right in between those two seasons, with virtually the same core intact. That is exactly what has happened.

I keep waiting, hoping, believing that the next White Sox winning streak will be the one that blows us past .500 and to the top of the standings for good. But at some point, you are what you are.

The 2009 White Sox are, simply put, a .500 baseball team.

Not great, but not terrible.

And in a poor division, that is just good enough to keep us within reasonable striking distance. And it was not too long ago (2006) that an 83-win team (the St. Louis Cardinals) won their division and shocked the world by winning the World Series.

The difference is that the 2006 Cardinals got off to a great start, were 16 games over .500 early, still seven or eight games over .500 heading into September, and hit the serious skids late in September while dealing with injury issues. But they had shown the ability to be a division-leading, playoff team.

The 2009 White Sox, on the other hand, have shown only flashes of such potential. Unfortunately, we’ve shown just as many flashes that we have the potential to be as bad as we’ve been over the past week.

As I said, a .500 team.

And to make things worse, while the North Siders are crowing (typically) about how the sky is falling and how awful their season has been—and they are right—the Cubs are still at least two games over .500.

They just play in a division that has a great team, the Cardinals, so at least they have had the benefit of closure and of knowing that their team will not be making the playoffs.

Chicago White Sox lose to Boston on Big Papi walk-off

I think closure may have come for me last night when Big Papi hit his walk-off home run. 

Yes, the White Sox are “only” four-and-a-half games out. And yes, we still “control our destiny” with games upcoming against Minnesota and Detroit.

But the phrase “control your destiny” only has meaning and leads to excitement when you actually believe that your team has it within themselves to win the games that will determine their destiny.

Back in April, the White Sox opened the season with a win over Kansas City (4-2) before losing their second game (0-2). Thus, after two games the White Sox stood at .500 and had given up as many runs as they had scored.

Now, after 127 games, not a lot has changed. The White Sox sit at one game under .500 and have scored only six runs more than they have given up. 

Maybe we should have all realized way back in April, after those first two games, that the White Sox were nothing more than a .500 club.

And maybe a lot of people did. I was just not one of them. Now I have to deal with the consequences: high hopes dashed during the dog days of disappointment.

I expect the White Sox to win tonight’s final game in Boston, putting us right back at .500. After that, in New York and Minnesota, who knows.

But I do know this: if the White Sox somehow rebound from this awful four-game performance to get a few games over .500, I’ll wait to see if they can maintain it before totally buying in. 

That way, I can be pleasantly surprised instead of incredibly disappointed.

Eh, who the hell am I kidding. I’m already incredibly disappointed by 2009.

Yeah, there is still time to turn things around and make one last dash for Detroit, I suppose. But hopefully they help us out by fading and reverting closer to .500 themselves. Sadly, that is probably what it will take. 

If the first 127 games of this season have proven anything, it’s that the gravitational pull of mediocrity appears to be too much for the White Sox to overcome.

**********

* – Ozzie Guillen hand on face photo credit: Charles Krupa, Associated Press via Chicago Tribune


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