Darned Sox: An Exercise in Rebuilding a Team

Marshall Shelley becomes a fan of the newly well-led White Sox.

Though I've lived in Chicago more than twenty years, when it came to the White Sox, I was only a casual fan (is that an oxymoron?). Until recently.

Yes, I attended games in both old Comiskey Park and more recently "The Cell" (it's still hard for me to endorse a telecommunications product every time I want to refer to a ballpark). I rooted for the South Side Hit Men of the 1970s and witnessed the infamous Disco Demolition night.

I understood the Sox' inferiority complex. They frequently voiced sour irritation over a city that gives preferential treatment to the Cubs. But let's face it, in a long-term relationship, lovable losers are easier to identify with than sore losers.

But all that changed this year.

The White Sox emerged as baseball's best team, sweeping the Houston Astros in the World Series and winning an utterly impressive 11 out of 12 postseason games. When a friend of mine from Denver Seminary managed to snag tickets to Game 1 of this year's World Series, I pounced on the opportunity to cheer on my new favorite team.

Their record wasn't what won them their fans - in Chicago or elsewhere. Other teams have had dominant records but not inspired the imagination. Catch my drift, Mr. Steinbrenner?

What caused the turnaround - both in the team's fortunes and in the public's excitement? For me, anyway, it was the team's exercise of creative leadership.

It started with general manager Kenny Williams's imagination. He reshaped the Sox, who were overstocked with power hitters a year ago. He traded away home run producers like Carlos Lee and Magglio Ordonez and brought in speedster Scott Podsednik and sparkplug A.J. Pierzynski and versatile Tadahito Iguchi. He recognized the need to try a different approach and pulled together a new team, less "impressive" but more likely to work together.

Coach Ozzie Guillen brought a delightful combination of intensity and fun. I remember watching Guillen as a shortstop back in the early 1990s. He wasn't the most powerful hitter, but he hustled, played great defense, and clearly had fun playing. As a manager, he brought that spirit to his team, and it was contagious.

This year "Ozzie ball" came to be understood not as waiting for someone to hit a home run, but as small steps toward making something happen - base hits, bunts, steals, aggressive base running. His brand of baseball wasn't something just for the studs; it was performed by relatively normal players who disciplined themselves to master the fundamentals.

October 27, 2005