In the owner's mezzanine box in Comiskey Park, Chicago White Sox President Eddie Einhorn sits with a lap full of congratulatory telegrams. Slowly, he opens each one and digests the best wishes on his team's division championship.
Every minute or two, the phone rings next to him and Einhorn says "Thank you" in a dozen different ways. Somehow, he never misses a play on the field as he keeps his scorecard as earnestly as though it were a religious talisman.
A fan asks Einhorn to autograph the front page of the Chicago Tribune--the newspaper that owns the rival Chicago Cubs. The headline reads, "Sox Toast of Chicago."
Suddenly, Harold Baines breaks for second base, then, as the Minnesota catcher throws there, Baines stops dead in his tracks. Before the second baseman can recognize the trick and throw back to home, Tom Paciorek has slid across the plate with a delayed double steal, one of the prettiest plays in baseball.
"Now that's ugly. Very ugly," says a beaming Einhorn.
A couple of innings later, White Sox rookie Ron Kittle, who says, "I swing at everything, that way they don't know how to pitch me," unleashes an amazing home run that lands on the Comiskey Park roof in the left field corner.
"Oh, a roofer, another roofer," revels Einhorn. "That's even uglier."
In the 73-year history of this oldest park in the major leagues, this is only the 25th ball ever hit on the roof. Kittle's done it twice this season, Greg Luzinski three times. That's a generation's worth of roofers in a year.
How appropriate, because the White Sox have provided Chicago with a generation's worth of victory and pleasure this summer. No Chicago baseball team has won any sort of title since the Chisox of 1959 and this town hasn't had a World Series winner in 66 years.
Everywhere you look, from the owner's box to the manager's office to the playing field, this is a team swept away in an ecstasy of vindication.
Only five weeks ago, in one of the most spectacular examples of baseball cleat-in-mouth disease, Texas Manager Doug Rader was quoted as saying, "The Sox bubble has got to burst. They're not playing that well. They're winning ugly."
Since that date, the "ugly" White Sox have won 26 of 33 games and blown the American League West race to smithereens. Chicago's 91-61 record is the second best in the majors and its eventual division winning margin may be more than 20 games.
As Luzinski told Rader's son: "Tell your old man he's ugly."
The Windy City is awash in posters, signs and T-shirts with variations on the phrase "Winnin' Ugly is the Miracle on 35th Street." After Saturday night's clinching victory, the town declared a day of joy and went Rush Street berserk.
"When I left the team party at 4 a.m., there were a lot of people blocking punts with their faces," reported Manager Tony LaRussa. "I had to wait until five minutes before game time (on Sunday) to make out my lineup . . . We play like champions and we party like champions."
Of course, the limp Sox won, 6-0, anyway, though the third base coach, Jimmy Leyland, admitted, "We scored six runs today, but I was so hung over I didn't see any of them go by."
Every statistic reveals just how ugly the suddenly mighty White Sox have become. Since the June 15 trading deadline, Chicago's record is 63-29 (.685). Back then, with the team 5 1/2 games behind California, Einhorn admitted that firing LaRussa was a possibility. Now, LaRussa could run for mayor and might win without a single dead man's vote.
At the moment, the Sox are the highest-scoring team in baseball. Their big three pitchers, LaMarr Hoyt (22-10), Richard Dotson (19-7) and Floyd Bannister (15-10), have a more-than-incredible record of 35-5 since the All-Star break. As if hitting and pitching weren't enough, the Sox have baseball's best pair of speedsters in Rudy Law and Julio Cruz, with 72 and 54 steals.
Even the Chicago defense, so recently the joke of the sport, has become adequate with the addition of the acrobatic showman Cruz at second and a pair of good-field, no-hit youngsters on the left side of the infield, Vance Law at third and Scott Fletcher at short.
Can this really be the same season in which:
Paciorek said, "This ain't exactly the '27 Yankees. I want out," then, speaking of LaRussa, added, "What makes him think he can manage a major league club?"
Catcher Carlton Fisk and LaRussa had such a blowup that, this week, Fisk said again, "I was left for dead (in June). To hear everybody, I couldn't throw, hit, run. I couldn't call a game. It was like '(Johnny) Bench is 35 and he has to retire, so why don't you?' They had a meeting to decide what to do about me, maybe even buy out my contract. I'm told (Coach) Charlie Lau stuck up for me. Tony's paid to make those decisions about who plays and who's washed up. But I don't have to accept it or like it . . . When we started playing well was when he left us alone . . . When you win, things all get swept under the rug."
The team made 34 errors in 26 games. Fisk was hitting .171 late in May and Luzinski hit a one-for-34 slump. Dotson lost a one-hitter. Former Sox broadcasters Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall had a field day lambasting and satirizing the high-paid, free-agent-filled Chisox lineup.
Now, those bad old days are almost inconceivable. Paciorek has recanted: "I regret everything I said. I made a complete fool of myself." Now, he says, "We have the best group of guys I've ever been associated with."
Of Fisk, who has had spectacular success since batting No. 2, LaRussa now says, "Fisk is our MVP."
Club Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who has a checkered history of inflammatory quotes after attending team parties, said on the radio Saturday night that Piersall and Caray were "the scum of the earth."
Earlier this year, Reinsdorf was fined by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn for saying, "I know how to tell when George Steinbrenner is lying. His lips move." This time, Reinsdorf half-apologized, saying that he was sorry about that word "scum," but that the thought behind the word remained the same.
Even Einhorn can't resist the opportunity to use his championship as a platform to settle a few old scores. He and former owner Bill Veeck have been spatting again this week. Veeck thinks Einhorn and partner Reinsdorf are wet-behind-the-ears rich kids while Einhorn thinks Veeck ran the White Sox as a self-aggrandizing circus with Veeck as central attraction.
"This city needed a win more than any other," said Einhorn on Monday. "It's been caught in a second-city syndrome for so long. Three years ago, we vowed to change that. We were not received well at first. People were used to this franchise being marketed as a South Side freak show with baseball incidental. They (the players) had no pride whatsoever when we got here."
Now, Einhorn and Reinsdorf expenditures of $14 million on park renovation and a similar amount on increased payroll have paid off.
Comiskey Park is a delight and an attendance record has been set. On Monday, a Sox record streak of 17 consecutive home victories was snapped. "We've been sendin' 'em (opponents) out of here with their tails between their legs," said a grinning Einhorn.
Expensive veterans like Luzinski, Fisk, Bannister and Paciorek have paid off. The turn-up-the-rock-'n'-roll clubhouse style of LaRussa, the part-time lawyer, has matched the team's personnel.
"What is a 'loose team'?" asks LaRussa. "Jeez, you've gotta have fun to get through 162 games. But you can bet we're not loose at 7:30 (p.m.)."
Now, the White Sox have nothing on their contented minds except possessing themselves of patience for two weeks until the playoffs, when they assume they'll meet Baltimore.
"Teams that are in the playoffs for the first times sometimes don't do well. That worries me," says Einhorn. "An incredible season can go down the drain in a few days. I don't like that, emotionally. Not after what we went through for six months. You're always concerned that you might tighten up."
But that's not really what the Chisox think will happen. Not after the way they've demolished their foes for two months, not with steals of home and roofers and three starters on a 35-5 streak.
"There'll be much more intensity in this playoff than in the World Series," predicts Einhorn. "We have the two best records in baseball. Both teams are healthy and red hot. We're ready to go."