Sometimes, once or twice a week, when all other conversation is exhausted, Jim Fregosi can sit back, stuff a chaw in his jaw and talk baseball. He had that opportunity not too long ago.

"Must have been only a month ago now," the manager of the Chicago White Sox said, half-smiling, half-sneering.

He answers questions carefully. He's in the middle of a firestorm he didn't create and may not survive -- the manager of an awful team in a confused organization that has had three general managers and two managers the last three seasons.

Unfortunately, Fregosi was hired by general manager No. 2, Ken Harrelson, who was fired last year in favor of general manager No. 3, Larry Himes. Although Himes stops short of saying it, there isn't much question he'd be more comfortable with a new manager, one without the ties and loyalties to Harrelson.

Fregosi knows this and has told friends as much. So when he talks about the White Sox, he sometimes speaks vaguely.

"Well, we've had a few distractions," he said. "But you just work through them. Everyone is trying to do their job the best way they see fit, and that includes the manager. I come in and write out a lineup that I think can win that game that night."

From the beginning, this was going to be a difficult season for the White Sox, who were relying on the quick development of a catcher and a handful of pitchers.

They didn't need young pitchers Bobby Thigpen (one save) and Joel Davis (1-5, 5.73 ERA) to fail so badly they'd have to be sent back to the minor leagues. They didn't need pitcher Neil Allen to come up with arm problems, and most of all, they didn't need their one superstar, Harold Baines, to miss 23 of the first 24 games with a knee injury.

Yet what bothers Fregosi is that many people won't remember 1987 as the year Ron Hassey and Baines got hurt, but as the year of The Socks. They'll remember this season started with Himes handing down a 32-page memo on dress codes, where players should sit on flights, etc.

They'll remember that after a 10-run victory over Seattle, Himes came into the clubhouse and fined three players because they weren't wearing socks with their street clothes. They'll remember him requiring that at least three inches of blue sock be showing beneath each uniform pant leg.

This, naturally, led catcher Carlton Fisk and others to pull their pants up to their knees and ask, "Is this enough blue showing?"

And they'll remember that Himes, a disciple of straight-laced former Cincinnati executive Bob Howsam, barred beer from the clubhouse and that Fisk responded, "Well, I'll tell you a Sprite and a pizza just won't get it after a long, hard game. But that's the way it has been around here. We spend a lot of time on this kind of stuff and not enough addressing the meat-and-potatoes problems of the baseball team."