The Chicago White Sox are so old that when you mention the '05 team, you have to say which century. Yet for 105 seasons, they've been baseball's most overlooked, ignored and almost utterly invisible team. This is a franchise so eternally slighted that, in its entire history, it has had higher attendance than the 2005 Washington Nationals in only one season.
Now that the Pale Hose are halfway to winning their first World Series since World War I, it's conceivable the franchise will finally get its due. After all, the Black Sox aside, there's no shame in the White Sox' record (.506 all-time). In the past 25 years under Jerry Reinsdorf, they've been respectable (.516) with 15 seasons over .500 and not a single year with more than 92 losses.
Yet, until this month, if you'd asked what team had Scott Podsednik, Aaron Rowand, Joe Crede, Tadahito Iguchi, Juan Uribe and A.J. Pierzynski in its everyday lineup, many would have responded: "How about a hint? Which sport?"
The White Sox' defining characteristic has always been their ability to deflect illumination like a black hole. You know they're there. The standings say so. But who are they? Year after year, they sit in the middle of the pack in the Midwest, too respectable to be mocked but too imperfect to be studied. In 1960, my first Senators hero, Roy Sievers, became a White Sox player and led them in homers. I tried to follow his career from afar. Good luck. Aliens might as well have abducted him. Roy had vanished.
When Bill Veeck owned the Sox, I visited him one day. His office had no door. Walk in and say, "Hi, Bill." That captured the White Sox -- unpretentious, but also undiscovered. Veeck loved his unappreciated team, especially their hardworking, anti-trendy fans. And he valued the absence of any binding White Sox tradition. How could he insult the memory of a franchise that threw the World Series? If "Disco Demolition Night" turned into a riot and a forfeit, it still couldn't disgrace the Sox' pedigree.
Now that Ozzie Guillen and Ken Williams have arrived as manager and general manager, the White Sox' days of obscurity may be numbered. But before we celebrate Paul Konerko's five homers and 15 RBI this postseason or wonder whether Chicago can go through the entire playoffs with only one defeat (they're 9-1), we should look back one last time and ask, "How could any franchise remain so unexamined, such a baseball void, for more than a century?"
Upon examination, we discover that there actually is a reason: The White Sox earned it.
In their entire existence, no White Sox team has ever won more than 100 games. So, when all-time great teams are discussed, Chicago is never mentioned. In fact, the White Sox have only won more than 95 games five times. The Yankees have done it six times -- in the last nine years. The Orioles have won more than 95 games 11 times. And they weren't born until 1954. The White Sox also had the perverse misfortune of never being abysmal -- which would've attracted attention. The team has only lost 100 games once since 1948.
However, the White Sox' biggest hurdle to recognition has been its incredible, odds-defying lack of truly great players. If someone charismatic ever dons a White Sox uniform, he leaves quickly, arrives late in his career or only makes a brief stop.
* Only one man has hit more than 221 homers in a White Sox uniform (Frank Thomas).
* Only two men have had more than 1,000 RBI as White Sox (Thomas and Luke Appling).
* Only two pitchers have ever won 200 games for the Sox (Red Faber and Ted Lyons). Neither played after World War II.
* Since the 1972 season, only one White Sox pitcher has struck out more than 200 batters in a season (Esteban Loaiza).
* When White Sox fans voted for their all-century team in 2000, they picked 18 everyday players. Of those 18, 11 hit fewer than 100 home runs in their entire White Sox careers! Welcome aboard, Chico Carrasquel, Guillen and Jim Landis (career .250).
* Gary Peters (91-78) was one of the nine all-century White Sox pitchers. Talk about being hard up for legends.
* Finally, in an act of (alarming) forgiveness, three of the eight Black Sox were voted onto that 27-man all-century team.
True to the White Sox' ironic history, the man who holds the team's single-season records for home runs, RBI, total bases and extra-base hits was only in Chicago for two years: Albert Belle.
So, it's not a conspiracy that the White Sox have gotten so little attention for so long. At least the Cubs had stars who stayed at Wrigley Field long enough to have an identity. In the last 50 years, half the Cubs' history, Ernie Banks, Sammy Sosa, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ryan Sandberg and Mark Grace all had more than 1,000 RBI in their Wrigley years.
No wonder the hard core of White Sox fans, loyal as it is, remains so small. Even this year, with the White Sox winning 99 games and sitting in first place every day of the season, the Nats outdrew them by 4,804 per game.
Of course, U.S. Cellular Field, with its vertigo-inducing 38-degree slope in the upper decks, does not help. When the White Sox' new home opened in 1991, it was the first of the "new wave" of ballparks. Not bad, everybody said. The next year, Camden Yards opened and Chicago's new yard was instantly out of style. Talk about White Sox luck.
At least if the White Sox can finally win the club's first Series since 1917, the franchise's despicable anonymity may finally start to end. (Did somebody around here pick the Astros?) Those in search of White Sox omens certainly don't have far to look. Last season's champions, the Red Sox, had not won a Series since 1918.
The bizarre linkage between the two Sox is hard to miss. The Red Sox were adored and endured by New England for a century. The White Sox were ignored by the Midwest, in favor of various Cards and Cubs, for just as long.
Now, finally, the world's smallest bandwagon is accepting passengers. All you need to get a seat is prove that your White Sox loyalty is more than a month old. Name any of the three Sox managers in the 12 years before Ozzie Guillen arrived last year.
Tick tock, tick tock. Time's up.
Gene Lamont, Terry Bevington and Jerry Manuel are delighted to welcome all three of you aboard.