From Jerry Reinsdorf on down, members of the White Sox organization have spent the spring distancing themselves from whatever the hell happened last year.
The sentiment is understandable, but maybe they should reconsider and take the debacle to heart. 2011 can be their best friend if they play their cards right, because it will take very little effort to look superior by comparison.
Sure, there are ways the 2012 season can be worse than the year before. It will only take a couple injuries or other instances of personal misfortune to send the Sox on the road to far fewer wins. They extracted their depth in a series of offseason trades and departures, rendering them a baseball factory outlet -- what's on the floor is what's in stock. They might have a few surprise finds on their hands, or they could be a pile of unfolded t-shirts with inconsistent amounts of armholes. That is to say, don't count on quality.
But the play is only a small part of the pie. As an overall experience packaged and sold to fans, they can't out-pathetic 2011.
It's one thing to have a disappointing team. It's another thing to have a disappointing team chiefly because the team's leadership did not attempt to improve it. They can talk about conflicts and complications and complexities that made fielding the best team impossible, but that's not the customer's problem. From this side of the transaction, all we can see is that management neither tried nor cared. Patience turned into negligence, which turned into malfeasance, which turned into dereliction of duties, yet despite the chain of failures, nobody was held accountable if it risked making them uncomfortable.
And at the end of it all, the guy who profited most off the mess said a $2 million salary wasn't enough to live on, then boarded his escape pod to Miami. It was the perfect, graceless end to a complete embarrassment.
Oddly enough, this is why I can't help but be optimistic about the year ahead. And this is why 2011 should be put out of mind, but never out of memory.
Starting at the very bottom of the expectations pyramid, there's a pretty good chance Sox fans won't be collateral damage again. That's not exactly a marketing slogan, but it's a start.
Let's carry these most meager of hopes to Robin Ventura. His coaching experience is limited to part-time high school help. Normally, you wouldn't tap a total greenhorn to reverse supertankers of negative momentum, and so it doesn't inspire an incredible amount of faith. But from what we know of Ventura from his playing days, he's aware of his duty to the people around him, and that's new. Again, we're looking at behavior from highly paid professionals that used to be taken for granted, but here we are.
Now, take the novelty of a manager invested in making a positive impression and apply it to the on-field disasters. For instance, I don't anticipate Adam Dunn coming close to his 2011 numbers, but let's say another vestigial organ betrays him, and an incomplete recovery knocks him off track. Whatever happens from that point on, there's no way it can result in the same enormous value vacuum, because the manager and general manager actually respect each other enough to decide on a new course.
There's a simplified chain of command now. There are adults now. The forecast looks clear for upholding the most basic tenets of the vendor-customer relationship, which means we're far less likely to feel like suckers (speaking of slogans that fail to thrill).
You may have noticed that I have yet to talk about the actual White Sox -- you know, the players who actually have the greatest impact on the direction of the franchise. I don't really have to. We know who needs to play better, who needs to stay the same, and who needs to merely tread water. Maybe they'll succeed and catch the Tiger tail, or maybe they'll flop and force a fire sale. The projections have varied wildly, because nobody really knows how all of the aforementioned will affect the clubhouse.
After a season like 2011, I'm not nearly as interested in predicting wins or projecting rebounds, as much as I'm looking forward to appropriate actions being taken, whatever they are. If you want to try turning that into a tagline, it's awfully close to what Paul Konerko came up with: "Doing It Right." He's talking about the players on the field, but you can run it all the way up the chain. Everybody knows the Sox are in shaky shape, and there's only so much that can be done. The results may not be optimal, but it just can't be for a lack of effort, communication or conscience.
And now I've got the serious, short and sweet rallying cry after all. It's more invigorating than "Appreciate the Game," more on point than "Doing It Right," and best of all, it's not blowing smoke. It's based off the sole sentence that Bill James used to recap Don Mattingly's career, and it's the only ideal I'm applying to the White Sox as they embark on a brand new season:
100% baseball, 0% bullsh*t.