For White Sox, better losing through chemistry rings hollow

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Robin Ventura isn't to blame for a potential 100-loss season, but clubhouse harmony might not be that strong of a defense

Reading this headline on Wednesday evening ...

Konerkohed_medium

... brought this reaction to mind:

Paul Konerko's actual quotes offered a little more depth than the headline suggests, but I'm not sure the underlying message finds a way to resonate:

In his 15 seasons in the majors, Konerko has played for seven different managers. He credits the way Ventura has handled himself for helping to keep what has been a horrible season on the field from spilling over into the clubhouse. No fingers have been pointed, and any issues have been dealt with internally. With a team that needs one win in five games to avoid 100 losses, Konerko knows the job done by Ventura is more difficult than he makes it look.

"The first thing you usually think of about Robin is steady and consistent," Konerko said. "He’s just steady. He doesn’t change. The fact that he’s held it together with what he’s had to witness all year, with the rest of the coaches, I could tell you there probably are a lot of staffs and managers that this could have been really bad with what happened. But hopefully this is the last time he has to go through something like this."

"Could have," huh? Well, let's see. The White Sox are 6-18 this September, which means they would have to sweep the Kansas City Royals in order to avoid their third month with fewer than 10 wins. If the Royals go the other way with it, the White Sox will lose 100 games.

They lost 17 of the 19 to the Cleveland Indians, including 14 in a row -- both of which are the worst against any single opponent in franchise history. Dropping both games in Cleveland locked in their road record at 26-55, which is their worst road record since 1970, and the sixth-worst in franchise history.

If you're curious:

Rk Tm Year G W L W-L% RS RA
1
CHW 1903 68 19 49 .279 232 369
2 CHW 1932 75 21 53 .284 367 507
3 CHW 1934 78 24 53 .312 334 482
4 CHW 1948 78 24 53 .312 281 436
5 CHW 1929 76 24 52 .316 321 426
6 CHW 1970 78 25 53 .321 287 353
7 CHW 2013 81 26 55 .321 296 365

In fact, this whole season has been one long, grueling processing of worst-sinces. The Germans have a word for it: Schlimmsteseits.

(That isn't actually a word, but it seems like this season can only be described auf Deutsch. Werner Herzog couldn't make a movie out of the 2013 White Sox, on account of the subject matter being too bleak.)

Yes, we can conceive of ways the White Sox could fail harder, but the alternate route Konerko suggests would actually give us conversation fodder. That's somewhat like stubbing a cigarette on your arm in order to feel something, but then you look at the Red Sox, who went from a mess under Bobby Valentine to the league's best record under John Farrell, and fried chicken, clubhouse beer and mutiny starts to look like a turnaround value meal.

Lest this sound like an oversimplification, it's possible that the Ventura administration stands mostly blameless. Perhaps, like John Danks says, the manager has nothing to do with it:

"It's funny, when we were winning, he was a godsend. Now a year later, people want him out of here," said White Sox starting pitcher John Danks of his manager. "We as a team love having him here. He's a great manager, knows what he's doing, knows baseball. It isn't his fault we stink. He's not throwing the ball, not catching it, not trying to hit it. He's putting us in the right position to win. It's up to us to do it."

The first part of Danks' quote sums up my attitude toward Ventura, in that I'm looking at 2014 as a tiebreaker, because the stunning, sudden nosedive in on-field competency is too jarring to assess with any real confidence, especially from the outside.

But Don Cooper didn't spare any members of the clubhouse from fault:

"Embarrassing,’’ Cooper said Wednesday. "I’m embarrassed about what we got done. And I’m saying everybody. Our group, coaches, players, everybody.’’ [...]

"This is the exact opposite of any team we’ve had,’’ Cooper said. "The [shortage of] confidence, the aggressiveness, the fun, coming to the park believing we’re going to win. This is the bizarro world of that. That’s the reality of it.’’

Now, the White Sox are two years removed from seeing their best laid plans derailed by a lack of adult supervision. That's not a road anybody should want to revisit, regardless of the copy it provided.

Still, the more dissections you read, the less optimism they provide. If 100 losses is a distinct possibility despite good-faith management thanks to a collection of issues tangible and intangible, that's a situation begging to be leveled just the same as a clubhouse coup. Some Superfund sites happen by accident.

The silver lining of squabbling is that the associated shame makes housecleaning an easier call. Granted, bold decisions aren't always good ones -- for example, the guy who hit six home runs this season against his former club -- but the Sox are past the point of being a little bit of good mojo away from the postseason, and so sweeping action seems to be in order. If that's the case, any advantage in clubhouse harmony looks like a distinction without a difference. A low bar is a low bar, no matter how professionally they set it.

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