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Right on Q: A look back at the 1983 White Sox

The "Winning Ugly" crew had a slow start, a loudmouth broadcaster, and an incredible hot streak. Can the 2013 White Sox replicate the formula?

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Carlton Fisk throws out the first pitch at last Sunday's game.  30 years ago, he was mired in a deep slump.
Carlton Fisk throws out the first pitch at last Sunday's game. 30 years ago, he was mired in a deep slump.

The 2013 White Sox season is a summer-long celebration of the team that won the AL West in 1983. The '83 Sox were easily dispatched from the ALCS by the Baltimore Orioles. Despite their failure to win or even reach the World Series, the '83 team is still a fan favorite.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the 1983 White Sox were the first Sox team to reach the post-season since 1959. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the '83 Sox were the first Chicago team to win any kind of championship since the Bears in 1963.

Or maybe it has to do with the fact that it caught everyone by surprise.

The 2013 White Sox do have something in common with their counterparts from three decades before: a slow start. After 27 games, the 2013 White Sox are 12-15.

After 27 games, the 1983 White Sox were ...12-15.

The '83 Sox were a punch-less bunch in the early going. Game 27 in 1983 was a 3-1, 10 inning loss to the Blue Jays in front of 18,000 people at Comiskey Park. The OPS of the players in Tony La Russa's lineup was not pretty:

  1. Rudy Law: .580
  2. Tony Bernazard: .752
  3. Harold Baines: .686
  4. Greg Luzinski: .675
  5. Ron Kittle: .785
  6. Mike Squires: .495
  7. Carlton Fisk: .539
  8. Lorenzo Gray: .465
  9. Jerry Dybzinski: .538


To be fair, the Sox were facing Dave Stieb, who was one of the best pitchers in the American League at the time. The slump would continue for another week. By May 18, the White Sox were seven games under and six games out of first place in the AL West. Owners Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsorf said they were going to meet with General Manager Roland Hemond to figure out what to do. Einhorn insisted that La Russa was not to blame for the early-season slump.

"Right now, it's a mental thing," Einhorn told Tribune columnist Jerome Holtzmann. "We seem to have lost our team confidence. When we get it back, we'll win."

"Our trouble is that we've got guys hitting .180 and .190 who are .280 and .290 hitters."

Einhorn and Reinsdorf were three years removed from buying the White Sox, and fans were still split on the new guys. There was a small, but vocal minority who hated the new ownership. They missed the blue-collar charm of the Veeck years. They missed the biting commentary from Harry Caray. They didn't want to pay for SportsVision. They hated Tony La Russa.

....and they had a mouthpiece in the form of Jimmy Piersall.

Yes, Hawk Harrelson has a tendency to go off the reservation. His diatribes against advanced statistics are just the latest example. But Hawk approaches the White Sox from the position of a hopeful, die-hard fan. He's happiest during the pregame show. To Hawk, the next nine innings are a blank slate ready to be filled with endless possibilities.

Jimmy Piersall was a full-tilt-boogie Mean Old Man. He was genuinely angry at every one and every thing. Every fan base has its share of cranks; the type of people who believe everything can be fixed by trading all the players and firing the coaching staff. Jimmy Piersall spoke to that subset of fans.

After Harry Caray left for the greener pastures of Wrigley Field and WGN, Jimmy Piersall became an in-studio analyst for SportsVision. Piersall would use his perch on SportsVision to the White Sox version of a government-in-exile. Piersall mercilessly ripped on La Russa, his coaching staff, and the players.

To him, the White Sox could do no right.

Except sign his paychecks, of course.

Piersall had been on thin ice throughout his entire tenure with SportsVision. The year before, LaRussa, Jim Leyland, and Art Kunsyer decided to drive to the SportsVision studios to discuss their differences with Piersall in person. Although there are differing accounts of what went down late in the night of July 28, 1982, Hemond was forced to play the role of peacemaker.

During the offseason of 1982-83, Piersall continued to fire verbal broadsides at everyone in the organization.

On La Russa: "I don't understand anything about Tony La Russa's baseball thinking."

When asked by a caller to his WMAQ-AM radio show if a recent trade with the Cubs involved "holding a gun to (GM) Dallas Green's head," Piersall responded with "There is no one in the White Sox organization smart enough to hold a gun to anyone's head."

The final straw came on Opening Day, 1983. After doing a short in-game feature about Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader, Piersall said, "Let's go back to the lousy game."

That was it for Reinsdorf, who dismissed Piersall the next day.

The anti-Jerry-and-Eddie fans felt that Piersall was fired for telling the truth. According to writer Bob Logan in his book Miracle on 35th Street, the Piersall loyalists would plant themselves beneath the Comiskey Park broadcast booth, drink beer, and shout "Haaaaaaaaayyyyyyy Haaaaaaaaarryyyyyy!" in tribute to their fallen idol.

By mid-May, the boos at Comiskey grew louder, and LaRussa was asked if he was looking forward to the friendlier crowds on the road.

The crummy baseball would continue for another two weeks. But then La Russa made a lineup change that would make all the difference in the world. On May 22, 1983, Tony Bernazard was dropped down in the lineup in favor of Carlton Fisk, who was moved into the two-hole. The lineup change cured Fisk's season-long slump. His OPS jumped from .550 to .783 by the All-Star break.

The rest is history. After the All-Star Game, the Sox chewed through an unimpressive AL West. On September 17, 1983, they punched their ticket to the post-season.

The 2013 White Sox have the bad start. But that's where the similarities end. An insane hot streak would be nice, but that would require a lot of things to go right. The 1983 Sox were performing below their capabilities. The stats normalized and the '83 team rode that correction all the way to the ALCS.

The 2013 Sox are banged up. Two position players are still on the DL. One pitcher is headed towards season-ending surgery, another has back spasms, and a third is starting a minor league rehab assignment.

The AL Central of 2013 is much better than the AL West of 1983. The Angels and Royals, powerhouses of the late 70's and early 80's, were rebuilding. The Mariners, A's, Rangers, and Twins were different shades of mediocre. The Sox were able to run the table by virtue of being the only semi-competent team in the division.

Not so in 2013. The Royals are ascendant. The Tigers are defending AL Champs. The Indians are marginally better. Even the Twins are showing signs of coming off of the mat.

This is a much tougher hill to climb.

The odds of the 2013 Sox pulling a 1983 are slim, which may explain why 1983 was so special in the first place.