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Right on Q: Jose Abreu, Dick Allen, and the attendance turnaround

Jose Abreu will fill seats into which he can launch baseballs

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42 years ago, Dick Allen transformed the White Sox.  Jose Abreu can do the same.
42 years ago, Dick Allen transformed the White Sox. Jose Abreu can do the same.

For a team that flirts with .500, the 2014 White Sox are easily the most interesting White Sox team in quite some time.

The Sox finished the month of March/April with a 14-15 record. That's par for the course. Since 2007, every Sox team has been underwater after 29 games:

  • 2013: 12-17
  • 2012: 13-16
  • 2011: 10-19
  • 2010: 12-17
  • 2009: 14-15
  • 2008: 14-15
  • 2007: 14-15
  • 2006: 20-9

This year's edition of the White Sox are just like every other edition of the White Sox going back to 2007. Scratch that -- they are slightly better. Yet for some reason, this team is a helluva lot more exciting to watch than teams that consisted of Corky Miller, Wilson Betemit, Brent Lillibridge, Toby Hall, Jayson Nix, Mark Teahen, and assorted others who were called upon to give the White Sox that extra "something."

Actually, the reasons are pretty obvious: Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu. They have tangibles.

They're gonna get people back into U.S. Cellular Field.

Abreu set the rookie records for home runs and RBI in the month of April, and that caught the attention of the national sporting press. Jose Abreu crushes baseballs. The highlights are everywhere. Sooner or later, when the weather warms up, people are going to schlep to the ballpark to see what all the hubbub is about.

With all due respect to Chris Sale, casual fans don't show up for pitchers' duels. They still love the longball.

We might even see the Arebu effect as early as next week. The White Sox return home next Wednesday. According to AccuWeather, the high temperature for Wednesday's game against the Cubs will be 74. On Thursday, the high will be 84. Temperatures will fall into the upper 50's or low 60's the weekend the Diamondbacks are in town.

It should give the White Sox and opportunity to put on a show for their fans. But, then again, I thought last year's team would feast on the Marlins, Cubs, and Astros. That turned into a disaster. Don't assume results.

WSCR's Matt Spiegel called Abreu a "transformative" figure. If Abreu keeps doing what he's doing (and chances are he will), he could have the greatest single-season impact on the White Sox since Dick Allen.

Allen's arrival on the south side in 1972 turned a rebuilding team into an instant contender.  By May 24, the '72 Sox were in first place in the AL West. Sports Illustrated noted that the White Sox had finally breathed some life into what had been a fairly boring division.

"In its first three years the division never generated enough genuine competition to draw more than yawns as first the Minnesota Twins and then the Oakland A's ran off with easy championships. The two teams subsequently lost nine consecutive games to the Baltimore Orioles in the playoffs. But last week a race finally developed in the West as the Chicago White Sox came galloping up on Oakland, caught the A's and a share of first place."

Roland Hemond and Chuck Tanner had started the rebuild at the end of the disastrous 1970 season. The 1971 Sox improved by 23 wins, but that was only good enough to finish 79-83. Allen arrived in Chicago via a trade with the Dodgers. He started putting up MVP-caliber numbers. All of a sudden, the Sox were top of mind for the first time since 1967.

Allen's tape measure shots were also good for business.  The cash registers were ringing at Comiskey Park:

"Just two seasons ago the White Sox had the worst record in the major leagues as well as the lowest attendance. This year only Detroit among American League teams is ahead of Chicago in home crowds. Exactly what form of miracle the White Sox are perpetrating no one can yet define, but climbing from 42 games behind a division winner to fighting for a championship in only 20 months is so remarkable it might be suspected that voodoo is afoot."

The Sox didn't catch the Oakland A's in 1972. But they did draw 1,177,318 fans to the park. It was the best home attendance since 1964.

In 1973, the Sox did even better - 1,302,527 fans paid for Sox tickets. The Sox hadn't drawn that many fans since 1960, the year after they went to the World Series.

As the home run totals went up, so did Sox attendance.

Allen never came close to matching the gaudy numbers of 1972. He was hurt for much of 1973, and a feud with Ron Santo (Allen's version of events) caused him to quit the White Sox in September of 1974.

With Allen gone, attendance dropped below 1 million in 1975 and 1976. The crowds wouldn't return until 1977, when Richie Zisk and Oscar Gamble were launching baseballs into the seats.

A slugger makes the difference, and Abreu is getting the job done. He's hitting baseballs. Fans are surely to follow.

POSTSCRIPT: You might be tempted to bring up 2012. Yes the White Sox were in first place for most of the year.  And yes, total attendance dropped compared to 2011. I chalk it up to the power of perception. The 2012 Sox consisted of Alex Rios, Jake Peavy, and Adam Dunn. All three players had failed to deliver on the lofty expectations that had accompanied them to Chicago. When the Sox finally ran out of gas at the end of the year, it confirmed beliefs that were already widely held.