The attendance at SoxFest is probably representative of the immediate future of White Sox fandom. The first-hand accounts, from here and elsewhere, agreed the crowds were smaller than the last couple of years, but last year's undercurrent of ennui had disappeared. There's a certain openmindedness and openheartedness at work. The White Sox finally admitted they have a problem, and a lot of people are relieved that the Sox stopped believing they suddenly solved pro scouting while operating on a budget that can’t absorb another error.
For that matter, Hawk Harrelson probably is probably representative of the immediate future of White Sox fandom, too. Jon Greenberg printed his lengthy answers with some paraphrasing at The Athletic, and he sounds unburdened.
The worst thing in my career, in 57 years in this game, is to see is a veteran ballclub, and not to say that was our case, but to see a veteran ballclub that doesn’t win. A lot of them, every team has guys that care about the first and the 15th, you know, I would much rather see…now we maybe have as good of a farm system, with these kids right here, as there is in baseball. In fact, some people are saying we have the best right now.
I love to see young talent because there’s an innocence there. These guys are busting their ass. They’re not thinking about talking to their agents about an extending a contract, how much money they’re going to be making. They’re trying to make it to the big leagues. And I go to see a lot of high school baseball games in Orlando. You know why? Because of the innocence of it. It’s pure baseball. No politics, no BS, no money it’s pure baseball.
If you look at some of these guys, there’s a lot of young talent in this room. Will they all make it? Some of them are not going to make it, but it’s going to be fun watching the ones who do.
Harrelson's history says this enthusiasm is good for a month. Then the bad habits gradually take hold of the broadcast until the next reset, whether it’s prompted by time or management or egos.
White Sox fans will probably follow suit. The idea of giving somebody like Rymer Liriano extended playing time is more exciting in theory than in practice, and there’s a reason why reclamation projects like Derek Holland are available for one year and $6 million. Familiarity breeds contempt, and while White Sox like Holland are on the bottom rung of that ladder ...
... any honeymoon period won’t last all that much longer. Losing baseball is losing baseball — not fun.
When the initial momentum from the new direction wears off, though, the shared rail between White Sox fans and Harrelson will separate. White Sox fans can lose themselves in the other distractions of summer, taking in the occasional game, but more keeping tabs via scoreboard apps, the traditional outlets and their friendly neighborhood blog. Harrelson’s contract requires him to be at 81 games with his reactions recorded.
This doesn’t make great marketing material, but it’s probably best for everybody to not test their tolerance if they can’t find entertainment in individual progress. Impatience subverted the Sox in their last attempt at getting back to the postseason, and they can ill afford to short-circuit this one. Without any hope in projections, the White Sox have to stockpile as much goodwill before the regular season starts, and then let it play out.
At SoxFest, the White Sox got as much mileage as they could out of people who will not be able to immediately and regularly provide rewards. Prospects like Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Zack Collins and Michael Kopech commanded (and held) attention during SoxFest, and now fans will get a certificate of deposit that can’t be collected until it matures.
Meanwhile, the season finale of Rick Renteria: Baseball Man, Sensitive Chef concluded with a ceviche cook-off.
The Sox don’t need to extend this storyline further because it’s served its purpose. If managers are usually hired in reaction to the previous one, well, we already know more about Renteria’s hobbies than we did about Robin Ventura’s. But then again, Ventura’s somewhat sterile professionalism was refreshing because the inner workings of Ozzie Guillen’s family spilled over into baseball business.
My sense is that Renteria is a happy medium between the two extremes. White Sox fans have bought into Renteria’s credentials, and they like him as much as they can in this position. Anything greater can’t be forced.
Apply that sentiment for the rest of the team, while we’re at it. The best thing about a rebuild is that everybody should be free from pretending. The White Sox aren’t propping up an overwhelmed manager anymore. They aren’t scolding a fan base for not liking a team when that team didn’t even like itself. It’s like the White Sox bought a boat to make friends, but were unaware that bailing water isn’t supposed to be part of the experience.
And so it’s up to the organization and its developmental talents to find that equilibrium themselves. If they can reverse that inertia, then they can expect more from the fans. If they’re able to pull it off, it shouldn’t be nearly as difficult to get their friends back aboard.