I am a transplant to the South Side of Chicago, having moved to the city in 2002. Coming from Indianapolis, a city without a major league team, I was delighted to fall under the spell of the White Sox.
My grandfather introduced me to the old ballpark in the 60’s, bringing my brothers, my sister, and me to games once a year or so, but while I followed a number of White Sox players in my childhood and youth, I was not specifically a White Sox fan. Of course, I was not specifically a fan of any one team outside of our AAA Indianapolis Indians. Coming to the South Side allowed me to start coming to games regularly, and in short order I came to love the Sox.
I have nothing but joyful memories of the 2005 season, as I’m sure you do, too. While I can only imagine the happiness the World Series championship brought lifelong fans, several of whom are regulars here on this site, I did get to experience that flag with the zeal of the newly-converted. I like to think that, along with my continued, ever-growing love of the team and the city over the ensuing decade-plus allows me some latitude on writing to you this way.
I am not what you would probably call a “superfan.” I bring my family to games several times a season, but I have never bought season tickets. I own some White Sox merchandise, a few T-shirts, a couple of hats, but I’m not a huge spender on memorabilia or replica jerseys and such. I have never been to White Sox spring training. We all eat, and eat pretty well, at games, but I don’t drink, so am not buying expensive beers, nor do I spend extra for party pavilions and so forth.
Still, I am an avid fan, and do spend money that I assume goes to support the team. I spend a lot of time reading, and some measurable time writing, about the team. Like most fans, I probably care more about the team than would seem logical to an outsider. At the same time, I know many people who invest much, much more of themselves, emotionally and psychologically, in the Sox. Call me a small-time investor, if you like.
I am a White Sox fan and supporter. I want to fully embrace the team, its vision, and its practices. I wish the team nothing but success. However, the events of this week have hit me with more impact than I might have guessed.
I am, and have been, a supporter of the attempt to rebuild the team. While I was sorry to see players like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Adam Eaton leave, I understood the rationale behind the moves and ultimately applauded them. The young players that came back in those trades make me excited for the future. Their struggles and injuries, while at times frustrating to me as a fan, don’t in any way deter my excitement about the future of the White Sox.
What has thrown up an obstacle, though, is the events of the past few days.
At first, I wasn’t certain that pursuing either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper was the best approach for the team to take. But talking with other Sox fans, reading what still others had to say, I became convinced that the team was making a smart move by actively and aggressively going after these two generational (and I don’t use the term lightly) talents. Their relative youth as free agents, both just really entering their professional primes, and the particular talents they possess made them perfect fits, major pieces who would be with the Sox as the team builds toward contention and establishes itself as a perennial contender. Both are great talents who could be in it for the long haul as the young talent matured around them.
That the Sox were aggressively going after them made me, as a fan, very happy. That the Sox lost out on them, in and of itself, disappoints me, but it doesn’t bother me or deter my excitement about the future. What does, however, is some of what has come out in the aftermath. You see, it isn’t so much that the Sox missed out; it’s how the Sox missed out.
On Tuesday, Ken Williams said, “Evidently [$300 million is] what it took, and San Diego stepped up to that level. That level wasn’t feasible to us, because we still have to project putting together a total winning roster.”
Rick Hahn said, “The Sox offer did not have an out clause. The organization does not believe in that philosophy.”
To a fan, these statements are disturbing.
I’m of both humble origin and present circumstances, and wouldn’t normally presume to tell you how to run a business. You know vastly more about that than I do. But whether or not the above quotes are a direct reflection of your decision-making, or are your employees’ interpretation of it, as the owner the buck stops with you.
We both know that building an ongoing, competitive baseball team starts with an organizational foundation of good, young talent, deep enough to weather injury and some players falling short of expectations. It should also be deep enough, and spread widely enough, to create a pipeline of talent, with new players coming along at a regular clip. This is an important base for creating a team that can compete for an extended period. This is, in theory, what we all want: extended, ongoing competitiveness.
At the same time, homegrown talent alone cannot possibly allow a team to achieve that. If we look at any long-term competitive team, we know that regardless of how many ballplayers come through their system, they still have to supplement those players from outside of the system to fill holes, bolster lineups, put together a deep pitching staff. Be it the recent successes of the Astros, Cubs, and Brewers, or the traditional powers like the Yankees and Dodgers, they have to supplement. And that includes the up-and-comers, like the Braves, the Padres, the Phillies, and — yes — the White Sox.
Now, trades are nice, and often prudent. You take assets you are long on and turn them into what you lack. The White Sox may soon be at the point of having excess assets, and in the right circumstances, the Sox could trade some of these young assets for proven quality to fill a hole at the major league level. But trades alone are inadequate for putting together a long-term, competitive team. Looking over the landscape of today’s game, this is pretty self-evident.
Putting together a competitive team for the long haul requires going out and buying some assets. And like with most assets, the good ones don’t come cheap. You can certainly shop in the discount departments and clearance racks and find an occasional short-term solution. As a Sox fan, I’ve seen a lot of that over the past decade-plus. Some of these bargains have panned out; most have not. But the point is, to build a quality team today means being willing to pay market value for assets you need. And this is why Ken and Rick’s quotes above are so disconcerting.
Anyone can be outbid, even the Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs. So can the White Sox. I get that. But what I don’t get is creating an organizational philosophy and guidelines that automatically pre-empt being able to sign the best of the best. And while certainly Harper, and perhaps more so Machado, are among the best of the best, they are not alone at that level.
Next year, more “best” players will become available. Perhaps not with the added benefit of just entering their primes, but certainly a number of top-shelf baseball players will be looking to be compensated at market value. Unfortunately, as a Sox fan, I’m now working under the impression that these top players will no longer be available to my team. While I can accept that the Sox missed out on Machado and Harper, it’s hard to stomach that they’ve removed themselves from consideration for say, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt or whomever becomes available as a free agent over the next few years — the years in which we are told the Sox will be competitive, chasing the playoffs and the World Series.
The unwillingness of the team to do what’s necessary, what other teams are willing to do, in order to secure the best players is troubling. Not only does this preclude the Sox signing major talent, but it raises the question of what will become of our young, talented, homegrown players as they mature, excel, and face their own free agency decisions in the future.
Does this philosophy of not meeting the upper ends of the market, or offer options (which have become commonplace in modern contracts), mean that Michael Kopech and Eloy Jiménez are simply going to “age-out” of the White Sox, lost to the team if they grow into the top-shelf players we all hope they become?
As a fan, am I destined to either accept an occasional fling at competing for a playoff spot or go hunt up some other team to follow and support — one that is willing to do what’s necessary to attract and retain quality talent?
I don’t want to do that, Mr. Reinsdorf. I realize that all sports fandom is, to some extent simply rooting for a particular pile of laundry. But I’ve embraced the Sox, come to love them, and really want to see them become a long-term, competitive team. Maybe that’s just too bad for me. I don’t know.
I’ve been reading and hearing all kinds of vitriol directed at you, calls for you head, some pathetic folks out there are publicly hoping you ill-will to the point of death. I’m sure you’re not deaf to all that silliness, and that’s what it is: Silliness laced with malice. I have no truck with that kind of vicious ignorance, and condemn it.
Nor do I wave my arms and insist that you sell the team immediately. Nor do I insist that you fire all of the front office staff tomorrow, or whatever. I’m not going to boycott the team, stop going to games, burn my T-shirts, or any of that. Disappointed and concerned as I am, I really don’t want to stop being an active Chicago White Sox fan.
What I do want, though, is for you to take stock of what the business of baseball requires today in order to field a competitive team over the long haul. Some of those things, you are doing — amassing a deep pool of young talent and potential, for example.
But particularly regarding these rare, golden opportunities, you need to reassess. If the White Sox are going to succeed with the rebuilding you have undertaken, you cannot settle for half-measures. Being unwilling to adopt market practices that nearly all of your competitors have embraced is a recipe for continued mediocrity, empty stands, and a tired, disillusioned, and ever-shrinking fan base.
I know that there are many ways for the team to keep making money that don’t require fielding a competitive team or filling the stadium. I don’t like it, but I know it’s a reality. But many years ago, you bought this team with something more in mind than just making money. I urge you to recall and rekindle what that something more was, and do what’s necessary to bring it to fruition.