I’ve been a Sox fan for nearly 40 years. I have vague memories of people being happy in 1983. I remember the 1990 season feeling important after five years of absolute garbage baseball, baseball that I loved nevertheless. I cried at the last game in the old park, because it felt like part of my life, and I didn’t have the perspective that comes with age, I didn’t know I’d have so much more aging to do.
In short, I’ve been thinking about the White Sox for a long time.
And I say this not to speak ex cathedra; being a fan for a long time doesn’t make one an expert. In fact, I’d venture that literally every writer on this site is a smarter baseball fan than me. But what time does grant, as it builds up until there is more behind you than ahead, is accumulation. An accumulation of conversations. Decades of talk big and small about the White Sox. And I can say that never have I felt this level of despair, anger, and indignation about the club.
In short, 2022 broke the White Sox fan base.
In conversations at the ballpark, in bitterly-threaded Twitter discussions, in random comments by the most mild-mannered of fans, in group chats, text threads, and holiday talks, Sox fans are mad in a way that I’ve never seen.
Sure, we’ve been angry before, at cheapo ownership and lousy players. We’ve torn our hair out at the … methodology (sure, we’ll employ holiday grace and call it that) of signing over-the-hill vets who were good seven years ago. We’re driven batty by the post-World Series run, where the strategy was “let’s try to throw another Alomar into the mix, that should do it.”
But that’s normal fandom stuff. Every fan thinks their team is owned by a rich idiot and run by careerist idiots more concerned about pleasing the rich idiot than building a winner, and most of the time, fans are right to think that. We all know we could do a better job than the boneheads running things now, and while that might be wrong, it’s our god-given right to think so.
What’s happening with the White Sox fan base is different than normal discontent with on-field buffoonery. It’s the sure and certain knowledge that not only does the team not care about us like we care about the team — if you think differently, you are a dew-eyed romantic, I admire your soul ... and wouldn’t want you near heavy machinery — but that the people running the White Sox don’t even conceive of the team the way we do.
We see the team as a way to transform our hopes, our emotional investment, our literal financial investment, the time we pour into caring, into something worth it. A winner, yes. A team that we can be proud of. A team that makes us excited to think about. A team that offers some emotional payoff for everything we give.
That’s not how the Sox conceive of the team. I’m sure Rick Hahn wants to win, and Kenny does as well, and Jerry Reinsdorf wouldn’t mind it, but doing what it takes to win isn’t the White Sox way. The White Sox way is to protect what Reinsdorf is most interested in — winning the battle between labor and management.
That, ultimately, is what every decision comes down to. It isn’t greed, simply put, because paying to win can be spectacularly remunerative. It’s about nickel-and-diming the players so that they can’t amass power in the form of long-term contracts.
Everything that frustrates us in how the team is run comes down to that. It’s why Jerry embarrasses us by being mad at Steve Cohen for his absurd strategy of “paying the best players to play for the Mets.” It’s why the White Sox try to build from draftees instead of signing top players to fill holes. It’s why they hope to catch lightning in a bottle, year after year.
All that has led fans to finally, if not revolt, then be revolted. Two years in a contending window of doing nothing to fix the holes at second base and right field. Not signing any top-tier pitchers, and letting one that you developed walk. Spending on a handful of small fish instead of spending the cumulative sum on an actual impact player. It’s caring more about doing things the White Sox way than this window of contention closing with shattering force.
And then they pull shit like this:
White Sox absolutely nickel and diming the fuck out of us with this new seating chart pic.twitter.com/A5YQXvTKcF— Austin Guy (@Dzikhead) December 27, 2022
Seriously, look at the replies at QTs. The anger is something new
Look at this — they’ve spent more time parsing the seating chart with the intense scrutiny of a sexless Jesuit studying scripture than they have developing hitters. They’ve gone row by row in an attempt to make a few extra bucks a game. Some of the sections have three or four different prices in them.
This is all Mickey Mouse nonsense, but it’s fitting for a team that canceled SoxFest. After all, it’s easier to avoid facing your failures than doing anything to fix them. If you can’t raise revenue by building a consistent winner, raise it by charging someone $10 more to be a couple feet closer than 400 feet away. An extra sawbuck gets you that much nearer to Joe Kelly.
It’s embarrassing. It doesn’t make you ashamed to be a fan — it makes you question why you even are. It makes you disgusted with yourself for caring.
Ah, but they know how we conceive the team. It’s where we’ve made friends, where we’ve gone with our families more times than we can count, where on occasion we stand as one with a rising yell in our throats as a ball traces an arc in the night sky, ready to high-five strangers and jump like lunatics. It’s fun. It’s what we care about. It’s part of who we are.
So I don’t know where this anger is going to go. It’s very possible that it starts another cycle of lower attendance, Jerry using that to slash payroll, and so on, on and on, our endless Kali yuga, hoping to stumble into something lucky, waiting for it to all end. But it’s possible that this anger actually forces Jerry to do something differently.
I don’t know. I’m too old to stop being a fan, it is too deep inside me, woven into my muscles. My body reacts to the thaw of spring with an awakening of hope about the Sox. But the Sox might be throwing away the possibility, which seemed inevitable only two years ago, of growing the fan base. This once-exciting young team is now repelling fans instead of owning this city.
The problem is that, as it has for me and for you and for everyone, and as we feel most acutely at the end of a weird, frustrating year, time’s arrow flies in just one direction. We grow old, and then we grow older.
At this point, when you hear that eternal Footman clomping in the cold, somewhere in the dark distance, Jerry might just be too old to care.