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A Prayer for Irrelevance

Is it better to be ignored or to be a laughingstock? A very 2022 question

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Milwaukee Brewers
Not ha-ha funny, exactly.
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

As White Sox fans, we’re used to being perceived — or perceiving that we’re being perceived — with a certain amount of disrespect. We feel ignored, relegated to an afterthought, being thought about for rarely being thought of at all. Some of that comes from the tendency of every fan base, even the Yankees, to talk themselves into underdoggerism. Some of it is at least somewhat justified: Some unfortunate, underpaid graphic designer at ESPN forgetting about 2005 is in the permanent collection in our collective Library of Implacable Grudges.

The nice thing about being an afterthought is that we’re rarely at a LOL Mets level of ridicule. Unfortunately, the baseball world has recognized that this burgeoning catastrophe of a season can’t just be chalked up to bad luck and spring-coiled hammies. Instead, the Intentional Walk Heard Round the World has focused attention on the specific failures of the organization.

It doesn’t need to be mentioned here, at least not in full. Anyone reading this knows that Tony La Russa was hired entirely because his buddy Jerry Reinsdorf wanted to right a 40-year-old wrong, when TLR was fired during Hawk Harrelson’s brief and pointless stint as general manager.

The idea that Reinsdorf felt he owed TLR some kind of moral recompense was, on its face, absurd. The firing wrecked Tony’s life to the tune of multiple World Series wins, millions of dollars in earnings, and a spot in the Hall of Fame. With slights like that, we should all be slighted.

So the Sox continued building a contending team, and by all indications Reinsdorf felt that he could gift TLR a rebuilt team bristling with talent. (And spending big on Liam Hendriks before 2021 and going back for a double-dose with major pen signings before 2021 indicates that La Russa is a core part of the team-building process now.) Another World Series would be a career-capper for Reinsdorf’s old buddy, and it would correct what passes as a deep moral wrong among folks of their ilk: One incredibly rich man being slightly inconvenienced on his way toward a life of wealth, power, and fawning respect.

It, uh, hasn’t worked out that way, exactly. Very few World Series teams offer shirts begging to fire the manager before the summer even gets warm.

While it is impossible to blame all of this season on TLR, the peculiar frustrations of the year have to run through the manager’s office. The hackish approach at the plate — an incredible .299 OBP, as of Monday evening — is a player issue, but also a coaching one. Relief failures are partly an overpriced and oft-injured pen stretched thin, but also incredible mismanagement.

A batter intentionally walked on 1-2 is entirely managerial. Even the players on the field couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen players on opposing teams basically openly mock a managerial move in real time.

It wasn’t just Freeman. Ever since last Thursday, the White Sox and Tony have been the laughingstock of baseball. What was poised to be a dream season has turned dark and weird, less a terrifying nightmare than one of those bizarre, restless dreams where surreal, ungraspable images flit in and out, and you are never entirely sure what is going on. That’s what being suddenly in the public eye feels like: Something fundamentally wrong, an inversion of what you had imagined, a curdling of hope.

Ah, but, as I worked on this piece, the Sox finished a win against Detroit, nine runs punctuated by a José Abreu blast to dead center. Lance Lynn pitched OK, but more importantly, yelled at a coach for doing something stupid, possibly sparking life in a team whose vibes had completely imploded.

I still want this team to go on a run and give us a fun summer. I still think it’s possible. But for now, I’ll simply settle for a few weeks of sliding back into irrelevance.