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Between the motion and the act ...
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The Hollow Men

Are the White Sox a professional franchise, or something lesser?

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
—T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

The last line of this poem might be the most quoted line of poetry out there — it’s been completely decontextualized into the vernacular, and is used to describe pretty much anything disappointing. You’ve certainly heard it, and probably even said it yourself, to describe the last detumescent week of White Sox baseball.

It’s a week that started within dreaming reach of improbable postseason glory, and ended with the team being a righteous laughingstock:

The Guardians having fun with “Fire Tony” is a clear reveal what was already known: Every single person in baseball knows how much the White Sox bollocksed up what was a young, fun, talented team potentially on the cusp of something special. Injuries and indifference played a huge role, to be sure, but it is clear to everyone this was an organizational failure.

Players don’t Fire Tony. Fans don’t Fire Tony. Everything starts from the top, and it’s obvious to even the most checked-out fan that the White Sox are constantly being shot in the foot from the top down. Which brings me to another stanza, maybe nearly equally as well-known, in “The Hollow Men.”

Between the idea And the reality
Between the motion And the act
Falls the Shadow

What’s the idea? The idea is that the White Sox are, like some 29 other teams, a professional baseball franchise who are more or less committed to winning and to making money. It might be more the latter than the former, but the rough agreement is that winning is the ideal, and that the gears are grinding that way. Failure happens, incompetence happens. But they are still a professional baseball franchise.

That’s the idea, anyway. But is it the reality?

Assuming this reporting is correct — and even if the source is sometimes dubious, is there any reason to disbelieve this? — then there is, and I risk redundancy in order to emphasize incredulity, a DEEP DIVIDE ABOUT BRINGING BACK TONY LA RUSSA.

That there could be a (we’ll bold this time) DEEP DIVIDE ABOUT BRINGING BACK TONY LA RUSSA is staggering. Even at the most basic level of accountability, he failed this year. The Sox, even with injuries and front office malfeasance, still could have been competitive in the division all year, instead of just hanging around. Tony routinely botched his job in big and obvious and immediate ways (1-2 intentional walks, to name offhand something that still causes thrombosis), and in grindingly stubborn ways (Leadoff Leury).

La Russa did more than the lion’s share of making the Sox into this laughingstock. As did Rick Hahn, whose scrapheap miracles of Johnny Cueto and Elvis Andrus can’t make up for years of negligence and payroll buffoonery.

But we know that Jerry Reinsdorf is a stubborn rich guy, who wants to double down on mistakes because there’s no consequence for him doing so, and because fuck you, that’s why. We know that the thing that seems likable about the Sox — that it feels like a family, with all your old friends sticking around — is because Jerry likes to surround himself with yes-men.

It’s a sign of complete top-down rottenness that “looking outside the organization” is considered shocking. But in typical fashion, it is to target someone who, while great and maybe eventually the best candidate, is old and out of baseball. A real organization would have, like, a search process. A real organization would flush out everyone from Hahn to TLR to the coaches to the training staff — everyone but groundskeeper Roger Bossard, really — and start over, giving this core of talent a chance to succeed.

So what are they? What is the reality? If you want to explain it in terms of money, it’s a tax haven for Jerry to keep getting wealthier. And while that’s true, that is true of tons of other owners who at least point their ship in the right direction. With the Sox, there’s more of a psychological aspect.

The White Sox under Jerry are less a professional baseball franchise and more a sinecure for otherwise unemployable friends and family. They are a repository of grudges and archaic beliefs held out stubbornly against the current. They are a place where we place value in doing things the old school way, even if that can’t be defined by anyone, and is clearly not working. The value comes from it not working.

The White Sox are where doubling down on failure is a sign of strength. Where not adapting is a signal of loyalty. Where keeping things in the family is the goal in and of itself, and not a benefit born of good tidings.

That they are also my favorite team and one of my deepest loves, a gathering place for my family and my friends is what makes it all the more difficult. It’s assumed that because we think of the Sox as family we should just be happy they exist. That we aren’t owed anything, because we have a place to hang out and have a few laughs and maybe yell about some dingers. And that we certainly have no right to question how things are done.

Maybe this failure is what breaks that mentality. Maybe they will actually dispel that shadow between the idea and the reality, and become a real franchise. But until then, we’re just left waiting.

In this last of meeting places We grope together
And avoid speech Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

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