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Benetti, Boyer, and respect

The White Sox Way to nowhere

News broke on Thursday that Brooks Boyer played a major, and extremely unfortunate role, in Jason Benetti leaving the White Sox.
| Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

There’s a certain type of person — the rich failson, the seventh-generation British lord, the D-level Barstool podcaster — who walk around the world perpetually aggrieved that they aren’t getting the respect they deserve. Their entire personalities are based around open-mouthed shock that they don’t get treated in the way they feel they’ve somehow earned simply by dint of their blustering existence, that the public doesn’t gratefully reward them for doing whatever it is they do. That what they actually do mostly amounts to walking around the world demanding respect doesn’t mitigate their desire for it; they are, in fact, the sum total of their tautology.

I was thinking about this while reading the Sun-Times story about why Jason Benetti left the White Sox, his dream job, for the greener pastures of … Detroit. It came down, as it inevitably would have, to the White Sox thinking that Benetti owed them, in perpetuity.

The key graf:

Said Benetti: “I had somebody say to me when I asked for more respect, and basically demanded more respect just in the way I was treated, they said, ‘Respect according to normal human beings, or respect according to Jason Benetti?’ That is one of those things that I say, that’s disqualifying and will be for a long time. I’ll have a relationship, but don’t want to do that long-term.”

The “somebody” here is reported to be, and clearly is, Brooks Boyer, the long-time SVP of sales and marketing for the White Sox.

Now, there are a few ways to read this, in thinking about respect. If you were inclined to not like Benetti, you could think that he got too big for his britches, that he was demanding too much, that he was the one asking for respect at a level he doesn’t deserve.

To do so would be to engage in a sort of oppositional reading that veers away from interpretation into fantasy, in the same way that Jim Harbaugh empathizes with the lake and not the Edmund Fitzgerald. First of all, while you can never know someone’s soul, Benetti is in public and by all personal accounts a kind and decent and humble person, perpetually excited by his success in doing what he loves.

And that success is very real. Benetti quickly became a national presence and is one of the top broadcasters in the game, a man whose calm and unassuming excellence belies an incredible amount of preparation and professionalism. For years I’ve been waiting for him to jump to ESPN or something. We’ve been lucky to have him on the Sox for this long.

The White Sox, though, don’t think they’ve been lucky. They think that Jason has been blessed to be the one bright spot of this franchise through years of a failed rebuild. I don’t know what kind of respect Benetti asked for, but it is clear that the Sox think he owed them, and not the other way around.

This is extremely fitting for the White Sox. The tenure of Jerry Reinsdorf has been marked by a two-pronged approach to personnel: There are company men with lifelong tenure, and then there is everybody else. Reinsdorf’s animosity toward workers is the backbone of the franchise. Unless you are a Yes Man, you are not doing things the White Sox Way. Those who have curdled their souls into pure lickspittery have internalized this message. And so when Benetti asked for more respect, the White Sox way is to ask, “Who the fuck do you think you are? We’re the White Sox.”

This unearned arrogance permeates the organization. For one of the least-successful franchises in sports, in terms of championships and playoff appearances, every White Sox upper management employee feels that the fan base, and anyone lucky enough to work for them, owes them eternal gratitude. It’s grotesque in that particular British lord sort of way: Do you know who my great-great-great-grandfather was???

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. The Sox, since at least 1990 until around 2012, put together mostly good teams, with a few short-lived valleys and some peaks. The fan base was strong and loyal. It felt, if not always good to be a White Sox fan, like you were part of something.

That’s not the case anymore. A decade of failure culminating in the bitterness of this rebuild crashing down haphazardly into amoral avarice has changed everything. We’re a byword for what can go wrong with a franchise. The stench of it lives inside every nook and cranny of the worst-named ballpark in baseball.

Boyer, as much as anyone, is a good symbol of decline. When he started, he was fresh and energetic and seemed to perfectly channel the chip on our shoulders. I remember, during a period where we were good and the Cubs were bad, him putting up billboards in Wrigleyville that said “Major League Baseball: 10 Miles South.” Grinder Ball, run out for all of 2005, struck a chord that bled into the next season, if only. He seemed like one of us.

But decades of keeping a job in Jerry’s fiefdom means internalizing that arrogance. It means being outraged that anyone would dare question your in-declaration-only commitment to excellence. It means being rude and dismissive to one of the few wonderful things about being a White Sox fan.

You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. More and more people are saying, “To hell with this franchise.” There is a reckoning coming that the suits on 35th are too arrogant to comprehend. They can barely process that we won’t be grateful to them for maintaining the White Sox Way, which is stepping on rakes and demanding to be praised for not stepping on them.

There were things to be proud of in being a White Sox fan. It was considered cool, if perhaps quixotic. But now? Now people feel bad for you. Friends send texts commiserating multiple failures. Most people would prefer to quickly change the subject, partly to avoid secondhand embarrassment — but also for your sake.

They pretend you aren’t a White Sox fan out of respect. It’s just about all we have left.

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