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Two decades of White Sox fandom: Ranking the seasons

Looking back on 20 years as a fan of the South Siders

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Chicago White Sox
Blast from the past: To the surprise of nobody, the 2005 White Sox take the top spot.
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

This upcoming season will mark my 21st summer as a White Sox fan. As we approach the season, I thought it would be fun to reflect on both the good and bad memories of the past 20 years following this team.

So, without further ado, here are all White Sox teams since 2003, ranked by how enjoyable I found each of them.

1. 2005
This was the easiest decision on the list. The team caught lightning in a bottle and rode a 99-win regular season into a dominant 11-1 postseason run. As for that playoff run, it was the best experience imaginable as a fan. Although the White Sox were never in serious risk of being eliminated, a solid chunk of those games were thrillers. Out of their 12 playoff games, eight of them were decided by two runs or less. They just kept finding ways to win. Even on the road, even when their hitters did not have their best night, it did not matter. That team would not go down. As a result, the 2005 White Sox have brought me the only championship out of all teams I have actively followed and rooted for (since 2003). They will always hold a special place in my heart.

2. 2008
In a year that was relatively difficult on a personal level, a surprisingly strong White Sox squad provided me with a great deal of positive memories. After the disappointing 2007 campaign (the team’s first losing season in my time as a fan), my expectations were low. However, the White Sox got a ton of help from players like Carlos Quentin (.288/.394/.571, 149 OPS+), John Danks (3.32 ERA, 138 ERA+), and Gavin Floyd (3.84 ERA, 119 ERA+), who all came out of nowhere to have excellent seasons. September sure was a roller coaster, and the outlook was grim after that awful series in Minnesota. I distinctly remember one of my Cubs fan friends prematurely dunking on me at cross country practice the day after the Twins completed the sweep. When pressure was at its absolute highest, though, the White Sox delivered. After breaking their losing streak with a victory over Cleveland on September 28, they got a necessary win against Detroit on the 29th, and then there was the Blackout Game — one of my favorite games ever.

3. 2021
For the first time since 2008, the White Sox had a team that showed it could compete near the top of the league in a full season. After a thrilling victory on June 16, the White Sox (43-25) were on a 102-60 pace, good enough for best in the American League and tied with the Giants for best in the majors. Luck was not even a factor for this high level of success; based on their Pythagorean record at that time, the White Sox actually should have started 45-23. Especially given the misery of the 2010s, the first 2 ½ months of the 2021 season brought an incredible breath of fresh air. There were a pair of brief interruptions to the happiness, when Tony La Russa had Liam Hendriks unnecessarily run the bases in extra innings, and then lambasted Yermín Mercedes for hitting a home run on a 3-0 count. Despite those incidents, vibes were positive, and even the latter of those two events occurred during a blowout victory in Minnesota.

The White Sox coasted towards the finish line, going 50-44 in their final 94 regular season games to finish 93-69. This was their second-highest win total on this list, behind only 2005. Although they did not inspire the same confidence down the stretch as they did early on, the team was a pleasure to follow.

Attending Seby Zavala’s three-homer game is one of my most memorable experiences. Despite the pitching staff’s struggles, which resulted in a loss, I am extremely grateful to have witnessed that in person. As for the postseason, yeah, Houston crushed them, but there was still plenty of reason to believe they would be back the next year, with a strong squad, right?

4. 2020
This was a bizarre season, and I hope we never have anything like 2020’s chaotic 60 games again, but once it started, it sure was fun. The White Sox began 10-11, and considering how short the season was, that could have easily proven to be costly. But, they did not stay down for long.

There were several good moments in a short window, and my favorite one happened about a month after the season started, when Lucas Giolito threw a no-hitter in one of the most dominant pitching performances I can recall. In addition to allowing zero hits, Giolito struck out 13 and only issued one walk. On top of that, Giolito got 30 swinging strikes, and the Pirates only put two hard-hit balls in play. Often, when a pitcher has that many strikeouts, the pitch count tends to be inflated. In this case, however, Giolito only had to use 101 pitches to complete this masterpiece. I will never forget the feeling of writing the recap for that game, as my hands were shaking from excitement.

The team’s first trip to the postseason ended in a disappointing exit in the Wild Card round, but it was a fun journey to follow.

5. 2010
In what turned out not to be a sign of things to come for the White Sox in the decade, the 2010 White Sox won a lot of games (88). Unfortunately, it was still not enough to make the postseason. With the exception of the 90-72 White Sox of 2006, this was the most the franchise has won over the past two decades without making the playoffs. In his age-34 season, Paul Konerko was phenomenal, finishing .312/.393/.584 (160 OPS+) with 39 homers. Oh, yeah, and remember when Manny Ramírez was on the White Sox? Anyway, knowing how the rest of the 2010s played out, I regret not enjoying this season as much as I could have. At the same time, my lack of hype was understandable. Even though they had a 79-64 record on September 12 (an eight-game losing streak later ended all hope), they were six games behind the Twins in the division race. The White Sox were even further behind in the race for the one Wild Card spot that was available back then. Despite some good baseball, it was just not meant to be.

6. 2003
This was my first year of actively following baseball and actually understanding the rules. That was also the year I went to my first White Sox game. Although the result was bad (a 10-4 loss to the Royals), it was a good experience, and because I was a kid at the ballpark for a Sunday afternoon game, I got to run the bases afterward. I also remember celebrating when Frank Thomas collected his 2,000th career hit with a home run earlier that summer. A playoff appearance would have been nice, but I enjoyed this team.

7. 2004
This was a slightly above-average team that had moments where they looked like contenders, but they did not manage to sustain success for long stretches. Overall, there was a lot of offense on this team, but not a lot of defense. If you like high-scoring games, this is the team for you. I happened to see them when they were firing on all cylinders on June 13, when they crushed the Braves, 10-3. That was also the second-to-last game of Carlos Lee’s 28-game hitting streak — still a franchise record.

8. 2006
Coming off of a World Series victory, the White Sox raced out to a 56-29 record, and they looked hungry to repeat. The rest of the season did not go as planned, however, as the White Sox went 34-43 the rest of the way. This was back in the days when only one Wild Card team from each league made the playoffs. Had there been two Wild Card teams per league, the White Sox would have snuck into the playoffs, but in 2006, they couldn’t. While this team was certainly above average, it was a bitter pill to swallow when they missed the postseason, as a lot of potential went unfulfilled.

9. 2012
This team nearly took advantage of a weak division to make the playoffs. For a long time, it appeared as though they would. On September 16, they were 81-66 and had a three-game division lead. They just could not hold off the Tigers, as the White Sox limped to a 4-11 finish. On the plus side, Chris Sale emerged as an excellent starter in his first season in the rotation, exceeding all reasonable expectations. Oh yeah, and a guy with a higher ERA than 2018 Lucas Giolito pitched a perfect game.

10. 2009
This team was expected to be close to the middle of the pack, and that is exactly where they ended up, finishing 79-83. Rookie Gordon Beckham brought many of the highlights, as he had a nice season, slashing .270/.347/.460 (106 OPS+) in his first 103 MLB games. His walk-off hit over the Cubs is my second-most vivid memory of that season. My most vivid memory is, of course, Mark Buehrle’s perfect game.

11. 2011
This team was very similar to the 2009 squad. They were very “meh,” winning 79 games and never really looking great or horrible. My most vivid memory was the dreadful season of Adam Dunn, who I genuinely felt sorry for even though he was a professional athlete earning a $14 million annual salary. In his first year with the team, Dunn slashed .159/.292/.277 (54 OPS+). That must have been a brutal season for him to work through. I am glad he recovered and turned into a decent player for the rest of his time with the White Sox.

12. 2017
This team was not good, and there was nothing misleading about the 67-95 record. On the bright side, given that this was the first year of the rebuild, expectations were about as low as they could be. Plus, for the first time in many years, the White Sox had a strong farm system. Previously, I had no idea following Minor League Baseball could possibly be that enjoyable, but in 2017, it certainly was.

13. 2019
Rookie Eloy Jiménez hit a two-run homer at Wrigley to beat the Cubs, 3-1. He also launched a two-run homer at Guaranteed Rate to beat the Cubs, 3-1. So, yeah, the former Cubs prospect played a huge role in salvaging a split in the Crosstown Series. Also, after a 100-loss year the previous season, the White Sox had a surprisingly decent 42-44 record at the All-Star break. The bad news is that they lost their first seven games after the break, ending any hopes of making a surprise playoff push. Shortly after that skid, Rick Hahn publicly voiced his opinion on the White Sox social media community, saying that some fans would rather see the rebuild fail so that they can say “I told you so” as opposed to celebrating a World Series title. Not a great look, and some impatience started to sink in, especially given that the team had missed out on some golden opportunities in free agency the preceding offseason.

14. 2015
Rick Hahn went for it the previous offseason, and as a result, the White Sox made a huge improvement ... from a 73-win team to a 76-win team. There were a few great players, but not much surrounding them. The most positive memory I have of this team is the one week from July 23-July 29 when they won seven consecutive games, mostly in a convincing manner. In fact, they outscored their opponents 54-19 that week, and because of that hot streak, their record improved to … 49-50. Rats.

15. 2014
At least they improved on the 99-loss season the year before. With expectations pretty low to begin the year, I guess they cleared the bar, though that is not saying much. The biggest bright spot was rookie José Abreu, who posted a .317/.383/.581 (173 OPS+) slash line. Abreu won Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in AL MVP voting. Outside of Abreu, Chris Sale, José Quintana, and Adam Eaton were exciting, but again, as a team, there were a lot of gaps.

16. 2018
This was the second year of the rebuild, so expectations were low, and yet, this team failed to reach expectations, finishing 62-100. Daniel Palka sure was fun to watch, and despite an OBP of .294 and no defensive value, he may have been my favorite part of this team. Overall, though, it just was not a good year for the organization as a whole. In addition to the losing at the MLB level, There were a lot of injuries on the farm, and even Michael Kopech, who made his MLB debut, ended up needing Tommy John surgery.

17. 2013
There was a whole lot of losing in the first year of Rick Hahn, which has turned out to be quite fitting. Expectations were not exactly in the sky at this time, but on paper, the White Sox certainly did not seem to be as bad as 63-99. So, why aren’t they lower in my rankings? Well, I don’t have anything terrible that truly jumps out at me as “Oh my goodness, remember when that happened?” Just a bland season full of losing baseball.

18. 2016
The White Sox received quite a bit of negative national attention that had nothing to do with actual baseball. It started with the Adam LaRoche incident that resulted in the team becoming more polarized. On the bright side, the team raced out to a 23-10 start, emerging as one of the best teams in baseball; the clubhouse embarrassment was far outweighed by how well the team was playing. Unfortunately, that only lasted about a month, as the White Sox went 10-26 in their next 36, transitioning from invincible to below .500. The sweep in Kansas City at the end of May remains one of my worst baseball memories. It was not just the blown 7-1 lead in the ninth inning; the other two games were also painful. Then, the negative national attention returned once again, when Chris Sale cut up some jerseys. That time, there wasn’t even a winning team to fall back on.

19. 2007
This was my fifth year as a White Sox fan and my first year cheering for a losing team. There were some warning signs that this team would struggle given the way that 2006 ended, but I still thought they would at least be playing meaningful baseball in September. That did not happen. After a respectable 24-20 start, this team took a nosedive, going 5-22 in their next 27, and they were toast after that. To the front office’s credit, they remained aggressive and addressed their gaps early and often the following offseason, but the season itself was no picnic.

20. 2022
The White Sox entered the 2022 season with sky-high expectations. Coming off back-to-back early playoff exits and heavily favored to win the division, there was a need not only to make the playoffs but to win at least a playoff series. Well, just about everything that could go wrong did. Despite spending more money on the team than ever before, the Cleveland Guardians, who were not even in “Win Now Mode,” crushed them by 11 games.

The one memory that jumps out at me more than anything else was the infamous June 9 incident against the Dodgers. L.A. had a 7-5 lead in the sixth inning, Freddie Freeman was on second base, Trea Turner was at the plate with a 1-2 count, there were two outs, Max Muncy was on deck, and Bennett Sousa was on the mound. In that situation, Tony La Russa called for an intentional walk. On the broadcast, it was clear that Freeman was confused about what was going on. Broadcaster Jason Benetti, who is among the very best in the business, was uncharacteristically at a loss for words. I cannot blame him. The end result of the intentional walk was awful but 100% deserved, as Muncy launched a three-run homer to give the Dodgers a commanding lead, and they held on for an 11-9 victory. After the game, La Russa defiantly defended his decision to intentionally walk Turner.

In a similar manner, as a postscript to the season, general manager Rick Hahn defended himself, noting that he was getting nods for Executive of the Year two years ago and that many had picked the White Sox to be in the World Series six months prior. In what was the most disappointing season on this list, accountability was being dodged left and right.

Let’s not have this happen again.