By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Jerry Manuel managed the Chicago White Sox.
But he wasn’t the Chicago White Sox.
Neither was Terry Bevington, nor was Gene Lamont. Jeff Torborg didn’t embody the entire South Side ballclub’s identity. And you can hardly say that Jim Fregosi or Doug Rader (during his robust two-game stint in 1986) did either.
No, in order to find a White Sox manager with an ego, image and reputation as large as the one that Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen currently carries in the Windy City – and, I’d say, nationwide – you have to hearken back a full quarter-century to the Comiskey Park reign of Tony LaRussa.
But even then, when LaRussa managed the White Sox from 1979 through (most of) 1986, he wasn’t yet TONY LARUSSA, winner of two World Series championships and more than 2,700 games.
Rather, he was just another good manager who led a solid, but unspectacular franchise to a division championship in 1983. And three years later when LaRussa was fired by then-general manager Hawk Harrelson, it was a pretty big deal in Chicago, but hardly an earth-shaking one. The White Sox were essentially still the same organization, sans LaRussa, as they were with him on the bench.
But if Ozzie Guillen loses his longtime power struggle with general manager Kenny Williams and leaves the South Side – which is looking more and more likely with each passing game and press conference – just who are the White Sox?
What exactly is their identity, both locally – and nationally? And what will the impact of Guillen’s departure be?
With Joe Torre several years removed from the Bronx and Bobby Cox now gone from Atlanta, I’d say that, these days, Guillen clearly is more the face of his franchise than any other manager in MLB, save the aforementioned LaRussa dow in St. Louis.
Love him or hate him, Ozzie Guillen is the White Sox. He’s the biggest reason why many people pay attention to the team. And in his column on Wednesday, the Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley made that same point when he wrote:
So by next month, Guillen could indeed be shaking hands with [Florida owner Jeffrey] Loria as the Marlins’ new manager. What does that leave the Sox shaking hands with?
Irrelevancy, meet the White Sox. White Sox, this is irrelevancy. I think you two have already met.
Now, I’ve written earlier this year that the Chicago Cubs, who currently lack a big-time star or a big-name manager, are a faceless organization. Nevertheless, the Cubs will always have an identity thanks (or no thanks) to their “Lovable Losers” tag. They’ll never struggle for a persona until after they actually win a World Series, and then they’d pretty much become the Red Sox.
But if the White Sox lose Guillen, how will it impact the ballclub going forward?
Last summer, for my weekly Wisch List newspaper column, I conducted a comparison of White Sox and Cubs attendance figures for every decade since 1920. Among my findings, I learned, not surprisingly, that in each decade since 1970, the Cubs have drawn a higher percentage of Chicago’s total fans. But, I was surprised to learn that during the 1980s and ’90s the White Sox actually gained ground in the attendance war.
For the ’70s, the Sox drew 44.8 percent of the city’s total fans, followed by 45.6 percent in the ’80s and 46.3 percent in the ’90s.
But then came 2000-09, a decade in which the White Sox won a World Series, yet somehow lost 4.3 percent of the city’s fan base, as the Cubs attracted 58 percent of the city’s 52.3 million total fans, compared to 53.7 percent in the 10 years before.
Even with Guillen’s personality and the White Sox’s winning ways during a successful decade, the South Side franchise still found it difficult to attract fans. This season, the Sox rank a sluggish 20th in attendance out of 30 MLB teams, averaging just 24,871 fans and 65.4 percent capacity per game at U.S. Cellular Field.
And what happens with the attendance – not to mention the amount of media attention given to the Sox – without Guillen, no one knows for sure. But on Aug. 31, before the Sox fell out of the AL Central race, I sent a die-hard White Sox fan friend of mine a text message, asking: “Ozzie vs. Kenny. Who wins?”
“Should be Ozzie,” my buddy wrote back. “Kenny gave him [crap] to work with and he’s in contention. But Kenny will win.”
I agreed and then asked, if that happens, who he’d like to see replace Guillen as manager.
“I’d be fine with [Bob] Brenly,” my friend replied, tossing out an intriguing name.
But intriguing enough to keep the White Sox from shaking hands from irrelevancy? I don’t know. With Guillen appearing to be on the way out, it looks like we may start finding out soon enough.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.