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Deja-vu All Over Again - Guillen's White Sox Becoming Baker's Cubs
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
August 24, 2007
If you are a fan of Chicago-land baseball, then what is currently ocurring on the South Side of Chicago should remind you of what happened on the North Side of Chicago over the last few years.
Let me paint the picture for you.
A talented but consistently under-achieving baseball team finally gets fed up with its manager and tosses him in order to bring in fresh blood. The fresh blood makes an instant winner out of the once under-achieving squad, leading them to some measure of post-season success. However, on the heels of expectations by the fans that a new era has begun, the success that the fresh blood manager has with the team proves fleeting. His once excellent pitching staff becomes ineffective and marred by injuries, his once very good veteran hitters falter, his promising youngsters fail – almost without exception – to live up to their potential, and in the end it becomes clear that the talent he succeeded with was really inherited, and when it came time for him make the team in his own image, he was a rousing failure.
The scene I have just described took place on the North Side from 2002, the last season before the Cubs hired Dusty Baker, until 2006, the season in which the Cubs finally crash-landed, finishing in 6th place and firing Dusty. In my opinion, this scene is replicating itself on the South Side as we speak.
Remember, Dusty had the Cubs on the brink of the World Series in 2003, only to suffer through the next three seasons, never meet expectations, and get run out of town. In 2003, the year of “In Dusty We Trusty,” Baker looked like a genius. By the time his era with the Cubs was over, he had expended every bit of “genius” capital he had, and it is unlikely he will ever again be a major league manager.
In many ways, the White Sox are a more extreme version of the Cubs; when the Cubs were “under-achieving,” they were terrible, while the White Sox have finished first, second, or third every year since 1990. When the Sox hired Ozzie Guillen, they didn’t just get to the cusp of the World Series, they actually won the damn thing, and in convincing fashion.
But from there, the track records are nearly identical.
After the 2003 season, the Cubs refused to rest on their laurels, bringing in Greg Maddux and Derrek Lee to bolster both the pitching and the offense. But rather than progress, the pitching staff was an injured and inconsistent mess, the offense improved but was not too terrific, and the Cubs managed to finish in third place in the NL Central despite actually winning one more game than they had the year before.
After the 2005 season, the White Sox too refused to rest on their laurels, bringing in Javier Vazquez and Jim Thome to shore up the offense and the pitching. The offense improved considerably, but the pitching staff inexplicably fell to pieces and the White Sox, despite winning 90 games, managed to finish in third place in the AL Central.
The 2005 season was to be the year the Cubs would have a healthy pitching staff and a rejuvenated offense with the departure of the declining strikeout machine Sammy Sosa. Instead, the Cubs pitching remained mired with injuries, the offense consisted of Derrek Lee and an injured Aramis Ramirez, and not much else, and the mediocre Cubs sank to a disappointing fourth place. This was also the time that grumblings around the campfire began to hint that Dusty Baker may not be the great coach Cubs fans thought him to be.
The 2007 season for the White Sox was supposed to be the year that the Sox proved that 2006 was a fluke. The offense had been amazing the year before, and the pitching woes that hampered the Sox were explained away as a result of the long post-season in 2005, with many complete games making the Sox starters tired in 2006. The Sox had high hopes for 2007, but success was not to be had. The pitching returned to stability, but Jon Garland is still not who he was in 2005, and Jose Contreras has been a train-wreck. Meanwhile, the offense has been stricken for much of the year, as Joe Crede, Paul Konerko, and Jermaine Dye followed up great 2006 seasons with appallingly bad 2007 seasons. As of August 24th, the White Sox stand tied for fourth place in the AL Central with the perennial divisional doormat Kansas City Royals, and have the third worst record in the American League.
Perhaps it is time to begin wondering if Ozzie Guillen is that great of a manager.
When the White Sox were making their run, one of the conventional things to say about the team that succeeded on the basis of speed, defense, and pitching, was that the White Sox played the game “the way Ozzie played it.” While this was obviously said euphemistically, that statement has an ironic validity today.
The White Sox currently rank last in the major leagues in team batting average and third from the bottom in team on-base percentage. The Sox have the tenth most strikeouts in the major leagues, and while they are middle of the pack in bases-on-balls, only Jim Thome and Paul Konerko have taken more than 37 walks this season.
Like the Dusty Baker’s Cubs with Corey Patterson, Sergio Mitre, Ronny Cedeno, and Matt Murton, Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox have also proven proficient in their failure to develop their young talent. Before the 2006 season, the Sox traded Aaron Rowand away because Brian Anderson looked to be the centerfielder of the future, but to this point Anderson has played very poorly. This season, youngster Josh Fields has been brought up to replace the injured Crede and has drawn praises from his manager despite the fact that he has a .299 on-base percentage and 90 strikeouts in 69 games. Brandon McCarthy was a highly touted pitching prospect who looked fairly decent in 2005 before looking positively lost in 2006 and then moving on in 2007, and John Danks looks ready to follow in his footsteps. Gavin Floyd, acquired last season in a trade for Freddy Garcia, never had a chance.
By the time the Cubs ran Dusty Baker out of town following a sixth place finish in 2006, Baker had left no real doubt as to the fact that he was a pretty terrible manager whose inabilities were masked very well by all of the talent he had during his days in San Francisco. The same man who once argued that his players should not spend time trying to take walks by uttering the phrase “the name of the game is to hit” led the Cubs to a 66-96 record, good for the worst in the National League. The Cubs became one of five or six teams since seasons became 162 games long to fail to collect 400 walks, which of course gave them the worst on-base percentage in baseball, and the Cubs finished second to last in runs scored. His two star pitchers, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, continually suffered from injuries that reeked of overuse, and Baker consistently mismanaged his lineup to the tune of over-worked starters and relievers, mistimed personnel switches, and a particularly confounding use-pattern of one Todd Walker.
In many ways, the process has been accelerated with the Sox, because the 2007 White Sox are actually more similar to the 2006 Cubs than the 2005 version. The White Sox are last in the American League in runs scored and third to last in runs given up. Guillen must be a graduate of the “the name of the game is to hit” school, because his team is currently last in the American League, and third to last in the majors, in on-base percentage with a .319 average, the same that the Cubs had last year. The White Sox feature not one, but several of the least productive players in baseball – Juan Uribe, Fields, Darin Erstad, Alex Cintron – and appear so clueless at the plate that they probably would get out-hit by several Triple-A lineups.
When Dusty Baker finally got fired by the Chicago Cubs, a franchise that appeared to be one of the best in baseball three years earlier was in ruins. It is a simple yet underestimated fact that no matter how good your minor league system, no matter how smart your general manager, and no matter how talented your players, your manager still has to do a good job of running the team. The 2007 Chicago White Sox, like the 2006 Chicago Cubs, are more than just a disappointing team; they are a team in shambles that suffers the obvious signs of poor leadership from the manager’s position.
Ozzie Guillen led the White Sox to a World Series Championship, and that can generally buy a manager a lot more time than merely taking a team to the brink of a championship. But the fact that the White Sox have a roster full of players who are either veterans with track records of major league success or young prospects of whom much has been expected and are currently one of the worst teams in baseball points to problems with Guillen's guidance.
Barring an amazing turn-around, the Sox are going to finish in fourth place this year, and may even finish in fifth. It will be the first time in five managers and seventeen years that the Sox have finished so poorly.
Perhaps the reason is that the Sox truly are playing the game the way Ozzie used to play it; it is easy to forget that Ozzie was never that good in the first place.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.