These are tough times for Chicago White Sox fans.
The team they waited years for has been stuck in neutral for nearly four months, greeting every breakthrough win with a debilitating loss.
The Hall of Fame manager hasn’t been the answer, and many feel he’s part of the problem. Some of the promising young stars who were signed to long-term deals before lifting a finger in the big leagues haven’t lived up to expectations because of injuries or inconsistency. The much-hyped collection of arms in the bullpen have been up one day, down the next, and unavailable to pitch when needed the most.
It has been one thing after another, culminating in a head-shaking, stomach-churning, 6-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday in a game so awful it even ruined the off day on an otherwise gorgeous Thursday afternoon in Chicago.
The Sox return to Guaranteed Rate Field on Friday night with a .500 record, trailing the first-place Minnesota Twins by three games with a chance to make a move in the American League Central against the Oakland A’s, the worst team in the AL.
But no one can feel overconfident, even with Lance Lynn taking the mound coming off his best performance since his return.
Sox fan angst might be at an all-time high, which makes this upcoming homestand against the A’s and Kansas City Royals more important than ever.
When trying to assess the mental state of Sox fans, I turned to an expert, former first baseman Paul Konerko, who was visiting town with his three sons. I’ve known Konerko since covering the Sox as beat writer in the early 2000s but hadn’t spoken with him since he retired after the 2014 season.
Konerko suggested Sox players need to have thick skin because no one is going to coddle them if things go bad.
“Any city that has two teams where you’re fighting and clawing to be the talk of the town for over 100 years, it definitely creates an edge there that some other cities don’t get because you’re the only show in town, ” Konerko said.
“My perception as a player playing here was pretty simple: I felt every time they were down on me, I deserved it. Every time I was doing well, they cheered me on and were proud to have me as a player.
“It was the proper amount, never overboard. Maybe a couple of times, but I felt like whatever I was getting in terms of feedback was pretty much on the mark. You didn’t have just blind support, blind cheering, like ‘Oh, we’re behind you 100%’ even if you don’t do anything on the field.’
“If you don’t like that, this probably isn’t your place. I felt like that was a good thing and I didn’t shy away from that. I felt like they were fair. I had moments, a stretch, or even a half-season where I was not good, and I felt like whatever I got was deserved. I was booed a couple times, like in ’03 or ’08 when I had some really bad starts.
“But I always felt like they knew the effort was there. They never questioned the behind-the-scenes story. It was simply about production and not doing well.”
The Sox have not produced as expected, especially at Guaranteed Rate. They enter Friday with a 21-27 home record, a vexing issue manager Tony La Russa and his players have no explanation for. Last season the Sox finished 53-28 at home with most of the same players, cruising to the Central title.
History says the Sox must have a winning record at home if they intend to play in October. None of the 11 Sox teams that have played in the postseason since the 1906 World Series have been under .500 in their ballpark, whether it was South Side Park, old Comiskey Park or new Comiskey Park, which since has been renamed twice.
Konerko knows Sox fans will support the team in the summer, but only if it proves itself in the spring. They don’t get the tourists that help fill Wrigley Field even for a terrible Cubs team, but the ones who show up are vocal, whether it’s cheering or chanting “Fire Tony.”
“I was with someone last night, he was 60 years old and said he’d been to a billion Sox games, but the most fun game he’d ever been to was the ’08 Blackout game (the division tiebreaker against the Twins) ,” Konerko said. “And that includes the World Series, everything. It was the most memorable White Sox game of their life.
“I don’t know other places very much, because I was here so long, so this is my only context. But I feel like they’re good, hardworking people that know the game and aren’t blind to what’s going on. They understand what gets a guy over, or when a guy saves a run with a nice play. There are other teams out there that are oblivious to those types of things where someone hits a popup and everyone in the building thinks it’s gone. Not here.”
The Sox are averaging 24,364 fans per game, ranked 18th in the majors despite entering the season with World Series expectations. Konerko said that’s not surprising, as Sox fans are notorious for having a wait-and-see attitude.
“As a team, because of a lot of different variables you know of, this fan base is like, ‘Hey, we’ll come out and be behind you come July and August. Just show us you’re a good team,’ ” he said.
“Some might say, ‘Well, why not just come from the beginning?’ But I always felt that was a good goal for us every time. You want people to pack the house? Be in first place in July and August. And they were. I just wish we would’ve done it more often.”
The Sox haven’t been back to the World Series since that 2005 season, when Ozzie Guillen’s team fulfilled their fans’ wildest dreams. They’re still hoping the 2022 team, with all its talent and resources, can replicate that season.
But for now, it’s still wait and see.