Frederick Exley Had The Right Idea

[from The Art of Sports / March 8, 2007]

Thursday, August 20, 1992. An era begins.

The Chicago White Sox are hosting the Texas Rangers at what was still then (and, depending who you ask, is still to this day) called New Comiskey Park. A woman and her brother’s grandson are sitting in the two seats she purchased this year in a season ticket package she split with her own two sons. Box 528, row 14, seats 8 and 9.

It was a giveaway night. Free yellow seatwarmers for the first 20,000 fans, although there were probably still 5,000 or so leftovers put back into a storage room at the end of the night. Officially the Sox would sell 2.7 million tickets that year, but everyone knew most of those tickets went unused or were just insurance for scalpers to get playoff tickets in the unlikely event the Sox made the playoffs that year…which they didn’t, as usual.

Knuckleballer and South Side cult hero Charlie Hough was on the mound for the Good Guys that night, and Texas rookie/nobody Roger Pavlik was throwing for the Rangers. Pavlik was a so-so starter that year, prone to getting battered by any team he faced – except of course for the Sox. Hough, on the other hand, was having a typical White Sox back-end-of-the-rotation year, showing occasional flashes of brilliance but usually just plodding through enough innings to give up 5 runs. Some nights he was absolutely unhittable out there. Hough would start and enemy batters were left looking like they were swatting at flies up there. Other nights, Hough’s game was over before it started.

You can guess which one showed up that night.

After giving up a 2-run homer in the 5th to Texas 1B Rafael Palmeiro, Hough was done. With the Sox already down 5-0, he had officially bombed again that night. He didn’t know it, but Hough was starting a fith-in-the-Sox-rotation tradition that would continue through the years. Javier Vazquez, Scott Schoenewis, Gary Glover, John Snyder, Joe Magrane, Kip Wells: all just carrying on what Hough started.

Before Palmeiro even rounded second, the fans were already letting Hough have it. Some boos from over here, a few “you suck”‘s from over there. As Sox manager Gene Lamont emerged from the dugout to yank Hough, that boy in the upper deck noticed something bright go sailing towards the field.

Then another from his left. And then another from his right.


And suddenly they started raining down towards the field, the fans booing and the game being delayed for several minutes while the grounds crew came out to restore order. Several rows closer to the front of the section the boy and his aunt were in, a few young men in Rangers gear were laughing about all this, standing up and yelling at the Sox faithful who were participating in this mini-riot.

The boy tried not to laugh when those men started getting pelted with food and beer from above…and more seatwarmers. To this day he wonders where all those bright yellow missiles kept coming from.

He looked to his aunt next to him and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw her laughing at the whole scene.

“Aunt Pat, why is everyone so upset?” he asked her.

“Because we’re Sox fans,” she replied, “and we don’t put up with paying to watch crappy baseball. And we don’t put up with jerk fans from out of town either.”

The boy took this all in and would later tell all his friends about how hardcore Sox fans were. “They hate losing,” he would say. “It’s awesome!”

And of course the Sox did lose that night, eventually falling 6-1 on their way to another 3rd-place finish while Pavlik threw a 6-hit complete game, faltering only when George Bell hit yet another meaningless solo home run with 2 out in the bottom of the 9th. Years later the boy would ask his aunt about that game, and she would still smile to think about it.

“I’m so glad it worked out the way it did,” she said. “Awful game, but you learned about the Sox at just the right time.”

He asked her if she still had the seatwarmer.

“God no,” she said. “I threw it at those jackasses in the Rangers shirts when you weren’t looking.”