Remembering the Good Times

[from The Art of Sports / May 3, 2007]

In 1999, the Chicago White Sox took second place in the AL Central by winning 75 games and finishing a solid 21.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians.

Mike Sirotka led starting pitchers with a 4.00 ERA while staff “ace” James Baldwin went 12-13 with a 5.10 ERA. Jaime Navarro cut his wild pitches in half from the previous year and still slipped nine past catcher Brook Fordyce while 11 hit a batter. Four starters had an ERA over 5.00.

Three everyday batters hit over .300, and seven were over .290. A young Magglio Ordonez led the team with 117 RBI; an even younger Paul Konerko was a distant second with 81. Their 136 errors led the entire American League, and were second in all of baseball only to the Dodgers (137).

38-42 at home. 37-44 on the road.

What a crappy team. What a great year.

Sure, they lost nearly every day, and sure, they only drew more people to the park than the then-lowly Twins (1,338,851 to 1,202,289). That wasn’t the point. The point was that we as Sox fans could coast through the season, never getting our hopes up and never getting our hearts broken because we knew all along that the team was awful.

Awful like Jeff Abbott. Awful like middle reliever Keith Foulke having more strikeouts than all but one starter. Awful like Scott Eyre getting lit up night after night, earning every letter of the Gas Can nickname he still carries when visiting the South Side.

The best part was that we saw all this coming. The Sox were going to be laughably terrible, Cleveland was going to run away with the division, and we could just sit back and watch. And it was great. Having no expectations meant no expectations went unmet. It was beautiful while it lasted.

Of course nothing lasts forever, and now the Sox fan faces this strange new feeling of raised stakes, dashed expectations and legitimate concern. Will Pods regain form? How serious is Thome’s injury? Can we possibly compete in a division where four teams could realistically win 90 games apiece?

And was it really only four years ago the division barely had one 90-game winner?

It’s suddenly a stressful existence. All this uncertainty almost makes me pine for the days of yore, where Jerry Manuel would start Paul Konerko at third, Jim Parque would give up six runs in 3 innings, Ray-Ray would bobble an easy double play and Chad Bradford would flirt with an ERA over 20.

Almost. After all, baseball season is a long one . . . or at least, it’s a long season when your team spends it at rock-bottom.