The original idea for this column was to ask where the 2022 White Sox fit in a discussion about the biggest disappointments in Chicago sports history. How do they compare with the 1969 Cubs, who held a nine-game division lead in mid-August and managed to miss the playoffs? Or the 1986 Bears, a supremely talented bunch that blew a chance to bring back-to-back Super Bowls titles to the city?
And then I thought, no, that sort of exercise doesn’t do justice to what these Sox have done to their fans this season. Doesn’t account for the slow, steady drip of cruelty.
The Sox are in their own shameful category. I’m sure there’s been a Chicago team as hyped as the 2022 team was that also failed to live up to expectations. I’m sure there’s been a team as athletically blessed as this one was that also squandered its gifts.
But no team hit its fan base over the head with a mallet the way this one has on a regular basis. No team with the aforementioned hype and talent failed to offer solid reason for hope or belief the way this one did day after dull day.
I’d argue that it’s better for your mental health to faithfully follow a terrible team than it is to watch a purportedly good team slow dance with mediocrity all season. You know what you have with a bad team. You’re not surprised by its warts. With an underperforming team, it’s subtler. You’re left with psychological scars. After this season, there’s a decent chance Sox fans will be lugging around trust issues for the rest of their lives. This team was supposed to be a World Series contender.
A steady diet of win two games/lose two games has been maddening. The Sox, 76-78 going into Wednesday’s game against the Twins, have been lashed to the mast of the Good Ship .500 all season. There were times when the idea of the ship going down was preferable to the mind-numbing sameness of this season. At least a long losing streak in July would have proved the existence of life. When a team is the numerical definition of average, one can’t be quite sure if there’s a heartbeat.
Even when the Sox won 13 of 18 games after Miguel Cairo replaced ailing manager Tony La Russa in late August, the Sox eventually reverted to the mean, losing seven straight heading into Wednesday’s game. You can’t hide what you are. This was a different form of the same torture.
If there was a slogan for 2022, it would have been, “Don’t just stand there, do something!”
And that was just it: Nobody did anything.
La Russa wasn’t the biggest problem. I know Sox fans, looking for a bull’s-eye for their arrows, don’t want to hear that. But he was a symptom, a massive one, of a bigger organizational problem. He shouldn’t have been the manager in the first place, but, you know … Jerry. Once Jerry Reinsdorf, the team’s chairman, figures out who and what he likes, it’s impossible to loosen his grip. We’ve seen it with the Sox and the Bulls, the other team he owns. He’ll have an out now with La Russa’s heart issue. But, too late. Way too late.
The ups and downs under Cairo proved that La Russa wasn’t to blame for everything. Lance Lynn is 7-7 with a 4.16 earned-run average this season after going 11-6 with a 2.69 ERA last season. He’s the living, breathing example of what the Sox have been in 2022. And there are many other examples.
There’s something wrong when a team of talented players makes fundamental mistakes over and over. There’s something wrong when those talented players don’t have the mental makeup to pull themselves out of a rut. And maybe, just maybe, those talented players aren’t as talented as the Sox thought they were.
One of the hallmarks of getting older is an aversion to change. I know this. I don’t like learning a new computer system. But change is as much a part of professional sports as weightlifting is. If the people you thought were going to help you win games don’t, you move on. That’s how it works in sports. Just not on the South Side.
If Reinsdorf doesn’t fix things in the offseason, it will reinforce the obvious: that he’s his own worst enemy — and possibly yours. General manager Rick Hahn’s job should be in serious jeopardy. But “should be” and “is” are two very different things in Jerry World.
If you’re a Sox fan and feeling trapped by all of this, there indeed is no way out. Nothing can change how this season went, and nothing is going to make Reinsdorf sell the team.
I’d love to be able to give you some good news. But it’s hard to offer a ray of sunlight when a team hangs black curtains over all the windows.
The 2022 White Sox didn’t crush their fans with a heart-wrenching defeat, nothing like a ball getting past Cubs shortstop Alex Gonzalez in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. This is a slow death. A painfully tedious one. And I can’t tell you when it will end.