Cleveland Indians v Chicago White Sox
Updated: May 30, 2012 5:05PM
It’s time to go all-in on the White Sox, Chicago.
We still don’t know if Chris Sale’s arm is going to fall off, or if Jake Peavy is a few starts from the disabled list or if John Danks and Gavin Floyd will ever be as good as they should be. We don’t know if Adam Dunn is going to finish with 49 homers and 113 RBIs or if Dayan Viciedo will continue his Carlos Lee pace. And it’s a safe bet that Paul Konerko will not hit .395 this season.
We don’t know if the Sox are going to win the AL Central or if the Tigers are ever going to become the team they’re supposed to be.
But so what? As imperfect as they are, as tough-to-love as they are, the White Sox are a contender, with pitching. It’s a day after Memorial Day and they’re a half-game out of first place and it’s not by accident. It’s not by default. They’d be two games out in the vaunted AL East, ahead of the Yankees and Red Sox.
No matter how smug Ken Williams is, or how cranky Don Cooper is or how boring Robin Ventura is, this team, to this point, has earned their fans’ allegiance. When they give up eight runs, they score 14. When they score two, they give up one. That’s how the good teams win championships. In back-to-back games the White Sox have won 12-6 and 2-1. In their last five games they’ve allowed 25 runs yet were 5-0. The Athletics, who five days ago were 22-22 just like the Sox, allowed the same amount of runs in the same span and went 0-5.
Yet somehow, the Athletics outdid the Sox in one category that can’t be ignored: attendance. The A’s drew an average of 28,583 for their three-game series with the Yankees. The White Sox? With the momentum of six victories in their previous seven games — including a sweep of the Cubs and back-to-back wins over the Twins — the second-place Sox drew an average crowd of 23,568 to U.S. Cellular Field for their three-game series with the first-place Indians last weekend.
The crowd of 22,181 for Sunday’s game was the lowest in the big leagues that day The last-place Twins drew 38,710 fans against the Tigers. The last-place Braves drew 38,543 for the Nationals. The last-place Mariners had 24,467 fans against the Angels. The Marlins drew 30,199 against the Giants.
Sox attendance — a chronic thorn for Jerry Reinsdorf since he bought the team in 1981 — is about to become an issue again after below average crowds for a Memorial Day weekend series against the first-place Indians. The Sox rank 11th out of 14 American League teams in attendance this season.. Apparently, you CAN beat fun at the ol’ ballpark.
How historically appropriate that after completing a sweep of the Indians before 22,181 fans at the Cell on Sunday of Memorial Day, the White Sox immediately took off for Tampa and Tropicana Field — the same stadium that served as leverage for Reinsdorf to coax our fair state and our fine city to build new Comiskey Park for him in 1989-91. And periodic media reports exposing just how sweet of a deal that was for Reinsdorf play at least a small part in damaging the Sox’ reputation in town that continues to make them a tough sell even in all but the best of times.
(The White Sox and Rays drew 22,227 to Tropicana Field on Memorial Day — just 46 more than the attendance Sunday at the Cell. It’s almost like there are 20,000 Sox fans in the world and they follow the team wherever it goes.)
Prior to the Rays series, Sox GM Ken Williams gently acknowledged the fan-support issue, hoping for bigger crowds when the Sox return home (Friday against the Mariners, plenty of good seats available at whitesox.com!) and agreeing with the notion that empty seats will make it more difficult to splurge in July to get the Sox over the top if they’re still in contention.
Often that lament rings hollow, but it’s hard to argue this time. The White Sox have their issues. While it’s great to win 14-7 as Jake Peavy did on Saturday, if they’re ignoring the fact that Peavy has a 4.68 ERA over his last five starts, they’re asking for trouble. And I can’t be the only one uneasy about Chris Sale throwing 115 pitches three weeks after the Sox were so concerned about his arm that they moved him to the bullpen.
But that’s what talk-radio and the neighborhood bar are for. It’s no reason not to show up at the Cell. The Sox have often had one arm tied behind their back because of lukewarm fan support. It doesn’t make a bad team good. But it can help push a good team into contention — and who knows where from there. It’s not early anymore. The Sox have done their part. Now it’s up to Sox fans to respond.