A lifelong White Sox fan, Hawks president John McDonough is what South Siders need
BY DAN McGRATH September 1, 2012 6:48PM
Blackhawks president John McDonough would help the White Sox get rid of their second-banana tag in Chicago. | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times media
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:17AM
The thought occurred to me Monday evening as Ryan Braun’s monster home run was soaring out of Wrigley Field and heading up Kenmore Avenue as if it were late for a date.
It was reinforced when old friend Aramis Ramirez’s laser-beam line drive scattered the few remaining loyalists in the left-field bleachers, and it became a sure thing after Corey Hart followed with a blast to the top row of the seats in left-center:
Man, these Cubs are going to be bad for a while.
Alex Hinshaw, the unfortunate purveyor of those three consecutive gopher balls, was gone the next day, but the act of cutting him was symbolic. Trial and error — a lot of it — will be the Cubs’ on-field M.O. for the foreseeable future as they grope their way toward becoming competitive.
They can’t even rely on their charming old ballpark to serve as an alternative to good baseball. It’s rather disingenuous to extol the virtues of Wrigley Field at the same time that you’ve declared it necessary to gut the place.
Public money to help fund the renovation? Good luck with that. The county is broke, the state is broker and the city’s mayor is mad at your daddy for his strident political leanings.
It’s almost like a perfect storm of bad for the Cubs. We are grateful, Lord, for Pat Hughes and Bob Brenly.
The White Sox, meanwhile, hit a rough patch in Baltimore, but they reached September in first place in their division, and you don’t need many fingers to count how often that happens in Chicago.
Does anybody care? A recent three-game series with the New York Yankees was both a showdown between first-place teams and the storied Bombers’ only appearance in Chicago this season. Total attendance: 78,127, with nothing close to a sellout.
Equally telling was a scheduling quirk that had the Cubs and Sox at home simultaneously last weekend. The Cubs won two of three from the fifth-place Colorado Rockies, who are comparably sorry, and averaged 32,966 fans each day. Coming off that invigorating sweep of the Yankees, the Sox made it six wins in a row by taking three from the Seattle Mariners, but the per-game average was 25,255 — or 7,711 fewer than the Cubs drew for a C-list attraction over the same three days.
There is no pat answer for the Sox’ perennial second-banana status, but with the Cubs looking uncommonly vulnerable, now is the time for Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf to address it. With a decisive, uncharacteristically bold move, he might even reverse it.
The Sox should hire John McDonough away from the Blackhawks. Leave baseball operations in place — Ken Williams, Rick Hahn, Buddy Bell, Robin Ventura — and put McDonough in charge of everything else they do. He’s a Chicago guy who gets how it goes here.
The move might be a pipe dream, given McDonough’s staunch loyalty to Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, but if the Sox are truly concerned with putting fannies in the seats while raising their flat-line profile in a competitive marketplace, McDonough has a track record for doing both.
The confluence of Harry Caray, WGN’s reach as a superstation and a magical 1984 season put the Cubs on the path to where they are today, but McDonough was their marketing visionary. The Cubs drew 2 million or more fans in 21 of his 24 seasons there, despite having a losing record in 17 of those seasons.
Some of his moves to revive the moribund Hawks were no-brainers — home games on television, an olive branch to exiled legends Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito, rapprochement with popular broadcaster Pat Foley. Other new-age innovations transformed a wheezy, battered jalopy of a franchise into a sleek, smooth-running Ferrari.
Winning the Stanley Cup helped, obviously, but attendance records were falling and the sellout streak began a year before the Hawks hoisted it. The streak continues two years after their million-person downtown bash.
A sharp promoter — a John McDonough, say — would banish the inferiority complex that seems to permeate the Sox’ business plan: “We’re not the Cubs, but …” Hawk Harrelson fosters that us-against-the-world mentality with his goofy diatribes against those evil umpires out to get “us.” Ed Farmer, too — he brings no joy and little juice to the radio booth.
The Cubs don’t want Peoria? Maybe McDonough puts a Sox affiliate there and joins the Cubs-Cardinals battle for Downstate allegiance. He reroutes some of the tourist buses from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by promising a stimulating, fan-friendly experience at the Cell, just as he has done at the United Center with the Hawks.
He sells the Sox for what they are, not for what they wish they were.
McDonough has worked eye-catching miracles with the Hawks, and his work there will seem unfinished until they win another Cup. But hockey is hockey, a niche sport on the brink of being torn up by more labor strife.
It’s baseball that stirs Chicago’s soul. McDonough is not just a baseball guy; he’s a Sox fan, lifelong. If he can quote you Floyd Robinson’s career batting statistics, he can probably sell you a ticket and put your fanny in a seat.