Despite predictions, White Sox GM Ken Williams knew what team could do
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com July 7, 2012 12:20AM
The Sox have made it a surprisingly good season for first-year manager Robin Ventura and general manager Ken Williams. | David Banks~Getty Images
Updated: August 9, 2012 6:23AM
Ken Williams was watching a spring-training game this year and found himself wondering if there was something wrong with his eyes, his judgment or both.
Sports Illustrated had just predicted the White Sox would go 67-95, which is not to be confused with ‘‘good.’’ Others were almost as devoid of good cheer.
As the Sox’ general manager gazed down on the field, he saw Paul Konerko, who was coming off his second consecutive All-Star season. He saw A.J. Pierzynski, Alexei Ramirez and Chris Sale. He saw talent. He saw Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, and he allowed himself to see them in the context of their careers and not in the miserable confines of the previous season.
Assistant GM Rick Hahn and vice president of player development Buddy Bell were watching the game with him.
‘‘I turned to my left and my right,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I said: ‘OK, guys, seriously, don’t blow smoke up my ass. I can’t figure out why people are saying what they’re saying about us. We have all of this. Really? I don’t see what they’re talking about.’
‘‘They were glad I brought it up. They were like, ‘We were thinking the same thing.’ ’’
At that point, it appeared to be a meeting of the Deluded Souls Society. But now, from the vantage point of the unofficial midway point of the season, they look very smart.
Heading into their game Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Sox are leading the American League Central by three games. Winning 90 games seems doable. Williams’ rosy color scheme looks perfectly reasonable.
Who is having a better year than he is? Omer Asik. “The Hunger Games’’ producers. Other than that?
Almost everything Williams has done this season has worked.
Jose Quintana, signed as a minor-league free agent, is 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA. He hadn’t pitched above Class A ball until this season.
After hitting 11 home runs last season, Dunn has 25 and is an All-Star.
Jake Peavy has been healthy and very good after years of being neither.
Other than a week of strangeness about Sale’s role and health, the young pitcher has been phenomenal.
The mellow manager, Robin Ventura, has added calm to the proceedings in his first season.
Kevin Youkilis was struggling and unhappy when Williams acquired him from the Boston Red Sox late last month. In 12 games, he’s hitting .311 with three homers and 13 RBI. The Sox have gone 9-3. Youkilis brings a grittiness that baseball fans seem desperate for in their veterans. And they get to yell, ‘‘Yoooooooooooook!’’
‘‘The play1ers know who they want to play with, and none of them looked at what he was hitting, the numbers or what people elsewhere were saying about him,’’ Williams said. ‘‘They were interested in the fight he has. That’s what they expressed to me after the announcement. There was some genuine excitement. I knew he’d fit in.’’
It’s good to be Williams these days, especially if you happened to be Williams last season. You remember that guy. He was the bumbling idiot who thought Dunn was a good idea, Rios was worth the money and Peavy was just what the Sox needed. He was half of the Ozzie and Kenny Show, which got so old it made euthanasia sound like a good idea.
‘‘I didn’t think I was an idiot then, and I don’t think I’m a genius now,’’ he said.
During the offseason, Williams had used the dreaded word ‘‘rebuilding.’’ The Sox had traded closer Sergio Santos and outfielder Carlos Quentin.
‘‘Nobody heard what I said right after that: ‘We’re rebuilding, but you won’t see a domino effect because we have this, this, this and this. We have confidence in what’s coming,’ ’’ he said. ‘‘No one paid attention to what I said next.
‘‘Did we consider blowing it all up and starting over? Yeah. But we felt we could rebuild and compete at the same time. So far, knock on wood, so good.’’
So far, so very good. But not so very fun for a certain GM.
‘‘I still watch every game like it’s a football game,’’ he said. ‘‘Here we are at the All-Star break, and I probably need it more than the players. I’m exhausted. I feel every pitch they throw, every swing they take. I haven’t learned some lessons I should have learned a long time ago.
‘‘When you say ‘fun,’ I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.’’
We’re talking about winning. Who knew we’d be doing that in July?