The Chicago White Sox can't win even for winning. They're not exactly what you would call a charmed team. The images the White Sox provoke in the minds of baseball fans really aren't fair, because the far-out history of the team holds a certain appeal in itself. I found this out when I adopted the White Sox as my second team when I moved to Chicago.
The Chicago White Sox are pretty much forgotten. On the popular map of baseball loyalties you can find on the web in a lot of spots, the White Sox have only a very small enclave to themselves niched out of the Cubs' territory. Even though the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 - ending 88 years of title drought - the greater midwestern area is still a massive territorial battle between the Chicago Cubs up north and the St. Louis Cardinals in the more middling states. With the Milwaukee Brewers and the Minnesota Twins north of Chicago taking the respective states of Wisconsin and Minnesota all to themselves, the poor White Sox are hung out to dry, known only to their fervently devoted fans on the South Side of Chicago and in the immediate southern suburbs. The 2005 title is already forgotten. The team's underrated rivalries with the Twins, Detroit Tigers, and Cleveland Indians - forgotten.
On the rare occasions people actually do remember the White Sox, it's usually in a passing reference to the Black Sox scandal of 1919, in which a small group of players were caught conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series; or the most disastrous team promotion in history, Disco Demolition Night in 1978. Any positive thoughts nationally turned toward the White Sox usually focuses on legendary outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson, one of the greatest baseball players in history. Even the portrayal of Jackson is misunderstood - he's usually used as the main focus of the Black Sox scandal, when sportswriters try to paint him as the naive sucker who was tricked into conspiring, but who in the end stood tall and played his very best in the World Series. The reality about Jackson is that his numbers took significant dips in the games the Sox lost, and so in spite of producing one of the great performances in World Series history, there are questions surrounding how much of a role Jackson played in this fix. It tends to overshadow the legacy of another conspirator, Buck Weaver - who the great Ty Cobb was scared to bunt at - who had 11 hits and batted .324 during the same series, and who spent the rest of his life insisting he pulled out of the fix.
The White Sox have the misfortune of sharing half of their team name with one cursed team - the Boston Red Sox, cursed for 86 years - and their city with another cursed team - the Chicago Cubs, cursed for 102 years now and still counting. The Red Sox curse, the Curse of the Bambino, was based in the sale of Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. The Cubs' curse, the Billy Goat Curse, had its mythology created in 1945 when a tavern owner was kicked out of Wrigley Field during the World Series because people didn't like the smell of his pet goat. In the literal middle is the White Sox, who endured an 88-year title drought which people trace back to the worst scandal in baseball history, and no one acknowledges it or gets behind the team! What's more, the White Sox curse years bookended the Red Sox curse years - the Red Sox drought began after they won their 1918 title and went until they finally snapped it in 2004. The White Sox won the World Series in 1917 and didn't win it again until 2005. The Red Sox won a handful of Pennants between their titles, and even though they didn't win after 1908, the Cubs were a regular visitor in the World Series until 1945. The poor White Sox have just one Pennant win (1959) in their entire drought. The rest of the time, they were up and down, and were playing the Yankees' bridesmaid even during their best years in between.
And so it goes. Despite fielding such players like Joe Jackson, Minnie Minoso, Luke Appling, Eddie Collins, Frank Thomas, Roberto Alomar, Goose Gossage, and Carlton Fisk, the White Sox are most characterized by Bill Veeck's ownership tenure. Veeck was known as The People's Owner because he truly cared about entertaining the fans and for the well-being of the players. It's mostly because of Veeck that the White Sox developed the odd, offbeat character that appealed to me. Veeck was responsible, among other things, an elephant show, putting Astroturf on the infield at Comiskey Park while keeping the outfield natural, installing the team's famous exploding scoreboard (it shoots fireworks whenever a Sox player hits a home run), and perhaps most famously, outfitting the team in shorts and collars for a game in 1977. (Disco Demolition Night was courtesy of Bill's son, Mike, and local radio deejay Steve Dahl.)
The White Sox have managed to combine their goofy, offbeat image with an exciting, never-say-die style of play which contributes to their current image as a band of blue-collar outlaws. A little-known fact is that while Tony La Russa managed the team in the early 80's (La Russa, by the way, began his incredible managerial career with the White Sox in 1979. Oakland and St. Louis, you're welcome) the popular phrase "winning ugly" was coined by Texas Rangers manager Doug Rader in 1983, who meant it to be derogatory when he said it. White Sox fans have adopted it as a badge of pride for the team the way Yankees fans use "Bronx Zoo" and "Evil Empire" as badges. My friend Katy described the White Sox as pirates when she moved to Chicago, and said that's why she adopted them as her second team instead of the corporate, stoic Cubs and their cutesy, frat house mentality. (Katy is a Wisconsin native and loyal to the Brewers.) After 2005, the White Sox also adopted the slogan "win or die trying."
The team's image tends to drift between blue collar and outright thuggish. This is a major point of contention for White Sox fans. When fans rushed the field in 2002, many folks in Chicago - mainly Cubs fans and probably writer Jay Mariotti - chalked it up to Sox fans being Sox fans, which is grossly unfair to 99.9 percent of the team's fan base. The team's primary colors are black and white with a dash of silver, and so we get mentioned in the same breath as Raiders fans who glue skulls to Darth Vader costumes at games. That the nickname of US Cellular Field ever since naming rights were sold to US Cellular is "The Cell" certainly doesn't lend a warm and fluffy image to the team, especially not when they're sharing a city with a team whose stadium is nicknamed "The Friendly Confines." Also look at some of the other nicknames: The White Sox have "The Southsiders," the "South Side Hit Men," "The Go-go White Sox," and "The Good Guys in Black" to compete with the "Cubbies" and the "Lovable Losers."
The team also receives a lot of flak for some of its players and personnel. Manager Ozzie Guillen, who has been running the team since 2004, is constantly in the hot seat because of an unfortunate tendency to shoot his mouth off at the worst times, at the wrong people, and over the wrong subjects, and most frequently some combination thereof. Some incidents can no doubt be attributed to Guillen's passion and care for his team: In 2007, Guillen defended his team from notorious sports blowhard Jay Mariotti by using the derogatory f-word for gay people without having the courtesy to censor it. This caused a brief media furor, which died down in some part because much of the media actually sided with Guillen - Mariotti is a notorious bombast who is widely hated even within his own circles - and in some part because the gay community seemed outraged not because the word "faggot" was used, but because it was applied to Mariotti in particular. There was an incident with nude blow-up models in 2008, and current catcher AJ Pierzynski can be a real lightning rod at times. Ace pitcher Mark Buehrle - a Missouri native and lifelong Cardinals fan - made news for showing up to Cards games in a Cards hat when St. Louis won the World Series in 2006. When Michael Jordan retired from basketball the first time to try his hand at baseball, it was the White Sox system he was signed into. Paul Konerko is currently the captain and he's considered too quiet to be effective, and Frank Thomas had a Barry Bonds personality - friendly and charismatic sometimes, dour and a moody jerk at others. Thomas, though, cemented a reprieve for his worst behavior by being cooperative and helpful with the Mitchell Report, and he has been an outspoken proponent of steroid testing for years.
I cling to the White Sox these days as part of my identity from Chicago. I can relate to the White Sox better than I can to any other baseball team, and I still cheer for them wholeheartedly even though I'm primarily a Yankees fan. A lot of the things about the team which is detrimental to their image is exactly what I find appealing. Like most teams, they have up years and down years, fortunes and misfortunes, and at times are able to bring everything together when it counts. A lot of people born with the White Sox thrust onto them are embarrassed by the team, but since the White Sox fit me like a glove, I'm very happy to call them my team, in all their greatness and misfortunes, highs and lows, favorites and underdogs, funny stunts and scrappy toughness.