When you think of the White Sox in a given year, what's the first thing that comes to mind?
Last week at ESPN, Sam Miller published an ambitious undertaking that tried to settle what every official season Major League Baseball history would be best known for.
As you could guess, the 2004 season was defined by the Red Sox winning their first World Series in 88 years.
As you might fear, the 2005 season was not defined by the White Sox ending their longer drought.
Instead, Miller called 2005 The Year That … star players were called to testify before Congress.
It’s a decent choice if one can set aside any homer tendencies, because I remember it pretty vividly for an event I only watched once. Streaming C-Span during my summer job in Missouri, I could remember cringing at Mark McGwire’s repeated pleas of “I’m not here to talk about the past.” I also smirked at Sammy Sosa for playing down his English comprehension, although it only takes a second of thought to realize he was the smartest one at the table (never testify in your second language, kids). Curt Schilling had to meekly walk back his claims — man, I wish he’d still do that — of majority PED use among baseball players, and Rafael Palmeiro cemented his legacy the wrong way with a finger-pointing denial.
(Frank Thomas was there via satellite while recovering from surgery, but his connection was too patchy to be useful.)
I can’t really set aside homer tendencies because “2005” has turned into shorthand among our kind. That said, given the rest of the baseball world has overlooked the White Sox’ championship enough times to warrant a t-shirt, I can’t really fault Miller for his choice, either.
* * *Beyond the gnashing of teeth over another potential slight, I thought Miller’s exercise would be a fascinating one to transfer over to an individual franchise.
He determined there are “exactly seven ways to be remembered,” with a few subcategories to add clarity to potential gray areas.
- Incredible achievement, usually captured by a single number or concept.
— 1b. Incredible team, often captured by a nickname.)
— 1c. Incredible single play, or sequence of plays, often aided by iconic photo or video images
- The moment the timeline begins
— 2b. The moment modern baseball begins
- Bloopers and/or extraordinary failures
- Disruption of baseball’s basic equilibrium
- When the larger world intersects with baseball, or vice versa
- By being weird, by being almost literally unbelievable or inexplicable.
For White Sox fans, the 2005 White Sox have all of (1) and some of (7), if you count the four consecutive complete games that definition of “weird.” The congressional hearings can boast (5) and (6), as well as (1c) if you count Palmeiro’s finger.
I’d still fight for the White Sox, but I’d rather save our arguments to figuring out the chief identifying factor for each White Sox this season this century. You know, think globally, act locally and all that.
2000: The Year That … the White Sox scored almost 1,000 runs.
This season had a lot going for it — a near-third MVP for Frank Thomas, the brawl with the Tigers, Jerry Manuel acting as a hotel doorman, the 7-0 road trip against the Indians and Yankees and being received like heroes in front of 43,000 the first game back (I miss Half-Price Mondays). Ron Schueler atoned for the Jaime Navarro trade by getting Jose Valentin and Cal Eldred before stepping down from the GM seat.
Still, I’m going with the most productive full season for a White Sox offense, even if the Mariners kept it in check in the ALDS.
2001: … Kenny Williams had growing pains.
Personally, this would be “… signed Jose Canseco,” but I know that experience isn’t universal. His career started getting burned by Scott Boras in the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes, and he moved Jose Valentin off shortstop with Royce Clayton, who turned in a terrible first half. Moreover, his centerpiece trade for David Wells failed on both sides. The Blue Jays accused Williams of shenanigans when Mike Sirotka turned out to be damaged goods, and Wells ripped Frank Thomas for not playing through a torn triceps before the Cubs bunted Wells and his bad back into the ground.
2002: … the Ligues charged the field. (Suggested by Rob Hart)
Even today, some 15 years after the incident, fans with upper-deck tickets are not allowed to access the lower deck because a father-son combo jumped from the stands and attacked the Royals’ first-base coach. And even today, to a lesser extent, the average White Sox fan is associated with them for insult purposes.
(Previous answer: … Keith Foulke was pulled from the closer role.)
2003: … they renamed Comiskey Park.
On Feb. 1, the White Sox sold the naming rights to their ballpark at 35th and Shields to U.S. Cellular for 20 years and $68 million. This is the kind of franchise shift that eclipses Esteban Loaiza’s season out of nowhere, Billy Koch’s collapse, Neal Cotts in Yankee Stadium, Jerry Manuel’s firing, or anything else.
2004: … Magglio Ordonez and Willie Harris collided.
This team probably would have been too limited even if Ordonez weren’t limited to 52 games after wrecking his knee in right field, but it officially changed the scope of Ozzie Guillen’s first season, and how they’d build the 2005 team. Specific to right field, Boras wouldn’t apprise the Sox of Ordonez’s rehab progress, so they ended up going with Jermaine Dye.
This year comes down to the collision, or Williams acquiring Roberto Alomar and Carl Everett for the second straight year.
2005: … they won the World Series.
2006: … Mark Buehrle fell apart.
There are a lot of subplots in this one — the Jim Thome and Javier Vazquez trades, the acrimony over Brian Anderson and Rob Mackowiak, Joe Crede’s back derailing a breakout season. But Buehrle posting a 7.12 ERA over the last three months, captures the specific struggles more than anything. The White Sox pitching staff’s ERA swelled by a run, going from a league-best 3.61 to a 10th-best 4.61.
2007: … they killed their momentum.
The White Sox drew well over 2 million fans in each of the two seasons following the championship. Alas, they went 72-90 in the second year to start their slide back toward the bottom of the attendance rankings. This could also be “… they secretly rebuilt,” because their biggest moves were forward-thinking (trading Brandon McCarthy for John Danks, trading Freddy Garcia for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez), while their biggest MLB signing was, um, Darin Erstad.
2008: … they won the Blackout Game.
It’s still the White Sox’ last major triumph.
2009: … Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game. (Suggested by Scot Bertram)
Upon first thought, I didn’t see this as something to hinge a season on. I remember the date, but it’s one of those moments that exists, for me, outside the general sphere of disappointment during the active postseason drought.
Then again, Buehrle started his next outing against the Twins by retiring the first 17 he faced to set an MLB record for consecutive batters retired. Then he gave up a two-out walk, a single and a ground-rule double to tie the game at 1. Minnesota then tacked three runs in the seventh to win the game, and later the division. That fits the theme either way.
(Previous answer: Gordon Beckham debuted.)
2010: … Jim Thome crushed the White Sox to Hell.
Instead of figuring out a way to work around an aging Thome’s limitations in order to take advantage of his excellent production in fewer games, the White Sox instead rolled with Mark Kotsay and Andruw Jones by choice. It wasn’t a money thing, because the Twins took advantage by signing Thome for just one year and just $1.5 million.
The standings …
- Twins, 94-68
- White Sox, 88-74
… and the production gap …
- MIN DH: .264/.368/.488, 31 HR, 107 RBI
- CHW DH: .247/.332/.396, 17 HR, 65 RBI
… rolled into one moment:
2011: … Guillen lost his power play against Kenny Williams.
Guillen wasn’t the only one responsible for the deterioration of his era, but he was the one rolling out Rios and Adam Dunn to historically depressing lengths while citing their contracts, even though he had better options and Williams said to ignore salaries.
2012: … Robin Ventura was exposed.
Because the White Sox didn’t have any adults in decision-making roles in 2011, the arrival of Ventura restored basic functions to the front office and management chairs. With Dunn and Rios bouncing back, the White Sox had enough talent to lead the AL Central heading into the final month. They sputtered to an 11-17 September, in part because Ventura looked completely overwhelmed by the expanded rosters. That flop capped his only winning season with the White Sox, but he still had four more to go.
2013: … Gordon Beckham crashed into Conor Gillaspie.
This could also be the year Jeff Keppinger happened, but this moment encapsulates a 99-loss season more than anything.
2014: … Jose Abreu set the rookie home run record.
Abreu helped press the reset button on the rebuild by showing that he was immediately worth the biggest contract in White Sox history. He hit .317/.383/.581 with 36 homers, which broke Ron Kittle’s franchise record for rookies. The White Sox still lost 89 games, but at least they connected on a signing for once, with the ability to pay dividends for years to come.
2015: … the White Sox tried to take a shortcut.
Their confidence buoyed by impressive debuts from Abreu and Adam Eaton, the White Sox traded for Jeff Samardzija and signed David Robertson and Melky Cabrera. The result: A three-game improvement in the win column and a lot of ironic “Shark Cage” caps.
2016: … Chris Sale cut up the jerseys.
This could also be the year of L’Affaire LaRoche, but Sale’s knife escapades showed that the dysfunction that flared up during spring training never really left, even with the 23-10 start. I don’t think this single act necessitated trading Sale and starting the rebuild, but it made it a lot easier to envision why Sale might not have been best utilized on future sub-.500 teams.
(How I wish this year could be about Matt Albers. Thanks to Carl Skanberg for the artwork.)
2017: … to be determined.
… Ricky’s Boys Didn’t Quit? (the franchise tone argument)
… Hawk Harrelson yielded the chair? (the franchise history argument)
… Yoan Moncada debuted? (the on-field argument)
What do you think it will be? Where do you think I went wrong in the others? The floor is open.
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