Under the radar

In the Second City, White Sox still feel like second-class team

October 19, 2005|By DAN CONNOLLY

It is mentioned every postseason in every sport.

A team wins a playoff series and says it's fighting uphill against the world.

Players and coaches talk about getting no respect, about how everyone counted them out. About how nobody believed in them except themselves.

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both had the gall to use those tired, "no respect" mantras this season despite their bloated payrolls, continual media spotlight and unrelenting fans sprinkled throughout the country.

Honestly, it's rare when a championship-caliber team is disrespected.

Then, there are these 2005 Chicago White Sox.

Everyone did expect them to fail. They were the only ones that believed in themselves. And now, for the first time since 1959, they are representing the American League in the World Series, hosting Saturday's Game 1 at U.S. Cellular Field.

"I think it's great because we proved a lot of people wrong," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said.

The White Sox even proved Guillen wrong.

After cruising through most of the season, the White Sox stumbled enough to allow the hot Cleveland Indians to get back into the AL Central race. Chicago had a seven-game losing streak in August and dropped six of seven in early September, including three losses to the pathetic Kansas City Royals. They were on the precipice of an epic collapse. That prompted Guillen to tell reporters: "There's no doubt about it. We really flat-out stink."

One month later, after his team made it into the World Series, Guillen offered this: "Good thing my players don't listen to what I was saying to the media."

The White Sox won eight of their final 10 regular-season games, including their last five, to dismiss the Indians and post 99 wins. They swept the defending champion Red Sox in the Division Series and then beat the Los Angeles Angels in five games in the AL Championship Series. That's 15 wins in 18 games.

If they were anyone else, they'd be the slam-dunk, no-question favorites to win the World Series.

Instead, they are the White Sox, a franchise best known for throwing a World Series. When they last won one (1917), Babe Ruth was Boston's top pitcher. The last time the White Sox were in one, Guillen wasn't even born.

The reality is the Sox have been tragically forgettable, even in Chicago - playing second banana in Second City to the lovable losing Cubbies. How invisible have the White Sox been in their own town? One September game against the Royals drew just 14,571 fans to the South Side. The Cubs seemingly entice that many people to building rooftops near Wrigley Field during the summer.

Nationally, we all secretly pull for the Cubs. They are like the high school nerd that keeps getting cut from sports teams and turned down by cheerleaders but never gives up - and that determination is endearing, comforting even.

But the White Sox? They are the kid no one remembers, the nonentity, the one you have to look up in the yearbook just to make sure he was in your class.

Case in point: ESPN.com ran playoff predictions from a slew of "experts" at the beginning of the postseason. Despite having the AL's best record, the White Sox were picked by only one person to get to the World Series. No one had them winning it.

I, too, thought the White Sox would lose to Boston in the first round. It just made sense.

Chicago's most recognizable face is injured slugger Frank Thomas, who had 105 at-bats this year and has been shelved for months. Their second-most recognizable face is Guillen. Their third is Paul Konerko, an unassuming, legitimate slugger who was traded by two clubs because he had trouble hitting his weight and playing solid defense.

Yet they are already in the World Series. They've dismissed household names such as Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Vladimir Guerrero and may do the same to Roger Clemens or Albert Pujols.

This group of veritable nobodies has speed, power and a rotation that turned in one of the most amazing performances in playoff history, with four consecutive complete games.

And their staff includes, um, that Cuban guy that pitched with the Yankees. Actually, both Cuban guys who pitched with the Yankees. Also, some big kid named Garland and Mark Buehrle, one of the league's best pitchers and a guy who could wear an "I'm Mark Buehrle" T-shirt into a sports bar and not get recognized.

Yet the lack of celebrity doesn't seem to bother Ozzie's boys. They simply take a page from their irrepressible manager, play hard and win.

If they capture the Series title, though, expect this group to talk tough about how it was ignored and disrespected. How these White Sox had to believe in themselves because no one else would.

For once in sports, those claims will ring true.

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

World Series NL champion@White Sox, 8 p.m. Saturday, Chs. 45, 5

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