Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Bandwagon Jumper's Guide to the White Sox by Jake Austen

As the mighty 2005 Sox returned to the World Series for the first time since the Eisenhower era, and won their first since World War I, volumes were being written about the spunky current team. But this is of minimal help for the inevitable bandwagon jumpers who until recently barely acknowledged that Chicago baseball was played south of Addison. If you want to come off as a real Sox fan you’ll need to connect with the convoluted, eccentric 104-year history of the Pale Hose, so hopefully these bullet points will help:

Sox FansAnyone who sat near the back rows of old Comiskey’s upper deck in the 70s recalls the Cheech and Chong-like clouds of smoke. Well, despite a long tradition of drunkenness and cannabis-abuse, Sox fans also pride themselves on being knowledgeable and attentive regardless of mental haziness. There are rare occasions when things get ugly (most notably when William Ligue attacked a Royals’ coach in 2002 for no reason, his arrest leading to U.S. Cellular’s nickname, “The Cell”). But generally a Sox game is fun for the whole family, and a great place for kids to learn new cuss words. Note that though all good Sox fans disdained Ligue’s crimes, historically we have been more forgiving, particularly to Shoeless Joe’s posse...

Black Sox
After Sox players conspired with gamblers to throw the World Series in 1919, South Siders continued to support their dishonest heroes, and a local jury gleefully exonerated them. They occasionally threw games en route to the 1920 World Series, for which they had virtually clinched a berth when the big boss, Charles Comiskey, ignored their day in court, and canned, then banned, the cheaters for life. To ensure the game’s integrity the owners appointed baseball’s first Commissioner, Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. But don’t lionize Landis. A virulent racist, he blocked Bill Veeck’s 1943 purchase of the Phillies upon learning Veeck planned to stock his team with Negro Leaguers and break the color line.

The one-legged man-of-the-people (his phone number was listed) will forever be the most beloved Sox owner. He was a populist who sat with the fans, dressed like a Joe, and was legendary for wacky stunts, like having the team play in shorts. And though he never had a midget bat for the White Sox (that was when he owned the Browns) he did once have Fantasy Island’s tiny Hervé Villechaize take batting practice. More importantly to Sox history, he introduced the exploding scoreboard with its pinwheels and fireworks, the only design element that made the trip across the street from old Comiskey to the new park, which by the way…

New Comiskey Park…no longer sucks. When first built its vomit-colored façade walls crowned by a blue UFO was as incongruous a design as the awful Soldier Field update. Being inside the steep upper deck was dizzying, and due to poor craftsmanship, the concrete walkways were cracking before the first All-Star break. Since then the team sold a bit of its soul (or rather its name, New Comiskey is now U.S. Cellular) to finance an overhaul that included removing the highest rows, replacing the spaceship with classy iron awnings, and designing an area where kids can take batting practice and race against a robot Scott Podsednik. The only thing they couldn’t bring back was Andy the Clown, who not long after being banned from appearing in costume at new Comiskey died a heartbroken clown.

Andy the Clown
Andy may be the key to understanding the heart of the Sox. For decades Andy Rozdilsky came to the games in a homemade clown suit. In a voice bordering on asthmatic, Andy led fans in the not-particularly-imaginative cheer “Leeeeeeeeet’s gooooooooooo Sooooooox!” His big trick was to give a pretty girl a flower but leave her with only the stem. He then had to get the stem back from her, as he only had one gag flower. What could represent the South Side better than a ragged, dependable, working class clown. The Sox current mascot, Southpaw, is far less distinctive, and not too funny. For humor these days fans need to look towards the dugout at…

Ozzie Guillen
has spent the last twenty years as a South Side icon. As 1985 Rookie of the Year he was immediately accepted by Sox fans because he continued a tradition started in the fifties with Chico Carrasquel and Luis Aparicio of stellar Sox shortstops from Venezuela (though the organist frequently played “Mexican Hat Dance” as his theme music, and his rooting section “Ozzie’s Amigos” wore Mexican sombreros, but hey, those countries are only 2,200 miles apart, who wouldn’t get them confused?). The speedy slap-hitter was a joy to watch, chattering with opposing baserunners and clowning for the fans. As a manager he’s continued the Chicago tradition of nepotism, as the first blockbuster deal of his reign was acquiring Freddy Garcia who was engaged to one of his in-laws. As a player he also had an in-law marrying teammate, Scott “Rad” Radinsky, who moonlighted in the punk rock band Ten Foot Pole. This unfortunately led to Scott recording a heartfelt ballad entitled “Third World Girl,” but that’s not Ozzie’s fault. Speaking of Rad…

Rockin’ SoxThe Sox are the rock ‘n’ roll baseball team. Cy Young winning pitcher Jack McDowell fancies himself a rocker and still tours with his band Stickfigure, though his National Anthem singing won’t make you forget Marvin Gaye. More impressive was Arthur Lee Maye, the self-described “Best Singing Athlete that Ever Lived” who played for the Sox in 1971, and had a healthy r&b career that included singing on Richard Berry’s original “Louie Louie.” More gloriously historical is the work of Nancy Faust, the Sox organist who was the first to play rock music at a baseball game, including the introduction of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” to mock opposing players. More impressively she plays rock puns to introduce players (“In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” for Pete Incaviglia). Of course, more disastrously historical was the infamous…

Disco Demolition Night
On July 12, 1979 thousands of under-the-influence youthful South Siders stormed the field and harmlessly ran amok in the wake of a radio station publicity stunt gone awry, leading to a Sox forfeit. While many critics would point out this event’s negatives, including its subtext of racism and homophobia, and that because of it Steve Dahl is still on the radio, ultimately this mess was classic Sox. It had a dollop of Veeck absurdity, a hint of Ligue danger, and a whole lot of ragged South Siders not afraid to express themselves.

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