Nobody said tanking was easy. However, it would have been nice if somebody had reminded us what rock bottom looks like.
With their 3-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, the 10-29 White Sox are on pace for a 41-121 record. The modern-era record for losses in a season is 120 by the 1962 Mets. If you tell me that there’s still a lot of baseball left, I’ll have you arrested for making threats.
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It wasn’t until the recent Cubs series that it really hit home how bad the Sox are. Their worst-in-baseball record obviously had given us a hint, but the lack of talent combined with the mental mistakes made them almost unwatchable.
This is the price you have to pay if you want to do a rebuild the right way. The Bulls haven’t completely grasped the concept, and that’s why they’ll have the seventh pick overall in the June draft. They played Nikola Mirotic too much last season, went on an unfortunate run because of it and ended up winning too many games before trading him. It’s why they won’t be getting Arizona’s Deandre Ayton or Duke’s Marvin Bagley III. It’s why we’re getting the typical rationalizations that plenty of great players have been taken with the seventh pick over the years, including the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen.
Wonderful, but LeBron James, Ben Simmons and Anthony Davis were No. 1 overall picks. OK?
If you’re into rebuilding, you have to be all in, blood and all. It’s very difficult to do that. It’s hard to put a smile on massive amounts of losing when the whole idea of sports is to win. I’m trying to picture White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf attempting to cope with what’s going on. I see clenched fists and gritted teeth as the losses and the empty seats pile up. This is a baseball man. This is an 82-year-old owner who has won a World Series. Is watching another base-running blunder the way you’d want to spend your golden years?
After having been through honest-to-a-fault Ozzie Guillen, can you imagine Reinsdorf having to listen to Rick Renteria starring in “It’s Always Sunny in Chicago” as the sky falls?
A rebuild was perfect for the Cubs, and I’m not sure all the teams that have followed their lead understand the dynamics that were at work. When team president Theo Epstein arrived in 2011, Cubs fans would have done anything to win a World Series, human sacrifice included. Here was the meeting of a desperate fan base and a man who was considered a baseball genius. And then there was this key element: That desperate fan base — loyal or oblivious, take your pick – continued to go to games during the bad-baseball carnage of a rebuild. It was a perfect laboratory for a tanking.
Not all of those elements are in place for the Sox. Their fans are known for staying away from the ballpark if the team isn’t winning. The Sox are averaging 15,486 fans a game at Guaranteed Rate Field this season, joining Tampa Bay (14,710) and Miami (10,675) at the bottom of the attendance standings.
Kudos to Sox fans for not paying for the current slop.
There certainly is hope that all the young talent the team has amassed through trades and the draft will do what Kris Bryant et al did for the Cubs. But much of that young talent is still toiling at the minor-league level, and anyone with a rooting interest is wondering when those players will be brought up and when the winning will start.
The concept of a rebuild is one thing. The reality is another, so when the brand of baseball the Sox are offering seems to have been bought at a dollar store, patience is a tough sell for fans.
The Sox lost 95 games last season and will likely lose more than that this season. Can their fans sit through another season of it? How about two? Cubs fans endured three years of terrible losing under Epstein before things got better. Let’s go back to the attendance component. In 2012, when the Cubs went 61-101, their attendance for the season was 2,882,756. When they won 97 games three years later, their attendance was 2,959,812. Their ballpark revenues were tank-proof.
The Sox’ aren’t. In the last 25 years, the only time they drew more than 2.8 million fans was 2006, the year after they won the World Series. Whenever Michael Kopech and Eloy Jimenez want to get to Chicago and set the world on fire would be good.
I’m sorry. You’re right. Patience.
Will this work? I have no idea. The Sox are competing with eight or nine other teams that are tanking. Logic tells me that not all of them are going to be successful at it. But the Sox do have a very good farm system, and the arrow, even with the dismal product at the major-league level, seems to be pointing up.
Don’t feel too bad for Reinsdorf. Forbes magazine says his team is worth $1.5 billion. He makes gobs of money off revenue sharing. But any person who knows what good baseball is supposed to look like experiences gastrointestinal issues when watching the Sox. That the players are trying hard, as Renteria says they are, doesn’t change that.
I recently preached delusion as a coping strategy for Sox fans. Tell yourself the franchise is going to the 2020 World Series and stick with it. It’s not a bad way to go when your team is flirting with the Mets’ futility record.
The Mets were an expansion team when they lost all those games. They weren’t trying to lose. They were just good at it. The Sox are trying to lose. They’re also good at it. I think there’s a distinction in there somewhere.
The good news is that the Mets went on to win the 1969 World Series. The bad news is that it took them seven years to do it. I don’t think Sox fans can wait that long.
Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcastsand Google Play, or via RSS feed.