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White Sox’ World Series winners are happy thought in limp times

For the Sun-Times

The presence of Jermaine Dye, Scott Podsednik and several other luminaries at the Cell this weekend was a joyful reminder of what the White Sox were 10 years ago — World Series champions for the first time in 88 years.

What they are these days is a confounding mystery.

Nine wins in 12 games before the All-Star break nudged them toward playoff contention in some minds, so let’s not do anything rash. But there’s a logjam of teams sitting between them and wild-card country, so something approaching that .750 pace has to be sustained for a spell if the Sox are to move up.

Pitching — take a bow, Chris Sale — has been better than anticipated, but hitting has lagged behind, alarmingly. Fielding? Baserunning? Too grim to discuss.

A strong showing against the division-leading Kansas City Royals this weekend would be an ideal way for the Sox to suggest they’re serious about contending. Failing that, rancor invades the nostalgia accompanying the 2005 celebration for many Sox fans — remember when we were good?

Third baseman Joe Crede and center fielder Aaron Rowand fit that description as popular mainstays on the title team. Though some of us diehards hold out dwindling hope for Gordon Beckham, evidence suggests Crede and Rowand are the last every-day position players developed within the Sox system, which helps explain why there has been only one playoff-game victory on the South Side in the decade since the ’05 Series.

Last week’s All-Star Game was another illustration. The decision to sit Sale left the Sox essentially unrepresented. Baseball is awash in spectacular young talent — Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Joc Pederson, Kris Bryant. Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts weren’t even invited to Cincinnati.

The Sox counter with . . . Adam LaRoche? Nothing against the veteran first baseman, a serviceable pro with a left-handed bat that was consistently productive before this season. But LaRoche is a 35-year-old putting in time with his sixth major-league team. Not exactly the stuff of which dreams are made.

Melky Cabrera? He’s with his sixth team, as well, at age 30.

I know, Sale merits prominent mention on any list of the game’s best young players. He has been tremendous this year, so dominant that there is great curiosity among fans who don’t get to see him pitch regularly. He belonged on the field at Great American Ball Park, in the company of Trout and Harper and the other ascendant stars of his generation. What was the harm in having him pitch an inning or face a hitter or two on a day when he was scheduled to throw anyway?

Nope. Sale was introduced, and then he sat. Nine entertaining innings came and went without a peep out of the Sox. Keep that in mind next time the petulant, easily offended segment of the fan base complains about the lack of respect that is their team’s lot in life. This time the Sox did it to themselves.

Just as they had a few weeks earlier when Ken Williams livened up a road trip by going all Al Haig during a chat with reporters. Williams’ I’m-in-charge manifesto was hardly an endorsement of longtime lieutenant Rick Hahn and raised more questions than it answered about the inner workings of the front office. Williams was within his rights to sound off as the team’s executive vice president, and he may have been trying to spare Hahn the criticism engendered by the Sox’ poor start. But it came across as a sharp repudiation of a respected colleague who has paid his dues within the organization.

While waiting on Carlos Sanchez and Tyler Saladino to emerge as player-development gems, Sox fans can console themselves with memories of 2005. So much to chose from: Paul Konerko’s grand slam in Game 2 of the World Series. Podsednik’s walk-off piece two innings later. Geoff Blum — Geoff Blum — going deep in the 14th inning of Game 3 in Houston. Mark Buehrle closing out that game, two nights after throwing 100 pitches in seven innings in Game 2. A.J. Pierzynski’s blatant theft of Game 2 in the ALCS.

The image that’s frozen in my mind is Orlando Hernandez running from the bullpen to the Fenway Park mound to quell a bases-loaded, no-outs uprising in the sixth inning of Game 3 as the Sox completed a division-series sweep of the Boston Red Sox. El Duque was a serious man coming on to do serious work. It was beautiful. It was baseball.