Trying — and failing — to imagine Jerry Reinsdorf holding his White Sox employees accountable
The team chairman should clean house, starting with manager Tony La Russa.
A new show on FX about a soccer team has had me thinking about the White Sox, and before I get to any comparisons, let me anticipate all your jokes, wise guys and girls. Both teams are as exciting as a nil-nil tie? Both clubs deserve to be relegated? The Sox have more players writhing in pain than your standard soccer squad?
“Welcome to Wrexham” is a documentary series about Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney buying a “football” team in Wales. Wrexham is a working-class city that loves its down-on-its-luck club but detests all the losing. The two actors want to help the team move up to a higher division for the next season, but to do that — and to save the coaching staff’s jobs — the team has to win a big game.
I won’t give away what happens in the first two episodes. What struck me, though, was that two guys — two thespians! — who are new to owning a sports franchise understand a couple of things immediately: that there have to be consequences for losing and that the whole idea of running a team is winning.
Here’s a spoiler alert for the 2,000th episode of “Welcome to the White Sox”: Team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf probably won’t see a need for wholesale changes if his club doesn’t get its act together in the last 35 games or so, which, by the way, it won’t. While every Sox fan with a beating heart and at least one good eye sees that there’s something very wrong with this team and that the responsible parties need to be fired after the season (or maybe now), Reinsdorf thinks of employment as a lifetime deal. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sox employees get buried with their bats, staplers and company IDs, the way ancient Egyptians got buried with bread and tools. The afterlife very well could be a 3-2 loss to the Royals.
Reinsdorf surely is holding out hope that the Sox will sneak into the playoffs, as if that would be an accomplishment and not a fireable offense for a team that was supposed to be a World Series contender. There are many reasons why manager Tony La Russa deserves to be canned, and they’ve been enumerated here and elsewhere many times. The problem with listing them, as any veteran Reinsdorf observer knows, is that it only makes the chairman withdraw into his windbreaker a little more and dig in his heels a little harder.
On Monday, the Sox lost 6-4 in Kansas City, leaving 11 runners on base.
“It’s a frustrating loss,” La Russa said afterward. “We were down 4-0 and came back to tie it. If you wanna say we’re lousy, say we’re lousy.”
The Sox aren’t lousy. It’d be easier if they were. No, this is a maddeningly mediocre team that should be more but isn’t. It’s a team that has been glued to .500 all season, which means that, even if it somehow gained momentum down the stretch, its list of believers would start and end with the chairman and the manager. La Russa’s modus operandi has always involved finding an enemy, the better to inject an us-vs.-them mentality into his team. You could sense it in his irritated “if you wanna say we’re lousy …’’ quote. You media jerks! You fickle fans!
But the enemy is within. It’s La Russa’s crazy-town managing. It’s general manager Rick Hahn’s overestimation of talent. It’s the team’s inability to hit with runners in scoring position. It’s Reinsdorf’s obliviousness and stubbornness. It’s the players’ apparent lack of fire.
This is a rebuild that’s not working. Implicit in the idea of putting fans through the misery of wholesale losing was that there would be a big payoff later. Later is here. Actually, later might have been here and gone without anyone having enough time to realize it.
At this point, it’s very difficult to see what would make fans feel better about this team. It seems unlikely that the Sox will go on some kind of run. Their win two games/lose two games habit is more than a trend. It’s what they are in their bones. But if they did reach the playoffs, it would make Reinsdorf want to bring back La Russa for next season even more than he does now. It’s the definition of a no-win situation.
This feels like a docuseries without a happy ending. Sort of makes you wonder why you keep watching.
Fire everyone? Of course. Will it happen? I think you know the answer to that.