Sports Nut

Pale Imitations

The White Sox, baseball’s other historically pathetic team.

Podsednik may help reverse the Sox’ fortunes

Get the podcast audio version of this story here, or sign up to get Slate’s free daily podcasts.

When the Boston Red Sox won the World Series last fall, so went baseball’s most heralded practitioners of loserdom. The Chicago Cubs—only slightly less self-congratulatorily reverent than the Red Sox—are now the undisputed carriers of baseball’s dignified-loser mantle. But be glad, sports fans of hardened hearts, to know there’s another way to lose: the Chicago White Sox way.

Despite their current four-game losing streak, Chicago’s Sox still have the best record in the American League by far. They’re a lock for the playoffs, and they have a real shot at making the World Series for the first time since 1959. But if they do win it all, there won’t be hundreds of books and special-edition DVDs that exhaustively document the final moments of anguish and misery on Chicago’s South Side. When the sports world’s most mundane epic losing streak ends, it will go quietly.

The White Sox, who last won the World Series in 1917, haven’t lost in heartbreaking ways like the Red Sox always did. They don’t lose despairingly often like the Washington Senators and St. Louis Browns. These Sox just lose, that’s it. The team’s futility has no romance, glamour, or meaning. And when they lose, they still can’t win—the White Sox aren’t even the losingest losers in the Second City.

You might think nobody cares about the White Sox’ losing ways simply because they’re overshadowed by the Cubs. That’s certainly true, but the more important point is that we Sox fans don’t think about our losing streak. It’s not that White Sox fans don’t complain about losing. We complain all the time, but we complain about being bad. We complain about bad players, bad coaching, and bad management. Lurk around a Sox Internet board and you’ll find the usual pessimism, second-guessing, personnel demands, and Cubs hatred. You’ll have a hard time finding any woe-is-us moaning, though.

The comforting thing about rooting for the White Sox is that you don’t have to swim in your own filth. There’s little talk of “suffering”—or, even worse, a curse. The White Sox have the strongest case for curse cause-and-effect of any pro sports team. For chrissakes, this is the franchise that threw the 1919 World Series and never won it again. Surely that offends hardball deities more than selling your best player or evicting a stinky billy goat. So, why doesn’t mawkishness gain any traction in White Sox Nation?

For one, because there is no White Sox Nation. Most ChiSox fans live on the South Side of Chicago, the south suburbs, and northwest Indiana, my childhood home; without a diaspora, it’s impossible for the team’s woes to spread very far. We’re also lacking a raft of celebrity fans who make a public spectacle of their tortured loyalty. (To give you some idea, our Ben Affleck is Styx’s Dennis DeYoung.)

There also isn’t a bard who makes a cottage industry out of the team’s sad-sack ways. Maybe in a few years Ron Kittle’sTales from the White Sox Dugout will become classic literature. But for now, the only noteworthy Sox lit is Veeck—As In Wreck, former owner Bill Veeck’s ghostwritten account of his decades of wacky hucksterism. (We didn’t even get Veeck’s best stuff. The St. Louis Browns had a midget; the White Sox got to play in shorts.)

There aren’t nuggets of sporting romanticism waiting to be harvested, either. It’s easy to let your mind wander to yesteryear in Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, with their quirky outfield walls and hand-operated scoreboards. The White Sox blew up their baseball temple and replaced it with a parking lot. “New Comiskey,” aka U.S. Cellular Field, is a bland, cavernous stadium that just missed the now-obligatory neo-retro trend. No one who takes a seat in the New Comiskey’s upper deck thinks back to the glory days of 1959. You can’t really ruminate when it takes so much concentration to figure out which tiny ant is on which team.

The White Sox also lack any human connection to the almost-pennants of yesteryear. You won’t find any walking monuments like Johnny Pesky or Ernie Banks strolling the field. Nellie Fox died 30 years ago. Luis Aparicio has long since retired to his native Venezuela. Among the “community relations representatives” listed on the team Web site: middling middle reliever “The Pope” Donn Pall; Moose Skowron, who spent most of his career with the Yankees; and Chico Carrasquel, who recently died.

Our only real living legend is bench coach Harold Baines—perhaps baseball’s greatest designated hitter. And then there’s Ozzie Guillen, legendary shortstop, brilliant manager, and the least romantic figure in contemporary baseball. His thoughts on the Black Sox curse: “If I see one of my players [talking] that [expletive] I’ll be [ticked], because that’s just an excuse. …We lose because we’ve had a [expletive] team for a long time.” (Guillen’s thoughts on the Cubs’ supposed curse? “‘Billy Goat is a bunch of [expletive].”)

This year’s less-[expletive]-than usual team isn’t exactly filled with future legends, either. Longtime hero Frank Thomas is probably out for the season with a foot injury. Fans have been demanding the Sox give up on only-now-an-ace pitcher Jon Garland for years. And most of the biggest contributors to “Ozzieball”—Scott Podsednik, Tadahito Iguchi, Jermaine Dye, Dustin Hermanson—are new hires.

So as much as sportswriters labor to load this team with historical significance and greater meaning—and it’s already begun—the White Sox will soldier on in the most humdrum, forgettable ways. If this year’s team loses, it won’t be held back by the Black Sox Curse but rather the Curse of Not Enough Offensive Production. That will be fine—it’s been pretty comfortable here in the shadow of every other loser in baseball. And if they win, there won’t be some mammoth catharsis as we slough off our losing reputation. Which is fine, too: Unlike Red Sox or Cubs fans, we won’t have to re-evaluate our relationship with our longtime losers. Our Sox can just go on winning. Or losing. Whatever.