When I say this is the best team I’ve ever seen, I mean that, with an emphasis on the word “team”. There’s not a single player on the 2005 Chicago White Sox who didn’t step it up and perform well when it counted. Going through the 25-man roster, you can pick almost any name at random and there was some moment in the post-season where they made a huge difference. Naturally, there was the starting four, about the best I’ve seen in twenty years of watching playoff baseball. There was the relief pitching – the gargantuan Bobby Jenks, a 24-year-old kid hurling 100-m.p.h. fastballs as cool as any veteran; the surprising Neal Cotts; Marte, the shakiest pitcher on the staff, getting it done when he was needed the most; and “El Duque”, Orlando Hernandez, showing the most guts imaginable, getting out of impossible, bases-loaded jams in nearly miraculous fashion. There was the pesty, ultimately determined Pierzynski; the anonymous hero Blum; the defensive superstar Crede; the surprisingly clutch Willie Harris; the monster slugger Konerko; the gutsy, dangerous Uribe; World Series MVP Dye; lightning-quick, and charmed Podsednik. Every night, a different player stepped up, but every single one of them brought everything they had to the game. This team never dogged it, never took a night off; that’s why they led the American League from the first pitch of the season to the last.
Not just led: dominated. It seems odd to call this team dominant, because three of the four World Series games were one-run, blood-pressure-raising nail-biters that could easily have gone to the Astros. And yet, and yet: they dominated. They led the AL from wire to wire; they were never, despite the late-season swoon and a surging Cleveland team, less than in total control of their league. And in the post-season, regardless of the run margins, they absolutely dominated. They swept the World Champions; they defeated the Angels four games to one (their only loss of the playoffs being, of course, a one-run game); and they swept the NL pennant winners with relative ease, completely dismantling an offense featuring legends like Biggio and Bagwell and crushers like Berkman and Ensberg. It’s clear how good this team is when you hear the company they keep based on performance: the dominant pitching, the 11-1 playoff record, the total silencing of enemy offense, and many other factors put them in a bracket with a very tiny group of winners, which include all-world teams like the 1984 Tigers, the 1990 Reds and the 1927 and 1999 Yankees. It is my head, and not only my heart, that tells me that this is a great team.
And yet: it’s a team lacking in superstars. Konerko is a great but not GREAT hitter; the defense is flawless, but great defense doesn’t sell t-shirts; and since every single starter is an ace, since there are no 10-strikeout-a-game power pitchers, since the Four Horsemen feed off each other, inspiring each other to ever-greater heights instead of letting one clear staff stopper do the heavy lifting – they’re likely to be forgotten. Not by me; not by Chicagoans, of course. But history and a coastally biased, star-struck media are likely to forget, given this absence of big names and marquee idols, exactly how good these guys are. We'll keep it alive, though, we few who love the team.
There were so many amazing moments last night that made my throat thicken, that made my eyes heat and well: Bobby Jenks looking like he’d just won the lottery, picking up A.J. Pierzynski and whirling him around after the last out like a wrestler about to deliver a SuperPlex; Jerry Reisndorf with tears in his eyes remembering a 25-year wait to hold the World Series trophy; Frank Thomas (poor, doomed Frank, who I feel more for than for anyone on the team, one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball, who toiled for 15 years for a team, giving it his all to no avail, only to have a stupid, implacable injury keep him from taking part in what he’s worked his entire life to achieve) grabbing two guys at a time with his massive arms; Paul Konerko looking like he couldn’t believe what was happening, like he was shell-shocked -- and Ozzie Guillen, conversely, looking cool as Chicago in October, looking like he’d expected this to happen all along; White Sox fans, their throats cracking and their eyes red and raw, talking about their dead fathers, uncles, brothers, mothers, who lived seven decades and never got to see this, about how they don’t own their good feelings: they owe them to everyone who went before, to the people who made them Sox supporters, who made them who they are. “This is long overdue”: so said John Rooney. This is why sports matters: like the military, like family, like college, they make you feel like you’re part of something bigger than you are, like something has happened to you other than birth, life and death. I will remember this, the way it happened, the way it felt, forever.
And just to make it perfect, Bobby Jenks ended the night with a COMIC BOOK REFERENCE! Some reporter asked him how his year has gone – a year where he went from a cast-off, alcoholic burnout whose career was all but over, stranded in AA minor league ball, to a married father whose rowdiness was behind him and who pitched the winning out in the World Series. “It seems made up,” he said, to which the reporter responded “But you can’t make up stories like this, can you?” And Jenks replied, winning my heart forever: “Maybe in a Fantastic Four comic.”
Today is for the Chicago White Sox, the 2005 World Series champions. Thanks to all of you who’ve put up with my incessant ramblings about them. I love you all today.