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Finally, the Lights Are on the South Side

October 17, 2005|Tim Brown and P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writers

For a quarter of a century, ever since they sold their private businesses and went in on the other team in a Cubs' town, Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn conducted the same conversation, over and over.

Einhorn would say, "Jerry, you talked me into this. You said we'd make some money and have fun. What happened?"

And Reinsdorf would answer, "I lied."

Until now.

Champagne dripped from the ceiling tiles above him Sunday night, and a let-it-all-out celebration raged around him, and Reinsdorf dried his face with a towel.

"I don't even know how I feel," Reinsdorf, chairman of the Chicago White Sox, said. "I'm just absolutely numb. It's hard to believe it's been 46 years since Chicago has had a World Series."

Five years ago they hired Kenny Williams to be their general manager and two years ago they hired their former shortstop, Ozzie Guillen, to be their field manager. And on Saturday, on Chicago's South Side, they will lead the White Sox to their first World Series since 1959, with a chance to win their first title since 1917.

Following the lead of the Boston Red Sox a year ago, the White Sox shed decades of failure, riding a starting rotation that pitched four consecutive complete games to beat the Angels in five games in the best-of-seven American League championship series. They won 99 games in the regular season, persevered when a 15-game lead in the AL Central dwindled to 1 1/2 , swept the Red Sox in the division series, and on a drizzly night in Anaheim clinched the pennant with a 6-3 victory.

"Who I really feel the best for is our fans," Reinsdorf said. "Our fans have suffered and suffered and suffered for so long."

Late Sunday night, hundreds of them, their caps and shirts darkened from rain, chanted the names of Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski and Scott Podsednik and Guillen from above the first-base dugout. They even cheered Reinsdorf and Einhorn, the vice chairman, and left reluctantly when the last White Sox player disappeared below.

"Last winter," Williams, the general manager, said, "we decided to sacrifice talent to gain on the character end of things. I thought, 'OK, it's a risky proposition. But if I'm going down, I'm going to go down with people who care.' I mean, that city has waited so long. Generations of people haven't seen us get to this level. I've carried it personally on my shoulders, sometimes to the detriment of my health. But, people have come and gone without this happening."

Those who remain, or were swept along in it, saw their White Sox beat the defending World Series champions, then the grind-it-out Angels, with a better grind-it-out game. They'll play the winner of the National League championship series, in which the Houston Astros lead the St. Louis Cardinals, three games to one.

The organization has played back from a dark period, all dating from the 1917 World Series. Two years later, it endured the Black Sox scandal, in which eight players were expelled for throwing the World Series.

The White Sox did not return to the World Series until 1959, when the "Go-Go Sox" lost to the Dodgers in six games. Since then, their history has consisted of three brief postseason appearances, the ill-fated Disco Demolition Night and the 1997 White Flag trade.

It is why, perhaps, Reinsdorf once famously said he'd trade all six of his NBA championship rings -- he also owns the Chicago Bulls -- for one World Series ring.

"The longer you wait, the better it feels," Einhorn said. "So many other teams have won, and that's why it feels so good now. Chicago should be happy for Chicago. The Cub fans, you don't know. But, Chicago should be happy for Chicago. I mean, 46 years just to say you're American League champions? Crazy. It's culture shock. I love it."

Back home, White Sox fans loved it too.

As Casey Kotchman grounded to first base for the final out, hundreds of fans crammed inside the smoke-filled Schallers Pump sports bar in Chicago's South Side neighborhood of Bridgeport screamed for nearly 30 minutes in shock and hysterical glee.

Kris Sorich stood on a barstool and began to hyperventilate.

"Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!" shrieked Sorich, 42, a landscape designer who grew up a few blocks away from the old Comiskey Park. "They're in the World Series? I can't believe it. I can't."

Sorich began to sway and her knees started to buckle. A man next to her lifted her and, teary-eyed, the two began to dance.

Outside, thousands of fans flooded into the streets, waving white tube socks overhead like victory banners and chanting "We won!" until they were hoarse. Traffic congested the roads for more than a mile outside of U.S. Cellular Field, as people rushed to celebrate outside the baseball park. In downtown Chicago, a building's management turned on office lights to make out the phrase "Go Sox."

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