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Tim Brown / ON BASEBALL

Hard to Copy This Design

October 28, 2005|Tim Brown

HOUSTON — If the Chicago White Sox are going to be perceived as the fresh blueprint for universal baseball achievement, then imitation will follow, which means the search is on for dowdy ownership, ill-conceived ballparks, take-no-guff general managers, garrulous field leaders and rosters of players with generally ordinary skills and uncommon faith in one another.

Best start now.

In the adolescence of the game's computer age, the White Sox came to life when, by the estimation of their pitching coach, no fewer than six of their pitchers had career seasons. Management traded superstars or simply let them leave. The survivors learned to survive alongside Manager Ozzie Guillen and his accusations, his rants, and his charm.

Maybe they did not play to the national audience, but the White Sox were just good enough, and in a breathtaking way. Their clubhouse did not seethe with mistrust. Their lineup did not stall after the big-money men.

Did you watch Wednesday night? The White Sox scored their only run when Willie Harris singled, Scott Podsednik bunted him to second, Carl Everett hit a ground ball and Jermaine Dye did all he could with a Brad Lidge slider, rolling it into center field.

They often played the way General Manager Kenny Williams foresaw they would, and the way Guillen insisted they would. And, even then, you could see in the final days that Williams and Guillen were astonished it fit so seamlessly. In the hours after the final out in the longest season in White Sox history, Guillen's brashness had been replaced by something perhaps like introspection. He held his boys. He pressed his hands against the men who won the American League Central division, then stormed through the postseason in a mere dozen games.

Before the White Sox would play the Houston Astros, Guillen said that his goal was to win, but his dream was to grow old around his children, and to help raise their children. That's all.

He forced personality into an iMac game, and his ballplayers learned to live with that, often jokingly referencing the bus under which he so often threw them. He reintroduced accountability as the measure of a man's worth, admitting his own failures and revealing theirs. When notorious brooder Everett slumped and was replaced by Dye in the order's third spot, Guillen let him grouse and then directed him to the nearest mirror.

The result: In the World Series, Dye was the MVP and Everett batted .444.

How good was it to be the White Sox? To be in this World Series in this year? Geoff Blum had one at-bat and hit the game-winning home run in the 14th inning of Game 3. Harris had one at-bat and scored the only run in Game 4. Scott Podsednik hit as many home runs as Jerry Reinsdorf's John Wayne statue during the regular season, and ended Game 2 with his second of the postseason.

They pitched for Ozzie. They played for Ozzie. And they did it all for each other, because, as it turned out, they had no choice.

A couple of hours before Game 4, Guillen wandered the hallway beneath the ballpark, hands in his back pockets and cap pushed back on his head. He'd come down from the Manic Ozzie of the early rounds, perhaps because he knew by then he'd done what he'd returned to Chicago to do.

And he talked about why this had happened.

"Last season," he said, "we had great players, but ... It was painful to see this team, every day, day in, day out."

So long, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Lee, Jose Valentin. Hello, Dye, Podsednik, A.J. Pierzynski, Tadahito Iguchi.

"Last year, I couldn't bunt, couldn't hit and run," Guillen said. "With runners on first and second, a lot of guys wouldn't hit where I wanted them to. They wanted to get the RBI."

This year, he said, was different.

"I got the whip," he said. "Either they're going to drive me crazy or I'm going to drive them crazy."

So, taking situational baseball over lunacy, Everett bunts. Paul Konerko, who hit 40 home runs, goes to right.

"That's a team," Guillen said. "You didn't see that before.

He couldn't resist, apparently.

Teams, anymore, come and go. On Thursday, the first day eligible players could file for free agency, Konerko was the only White Sox player to file. The parade is today.

On the Minute Maid Park infield late Wednesday night, Konerko was asked about returning to the White Sox.

"I hope so," he said. "I'll see if we can get something done."

Hours before, General Manager Kenny Williams sounded as vague.

"We'll offer him as much as we can offer him and still have the chance to keep the whole of the team together and improve and win," he said. "Beyond that, we'll see. There's got to be a middle ground that works for us and works for him. He's not the kind of guy who wants to take so much of the budget and not be on a good team. He's not that way."

They'll see.

If it doesn't work, and Konerko goes off to the Angels or Boston Red Sox, the White Sox probably could not replace his 40 home runs and clubhouse comportment. But they have a system now. And they have a history that anyone can remember, and it includes something good.

And they have Ozzie.

Try duplicating that.

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