The notion that the Chicago White Sox are considered to be legitimate World Series contenders in 2021 (and beyond) is new for White Sox fans — uncharted territory, in fact, for many White Sox fans. I’m 30-years-old and have been a White Sox fan nearly all of my life, and this for me is something that I’ve never felt before.
Heck, even back in 2005 when the team won its last World Series Championship, they accomplished it under a different set of expectations. I found an old Baseball Prospectus story from 2005 in which staff members — that included Joe Sheehan, Nate Silver, and Jay Jaffe among others — predicted the White Sox to finish no higher than third place in the American League Central, even after finishing 83-79 and in second place in the AL Central under first-year skipper Ozzie Guillen back in 2004.
The White Sox won 95 games and the AL Central crown in 2000, and strung together five consecutive seasons with finishes of .500 or better leading up to the 2005 season under Jerry Manuel and Guillen, yet were still pegged to finish in either third or fourth place by a bevy of widely-respected baseball minds in 2005. That’s why many dub the 2005 campaign as a “lightning in a bottle” type of occurrence, one that saw the White Sox improve their record by 16 wins as they won the AL Central in 2005. They eventually steam-rolled the field in the postseason on their way to the franchise’s third World Series Championship.
Yet here in 2020, Bleacher Report has the White Sox second to only the defending champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in their latest MLB power rankings. Many national baseball pundits have dubbed the White Sox the favorites to win the American League Central in 2021, and some have even pegged them as their favorite to represent the Junior Circuit in the Fall Classic this coming season, but, is the hype equal to their true potential?
The Chicago White Sox have been good before. They’ve never been this good before, at least not on paper. They’ve also never strung together success the way that this team has the potential to do. Folks, as we sit here today, we’re quite possibly watching the infancy of the greatest era of White Sox baseball ever. Think about that for a minute.
Now, think about this: we might also be on the verge of having this era of White Sox success stolen from us by the Coronavirus pandemic, and the bubbling labor strife that will threaten the 2022 MLB season after the current Collective Bargaining Agreement ends. The league and the union’s current CBA expires at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign, one that like 2020, might not even be played to its traditional length.
A pandemic shortened 60-game season in 2020, followed by another pandemic shortened campaign in 2021, and then a potential lock-out of the game entirely in 2022, is threatening to rob White Sox fans of something that they have waited many, many years for, and in some cases, their entire lives.
Reports surfaced this week from both sides of the game that the traditional start of the 2021 MLB season is all but impossible as we wait for the newly FDA approved COVID-19 vaccine to become more widely available. Until its availability to the general public and private entities is known, and until the impact of the vaccine is measured, the 2021 MLB season will remain in question.
“I don’t see any way spring training starts in February,” an American League owner said. “Zero chance of that. I don’t care if we play 140 games, 120 games or 80 games, we have to make sure everyone is safe to do this right.”
“I think there will be significant pressure for players to get the vaccine first before they go to Spring Training, and if that has to be moved back to April and play 130 games, so be it,” an unnamed National League owner tells Nightengale. “But to have 162 games, and start Spring Training at the normal time without players being vaccinated, that’s just crazy. Does Arizona and Florida, with their cases spiking, really want teams with about 125 people in each organization coming to town without vaccines?”
Those quotes come from a USA Today story by national MLB insider, Bob Nightengale. Gee, I wonder which “unnamed American League owner” Nightengale got that first quote from?
Players want to be paid for their full salaries in 2021, especially after they accepted prorated salaries to complete the shortened 2020 season just this year. Owners want fans in the seats, and they want gate sales back after they lost that revenue entirely this year. As of right now, with the first batch of newly approved COVID-19 vaccines just being administered this week, it looks like neither side is going to get what they want.
The 2021 MLB season will almost surely be delayed while the MLBPA pushes to get its players vaccinated so that they can report to work without fear of contracting and/or spreading the virus. In turn, the owners will scoff at the idea of paying players their full salaries while they continue to weather their financial losses that stem from a partial loss of games, and a complete loss of fans in the stands.
We witnessed this past spring that neither side is in agreement on what the fair solution is for both sides. They made a mockery of themselves, and their bargaining process, by airing grievances out across social media almost daily for months, before finally coming to a compromise that allowed the 2020 season to be played. A tactical decision that pitted the masses against each other in the court of public opinion in the effort of putting pressure on the other side, but almost assuredly created no shortage of angst and ill-will towards the other side respectively with just over a year separating their CBA negotiations for the 2022 season and beyond.
Aside from the health and well being of the players, and the never-ending struggle over revenue sharing within a business, in which the least valuable franchise (Miami Marlins) is worth a paltry $980 million, while the richest club (New York Yankees) are worth up to $5 billion (according to a 2020 Forbes report), there are a handful of other hot-topic items that will be up for debate in the new CBA. Draft compensation and competitive balance rules, the implementation of a universal designated hitter, the length of the season and postseason, a potential international draft, and then some.
The last thing that we needed heading into the bargaining process was another hurdle, but we got one. We have the largest national pandemic that many of us have seen in our lifetimes throwing yet another wrench in the already complex and volatile negotiating process that is millionaires versus billionaires in the sport of professional baseball.
While it would be incredibly naive to sit here and blame the pandemic for all of the problems that professional baseball has when it comes to labor strife, it has most certainly made the situation much murkier.
Selfishly, as a White Sox fan, you can’t help but feel slighted by all of the impending murkiness that is this ever-important next CBA, as it is threatening to rob this loyal fan base of what has eluded them for much of their life — sustained success from their beloved White Sox. Of course, we can’t pretend that the chairman himself, Jerry Reinsdorf, isn’t one of the driving forces behind the impending labor strife, because we know better than that.
My father stoked and nourished my rabid love for this baseball team, and for him, I feel the worst. His response to the article I sent him this week regarding the impending delayed start to the 2021 season was as somber as a child losing their dearest toy or comfort item.
A lifelong White Sox fan who will turn 57 this spring, waited 41 years to sit by himself at Game 2 of the 2005 World Series with a single ticket to Paul Konerko‘s unforgettable grand slam, and then waited another 16 years for his White Sox to be on the verge of their golden era. Now that’s in serious question.
It’s 2020, and there are much bigger issues being faced by everyone as a collective nationwide. With civil and social unrest, and the COVID-19 pandemic leading the pack of things that this year will be remembered infamously for, baseball, for many, means much more than what it seems at face value.
Baseball is more than a game, and the fandom that stems from it becomes a part of your life, a part of who you are. It’s a safe place from the daily stressors that we all face, a place to both escape and unwind from the rigors of daily life. For that reason, it’s both disheartening and disappointing to have that taken from you.
As it stands today, from a baseball perspective, the next half-decade should be the Golden Era of White Sox baseball. We can only hope we don’t lose that era to what could be an work stoppage equivalent to that of the 1994 strike that nearly killed the game of professional baseball.