Commentary

Sox crowded out of trade talks

Williams says no-shows hurting deal making

Originally Published: July 7, 2009
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

The Dodgers series knocked the wind out of them. Won two of three against the best team in baseball on a perfectly gorgeous summer week in Chicago but got their butts kicked at the turnstiles where, in case anyone has forgotten, it really matters.

The White Sox were making a move by that point last month, but the fans apparently didn't get the memo as the team drew an average of 20,814 in the three-game series.

[+] EnlargeRoy Halladay
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireRoy Halladay is said to be available, but might be beyond a team budget hurt by poor attendance.

Tuesday night, in their first head-to-head attendance duel with the Cubs this season, the White Sox -- winners of seven of their last nine games with All-Star Mark Buehrle pitching against Cleveland -- drew 23,758 to U.S. Cellular Field. The Cubs, who played the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley, drew, yawn, 40,359.

Big shock there.

And therein lies just one of White Sox general manager Kenny Williams' dilemmas.

"If I'm being completely honest," the Sox general manager said before Tuesday night's game, "money is more of an issue now because we expected a little more [fan] support than we've gotten. I think it's a reflection of the economy what has happened in regards to attendance, and I don't know if we've played consistent enough or been exciting enough for people to get behind us yet, so we're still hopeful.

"[But] that obviously is going to have an impact on what you can and cannot do. We've been probably a little short in our projections initially, and we might have to take a lot closer look at it because the Dodgers series was certainly one that was an eye-opener for us."

Does Williams try to acquire a player (Toronto's Roy Halladay springs to mind) who might be beyond a team budget hurt by poor attendance with the idea of being able to better market the team and thus improve attendance?

Leaking the news that the club was pursuing Jake Peavy earlier in the season was practically unheard of for Williams, but then teams that want their fans to know they are doing everything they can to improve themselves must resort to such tactics.

The news Tuesday night that the Sox got relief pitcher Tony Pena from Arizona in exchange for minor league infielder Brandon Allen, might be an example of what Williams said might seem a "blip" to fans but really is a "main addition." But it won't bring more fans rushing in, either.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen maintains that public support is not of utmost concern.

[+] EnlargeGeoff Blum
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesThe acquisition of Geoff Blum in 2005 wasn't flashy, but it was his home run that won Game 3 in Houston.

"I don't think we're going to make a move for the fans," he said. "A lot of people say we've got to bring in so-and-so, but we have to make a move to resolve the problem we need. If we go out and try to please the fans, all of a sudden we don't do the right thing for the organization, for the ballclub.

"As an example, when we traded for [Geoff] Blum, people said 'Huh?' But that's what we needed, a guy to play every position. And last year, a lot of people asked why we got Junior [Griffey], but remember, [Nick] Swisher, [Paul] Konerko and [Jim] Thome were struggling during that time. Kenny is going to make moves to help the ballclub not to make the people happy that, 'Look, we did something.' We're thinking about the organization; we're thinking about the future."

Williams will agree with that, saying he will never sacrifice the "window of competitiveness."

"What that means is you have to make some hard decisions sometimes and put young guys into the equation on a regular basis so they can learn from the veteran core that has won," he said. "If you try to put an entire team of young players in there at the same time, you're asking for what possibly could be an extended stretch of losing in trying to climb back up to prominence, and we don't want to take that fall."

With the payroll down approximately $20 million from last season, when Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf lost money while going for the playoffs and beyond, don't expect him to keep that up -- despite Williams' claim that, "All Jerry wants to do is break even, and in many cases has been willing to absorb a loss in an effort to win a championship."

And so we're back to the Sox drawing flies, uh, fans.

The club might have been guilty of overconfidence when it assigned the Dodgers series "premier" status, its most expensive ticket in a three-tier system. But it was the 50th anniversary of the Sox-Dodgers World Series, the second time ever the two clubs had met in Chicago and the first meeting since '05.

The fact that the Dodgers were the best team in baseball would have appeared to sweeten the attraction, but the game at U.S. Cellular still attracted just 22,251, 20,142 and 20,051.

The White Sox are on pace to draw 2.2 million for the season, which would be down from 2.5 million last year, although, to be fair, last year's team picked it up considerably in those last five home games.

Still, it's no 3 million-plus like they get across town.

Tuesday night on the South Side, Paul Konerko became the first Sox player in U.S. Cellular history to hit three home runs in one game, with his seven runs batted in -- four of which came on a go-ahead grand slam in the sixth -- leading the White Sox to a 10-6 victory over the Indians.

Alexei Ramirez added a home run, a double and two runs batted in; rookie extraordinaire Gordon Beckham knocked in his 17th run in his past 21 games; and those in attendance sure seemed to enjoy it.

But 23,758 can make only so much noise.

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.