Hawks distract from bad baseball
Hockey-mad Chicago has tuned out the Cubs and White Sox
CHICAGO -- Paul Konerko is an active White Sox legend. For how much longer, no one knows.
But for now, before games he sits in the corner stall once occupied by Frank Thomas and Jim Thome as the Slugger in Residence, working on crossword puzzles, thumbing through a Time magazine, talking to reporters.
Konerko is also the biggest hockey fan on the team. Earlier this week, with the potential for either a Game 7 at the United Center or a downtown parade on the horizon (it is the latter), Konerko had another reason to root, root, root for the Blackhawks.
"If they can somehow pull some of the media out of the clubhouse in Wrigley, then that's great," he said. "We'd love to see it happen."
The White Sox and their crosstown rival Cubs should be thanking the Blackhawks for keeping some of the harsh glare of the city's media and rabid fans off them, because this is shaping up to be one of those summers that turns into a countdown to Bears' training camp.
The inclusion of corporate pariah BP as the sponsor of this six-game series is particularly apt. None of the three can quite figure out how to stop their respective disasters.
"Maybe they're going to pick who's the worst team in town, not the best one," Ozzie Guillen said.
Think anyone will want to start a tradition of kissing the BP Cup?
Typically the first matchup between the teams is preceded by the predictable stories, including the easy baiting of Guillen to rip Wrigley Field and its genus of chemically enhanced rodents.
But with the Hawks' wild Stanley Cup clincher the talk of the town, no one's too concerned about this series. People will go, it will be a full house, but between the Blackhawks' parade and relative excitement over Saturday's World Cup match between the U.S. and England, bad baseball is on the backburner.
"With the Blackhawks in the playoffs, I don't think it mattered if we were 40-10 right now," Sox reliever Matt Thornton said Tuesday afternoon. "Everyone would be excited, but the Blackhawks, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see that. So it's tough to compete with that."
Maybe if the Sox had a chance to sign LeBron James?
"That might get a little excitement and distraction from hockey," Thornton said.
The public reading of a spicy LeBron rumor might outdraw a Sox game, and certainly beat it in the ratings game. Cubs too.
Of course, Thornton's point is purely speculative as the Sox are nowhere near 40-10. They're 26-33 after winning two of three from Detroit. The truth is the Blackhawks, despite capturing the imagination of the city and being Chicago's best team (by far), still don't have as many dedicated, invested fans as either baseball teams.
"It's important because of the city," Guillen said. "Everybody gets into these games. I don't know how big it's going to be [because of the Blackhawks], but it's very important to everyone."
Guillen will be the first to tell you there is no excuse for the bad state of baseball in this city. Both teams have payrolls north of $100 million, experienced managers and enough able-bodied players to be leading their divisions. Both organizations are dealing with decreased attendance (more the Sox than the Cubs) and frustrated fan bases.
If both teams were in first place right now, Friday would go down as a banner day in Chicago.
"If you're going to have a reason why there's going to be less coverage of the Cubs-White Sox, that's a great reason," said Konerko, who wasn't rooting for a game seven, despite holding tickets for it.
Despite my mounting cynicism, and the series having less buzz than the WNBA All-Star Game, these games always tend to make news. And A.J. Pierzynski should be prominently involved, maybe for the last time, so he's always someone to watch. And I hear the Stanley Cup will make an appearance.
"It's the most energy a regular-season game is going to have all year," Konerko said. "I think the interleague games, in general, are kind of played out. But our series with the Cubs is still really good. They still have a lot of energy to them.
"Our fans, I think it matters more to them than it does for [Cubs] fans. We want to win the series against them. What we're looking to do is win four out of six, that or better. Our fans want to see [it] happen."
On Tuesday afternoon, as the Sox prepared to start a series with Detroit, only one TV camera graced the clubhouse, along with the usual collection of beat writers daydreaming about vacation days. Some discussions centered around Ozney Guillen's amateur draft freefall and his father's unhappiness with it (the Sox took him in the 22nd round after I left for the airport.).
Thanks to the Blackhawks, I haven't spent enough time in the White Sox clubhouse this spring to accurately feel the temperature of the team. But anyone with common sense knows there's a good possibility the team tries to unload some veteran contracts as the season stumbles along. Then again, we thought that would happen in 2007, and it didn't. And it's not like teams are lining up to give the Sox prospects.
"Hopefully, if we play well this week, that could be a sign of something to come," Konerko said Tuesday. "But more times than not with the Cubs series, you can just throw everything out; last place, first place, third place, the same thing with them."
There is less of a chance the Cubs (27-33) unload players, with some onerous contracts on the books as the Ricketts family continues to show patience as they become accustomed to owning a baseball team. They will have decisions to make for next year, with veterans Ted Lilly and Derrek Lee having expiring contracts, along with manager Lou Piniella.
Piniella offers daily iterations of changes he's going to make that never quite happen. He's run out of answers and is tired of answering questions. But it's not his fault. He's got too many outfielders and not enough relievers. Aramis Ramirez has been incompetent and is now on the disabled list. Ryan Theriot went from NL hits leader to fighting for a spot in the lineup. It's a maddening team.
The best player on either side of town could actually be Carlos Silva. Think about that for a second and be thankful for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Antti Niemi. Not to mention the surplus of LeBron rumors.
Anyone hear if LeBron is going to the game?
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.