Who could have seen this coming?
After predicting titles on both sides of town, it's time to reflect on a season to forget
CHICAGO -- A large cardboard moving box, filled to the brim like a pint of freshly poured Guinness, sat between the Chicago White Sox lockers of Adam Dunn and Jake Peavy. On top of the pile was a book.
"This yours?" I asked Dunn a couple of days ago, sort of half kidding.
He pawed at it with his right hand, looked at the cover, then tossed it pack on the heap.
"It's not mine," he said.
The book? "The Art of Hitting .300" by Charley Lau.
Dunn, who Wednesday completes the first season of a four-year, $56 million contract, didn't come close to hitting .300 for the Sox. He didn't even reach .200. Instead, he was so stunningly awful that the New York Times recently described him as "the worst player in baseball" and winner of its 2011 American League Least Valuable Player "award."
The thing is, Dunn would have probably voted for himself, too. He came to the Sox averaging 40 home runs and 101 RBIs during the last seven years. He entered the final regular-season game of 2011 with only 11 homers, 42 RBIs and the lowest batting average of any player in MLB history with at least 450 plate appearances.
"I was probably the key catalyst of us having the season that we had," said Dunn, who vows never to discuss his 2011 numbers again. "That's kind of a hard pill to swallow. If I just play like I have for the past 10 years, we probably are in a lot better situation than we are now."
And that situation is this: If you had to choose which Chicago ballclub had a worse season -- the White Sox or the Cubs -- you'd have to pick the Sox. And, yes, I know the Cubs stunk it up more than a compost pile, but they were supposed to suck eggs. Everyone recognized that.
Well, almost everyone. As the great Bill Walton once told me -- and it might have been while we were listening to Grateful Dead CDs in the dark at his San Diego house -- "You can't score unless you shoot."
I shot but didn't score with my preseason MLB picks. I predicted the White Sox would win the AL Central and that the Cubs would win the NL Central. In my defense, I had just spent considerable time at the Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley.
There will be no apologies issued on the White Sox pick. Dunn is right. Had he hit like Adam Dunn, not Adam Done, the Sox wouldn't have finished below .500 and 100 miles behind the Detroit Tigers. Then again, if big-ticket item Alex Rios hadn't become a one-tool player, and Gordon Beckham didn't have almost as many strikeouts as hits, and free agent-to-be Mark Buehrle hadn't been the only starter with a winning record (though, Philip Humber can finish 10-9 with a victory Wednesday) -- well, at least it would have been a race.
I would have thought we would have had a month, a first half, a second half where we played well. We never got hot.” -- Paul Konerko
"I would have thought we would have had a month, a first half, a second half where we played well," said Paul Konerko, who did his part with a 30-plus-homer, 100-plus-RBI season. "We never got hot."
So they slowly collapsed, thanks to an offense that finished below the league average in every meaningful statistical category. They finished above .500 in only three of the six months of play and even then their best monthly record was just 16-12. Not only did they never get hot; they never got warm. The Tigers grinded them into an afterthought.
Now manager Ozzie Guillen is gone to the Florida Marlins (home of the marketing promotion Empty Seat Night), leaving White Sox general manager Kenny Williams without any deflector shields. If Williams has another bad year, he'll be looking for his own cardboard packing box.
Meanwhile, an often unwatchable Cubs team somehow sold 3 million tickets, though near the end thousands of fans wore Harry Potter cloaks of invisibility. The good news is ... well, there is no good news, other than their dreadful season is almost finished and everyone can prepare themselves for next year's dreadful season.
The Cubs don't seem to have a plan. If they do, chairman Tom Ricketts is keeping it to himself. They need to hire a general manager and the new general manager will need to hire a new manager. Mike Quade did what he could, but Jesus couldn't have won with this team.
I thought the starting rotation was good enough to keep the Cubs close in a winnable division. Then came the injuries, no Plan B and, of course, the usual Carlos Zambrano mushroom cloud.
Zambrano was banished. GM Jim Hendry was squeezed out. Starlin Castro was busted for daydreaming.
Kosuke Fukudome got traded. Zambrano didn't.
The Cubs were forgettable, but rarely boring. But anyone who thinks they're going to become this year's Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97 in 2010, 90-plus wins, NL West division winners in 2011) is smoking ivy from Wrigley's brick walls.
It was, for the Cubs and White Sox, a season without banners, without Ron Santo, without much of a reason to go to the ballparks. It was a lost year filled with defeats.
"That's why, when our last game is over, I'm going to look at it like it was a total fluke," said Dunn.
He was talking about his own numbers, but you get the idea. To 2011 -- the season that never existed.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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