Sox's message loud and clear
Winners of nine straight, there's a team worth watching on the South Side
CHICAGO -- If the Chicago White Sox thought all their hot-button distractions had migrated south to Florida, well, they had to cinch it up and hunker down this week after the ol' Hawkaroo put a classic "You gotta be bleeping me" umpire rant on the board.
So, of course, that's what we were all talking about the last two days: Hawk's red-faced verbal hurricane against some umpire. Some Sox fans would say it was the best rant they ever saw.
Hawk (real name Ken Harrelson, but only Yaz and Luis Tiant call him that) was his own pick to click when he tore into umpire Mark Wegner on Wednesday at Tropicana Field, driving Internet traffic and fostering debate on his standing as an announcer. Sports blogs, radio shows and fans of Hawk's folksy brand of insanity loved the outburst, which I've heard about 250 times by now.
Bud Selig, Jerry Reinsdorf and the umpires, not so much. But while Hawk drove the discussion the last two days, it's the White Sox who are worthy of our attention.
The first-place Sox won their ninth game in a row, 7-4 over Seattle on Friday night. Gordon Beckham hit two homers, Adam Dunn continued his monster comeback season, Jake Peavy took a shaky no-hitter into the fifth and the White Sox hitters showed resilience, erasing a Mariners comeback by scoring three runs in the eighth against a shaky Seattle defense.
According to some Pulitzer-worthy investigating, I found out it was the first time Beckham hit two home runs on the same day that the New York Mets recorded a no-hitter.
Not much of a crowd to watch the Sox improve to 13-13 at U.S. Cellular Field, though. The announced crowd was 19,168, with weather at first pitch sunny and a little chilly. Maybe everyone stayed home to hear whether Hawk would apologize to Wegner on the broadcast. I don't believe he addressed it on-air, though he talked to reporters about it before the game.
I know he has his detractors, and for good reason, but I'm an unabashed fan of Hawk. You know what you're going to get with him. His shtick is going after umpires, talking about Paul Konerko's 19,000-square-foot house in Scottsdale and repeating old Yaz stories. It's not Vin Scully, but at least he's not boring.
"Hawk is one of a kind," Konerko said. "I think we all know that. Hawk is going to say what is on his mind usually. That's that. Obviously as players, we find a lot of the stuff comical, but it's good stuff to keep us occupied. But a lot of time he's right as well."
White Sox chief marketing officer Brooks Boyer laughs when he gets a letter complaining about Harrelson being a homer. Uhh, duh.
"He's a homer," Boyer said. "It's unique. The style is not for everybody, but it's for a large, large percentage of our fans."
Boyer said he's told Hawk before that he's the last of his kind. The genial homer is going the way of the 100-steal baseball player. Everyone wants to be "a network guy," Boyer noted.
In Chicago alone, we've lost Johnny "Red" Kerr and Ron Santo in the past few years. Hawk's only 70, and seemingly in good shape. He said he wants to die in the booth calling a Konerko home run. I hope he outlasts Konerko.
Then again, if he's as popular as the Sox think he is, maybe they should fire Harrelson just to get people away from their TVs. Attendance continues to underwhelm. The Sox are averaging 20,566 a game.
Boyer said TV ratings have shown consistent gains since the Sox reversed a slow start. Attendance might take time to really climb, but Boyer said it always follows ratings, which bodes well, as long as the Sox keep winning.
"We've sold more season tickets in the last week than in the last four weeks combined," Boyer said.
He also knew there wouldn't be a big crowd Friday night and he was right. A walk-up crowd never materialized. The players notice, trust me.
"Obviously you'd like to see a little more support, there's no doubt," Peavy said after his no-decision. "When we won eight in a row, nine now, and you come and the ballpark on a Friday night, Mariners' Cy Young winner in town, it would be nice.
"But it's not for us to worry about. We're going to show up and create our own intensity. And we've been doing that for the most part. It would be nice for fans to jump on board with a first-place team playing as good as we are."
Even if the fans aren't on board, it doesn't change the fact that the biggest sports story in Chicago is the White Sox. Well, that and Bears offseason practice. But mostly the Sox, who are back to playing classic Summer Sox ball. They're hitting .312 with 38 extra-base hits (18 home runs) during their winning streak.
On Friday, Dunn hit his 17th home run in the fifth, following Beckham's second off Felix Hernandez.
"Gordon Beckham: Felix Hernandez Hunter" is seemingly less plausible than "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter."
"Yeah, he's been swinging the bat really good and having really good at-bats," Dunn said. "He just looks 'hitterish' now. He looks like every at-bat he's going to do some damage. So hitting has a lot to do with confidence, and he looks like he has it right now."
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With a favorable homestand to open the month against Seattle, Toronto and Minnesota, the confident Sox have no excuse not to keep, or improve, a slight cushion in the AL Central. And they seem locked in, and the eighth inning was a good example of why they have to be.
"Any time you get overconfident, baseball will let you know," manager Robin Ventura said.
Peavy lost a no-hit bid in the fifth when A.J. Pierzynski lost a pop-up in front of home plate. Third baseman Orlando Hudson touched it before it rolled foul, and the two later had words in the dugouts. But it didn't hurt the Sox.
Seattle, fresh off clubbing the Rangers, scored two in the seventh and two more in the eighth off Peavy, Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain. But the Sox rallied in the bottom of the eighth when Konerko's fly ball hit centerfielder Michael Saunders in the face. Pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge scored from third on Alexei Ramirez's infield single and two more scored on Alejandro De Aza's hit.
"The guys in the eighth inning did all the work," Beckham said.
While the Cubs build for the future and ignore the present, the Sox are playing for today. While optimistic Cubs fans study minor league box scores, Sox fans have an excuse to care about real-life major league baseball.
Yes, there's a buzz on the South Side, and the good news is it's not just Hawk's chirping.
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