This season isn't scripted. Honest. It seems that way, since all reality television follows some sort of an outline, but the 2010 Chicago White Sox really are this crazy, this dramatic and, yes, this real.
Cameras from MLB Network are following around White Sox brass for "The Club," a look inside a team's front office, and so far they have been treated to a series' worth of signature moments. The power struggle between Kenny Williams, the team's general manager, and Ozzie Guillen, its manager. The resignation of Guillen's son after a Twitter-bashing of the team – and Williams' restaurant. The team's early-season struggles that nearly prompted Williams to ship off valuable veterans. The shouting match between Williams and Guillen after another of his sons was drafted by the White Sox and offered what the manager considered a paltry signing bonus.
And finally, most important, the ability for a dead-in-the-water club, its parental figures acting like burgeoning divorcees, to resurrect itself and return square to the race for the American League Central title.
Guillen is, of course, The Situation. Kenny W will play Pauly D. Throw in Hawk Harrelson as Snooki and it's a hit.
It's all funny because the White Sox are unlike any organization in baseball. They yell. They fight. They take the private moments every other team holds sacrosanct and make them public. They are refreshing and infuriating, not taking themselves too seriously but not taking themselves seriously enough, either.
Which makes the resurrection from the Central graveyard they shared with Kansas City and Cleveland not too terribly startling. The White Sox were bred to underachieve: talented players who struggled in bunches, hit when they couldn't pitch, pitched when they couldn't hit, did both when they couldn't field. On June 8, they were 24-33, 9½ games behind Minnesota, outscored by 49 runs, primed to sell their players to the highest bidder. That night came the alleged tête-à-tête between Guillen and Williams.
The next day, the White Sox beat Detroit 15-3. They would win 15 of their next 16 games, including 11 in a row. The veterans were off the block, Guillen and Williams knocked out of the headlines, Twitter pages and signing bonuses scuttled for a new sort of reality: The White Sox were again contenders, and they're still just two games behind Detroit after losses Sunday to the Chicago Cubs and Monday to Kansas City.
Just as they were capable of underachieving, they're liable to overachieve.
"Anything goes around here," pitcher Jake Peavy(notes) said. "It's the White Sox way. Things do run a little differently around here. It's different than anything I've ever seen. Everybody here is passionate. Yeah, it's a little dysfunctional at times. But everyone is geared toward winning and trying to find a way to get this team to the playoffs to be a world champion. That's truly the motive."
Dysfunction looks downright desirable when it results in the sort of turnaround so rarely seen in baseball. The White Sox of three weeks ago lamented Carlos Quentin's(notes) miserable season. The White Sox of today are celebrating his seven home runs in June. The White Sox of three weeks ago wondered where Peavy, the unanimous 2007 National League Cy Young winner, had gone. The White Sox of today know that he's always been there: Now he's throwing strikes with his deadly fastball, 72.8 percent (187 of 257) over his last four starts compared to 67 percent in his first 11 starts.
It's amazing how the focus shifts from whether the GM and manager kissed and made up – they still haven't publicly, for the record – to an on-field product that's actually worth watching.
"It's a little bit of a surprise how quickly we did turn it around," Peavy said. "Everybody on this team believed in our ability and never gave up on us being a good team. It's just nice to come to the ballpark and play for something."
Guillen nodded his head. "It's a surprise for me, too," he said, and a welcome one.
As much of an attention monger as Guillen can be, he understands that managing in such situations turns cumbersome. It's one thing to deal with the egos of 25 men, to make out the lineup and delegate among his coaches and pore over scouting reports and handle the media. Doing so while in a war with his direct boss – though owner Jerry Reinsdorf is more Guillen's superior, as Williams long ago could/should/would have fired him for insubordination – is a most inefficient way to do it.
Particularly when surrounded by cameras.
"This is going to be a documentary about the organization, what people do behind the scenes," Guillen said. "People never see that. I'm excited. I'm more excited now that we're playing better.
"My role was nothing. I was managing."
Guillen, for all his bravado, often minimizes his contributions. He is fond of saying that a manager is only as good as his players, which, for its fundamental truth, undersells what the best skippers do. Guillen took a missile-wrecked vessel and guided it toward calm waters. The players needed to patch up the holes, rejigger the systems and prepare to head back into the murky waters where Minnesota and Detroit exist instead of Cleveland and Kansas City.
"If we play the way we played in those 2½ weeks," Guillen said, "we can compete against anybody."
Just as if they play the way they played in the weeks prior, the White Sox can forget the feel-good flavor they're tasting today. The fighting would return, and Williams or Guillen would lose his job, and the White Sox's 2010 glory would have lasted, quite appropriately, for about 15 minutes.
The whole thing would make for great TV. Just not a great season.
- Ozzie Guillen
- White Sox
- Kenny Williams