Monday, July 05, 2004

Time To Move On



OK, it's all over. The Crosstown Classic has come and gone. Cubs fan have had their time to gloat, and White Sox fans have had their time to wallow in despair.

Now both teams must move on. Pennant races are in full bloom. The playoffs - and only the playoffs! - must be focused on. The present moment is a fork in the road.

This past week has been just what the Cubs needed. Sammy Sosa is beginning to look like the Sammy of old, and not just an old Sammy. Glendon Rusch continue to look like so much more than the rotation's stopgap. Carlos Zambrano is a first-time All-Star, fitting for a pitcher that has been the Cubs' best starter, albeit the least talked about. Moises Alou received the All-Star invitation he deserved. And the Cardinals are well within reach.



Meanwhile, the separate returns of Aramis Ramirez, Kerry Wood and Alex Gonzalez loom as added beacons of hope for a team that Dusty Baker has masterfully guided through a storm of injuries that may have forced a lesser team to implode.

The Cubs will be playing the Brewers for, apparently, the entire month of July. Well, actually, they'll meet 11 times in huge divisional games. The Brewers have - get this - All-Stars and stuff! They're, um, good. No really.

As for the White Sox, the current fork in the road is a decision of monumental importance. The Sox of the past few seasons were never accused of being mentally tough. Far from it. This was often blamed on Jerry Manuel's laid back ways. There was never any fire when the going got tough. Well, now we'll see if Ozzie Guillen can keep his team focused and steer it clear of the potential landmine that was the sweep at the hand of the Cubs.

Of course, the Sox had some harsh disadvantages over the lost weekend. Magglio Ordonez was still missing in action, his return drawing nearer, but not soon enough. With no DH, Frank Thomas was limited to just three appearances as a pinch hitter, strikeouts all. Come-and-go rain halted a possible Sox comeback on Saturday. Jose Valentin was mysteriously left out of the lineup on Sunday. (Why?) Felix Diaz showed that he isn't quite ready for the big time.

But these things should not be dwelled upon. If the Sox want to dwell upon something, and allow their anger to simmer to the point of motivation, they should look no further than their All-Star snubs. I guess being in first place with one of the best-hitting, highest-scoring lineups in baseball doesn't go as far as it used to. I guess somebody must really like the Indians, who have four All-Stars despite lingering below .500. I guess Jason Giambi is having an All-Star season...I guess.

Whatever.

Thomas and Paul Konerko have been outstanding. Props to Esteban Loaiza for his second consecutive appearance, but Mark Buehrle and Shingo Takatsu have been equally deserving, Takatsu's ninth-inning meltdown against the Cubs notwithstanding. Heck, Valentin has put up, arguably, the best numbers among AL shortstops. If any team in MLB deserves a bat somewhere in the AL dugout, the Sox are as deserving as anyone. That's what the Sox do...hit with the best.



The Sox' biggest problem in regard to their lack of notoriety among both fans and fellow players is their relative anonymity. It's hard to get votes across the nation when only sparse crowds make it to the Cell. Nobody is going to love you until you love yourself.

If the Sox need motivation, this should be it. They should demand to be heard, demand to be recognized. They should demand that their fans come out. Then, and only then, will the rest of the world truly take note.

Of course, three consecutive second-place finishes would also seem to be adequate motivation to get over the hump as the summer of 2004 starts to dwindle away, but with this Sox group, you never can tell.

They have to stop being so damn nice.

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