7:47 PM CDT, September 30, 2012
With their crosstown rivals in an organized retreat for the first time in anyone's memory, the White Sox spent 117 days in first place and went into the last weekend of the season with a division title in their reach.
The weather was beautiful and there should have been a special feeling in the stands at U.S. Cellular Field. But good tickets were available in bunches and you had to wonder: What has happened to Chicago as a baseball town?
When the White Sox lost to 20-game winner David Price and the Rays on Sunday, allowing the Tigers to clinch a share of the American League Central with three games remaining, the attendance was 26,831. The total for the season: 1,965,955, putting Jerry Reinsdorf's team alongside the Royals, Mariners, A's, Indians, Astros and Rays in drawing less than 2 million.
Like manager Robin Ventura and the players, the fans seemed numbed by the late-season fade in which the Sox have lost 10 times in 12 games.
When Orlando Hudson struck out against Fernando Rodney for the final out in a 6-2 game, there was barely a noise from fans, only a few hundred of whom stuck around to see if the players would come back onto the field to throw thank-you T-shirts into the seats.
It wasn't supposed to end this way.
Not the season. The Ken Williams era.
Williams seemed half-hearted when he commented on a report two weeks ago that he will step aside to allow Rick Hahn to become the White Sox's GM at season's end. He didn't exactly deny it; he just said that any decision (or announcement) would wait until after the season, as the focus was on doing something great this year.
You can't fault the effort from Reinsdorf, Williams, Ventura and the players, but three games out with three to play behind a Tigers team that has awakened at the right time (winning six of the last seven) is the end of the line. Gordon Beckham admitted it was time to "pray for a miracle.''
Beckham was one of three so-called homegrown players in the White Sox lineup Sunday, along with Cuban imports Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo. The Rays hit their homegrown guys 1 (Desmond Jennings), 2 (B.J. Upton) and 4 (Evan Longoria), and they were difference-makers, as they often are.
Price was the fourth consecutive homegrown starter that the Rays sent to the mound in the series. The White Sox haven't signed and developed that kind of talent since Ron Schueler was the GM, which is why nobody will argue if Williams does step aside.
It's time. And, yes, I've said that before.
Assuming Williams is stepping aside, he'll leave having presided over Chicago's only championship baseball team since 1917. That's a pretty cool legacy. But he wanted a second trip to the World Series and pushed Reinsdorf to let him sign big-ticket veterans rather than consistently spending more on the draft and international signings.
Williams inherited a loaded cupboard from Schueler after the 95-win season in 2000 but would be turning over one of the weakest farm systems in the game to Hahn. He has been praised for his deal-making success — including this year's nothing-for-something trade that brought Kevin Youkilis from Boston — but has traded away too many young guys like Gio Gonzalez, Daniel Hudson, Clayton Richard and Chris Young for the likes of Nick Swisher and Edwin Jackson.
Paul Konerko has been great as a face of the franchise, but he's 36 (and was acquired by Schueler). Perhaps the lack of young star power has something to do with White Sox attendance dropping six years in a row, with no bounce from the Tom Ricketts/Theo Epstein tear-down of the Cubs.
If Hahn does take over, he will inherit huge questions about the makeup of the 2013 team — the biggest being the possible departures of A.J. Pierzynski and Jake Peavy — and know it could be another two or three years before the farm system starts producing.
Konerko was right not to answer questions about the future of this team on Sunday, with a three-game series in Cleveland remaining. But Reinsdorf must know there are many questions begging answers — the biggest of which is what can be done to make his ballpark busier next season.
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