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PHOENIX, Ariz. — It’s November. The year is almost over.
That it’s only November means there’s still a little bit of time for 2023 to get worse for the White Sox and, more specifically, their fans.
The division-rival Tigers announced Thursday that they poached play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti from his hometown White Sox, the latest blow to a fan base that has taken it on the chin over and over again this year.
Benetti was beloved by White Sox fans, mainly because he is one of them, a native South Sider who grew up rooting for the team. He has become one of the top broadcasters in all of sports in recent years, and his work for ESPN, NBC Sports and Fox took him away from his “day job” regularly, and there was perhaps a feeling among some that it would eventually take him away for good.
But it’s not NFL football or college hoops or the Olympics taking Benetti away from Chicago now. It’s another AL Central team.
Were there maybe cracks forming in the seemingly happy marriage between a fan and his favorite team earlier this year? Benetti jokingly described going through contract negotiations as being like a player going through the arbitration process, an often disillusioning experience for players who learn exactly how much their organizations value them.
Benetti’s rising star made him worth plenty. Team vice president Brooks Boyer said in a Thursday statement that the White Sox allowed Benetti to “explore” the opportunity with the Tigers.
Now fans will have to get used to another voice calling games, just the third different one in a long time, as Benetti spent eight seasons as the successor-in-waiting and then successor to Hawk Harrelson, who landed in the Hall of Fame for his work broadcasting White Sox games for decades.
Losing Benetti to a division rival wasn’t just a stunner. Because of how fans felt about him, it was another black eye for an organization that has had so many this year, it might become a permanent feature.
The year started with the lingering disappointment of 2022, when a team expected to be a World Series contender stumbled to a .500 record. Another year without fan convention Sox Fest didn’t do anything to lessen frustration. A then-celebrated managerial change was dulled by an underwhelming reaction to the team’s richest-ever free-agent signing, Andrew Benintendi, during the winter.
Before spring camp even got underway, the White Sox were dealing with the public-relations nightmare of Mike Clevinger, their other offseason addition, being investigated by Major League Baseball for allegations of domestic violence, an investigation that ended up producing no action on the league’s part but colored fans’ opinion of Clevinger for the remainder of the season.
The regular season came, and the White Sox faceplanted to a 7-21 start, one peppered by the same kinds of injuries that defined the last several seasons. The on-field play was poor, and the trade deadline brought a sell off featuring the departures of fan favorites Lucas Giolito and Jake Burger. Meanwhile, Tim Anderson was punched in the face during a televised on-field fight with the Guardians’ José Ramírez, a report said Jerry Reinsdorf was considering moving the team to Nashville, and traded reliever Keynan Middleton ripped the clubhouse culture under Grifol, who by the summer was just as maligned as predecessor Tony La Russa had been.
On top of all of that, a fan was somehow struck by a bullet while sitting in the stands during a game, and to this day there has been no explanation of how that could have happened.
In a sign of how bad things had gotten on the baseball side of things, Reinsdorf made a shocking change atop the baseball department by firing Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams in August. By the end of the month, he had promoted assistant general manager Chris Getz to Hahn’s old post without interviewing any outside candidates, enraging the fan base further. The White Sox finished the season with 101 losses, one of the worst campaigns in club history.
Now, even with the season concluded, the year has more bad news in store, with Anderson and Liam Hendriks, a pair of faces of the franchise, sent packing to free agency last weekend and Benetti exiting White Sox fans’ lives in favor of a gig in Detroit.
Winning has long been in short supply on the South Side, with only 11 playoff appearances during the team’s 123-year history. But this year has been an unending barrage of bad news, both on and off the field, and it’s taking its toll.
Much has been made of a significant drop in attendance from 2022 to 2023, though many White Sox fans have long based their presence at 35th and Shields on winning rather than a love of the game, which could be fulfilled from home. Though now, with Benetti gone, even that experience is, in the minds of plenty, lessened.
But fans’ attitudes in these rocky times for the organization are more glaring, with loud complaints ringing out across social media with every scrap of information that comes out about the team. Getz, thanks mostly to his seven years spent serving under Hahn, is getting no grace period from fans as he attempts a makeover of the organization. The arrival of a new hitting coach turned into online uproar when Marcus Thames described some of his ideas about the way the team should play. Even mention of top prospect Colson Montgomery doing well in the Arizona Fall League struck fans as another opportunity for the White Sox to screw things up.
Is it too much? Is it a bunch of online overreaction? Sure it is. But that doesn’t change the fact that the White Sox have given fans no reason to feel anything but down in 2023, whether it was things within their control or completely out of it. Pessimism reigns right now.
And Getz, for all his talk about establishing an organizational identity and playing the game the right way, will have to do a lot in order to change hearts and minds, not just when it comes to folks’ feelings about him but their feelings about the team, in general. Given the outrageous number of holes on the roster, it would seem unlikely that he could engineer a turnaround like that in one offseason.
Sports fans hold their favorite teams to impossibly high standards. It’s part of the gig. But the White Sox didn’t come close to reaching them this year, no matter how hard they tried.
And with 52 days remaining on the calendar, White Sox fans might be wondering exactly what Homer Simpson once did: “Will this horrible year never end?”
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