Williams gives more at end of SoxFest
Excited general manager begins Q&A session 30 minutes early
CHICAGO -- Ken Williams was so excited to take questions from the White Sox faithful during Sunday's final SoxFest event that he began the last of three weekend Town Hall Meetings some 30 minutes before its scheduled start.
Williams had the idea for the early opening when he was signing autographs and a handful of fans started throwing him questions about the White Sox. So, Williams sat on the dais by himself, as participants lined up behind a crowd microphone to continue heaping praise upon his offseason work.
All Williams needed was James Lipton sitting beside him and the program could have been re-titled, "Inside the General Manager's Studio." It had that sort of docile atmosphere, as opposed to a session of ranting and raving.
This era of good feeling toward the White Sox started on Friday night, and minus a few pointed questions scattered throughout, continued on through Sunday's final inquiry concerning Charlie Haeger's role in 2008. Predictions of widespread panic or angst were overtaken by a general buzz for this overlooked team, a gratifying development in the opinion of manager Ozzie Guillen.
"It surprised me the way the fans acted. It was a nice, class way," said Guillen, before signing a few more autographs for fans who attended the Town Hall Meeting.
"They appreciate or realize what a good job Kenny has been doing. I expect fans to be tough and ask what they need to here. I'm going back home happy because they are happy what Kenny did."
In reality, Guillen is happy because he truly believes Williams has improved the White Sox and put together a team with serious playoff possibilities. That happiness manifested itself in a very entertaining and informative 90-minute show Sunday, with Williams and Guillen as the lead performers, and White Sox radio play-by-play man Ed Farmer working in a supporting role.
Farmer told a story of walking into the clubhouse last year and witnessing two young relievers trying to finish off a crossword puzzle. The clue for "35 across" in this puzzle was "Moses brother," to which one of the relievers replied, "Larry." Farmer pointed out that the clue was of biblical nature and not referring to the Three Stooges, but the pitchers said the response of "Larry" fit the space. At that point, Farmer said he gave up and told them to write in "Shemp" also if they wanted.
Aside from this humorous tale, Sunday's fun centered on the play-by-play between Guillen and Williams. Guillen, who has praised the revamped 2008 bullpen, spoke of the struggles he had personally with last year's struggling group of relievers.
"You don't know what it's like to go out there every two batters and change pitchers," said Guillen, drawing a laugh from the large crowd in the Red Lacquer Room.
"How do you think I feel?" added Williams with a smile. "I'm the one who gave you those pitchers. I saw you looking up at me whenever you made the moves."
"I have 30 people behind the dugout yelling, and I told them, 'It's not my fault. It's his,'" said Guillen with a laugh, finishing the bullpen bit by pointing at Williams.
That problem apparently has been rectified through the additions of Scott Linebrink and Octavio Dotel. One question dealt with Guillen selecting a player from his current roster who could some day manage. After suggesting the free-swinging Juan Uribe, at first, a little more serious consideration brought up the names of Jim Thome and Paul Konerko from the manager and his boss.
SoxFest did not end with a total baseball love-in. One fan questioned Williams about the Joe Crede-Josh Fields situation at third base, and Williams explained how Fields is a very special offensive player and Crede is one of the best defensive third basemen around.
"The best defensive third baseman in professional baseball," the fan quickly added with a verbal exclamation point.
Another question dealt with Williams' dealing of Jon Garland, weakening the starting staff by removing a workhorse and proven winner. But Williams' explanation as to how the addition of Orlando Cabrera improves the team overall, as well as provides an offensive spark at the top, seemed to satisfy this particular doubter.
As Guillen walked into the Town Hall Meeting, 30 minutes after Williams began taking questions solo from the crowd, Williams said to his surprised manager, "We are just having a chat." A spirited chat pretty much was the order of business all weekend at SoxFest, with at least this group of fans more optimistic than depressed over the season ahead.
"One thing I couldn't figure out was, to me, we made some obvious improvements," Williams said. "I couldn't figure out why this team wasn't being viewed the way we all internally were feeling.
"Despite what fans read or hear on the radio, our fans will make up their own minds and draw their own conclusions. I realize it's a small sample size-wise, but they have a chance to voice their pleasure or displeasure and it's appreciated."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.