02/01/12 6:00 PM EST
White Sox know chemistry will be key
Club hopes to follow '05 team's lead, defy expectations
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
It's a line certainly not originated by the White Sox, but Aaron Rowand invoked it enough during the unforgettable 2005 season that it might as well have been trademarked by the franchise.
So what does it mean in the context of baseball? Well, there's no tangible statistical category to follow such as OPS, OBP or WAR. For a team fighting for a chance to compete, though, that feeling of togetherness might be as crucial as any powerful cleanup hitter or lockdown eighth-inning reliever.
"More important than any stat you can put on paper," second baseman Gordon Beckham said during his weekend SoxFest appearance. "If your team is close and they want to play for the other person, it's almost like you are brothers.
"If you play for the brother next to you and locker next to you, then you are not playing for yourself. You are playing for them and their respect and their honor. If everybody does that and worries about somebody else besides them, they will play to their abilities."
At first glance, this theory sounds a bit like a cover-up for teams lacking the talent to match Major League Baseball's elite. The White Sox seem to be that team on paper, with bounce-back years from Beckham, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy more than necessary for the White Sox to make a run at the Tigers, Yankees, Rangers and Angels of the world in the American League.
Don't for a second believe that a strong feeling of camaraderie or group tunnelvision totally can make up for subpar on-field performances. Then again, that feeling often helps turn a very good team into one of championship caliber.
Let's take a trip back to the 2005 White Sox, as an example. From the very beginning, this was a group feeling as if it knew something nobody else in baseball really understood. The players supported each other, and the more pundits outside Chicago doubted their staying power -- even with a 27-9 or 74-39 record -- the more it galvanized them as one unit with a common goal.
Players from the '05 team such as Joe Crede, Chris Widger, Pablo Ozuna, Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts appeared at the Palmer House Hilton during SoxFest, earning rousing ovations for their every move and giving White Sox fans time to reminisce about the greatest season of their lives. Being around that championship mettle also can have an effect on the 2012 team, according to Crede.
"They see that warm ovation, and it's a motivating factor I would think for any player to want to be able to get to the situation we got into in '05," Crede said. "For me as a player, going into other cities and seeing some of the former players of their World Series teams, you notice it. I'm hoping that we do the same for those guys, and I would really love to see those guys do well and win another one here and experience what we experienced.
"You can't describe how great of a feeling it was to experience the parade and everything that happened after it. It's a feeling you wish upon a lot of these White Sox players to have for them. There seems to be a great group of young guys here who are very energetic."
Ozzie Guillen stood at the helm of that remarkable 2005 team, which led from season's start to finish, won 110 total games and lost only once in 12 postseason contests during one of the most overlooked title runs in recent memory. Guillen didn't need to give any rah-rah speeches to fire up that group, but when tenuous situations arose, such as the Indians cutting a 15-game deficit on Aug. 1 to 1 1/2 as late as Sept. 24, he managed to keep everyone together with retirement talk if the White Sox went all the way.
Nobody really knows the intangibles Robin Ventura will bring as a manager, other than the All-Star third baseman looking to be a players' type of leader. But as a group, these 2012 players seem focused on winning baseball and nothing more.
"Team chemistry and the way you feel about each other, and your coaching staff included, goes a long way," Peavy said. "Guys can rally around that, and I certainly expect this bunch to be this way. For the most part, this bunch cares about each other. There aren't really cliques on this team, and having a guy like Robin to bring all that together ... I think added motivation goes a long way."
"During the timeframe you have to play the game or prepare for the game, that's what you do, instead of worrying about off-field stuff," White Sox bench coach Mark Parent said. "As you've seen in this last four or five days, there are a lot of guys who like each other, which is important. We have guys who want to perform better. They are anxious to get started."
Comparing the 2012 team to the '05 squad isn't really fair to the present team or respectful to the best squad in franchise history. Then again, doubters seemed to exist in '05 until Orlando Palmeiro's final groundout, so a '12 group pulling from the same end of the rope is excited about what could happen this season.
"Our team has to have a real sense of pride and only worry about what we are doing, not what anybody else says," Beckham said. "No outside stuff, just us in that locker room. It's got to be about this White Sox team. We want to do it for the fans, but we've got to have a tight-knit group.
"I'm convinced that's the only way you can win games. If you don't have that special bond, you are not going to be who you want to be. You have to have that 'it' factor. You know, I'm excited about this year because I think we have some new things going on that are going to be really good and help us get to that point.
"Last year, we had all these big expectations, but we didn't do anything. We don't have as many expectations on us this year, but we have the same expectations as a team to win.
"So why not go out and have fun? This is a game. It's not supposed to be so built up, so hyped up that you can't go out and have fun. I want to get back to it, and I know a bunch of guys want to get back to it."