King Kaufman’s Sports Daily

The case of the unloved White Sox. Until now: Chicago in 7. Plus: NFL Week 7.

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The Chicago White Sox get no love.

Wretcheder than a Red Sock, more unsuccessful than a Cub, able to leap Tigers and Indians in a singular quest to avoid pennants, the White Sox have built up none of the mystique and tragic beauty of some of their fellow losers.

That won’t change with a World Series victory over the Houston Astros. But the White Sox’ll have to live with that: Chicago in seven.

Last year the Red Sox went for and won their first World Series title since 1918 and it was a signal event in Western civilization. Two years ago the Cubs came within five outs of their first pennant since 1945 and it was a calamity on par with the destruction of Pompeii, or at least the cancellation of “My So-Called Life.”

The White Sox haven’t won the Series since 1917, a drought two years longer than Boston’s. They won the American League title in 1959, more recently than the Cubs, but that was the Sox’s only pennant since 1919, a time during which the North Siders won the National League five times.

This all proves an unavoidable fact about American life: You need star power, but what you really need is a good press agent.

By the dawn of the 1920s, when the White Sox, Red Sox and Cubs all started their decades-long cavalcade of futility, they were roughly on par. Boston had won five World Series, the Cubs had won two and lost three, and the White Sox had won two and lost one.

But they’d done it with some flair. Their win in 1906 was — and remains — the greatest upset in Series history, over the cross-town Cubs, no less. Their loss in 1919, well, you know about that. They threw the Series for gamblers’ money.

Since then, forget it. They’ve had their decent teams over the years, some stars and Hall of Famers. Luke Appling, Luis Aparicio, Minnie Minoso, Nellie Fox, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas.

But the Red Sox had the Babe Ruth thing, Ted Williams, Yaz, Fenway Park and the Eastern literary establishment. The Cubs had Hack Wilson and Ernie Banks, Sweet Swingin’ Billy Williams and Ron Santo, Ryne Sanberg and Sammy Sosa. They had the ballpark and the celebrities, they had Harry Caray becoming a national figure on their payroll.

The White Sox had short pants and Disco Demolition Night, a yard that was older than Wrigley but somehow not as mystically charming. They represented the wrong side of the tracks, the economically depressed, heavily ethnic South Side. They were strictly below the fold.

The Red Sox had the Yankees as rivals. The Cubs had the Cardinals. The White Sox had — well, they had the Cubs, whom they didn’t even play in real games between 1906 and 1997. Other than that it seemed like they spent an inordinate amount of time playing the Brewers or Indians on Tuesday nights. The White Sox always seemed to have more Tuesday nights in their weeks than other teams did.

No one ever concocted a curse for the White Sox, even though they had something far more curseworthy in their past than a bad trade of a slugging pitcher-outfielder or some cooked-up story about a billy goat. They have the Black Sox, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, mean old Boss Comiskey.

Oh, you’ll hear about that stuff for the next week or so, but where are the books about the Curse of Shoeless Joe?

I’m doing that thing. I’ve written 600 words about one World Series team and ignored the other. Damn biased media! The Astros are in the Series too!

Sorry, but expansion teams — the Astros were born in 1962 — don’t get to be long-suffering, even though living Astros fans have been suffering almost as long as White Sox fans. And while the Astros have been a solid playoff team that couldn’t get to the Series for the last decade or so, the less said about their history the better.

Astrodome, sherbet-rainbow uniforms. OK, 67 words. Enough.

So, why White Sox in seven? This series is all about the pitching. Both teams have fair-to-mediocre offenses and stellar arms.

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The Astros have more star power in their starting rotation, with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt, plus lesser figure Brandon Backe, but the White Sox’s foursome — Jose Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland and Freddie Garcia — has been more consistent. And Clemens and Pettitte, for all their reputation, have a way of coming up small in big games, though they’ve also both come up big.

Both teams have solid bullpens. Chicago’s is a little deeper, but the White Sox don’t have anyone as dominating as Brad Lidge when Lidge is at his best. I don’t think the Astros’ closer will be ruined by that home run he gave up to Albert Pujols in the National League Championship Series.

Another advantage the White Sox have on the mound is that their manager, Ozzie Guillen, has proved himself a master at handling the staff, making decisions about pitching changes.

Both struggle to score runs against any pitching and resort to smallball tactics to try to help themselves. The Sox do more of this than the Astros, whose skipper, Phil Garner, plays hunches more than Guillen does. Guillen pretty much always dials up the smallball play.

They can both catch it, the Sox a little better but the Astros just fine.

Two more little things. First, the umpires. They’ve been making news this season with a series of blown or controversial calls. There’s a not-small chance that more of the same will happen in the Series.

It’s just a wild card. A bad call can swing a game, and there just isn’t time in a short series to make up for that bad luck, the way there is in the regular season. This is one of those things that make predicting postseason winners a fool’s game.

Second, the designated hitter. As has been the rule since 1986, it’ll be used in Chicago, the A.L. park, and not in Houston, the N.L. park. Argue all you want about which team that favors.

Last year I did a little study on the matter, and I concluded, I think, that the World Series designated hitter rule either benefits the home team, or it benefits the American League team in its home games. You’ll have to read the article to find out why, but either way, if I was right — a huge if — it favors the White Sox either way, because they have four home games if the Series goes the full seven.

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NFL Week 7 [PERMALINK]

Continuing this column’s October tradition of limiting the blurbs to two sentences per game, we turn to Week 7, with predicted winners in capital letters.

Kansas City (3-2) at MIAMI (2-3): This game was moved up to Friday night to avoid Hurricane Wilma. Speaking of Wilma, and this is really going to be a stretch, but a Dolphins win would put both teams well on their way to standing outside of the playoffs, pounding on the door.

Detroit (2-3) at CLEVELAND (2-3): Lions coach Steve Mariucci seems to be starting to lose confidence in quarterback Joey Harrington. This is a recording.

Indianapolis (6-0) at HOUSTON (0-5): What the Heck™ Pick of the Week. I mean, come on.

NEW ORLEANS (2-4) at St. Louis (2-4): Chaos, meet chaos. And since I have a spare sentence here: Sorry about that Fred Flintstone joke.

San Diego (3-3) at PHILADELPHIA (3-2): The Eagles are coming off a hideous thrashing at the hands of Dallas and then a bye, while the Chargers have won three of four, with solid wins over the Giants, Pats and Raiders and their only loss a tough one to the Steelers. So, of course, Eagles.

GREEN BAY (1-4) at Minnesota (1-4): When reporters at a press conference last week kept asking quarterback Daunte Culpepper about that sex party on the boat, he asked if anyone wanted to talk about the upcoming game against the Bears, and when nobody did, he left. This week, when reporters were asking about the sex party on the boat, Culpepper asked if anybody wanted to talk about the upcoming game against the Packers, and when nobody did, he left. Next week, he’s going to say, “You guys hear about the boat?”

Pittsburgh (3-2) at CINCINNATI (5-1): The Bengals win this one and they can Cadillac it to the division title. The Steelers should have won last week against Jacksonville, and they’ll have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback rather than disastrous replacement Tommy Maddox, but I think the Bengals will get the huge win.

San Francisco (1-4) at WASHINGTON (3-2): Remember the Tim Rattay era in San Francisco? Good times.

DALLAS (4-2) at Seattle (4-2): Well, here’s a handy little game to start sorting out some of these playoff contenders in the NFC. They’re both playing well, but the Seahawks’ opposition has been a lot more iffy.

BUFFALO (3-3) at Oakland (1-4): Randy Moss is doubtful and the Raiders’ season is spiraling downward, which is all I have to say about this game, so this one-sentence blurb makes up for that third sentence about the Vikings, OK?

Tennessee (2-4) at ARIZONA (1-4): Cardinals coach Denny Green says he knows which quarterback will start, Kurt Warner or Josh McCown, but no announcement will be made until just before kickoff. If it’s Warner, consider this an unofficial What the Heck™ Pick.

Baltimore (2-3) at CHICAGO (2-3): Not only did the Ravens get crushed by Detroit a few weeks ago, but they got all banged up beating Cleveland. The Bears could all but clinch the NFC Central by guaranteeing no worse than a 3-13 record.

DENVER (5-1) at N.Y. Giants (3-2): Believing in the Broncos paid off last week, so I’ll try again. I can’t quite figure out the Giants.

N.Y. Jets (2-4) at ATLANTA (4-2): The almost loss to the Saints should prove to anyone who didn’t already believe it that the Falcons have big problems. But the Jets’ problems are bigger, especially now that they’ve lost center Kevin Mawae, which takes their offensive line situation from bad to worse.

Season record: 60-28
Last week: 11-3
What the Heck™ Picks: 3-3
Chance that I wasn’t going to mention that Vikings sex party on the boat again this week: 0

Previous column: Astros win the pennant

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