White Sox romp in division; captivate title-starved city
Chicago — The sirens of Chicago didn't shriek their shrill salute this time when the White Sox became the city's first baseball winner in 24 years. ''Only Mayor Daley could get away with a stunt like that,'' current Mayor Harold Washington said when asked whether, as in 1959, the air raid horns would proclaim to everyone between Wisconsin and Indiana that the White Sox had wrapped it up.
But who needed sirens when the skies themselves opened up as if in tribute to the craving South Side fans have been consumed by since their favorites turned the corner in July? The rain-delayed 4-3 clincher against Seattle occurred against a celestial backdrop of thunder and lightning that alone could answer the Comiskey Park crowd's euphoric clamor.
It's a good thing the firmament obliged, too, because neither the fireworks set off from former owner Bill Veeck's mortar-throwing scoreboard nor the car horns blaring throughout the city could come close to hinting at the ebullience Chicagoans feel.
And how could you not feel it? Even North Siders, Cub fans and such, have poured forth their support toward what many consider the most impressive White Sox squad since Shoeless Joe Jackson and his talented, eternally tainted teammates of the infamous 1919 Black Sox.
The clinching of this year's American League West title had long since become strictly a formality, of course, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the capacity crowd of 45,646 that turned out Saturday night to see it happen. Thousands of fans poured onto the field, tearing it up so badly that some 3,000 yards of damaged turf and drainage tiles will have to be replaced. And of course the celebrating continued throughout the city long into the night.
The team these fans were cheering has been a truly remarkable one, too, breaking club records left and right. Leadoff man Rudy Law has long since eclipsed Luis Aparicio's old stolen base mark of 56, and now has 72, while Julio Cruz, with 53, could also break the previous record. Carlton Fisk has hit 23 homers, topping Sherman Lollar's club record for catchers. Greg Luzinski has become the first man in history to place three fair balls on the roof of Comiskey Park (Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, and Ted Williams had done it twice). And Luzinski must have shown his flight plan to probable Rookie of the Year Ron Kittle, who sent one soaring onto the shingles too on Sept. 6. Kittle, a former forge and steel worker, has hit 32 homers altogether to stand within reach of Dick Allen's team record of 37.
Mr. September, however, has been a man without any records and nearly as little recognition outside Chicago: Harold Baines. Within Windy City limits, the unassuming Baines is as close to king as anyone has come since Mayor Daley. Witness Saturday night's crowd's unanimous chanting of ''Harold-Harold'' after his third home run in as many games (on Sunday he got his fourth), or after one of his grabs of an apparent homer above and beyond the right field wall.
On the mound, the big three of Floyd Bannister, Lamarr Hoyt and Richard Dotson have lost only a half dozen games among them over the past three months while winning a formidable 42. And the bench has been strong, with second-stringers like Mark Hill, Mike Squires, or Jerry Dubzinski frequently coming up with the key play or timely hit.
The players themselves have been the first to attribute the triumphs to third year manager Tony La Russa, while general manager Roland Hemond is considered one of the game's most astute judges of talent, and free-spending owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn have laid out large sums for the likes of Fisk, Bannister, Luzinski, and Paciorek.
The ''Sunshine Boys,'' as the owners are known in a city that up to now has been best known for its wind and second-rate sports teams, have cut no corners in promoting the club either. From calendar days to giving away free cars and trips to Waikiki, to creating two of the goofiest mascots a team has ever sported - Rhoobarb, a ungainly lemon-colored creature, and Ribbie, who resembles a cross between an aardvark and a second baseman.
The fans have come out in record numbers, giving Chicago its first season attendance of two million (the previous record was 1,674,933 by the Cubs in 1969 , while the White Sox' old high was 1,657,135 in 1977).
The 1959 White Sox counted on speed to catch the pennant and were deemed the ''Go-go Sox.'' This year's team is faster, but it's nickname is less attractive. Texas manager Doug Rader, prompted perhaps by sour grapes after his first place Rangers had gone the way of the Alamo in early August, pinned the slogan on the Sox when he said, ''They're winning ugly.'' Rader later ate his words in Comiskey as his team lost a two-game series to Chicago while Chicagoans chanted ''Ug-ly, ug-ly'' after both games to the accompaniment of organist Nancy Faust. At any rate, Ugly has become the autumn fashion in Chicago, with T-shirt hawkers vying to design the most hideous jersey. In the meantime, Southsiders, who've learned there's nothing quite so ugly as being perennial losers and who place little importance on appearances anyway, are enjoying some of the most beautiful moments they've known in a ballpark.