The Chicago White Sox are the new kid on the block in the baseball playoffs, so naturally they are the team everyone is most curious about. All of this year's other World Series aspirants, after all, are more or less regular participants in these post-season clashes. Baltimore has advanced all the way to the Series four times in the last 14 years, including as recently as 1979. Philadelphia has been a playoff team on several occasions topped by its 1980 world championship year. And Los Angeles, of course, is another hardy perennial which won it all in 1981.
For Chicago, though, this is heady stuff indeed. The new-look White Sox with their rallying cry of ''winning ugly'' (taken from a sour grapes putdown by a rival manager) are the first Windy City club to reach the playoffs since the divisional format was instituted in 1969. As for the World Series, neither Chicago team has been in it since the White Sox lost to the Dodgers in 1959 - and before that since the Cubs lost to Detroit in 1945. And if you're looking for a world champion from that toddlin' town, you have to go all the way back to 1917, when the White Sox defeated the old New York Giants.
Of course not all members of the current team are strangers to post-season competition - as is to be expected in these days of free agency and frequent player movement. Catcher Carlton Fisk, for instance, played for Boston in the 1975 World Series and hit the memorable 12th inning home run which won Game 6. (Is there anyone at this point who hasn't seen the TV replay of that shot, with Fisk employing every conceivable type of body English to keep the ball fair, then leaping in jubilation as he circled the bases?) Designated hitter Greg Luzinski, too, has had plenty of October action; he was one of the Phillies' big sluggers during their playoff appearances of 1976-77-78-80 as well as their World Series victory in the latter year.
On the mound, the Sox also have some solid post-season experience. Veteran left-hander Jerry Koosman was a mainstay of the New York Mets' staff in both 1969 and 1973, posting a perfect won-lost record of 1-0 in the playoffs and 3-0 in the World Series. And right-hander Dick Tidrow pitched in a total of 12 games in relief for the Yankees in the playoffs and World Series of 1976, '77, and '78.
But these are a few individuals. As a team, the White Sox are indeed ''the new kid,'' and will be giving away a ton of experience - first in this week's best-of-five playoff against Baltimore, then, if they defeat the Orioles, in the World Series against either the Dodgers or the Phillies.
The team that so completely dominated the American League West this year didn't just materialize overnight, of course. Some key members, like popular outfielder Harold Baines and 20-game winners LaMarr Hoyt and Dick Dotson, have been with the club for several seasons; Luzinski and Fisk came aboard in 1981 via the trade and free-agent routes respectively; while club stolen base leader Rudy Law and .300-hitter Tom Paciorek arrived last year.
By this season the team seemed just about ready, then the finishing touches came with the acquisition of free agent left-hander Floyd Bannister, the emergence of young Ron Kittle (34 homers) as the almost certain Rookie of the Year, and finally the midseason pickup of slick-fielding second baseman Julio Cruz to plug up what had been the club's only real weakness, its infield defense.
This deal, like many others made by the White Sox over the past dozen or so years, was the work of their almost legendary general manager, Roland Hemond. It was Hemond's ability to judge talent plus his skill as a wheeler-dealer that were largely responsible for keeping the White Sox more or less competitive through the 1970s under ownerships that were just not in the same financial league with the George Steinbrenners and Gene Autrys. Then in 1980 the Sox got their own big-money ownership headed by Eddie Einhorn and Jerry Reinsdorf - and the turnaround began.
Overseeing it all on the field has been Tony La Russa, the youngest manager in the American League and surely one of the best according to his record so far. La Russa took over the reins in Chicago in mid-1979, and the new owners had the good sense to keep him on when they took control for the 1981 season. Tony led the Sox to a 54-52 overall record in that strike-abbreviated campaign, then piloted them to third place last season.
During their victorious 1983 drive, the Sox and their supporters have had a lot of fun with Texas Manager Doug Rader's comment that they were winning ugly - apparently meaning that they achieved their victories without any grace or style. As the Rangers faded out of the race, one writer couldn't help noting that they were ''losing pretty,'' and when they dropped two games in Chicago late in the season Rader & Co. had to listen to a steady chant of ''Ug-ly, Ug-ly'' from the stands.
But the way the White Sox really win, of course, in the tradition of all good clubs, is by whatever means happen to be working on that particular day.
''We're a stubborn ball club,'' says Fisk. ''We don't give up. We just hang in there until something happens. And we're not the kind of club that has to rely on any one or two guys. We have a lot of players who can get the job done.''
Despite all this talent, the team wasn't really clicking early this season, sparking rumors that La Russa might be dismissed. He and the club weathered the storm, however, then by July everything had fallen into place, and by the middle of August the race was effectively over.
But now, of course, the huge lead and the tremendous regular season are history, with everything hinging on the playoffs.The happy ending for this Cinderella story would be a victory over the Orioles, leading to the World Series appearance the city is so hungry for. But win or lose, ugly or pretty, the 1983 White Sox have certainly given Chicago its most exciting summer in a long, long time.