Can the White Sox Stay Hot?

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Will a new year bring a change of Sox in the World Series? Chicago Sun-Times columnist Ron Rapoport and Scott Simon discuss the winningest team in baseball: It's the Chicago White Sox, not the defending champion Boston Red Sox.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Time now for sports.

Last night, the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago White Sox 9-to-8 at Fenway Park, but the White Sox hasn't been doing--haven't been doing much losing this year. They're in first place by 12 games. This year, the winningest team in baseball hasn't been the defending world champion Red Sox or the deeply talented runner-up St. Louis Cardinals, but the Chicago White Sox, who were last in the World Series when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, plaids were cool and Howdy Doody was cutting edge. Ron Rapoport joins us from his exclusive vacation hideaway in Michigan.

Ron, thanks for being with us.

RON RAPOPORT reporting:

Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: How surprising is this?

RAPOPORT: I'm sorry?

SIMON: How surprising is this?

RAPOPORT: Well, yeah, no, it's tremendously surprising. Nobody expected this, least of all the players, Scott, but within a couple of weeks they had the other teams in the American League convinced, and a far tougher audience than that: White Sox fans.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: They just can't believe it.

SIMON: So what's been the difference for them this year? Obviously, great pitching...

RAPOPORT: Well, they've got just a swell team. I mean, the pitching, when you start out with three guys who are starting pitchers, and the relief pitchers--starting pitchers have all won double figures. They're doing really well. But the emphasis is on the team, Scott. Here they are with the best record in baseball; they don't have a single player anywhere close to being voted a starter in the All-Star Game.

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: They don't have a .300 hitter, and only one player in the top five in any of the important offensive categories. Paul Konerko hits the occasional home run. It's strictly a team with a capital T. In a way, this is the good news. It means they're not dependant on any one player to carry them. They have a number of guys who can pick up the slack, and that's what's been happening all season long.

SIMON: They're succeeding with speed and defense at a time when proponents of what's inevitably called `Billy Ball' have said, `Well, speed and defense--stealing bases, in particular--aren't important.'

RAPOPORT: Yeah. They don't talk about on-base percentage and home runs. Now the White Sox are a little bit--they'll fool you a little bit--they're third or fourth in the league in homers. They do hit some home runs as a team. But by and large--and this is not a Money Ball--Billy Beane kind of team. This is a team that gets on base and steals and steals and steals. But basically, it comes back to the pitching, which has been just terrific all year. And when you're like that, you'd like to think--even a White Sox fan, as cynical and hard-bitten and...

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...often chastised as they've been throughout the years, would like to think that this is a team that's built to go deep into the playoffs.

SIMON: Well, that's my question, because listening to that Boston game last night--the Boston-Chi Sox game--I had the impression that Boston just knows how to win close games because they've been there.

RAPOPORT: Yeah, but remember, Scott, the White Sox came to Boston from New York where they won two games in the ninth and 10th inning...

SIMON: Yeah.

RAPOPORT: ...from the Yankees. They barely won.

SIMON: Yeah, but the Yankees are deflating like a balloon at the spa.

RAPOPORT: Well, the Yankees have actually been coming on. We'll wait and see. Don't burst my bubble yet, you know? White Sox--people in Chicago don't get the i--chance to say `White Sox' and `World Series' in the same sentence very often. So we're not going to give up on this easily.

SIMON: OK. Jerry Reinsdorf, in 15 seconds, the least-loved owner in baseball except for George Steinbrenner--he deserves credit for building this team?

RAPOPORT: Absolutely, particularly for hiring Ozzie Guillen. This was his idea.

SIMON: The manager.

RAPOPORT: Nobody thought of Ozzie as a managerial candidate, but he's done a great job with them.

SIMON: OK, thanks very much. Ron Rapoport, our sports guy, sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

And you're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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