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White Sox Mon Jul 19 2010

MLB Network White Sox Reality Show - Episode 1 Recap

white sox show.JPGIf you missed Sunday night's opening hour of the new White Sox behind-the-scenes miniseries, "The Club," you didn't miss too much. It's an MLB production, so it's highly sanitized, and it's geared toward a national audience, so it focuses laboriously on the soap opera trio of Ozzie Guillen, Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf.

But we recapped it anyway, so come along, Sox completists, and maybe you'll pick up an anecdotal nugget or two.

***

We start, of course, with the cast of characters. MLB Productions does love its overstylized graphics, and they're in full force as we meet Ozzie, standing in the middle of the clubhouse, telling a roomful of players that they're family for the next seven months.

That's followed by an audio clip of Jerry saying you can't let personal feelings keep you from making tough decisions focused on winning. Kenny is introduced as the hardass, telling the roomful of players he'll "get rid of you" if he senses they aren't fully focused on winning.

"I love Jerry Reinsdorf more than I love my dad," Ozzie says, the first of many hyperbolic statements in store for us tonight.

Ozzie! He's the lovable rogue. He says crazy stuff! "We are a lot of things around here," Kenny says, "but we have never been described as boring."

Unfortunately, this whole thing was produced and sanctioned by Major League Baseball, and Jerry Reinsdorf is one of the most powerful men in the game. This miniseries might not be "boring" -- at least for a national audience that hasn't heard everything there is to hear about the Ozzie and Kenny soap opera -- but there's no way it will include any excitement beyond what the White Sox and MLB want you to see. I'm not the only one left a little underwhelmed.

***

Oh, good, it's Chicago. Pan around the city, please. Skylines. Avenues. That overpass that says "Chicago White Sox." Establishing shots of U.S. Cellular Field, including the stadium façade that serves notice of the 1906, 1917 and 2005 championships. Just so the national audience knows this is a franchise worth watching.

A title card tells us it's January 22, 73 days until opening day, and Kenny, Ozzie and Jerry are sitting in what is evidently Jerry's office. It's absolutely stuffed with memorabilia. Ozzie has on a suit jacket. Good for him! Maybe he knew the camera crew was coming.

(Actually, he almost certainly did, given what the team's PR guy explained about the bits-and-pieces filming schedule.)

"What do you need at this point in time, as we sit here?" Kenny says. "Both of you guys. I ask both of you guys the same question."

Michael Clarke Duncan!!! Our voiceover narrator, the man charged with dispensing exposition and hideously banal sports clichés, comes in, and it's Michael Clarke Duncan, best known as the "Magical Negro" from The Green Mile and the imposing villain in Daredevil and Sin City.

Google tells me Duncan is a South Side native, in addition to having one of the deepest, most resonant voices in Hollywood. So this isn't totally random. Good to know.

We see clips of Juan Uribe throwing to Paul Konerko for the final out of the 2005 World Series and the celebration that followed. Duncan catches us up on the team's varied fortunes since then while Ozzie answers Kenny's question, saying he doesn't need any more talent to win the division this year. Jerry chuckles.

Duncan intones, "Losing is not an option for the competitive trio that presides over baseball on Chicago's South Side. So on a cold January morning in 2010, they gathered as one and mapped out a plan to put White Sox baseball back on top."

Overwrite much? Are these guys planning an invasion of Europe or assembling a baseball team?

Kenny jokes about Jerry serving as the third lefty out of the pen, and my enthusiasm for this show begins to wane as it dawns that we're going to be focusing primarily on the "entertaining" trio of Ozzie, Kenny and Jerry. Blarg.

Last year's similar Phillies miniseries was frustrating in its refusal to dig into the nuts and bolts of life behind the scenes. Endless narration about every win streak and disappointing loss, but nothing, for instance, on what it feels like to be a reliever on the fringe of the majors. It looks at first glance like we're in for more the same this summer, with a show that skims along the top of the White Sox without telling us anything especially notable about the trio's dynamic -- much less getting into anything else of note.

Ozzie is the member of the trio who gets most of the headlines, Duncan explains to the thin slice of the viewing audience who both a) care enough to watch a behind-the-scenes White Sox documentary; and b) have never heard of Ozzie Guillen.

Ozzie quote-fest montage! Managers say the darnedest things.

Now let's meet Kenny Williams, the other half of one of the few manager-GM duos who used to be major-league teammates. We see some vintage footage of him hitting home runs in a script-C uniform and then get right to business: What's it like to "handle" Ozzie, sir?

"Uh, it's an interesting dynamic, actually," Kenny says with a smile.

Now Ozzie trots out the "marriage" analogy. Jerry compares Ozzie to "a Hispanic Jackie Mason," a reference that only lands because no one under 40 cares about baseball these days.

"There is a reason, a method to his madness," Kenny explains.

Also, everyone loves Jerry Reinsdorf! Ozzie and Kenny love him like a father, and Duncan says his seven title with the Bulls and the White Sox "marks one of the most amazing runs of supremacy in sports history." Oh, geez. Let's keep the six Bulls titles out of it, shall we?

It's a Jerry lovefest, but back in the office on this epic January morning -- a.k.a., the only morning the film crew was able to get to Chicago for some preseason footage -- we're enduring a riveting discussion of who's going to get the last spot on the roster. Jim Thome or a 12th pitcher?

Cue the Thome hagiography, with clips of his White Sox heroics. Then Jerry Reinsdorf gives the most ridiculous quote of the night. "He's got to be one of the two or three greatest human beings I have ever known." Really, Jerry? You're 74 years old. You're rich and famous and you've led a wildly successful life. Jim Thome is one of the three greatest human beings you've ever met?

But then, Jerry did have to spend most of the 1990s with the likes of Jerry Krause, Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Maybe there's a reason he fawns over Thome.

Those warm feelings, though, aren't enough to earn Thome a roster spot as we ... head to Glendale for spring training!

***

In a clubhouse meeting -- are these all clips from the same meeting or what? -- Kenny tells the players they're always welcome to sit in on coaches' meetings and hear what they really think. Ever the ex-player, Kenny tells the camera, "Everyone around here is under a directive: Do not lie to the players."

His speech to the players continues. "But be prepared. You will get the truth, and you'll get it right between the eyes."

Kenny recounts the story of a player who Ozzie reported wasn't pulling the rope in the same direction as everyone else. Kenny said let's get rid of him. Do you want to know who it is? Ozzie asked.

It doesn't matter, Kenny said. If you say he's not pulling with the rest of the team, send him home.

We roll through close-ups on Omar Vizquel, Scott Linebrink, Andruw Jones and other players as Kenny gets to the big finish. "My point there? I didn't give a shit who it was."

Bench coach Joey Cora's eyes widen as he suppresses a nervous giggle.

***

Back from commercial, it's Picture Day at spring training. Ozzie hams it up with Vizquel, just two old Venezuelan shortstops having fun.

Jerry meets Bud Selig for lunch, just two old Jewish men having soup at a diner. Unsurprisingly, this is generally a waste of screen time except as a reminder just how powerful Jerry is through his friendship with the commissioner -- or maybe how friendly he is with Selig because he's so powerful.

The men exchange relatively inane banter about Ozzie and his Twitter feed, and we cut to a Sox coaches' meeting in which pitching coach Don Cooper gets in a much better jab: "I missed a lot of this," he says to Ozzie. "Is this going to be on your Twitter later?"

He laughs, Ozzie laughs, the room laughs and I die a little inside.

Kenny and Jerry and Bud blather about Ozzie for a while, but no time for that. We're making moves! Offseason moves -- or at least 2009 midseason moves, starting with Jake Peavy and Alex Rios last summer. We learn the Sox picked up Jones, Vizquel, Mark Teahen, Mark Kotsay and my baseball nemesis Juan Pierre. It's all about pitching, defense and moving the runners over, Kenny says.

Good luck with that, I say, fully secure in the knowledge of all the home runs that will help fuel the season-defining 25-5 run yet to come.

Jerry and Bud, having moved on from soup to some indistinguishable lunch entrée, bore the hell out of us by running down the entire Sox roster, from the lineup to the bullpen to the rotation. Thanks, guys.

"I like to get guys who have been good, had bad years and have something to prove," Jerry says.

When Teahen comes up, Bud says he always liked the infielder when he was in Kansas City.

I am not surprised that Bud Selig apparently doesn't understand what an average player Mark Teahen is. Clearly the White Sox don't either.

Jerry also weighs in with some medical analysis, saying J.J. Putz's offseason elbow surgery shouldn't be a big deal. "You never worry too much about a guy who had elbow surgery as opposed to shoulder surgery."

Scattershot clips of spring training joviality are interrupted by grave news from our gravel-voiced narrator.

"But the serenity of spring training," Duncan says, "was broken by some Twitter posts. Not by Ozzie, but by his son and White Sox employee, Oney Guillen. Tweets that created a tense situation."

Oh, no! Not a tense situation.

Jerry gives the company line: Oney had to go because he was writing "messages that were contrary to the White Sox position." Ozzie agrees wholeheartedly and they rehash Oney's firing a bit too much for any Sox fan who was paying any attention this spring.

Speaking of silly father-son storylines, it's time to hear way too much about Kenny's son Kyle as he prepares to be selected in the NFL Draft! The former Arizona State wide receiver has been well prepared for professional sports by his father, a man he calls "a hell of a role model."

***

Meantime, there's the immense drama of who will get the last two spots on the pitching staff. We meet rookie Daniel Hudson and journeyman Randy Williams and converted shortstop Sergio Santos. Coop and Kenny and Ozzie watch and talk and run through their options.

They are quite pleased with all three pitchers, but they can only bring two of them north for Opening Day. So we move ahead to cut day, as Kenny, Ozzie and Coop deliver the news in Ozzie's spring training office.

Hudson goes first and the axe falls on his neck -- though oddly, we never hear exactly why. Kenny tells him it's not you, it's me. You definitely proved yourself worthy of a roster spot. Coop tells him to be proud of himself and says he knows he's got a big future ahead of him. Ozzie praises his professional demeanor.

Hudson resists the urge to ask why he's going to Charlotte if he pitched so great, and we move on to Santos.

Kenny compliments Santos on his fearlessness, and the pitcher says he learned it from his dad. Kenny says that's the greatest thing his dad could have done for him, and I begin to realize Kenny, at least as we see on camera here, is a bit of a blowhard who's totally convinced of his own wisdom.

"You should call your dad and tell him to meet you in Chicago," Kenny says, "because you're going to be pitching for the White Sox."

Santos, stunned, tears up and fights to compose himself as he absorbs the news. Coop claps him on the shoulder and laughs.

"No, it's just, it's a long time coming," Santos says, his voice breaking. "I mean, it's not just for me. It's for a lot of people."

You can cry now, Ozzie says, as long as you "don't make me cry in June."

Crazy Ozzie gets his laugh and we segue to Randy Williams, whom Coop and Kenny have decided to prank for some reason probably having to do with his decade hearing the same "sorry, kid" speech at the end of every spring training.

Kenny starts out straight, letting him down easy, then stumbles toward the reveal.

"What's that Ashton Kutcher show?" Coop asks.

"'Punk'd'?" Kenny says.

"Yeah, that's the one."

"You've been Punk'd," Kenny says warmly. "Congratulations."

***

Hopefully Randy Williams wasn't too confused by all that, because it's time to head north for Opening Day! Give me a montage of Chicago as Ozzie arrives at the park. He greets everyone he passes on the way in.

Optimism all around. Everyone loves the team and expects big things. It's a wonderful opener, a nice, 6-0 win against Cleveland, and Mark Buehrle adds an otherworldly flip throw for a 1-3 putout, glove-scooping the ball back between his legs to Konerko as he tumbles to the ground in foul territory.

Back to Kenny and his family as they enjoy NFL Draft day with Kyle. WHY IN GOD'S NAME ARE WE SPENDING SO MUCH TIME WATCHING THE SON OF THE GENERAL MANAGER START HIS FOOTBALL CAREER?

Kyle goes in the sixth round and we segue awkwardly back to the White Sox and their hideous start to the season. They're disappointed and surprised, but it's still early as they head to Yankee Stadium at the end of April.

We meet hitting coach Greg Walker and watch the Sox lose to the Yankees. I just don't understand the point of these random game highlights. What is special about this April 30 game in New York? My guess, frankly, is it was really easy for the film crew to get there. The MLB Network is based just across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

"What would it take to get out of this funk?" Duncan emotes. "What would it take?"

***

Early May, still losing. Ozzie's under fire. He takes the blame, says it's not over, etc., as we head to Minnesota and the new Target Field, where Ozzie is especially excited about having a shower in the visiting manager's office.

"There's nothing uglier than a manager taking a shower with the players. You look very bad. That's the worst."

Coop and third base coach Jeff Cox play around on the new field before the game, but it's another loss. (According to this episode, the Sox went just about winless for the first two months of the season.)

"I certainly didn't think we'd be here," Kenny tells the camera.

Hammering home the growing pressure on Ozzie, Duncan closes the voiceover with a flourish. "You had to wonder," he says, "if the winds of change were blowing -- back in Chicago."

So we've condensed two months into about half an hour. I guess that sets the stage for the glorious 25-5 run.

Next time: Inside the draft war room. That could be interesting, if it's honest.

 
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