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White Sox Tue Jul 27 2010

MLB Network White Sox Reality Show - Episode 2 Recap

white sox show.JPGIt's Monday Tuesday(!), which means it's time to take a break from the daily fortunes of the Chicago White Sox and instead hop in the way-back machine for another installment of the MLB Network's oddly timed reality show, "The Club."

Last Sunday, the first episode of this four-week miniseries took us from spring training through mid-May, and it is there that we pick up this week with a White Sox team struggling to beat even the perennially hapless Kansas City Royals.

The Sox are 14-21 as narrator Michael Clarke Duncan explains just how badly they suck right now. We learn they're last in batting average -- apparently that is an important statistic -- and 28th in starters' ERA. Yeesh.

No wonder Kenny Williams is fielding calls from other GMs about his players -- and he makes sure to point out he's usually the one placing calls about acquiring help for the playoff chase, not the other way around.

Duncan intones: "But while the subtraction of veterans seemed like the logical choice for some of the fans and media in Chicago, that just wasn't the White Sox way."

Well, let's hold on a second there. Two things: a) As bad as they had looked to that point, it would have been irresponsible not to ask if the season was fast becoming a lost cause; and b) As much as we all loved that 25-5 run -- spoiler alert! -- it's not like Kenny or Ozzie or anyone exactly saw it coming.

So while Kenny is defending the honor of underachieving veterans A.J. Pierzynski and Bobby Jenks, we cut to Ozney Guillen, the manager's middle son, getting ready for his high school graduation. Oh good, more time with teenage sons.

"We're pretty much your common family, besides we're a little louder than most people," Ozney says.

The kid is a great ballplayer, like his dad, and expects to be picked in the upcoming MLB Draft. So let's talk to his high school coach, even if the guy is still at the graduation ceremony, wearing a professorial gown.

He gives his scouting report on Ozney: "Tremendous kid. Polite. Courteous. Hard-working. Totally what you would not expect from ..."

Ooh, from who -- from that loudmouth's son?

"... from someone who really had the name behind him," he finishes.

Aw, darn. That's no fun.

On the bright side, Joey Cora is managing the White Sox while Ozzie is in Miami for the graduation, and he's looking more than ever like Dobby the House Elf. And hey, the Sox won a game!

But honestly, enough with the vignettes about Ozney Guillen (and last week, Kyle Williams, Kenny's football-playing son). Is this really the most interesting thing you can tell us about a professional sports team? The manager has a son and he's graduating from high school?

***

Days before the June draft, we convene in the White Sox "war room" -- ugh; sports isn't war -- and meet Doug Laumann, the director of amateur scouting. He's leading a room full of scouts through their reports on various top prospects as the Sox prepare to pick 13th overall.

We hear about Texas A&M pitcher Barret Loux and Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal before the narrator brings it all back to Kenny Williams:

"The general manager was careful to mix clarity with caution."

I have little to no idea what that's supposed to mean, but Kenny is busy bottom-lining the reports on some unlucky prospect: If you say he's wearing down physically and he has a bone spur, that sounds like a red flag and a guy we should avoid.

"He does certainly want us to get the guy that can maybe have the most impact at the major-league level," Laumann explains.

That ... sounds incredibly obvious, but after a few flashy bits of editing, Laumann continues, saying Kenny always prefers swinging for the fences with a high-ceiling prospect instead of picking a less-talented player with slightly higher odds for a major-league career. Kenny wants potential stars, not likely role players.

To that end, Kenny is now explaining to assistant GM Rick Hahn that he likes young players who can both pitch and play in the field. Hahn, somewhat oddly, does not seem especially familiar with this specific kernel of his boss's philosophy.

Are you saying, he asks, that you want to give those two-way players more time in the minors before we decide where their future lies or that you are actively trying to create major-leaguers who can play both ways?

Kenny says he wants two-way major-leaguers. "Then, effectively, you've got a 26-man roster."

Um, OK. Sure, that sounds like a great idea. It happens no more than once a decade, but sure, whatever you want, Ken.

***

It's draft day, June 7, and the Nationals are on the clock! The White Sox are represented at the draft in beautiful Secaucus, N.J., by injured 2009 draft pick Jared Mitchell and former role player Mike Huff, now an executive with the youth sports academy operated jointly by the Sox and the Bulls.

(Huff's LinkedIn profile, for what it's worth, also lists nearly six years with the global real estate giant CB Richard Ellis, where he "raised equity and debt for development and operating companies throughout the nation, Canada and Mexico. And they said that Northwestern industrial engineering and computer science degree wouldn't pay off!)

For the White Sox, it's hurry up and wait as the long march to No. 13 begins with Bryce Harper going first overall to Stephen Strasburg's Nationals.

Laumann, his 2005 World Series ring winning its share of attention on his meaty right hand, sends text messages in the quote-unquote "war room" back in Chicago and tries not to freak out too much as other teams pick off some of his most coveted prospects.

Christian Colon, a shortstop from Cal State Fullerton, goes fourth to Kansas City and, at least according to the editors at MLB Productions, this is when Kenny leans over and says to Laumann: "The guy we want will not be there." It's difficult to say if that's a specific lament about Colon or a general reminder to keep all options open.

The Diamondbacks take Loux, the A&M star, with the sixth pick and we see Laumann tell a scout: "Text him and say it looks like Grandal. See what they say."

At this point, this starts to become like reading tea leaves. Sox officials continue to make cryptic, potentially revealing comments that go unexamined by the production crew. There seems to be so much more MLB Productions could be doing to give us some context for these snippets of analysis and emotion.

"I think that all three might be there," Laumann tells Hahn after the Astros take Delino DeShields Jr. eighth. Which three? We don't exactly know, and the artsy zoom-focus close-ups on various lists of players, teams and draft order aren't helping much.

Laumann thinks Toronto, picking 11th, might take Texas outfielder Michael Choice, but Oakland scoops him up at No. 10.

"Will Toronto take Sale?" Laumann wonders aloud. But no, the Blue Jays pass on Chris Sale and pick Georgia Tech pitcher William McGuire, leaving the Reds with Grandal, the impressive Hurricanes catcher, at No. 12.

Laumann seems none too pleased that Grandal went right ahead of the Sox, but there's no time to whine about it. At long last, they're on the clock!

"Chicago's top-rated prospect was still in the mix," our narrator rumbles, and I am not quite sure how that's possible, but the Sox seem pleased with the chance to select Sale.

"I don't know that we knew this one would get there," Laumann says, calling the Florida Gulf Coast left-hander a "high ceiling" prospect who also has "high percentage" odds of maximizing that potential.

As I detailed the night of the draft, Sale's beauty is in the eye of the beholder, with some teams liking him as a top-five pick and others taking a far more skeptical view.

Kenny Williams definitely is in the former camp as he welcomes Sale to the organization with a quick phone call.

"We made you a pick to get here quickly," Kenny says into a speaker phone. "So do not let your competitive mind and your drive and your work habits slip, because we're going to need to be able to evaluate you very quickly so that we can kind of factor you into our plans. All righty?"

"Yes sir, sounds good," Sale replies.

***

As occasionally convoluted as it was, the draft stuff was the highlight of the episode, but we've got plenty more show to fill. Let's speed it up, shall we? It's nothing White Sox fans don't already know.

The team still sucks -- we've actually backed up two days and are watching them lose, 3-1, to the Indians on June 5 -- and Kenny is absorbing the loss while powering through a workout in the Sox weight room. He goes from treadmill to free weights to elliptical machine, talking about his frustration with one step forward, two steps back, and reflecting on his doctor's advice to learn to manage his stress better.

"Now we're getting a good-pitched game and we got three hits," Kenny laments. "It's the story of the year: Pitch, we don't hit. Hit, we don't pitch. Every series now is so important for us."

A clip from some no-name MLB Network host -- aren't they all? -- sets up another so-called controversy for Ozzie, Kenny and "the underachieving Chicago White Sox." Ozney Guillen was drafted in the 22nd round -- by the Sox -- and the family isn't especially happy about going so late.

Meh. Whatever. A tempest in a teapot. Ozzie says he isn't mad at the Sox; he's just upset for his son, who wanted and expected to be drafted higher.

This is all playing out against the backdrop of a crosstown series against the Cubs, and we learn that Kenny Williams doesn't go to Sox-Cubs game at Wrigley Field anymore. Last time, he says, some Cubs fan(s) tried to start something and some Sox fan(s) came to his defense and it turned into a mess.

So instead, we get the glorious product placement opportunity of a scene in Kenny's upscale sports bar, Market. This really is turning into "The Hills."

Following doctor's orders, Kenny remains zen even when the Sox get jobbed on a call at second base and Alfonso Soriano follows with a two-run homer. Kenny says he used to approach every Sox game like it was NFL Sunday, but he quickly realized you can't get too high or too low with each individual result when you've got 162 games to play.

Hey, look, the Sox are winning -- thanks, Cubs! -- and Kenny has cause to engage in a philosophical chicken-or-egg conversation with an unnamed friend in a V-neck T-shirt. Does a team win because it has confidence and good chemistry or do you build chemistry and confidence by winning? Kenny says he votes for the chicken, which I think means he subscribes to voodoo notions of better winning through chemistry. Harrumph.

But however they're doing it, the Sox, as we leave them, are riding their first three-game winning streak since late April. Kenny and Ozzie -- and everyone else? I assume there are players on this team, but we never see them interviewed -- are optimistic they can put something together. As Herm Edwards would say, "We can build on this."

Ooh, I wonder what will happen next?

Next time: Don Cooper, pitching coach and hail fellow well met, welcomes us inside a pitchers' meeting, which looks promising, and cracks a bunch of jokes, which are just about guaranteed to be fun. And let's assume the team goes on a hellacious winning streak.

 
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