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White Sox Tue Aug 03 2010

MLB Network White Sox Reality Show - Episode 3 Recap

Thumbnail image for white sox show.JPGIt's Monday and/or Tuesday, which must mean it's time for another installment of that quasi-reality show than literally tens of White Sox fans can't wait to see every week: "The Club," presented by Selig & Reinsdorf's House of Sanitized Promotional Television.

If you missed episodes one and two of The Ozzie & Kenny Show, first of all, congratulations. Also, you can find our lengthy, increasingly shambling recaps hither and yon.

This week! On! The Club!

We're in D.C. in mid-June with the suddenly surging White Sox, who are riding a 7-1 streak into their first meeting with Washington Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg. That means we get some heroic, NFL Films-style footage of Strasburg mowing down Pittsburgh Pirates in his debut 10 days earlier, overlaid with Bob Costas play-by-play from the MLB Network broadcast.

Interviewed in front of the painted cinder blocks that underpin seemingly every American stadium, Ozzie tells us he's seen a lot of pitchers in his time. But Strasburg, "he's got a chance to be special. Very, very special. One of the best I've ever seen at that age."

("Very, very" rolls off Ozzie's Venezuelan tongue as "berry, berry," in the manner of Sammy Sosa and others before him, but we'll let it slide. Some of us only speak one language; Ozzie knows two.)

"I don't think it's just another game," says 43-year-old infielder Omar Vizquel, a man who has, as of this writing, played exactly 2,800 of them in the major leagues.

When Strasburg made his debut, Vizquel says, Sox players clustered around the clubhouse TV to watch. "We knew that it was something special on the mound."

Our narrator, John Coffey, transitions us to pitching coach Don Cooper's pregame meeting with his relievers. He says they use a language all their own, and he's not kidding.

"Changeups away below good. He's covering out away," Cooper recites from his notes. "Much better numbers on fastball than off-speed. Righties' changeups are good to him."

OK, that makes at least a little bit of sense.

"Anything backdoor is good. Below, good. Breaking balls. Back foot. Hands, good. Curveballs, dirt. Backwards is good to this guy. ... Higher than high. ... In, miss in. Up, miss up. ...

Wow ... I was going to quote it all, but Coop and bullpen coach Juan Nieves are just speaking in tongues at this point. J.J. Putz and Bobby Jenks and Sergio Santos all seem to understand, listening intently to the lecture.

The MLB Productions editors drop in some rapid-fire cuts so it all becomes even more confusing. That effectively conveys the idea that this is a highly specialized language unintelligible to outsiders, but shouldn't edification be one of the goals of a behind-the-scenes miniseries like this?

Accordingly, though I understand the White Sox aren't about to reveal their specific scouting reports on a particular hitter, it would be immensely helpful if the show made an effort to explain what the hell Coop and Nieves are talking about -- using hypothetical hitters if necessary. Because otherwise, a segment that could have been the most fascinating of the show (and perhaps the series) devolves into a mush of jargon.

But never fear, Ozzie is doing something wacky with a Nationals fan before the game! That's always guaranteed to ... kill a minute of screen time.

The White Sox get on the board early against Strasburg and have Juan Pierre on first when Pudge Rodriguez calls for a pitchout. Ozzie is all over him, yelling (in jest?) from the dugout.

"You call a pitchout? Oh, you're the best catcher in baseball -- pitchout? ... You got ten Gold Gloves!"

Pudge grins over at the visitors' dugout.

Strasburg is good, but Gavin Floyd and the Sox scratch out a win. The surge is underway.

***

Seven, eight, nine -- the streak continues and we're taken into a tight, cluttered office to meet Dan Fabian, the team's director of baseball operations and resident stat nerd. Fabian and assistant GM Rick Hahn make the case for Kenny Williams as a genius of a man who makes wise decisions using both statistical analysis and scouting savvy.

"He hears the full debate," Hahn says as I renew my call for a personal storyline involving one of the players. Surely they are actual persons as well, but we got 3 minutes on Sergio Santos in the premiere and that's about it.

Fabian explains in an interview that the Sox offense, frankly, isn't as good without on-base machine Jim Thome. "We're ninth or 10th in OBP and we're ninth or 10th in runs in the American League," he says. "They definitely go together."

More shots of the nerd at his computer!

But who cares, apparently, because Alex Rios has been awesome and Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre "have had an impact."

Pierre, the nerd explains, is here because Ozzie insists on having a speedy guy batting leadoff (even if he isn't great at getting on base). Andruw was reportedly back in shape over the off-season and seemed to have something left in the tank. Rios is just a toolsy mofo whom scouts love -- and Fabian says they saw underlying data that suggested he could fulfill his potential again.

Also awesome: the double play combination of Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez. That's important in a homer-friendly ballpark where every chance to record an out must be seized. As a former shortstop and third baseman, Beckham has a plus arm for a second baseman.

Reinsdorf gives the camera an enthusiastic but vaguely clueless recommendation of Fabian's work. Something about Luis Aparicio's breakfast in 1972.

***

The Sox are busy turning their season around and Kenny is happy. Moreover, Kenny is giving a speech to an unidentified group of black teenagers, talking about his successful career.

Reinsdorf and Kenny reminisce about their first meeting when Kenny signed his first professional contract. (I can't believe we're getting more about Kenny.)

"Made it to the big leagues when I was 22 years old," Kenny recalls. "Broke an ankle heading into my second year and [had] a position change and things kind of just went downhill from there.

"And that," he concludes with a smile, "is how you become a young scout."

We meet the previously unidentified group of youngsters: They're here for an event honoring former Negro Leagues star Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe.

"It's about giving young men the opportunity from the inner city to come out and listen to the legacy of some of the Negro League players that who knows how long they're going to be with us anymore," Kenny intones into the camera, dead serious as always. "These stories are important to be able to pass on to these young men so they can pass on to the next generation when these men are no longer here to do it for themselves."

Kenny touts the wonders of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City and tells the kids they can be whatever they want to be -- well, stay in school, he says, because you probably won't make it as a professional athlete -- and the bile rises in my throat as Inspirational Music swells over the tale of Kenny's heroic rise to his current station in baseball.

Time for another Cubs-Sox series, this time on the South Side, and good Lord does bench coach Joey Cora have a lot of gray in his beard. It's a rivalry, in case you didn't know.

It seems as good a time as any to begin promulgating the myths surrounding the Historic Surge of 2010. The Sox at this point have won 13 of 14 and nine straight, famously rallying from 9.5 games out of first place.

Kenny regales us with the tale, known well by now, of his visit to the clubhouse where he basically threatened to get rid of everyone if they didn't get their act together. The implication, none too subtle, is that Kenny's speech helped turn everything around, and it is here that I just about lose my patience with Kenny Williams.

At this stage in his career, clearly he has earned the right to a bit of an ego, but he could not be more insufferable in this miniseries. Such pretentiousness and self-aggrandizement. We get it, Ken. You're brilliant and you turned the season around. What a badass. Well done.

I mean, I'm all for telling the story, but could we not have heard it from someone else instead of hearing Kenny construct his own hero's myth? Geez.

***

Peavy, Beckham and the Sox thump the North Siders and we cut to a shaggy scene of Coop and a couple other coaches horsing around.

Ozzie loves his coaches and they love him. "He's a great guy to work with," Cora says. "That's why everybody feels very loyal."

I think third base coach Jeff Cox just rapped about bunting.

More winning, including the priceless BP Cup. Huzzah.

Next time: Jake Peavy's latissimus dorsi muscle rolls up like a window shade.

 
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