Talk with the Editor: Nellie Fox, Ozzie Guillen and my friend Russ
White Sox second baseman Nellie Fox, the MVP of the 1959 pennant winners, was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997 and his charm and spitfire determination made him one of Editor John Lampinen's lifelong heroes. (AP PHOTO/File)
Today, I am going to share with you some of my hidden biases.
Wednesday night, when the Miami Marlins opened their new ballpark against the St. Louis Cardinals, I rooted against Ozzie Guillen. Like a jilted lover, I am upset with him. Like most jilted lovers, my anger will be soothed by time. I don't hate LeBron James nearly as much this season as I did last season.
I am sick of hearing about Ozzie and Kenny Williams and don't want to hear any more about their unrelenting feud. I get annoyed with what I perceive to be Joe Cowley's macho vendetta against Williams in the Sun-Times.
Despite all of that, I read Cowley's piece Thursday on Ozzie dissing Kenny one more time. First thing I read, in fact. Isn't it interesting how we gravitate toward concrete points of view even when we don't share them? Even when we detest them?
A clear bias: Baseball is my favorite sport, and the White Sox are my favorite team.
I don't think you have to hate the Cubs to be a genuine White Sox fan. But it sure doesn't hurt.
I blame my hatred of the Cubs on my best childhood friend. Russ loved Ernie Banks; I loved Nellie Fox. We would talk baseball on our walks to school, and he would tease me that it took 40 years for the White Sox to finally make it back to the World Series in 1959. Before then, I vaguely remember, I rooted for Glen Hobbie and Andre Rodgers, but after all of those bragging rights arguments, I never pulled for the Cubs again.
Russ and I lost touch after high school. But I always remembered his remark. After the 1985 season, 40 years after the Cubs appearance in the 1945 World Series, when it meant that it would be at least 41 years between World Series appearances for them, I tracked him down in Minnesota so I could rub it in his face.
The quest to confront him consumed me. "Do you remember laughing at me about how long it took the Sox to get back to the Series?" I declared. "Huh?" he replied.
This is the depth of my passion for the game.
I believe, and I assume you agree, that Nellie Fox was the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
He's the player pictured here. He was a little guy who made the most of his ability through hard work, determination, hustle and spitfire. Isn't that a life lesson for us all? Beyond that, he chewed tobacco — a big cud of it — and swung a thick-handled "bottle" bat. So how could you not love him?
He was the symbol of the Go Go White Sox of the 1950s and early 1960s, and I still wear his number when I go to the games. I'm friends with a number of other male Baby Boomers who do too. When Thomas Fitzgerald, the former chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, visited to talk to our editorial board years ago, the center of the conversation I had with him was about Fox. We didn't spend a lot of time talking about tort reform or the death penalty or judicial activism; no, we talked about Fox. Fitzgerald, you see, was a member of the Nellie Fox Society that lobbied for Nellie's induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Fox died young of cancer in 1975, but I've met his widow and daughters, been out to her house in Pennsylvania, visited his grave. I own a lot of his memorabilia.
Yes, he and the White Sox are definite biases.
Some other biases: Good pitching beats good hitting; catch with two hands; back up every play; run everything out.
And oh yes, I like the old-fashioned uniforms, the ones with the stirrups and the pants that end at the top of the calves. I do not like the long-legged pajama pants. Dress like professionals, why don't they! Or at least they should all dress the same.
Despite all of my biases, the paper is accused with some regularity of favoring the Cubs in our coverage. There are, in fact, avid fans who take rulers to the sports pages and measure the column inches of copy that is devoted to each team.
Let me say this: We try not to favor either team. The general rule is that we provide stronger play to the home team than the team on the road, although to call it a rule is to overstate it. There are times when the road matchup is more interesting. How well either team is playing also enters into it. My bias, or that of Sport Editor Tom Quinlan or of anybody else doesn't enter into it.
Our coverage has shifted over time to de-emphasize the game story and to put more emphasis on analysis and the story behind the story. Our baseball experts — Bruce Miles on the Cubs and Scot Gregor on the Sox — have been on the beat longer than anyone else in town. Our general sports columnists, Mike Imrem and Barry Rozner, are especially knowledgeable about baseball too.
We're planning this season to add some new features that should expand our baseball coverage even further. I hope to be able to announce some of those soon.
Meanwhile, I'd love to hear your thoughts. What's important in the coverage to you and how we can make it better?
One final bias: I think that more so than any other sport, baseball connects us to our youth and provides a bond between generations. What was it Terence Mann said in Field of Dreams? "This field, this game. It's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was and could be again." I cannot watch a game without being linked to my father, who taught it to me, or to my daughters, who learned it from me.
Robin Ventura, the new manager of the White Sox, by the way, is my oldest daughter's childhood hero.
As a matter of fact, I say with some pride, we all were in the stadium in Arlington, Texas, that memorable night in 1993 when Ventura decided to charge the mound and got his head pummeled by 46-year-old Nolan Ryan.
Now, that's what you call a being-there moment. It's a baseball memory that will last forever.
• (We encourage you to talk with the editor by clicking on the Comments widget and providing your response to today's column. We want a provocative discussion but one that also abides by general rules of civility ... Please also consider friending John on Facebook by searching John Lampinen Daily Herald and following him on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen)
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