CHICAGO – Typically a feisty place to be when expectations are low, the opening night of SoxFest was instead a rather tame affair Friday as one-liners were abundant and tough questions were few and far between.
General manager Kenny Williams heard a mix of cheers and boos when he was introduced before the partisan White Sox crowd at the opening ceremonies, suggesting that his opening-night seminar could get interesting.
After all, when the White Sox had lowered expectations before the 2004 and 2008 seasons, SoxFest interaction was tense. In 2004, one fan said he had basically given up on that season and asked what was in store for the following year. An angry Williams shot back at the fan.
With fans given an open microphone to ask questions of a panel that consisted of broadcaster Steve Stone, manager Robin Ventura and Williams, the only thing close to a challenge of the GM came when a fan asked about the night in September when Ozzie Guillen was released from his White Sox contract.
The fan wanted to know why Williams’ opening remark at the Guillen press conference was, “I have nothing profound to say.” The suggestion was that Williams was disrespecting Guillen’s eight seasons as manager. Instead, it appeared at the time that Williams declined to make an opening statement and wanted to go straight to questions from the media.
There was no mention of the club’s reduced payroll, the departure of Mark Buehrle or the lack of major additions to a club that fell out of contention swiftly at the start of the final month of the season.
In one of the evening’s lighter moments, all members of the panel were asked for their most memorable moment as a player. Ventura went with the 1993 White Sox division champions, while Stone mentioned starting the 1980 All-Star Game.
Williams talked about his first at-bat in the major leagues when his knees were shaking so much that he had to ask for time. He eventually grounded out to third base. “And it was all downhill from there,” Williams said, noting that his career was far less accomplished than Ventura’s or Stone’s.
It was a far cry from what Williams seemed to anticipate just before he took the stage for the seminar.
“It kind of comes with the territory,” Williams said of getting booed. “When the team plays well, the players and the coaching staff get the accolades. That’s great. It’s as it should be. When the team plays poorly, it’s the GM and owner’s fault. It is what it is. It’s part of the deal.”
Since the club ended up winning the World Series one year after the 2004 SoxFest blowup and advanced to the postseason in 2007, Williams was asked if the boos were a good omen.
“You never know,” Williams said. “Maybe the third time is a charm.”
Williams told a story about how he was cheered upon entering a Chicago steakhouse at this time last year for acquiring Adam Dunn and re-signing Paul Konerko. He claims he tried not to take it to heart because those cheers can turn to boos, which they have.
“People are passionate about their sports and they have a right to point a finger at who they want,” said Williams, who is not scheduled to participate on another panel the rest of the weekend . “I’ve got broad shoulders so I would rather, over the years, I’d rather they point the finger at me rather than somebody who isn’t as equipped as I am to carry the weight.”