What's in it for Einhorn and Reinsdorf? Well, attendance is better than last year's despite bad weather. The crowd of 52,493 at Sunday's doubleheader was the largest at Comiskey Park since 1973. But that's not it. No, what the new owners have in mind is the pay-TV market. "Why should the guy who pays money for a ticket subsidize the guy who sits home and watches the game for free?" asks Reinsdorf. "What's nice is that when it comes time to negotiate a TV contract, the best middleman in the business will be on our side."
The new owners also inherited many of the Sox' natural resources, not the least of which is the franchise's hardcore fans, a rowdy but good-time breed. Their spiritual leaders are Harry Caray, the Wilkins Micawber of announcers, and Nancy Faust, generally acknowledged to be the best organist in baseball. Now in her 12th season in Section 25, Faust uses her degree in psychology and her ear for junk music to keep the crowd alive. She joins forces with Caray during the seventh-inning stretch, and together they can get more audience participation out of Take Me Out to the Ball Game than Francis Scott Key ever got out of his song. "It's the best shtick in baseball," says Einhorn.
They also inherited a fairly sound ball club. General Manager Roland Hemond and Veeck swung some canny deals before the team was sold. "Bill knew he was leaving," says Hemond, "but he kept trying to improve the club. He's a big part of whatever success we enjoy." Veeck himself has kept a discreet distance from the White Sox this season, choosing instead to behave like a gallant ex-lover. When asked recently about the White Sox, he begged off by saying, "I'm very happy they're doing well, but it would be presumptuous of me to discuss the club." When Veeck goes to the ball park these days, he heads for Wrigley Field to see the Cubs.
Just after last season, the White Sox acquired free-agents LeFlore and Jim Essian, who was to be the catcher before Fisk arrived. Hemond's real steal came at the winter meetings when he traded Pitcher Rich Wortham, now in the minors, for Bernazard. The deal allowed Chicago to move Jim Morrison to third base. Bernazard was batting .282 through Sunday and making plays not even Hemond could have predicted. "I just needed the chance," says Bernazard.
In January, Hemond, whose protégé is 24-year-old farm director Dave Dombrowski, offered a minor league contract to Almon, who had been released by the Mets. "As you know, Rhode Island is a small state," says Almon, who went to Brown. "Roland and I are both from Rhode Island. That's really how we got together." Almon got a lot of playing time in spring training, won the job at short and at week's end was batting .333 with 20 RBIs, five more than he had in 1979 and 1980 combined. It also helped that he and Bernazard played together—or, rather, sat together—with the Expos. Says Almon, "When we took infield in Montreal, I often thought Tony and I would make a good double-play combination. God works in mysterious ways." The White Sox have an edge there, too. Coach Dave Nelson's brother is a Trappist monk.
Still, Chicago's most significant acquisition has been Fisk, who has quickly become the hero of the fans. They now hang banners like PITCH TO FISK AT YOUR OWN RISK from the leftfield stands. "I hope to give them something more to cheer about," Fisk says in true heroic fashion. He also says he's getting more comfortable with the young Sox staff, and his talent for handling pitchers may, in the long run, be of greater value than his RBIs. The starting fivesome of Dotson, Burns, Baumgarten, Trout and Francisco Barrios is the envy of many clubs. Trout and Barrios recently had a scuffle, but then boys will be boys, especially these boys. Luzinski now calls Barrios the staff "stopper." He stopped a right and he stopped a left. Barrios, a native of Hermosillo, Mexico, has just come back from a place from which few pitchers return: rotator cuff surgery. And while Farmer was struggling, righthander Lamarr Hoyt emerged as a strong reliever.
When the season began LeFlore and Luzinski were question marks. LeFlore, who had his problems in Montreal—something about not showing up at the ball park on time—has been a model citizen as far as the White Sox are concerned. "He's been an absolute pleasure," says LaRussa. "I know what he can do on the field," says Bernazard, "and I'm glad to have him." Last week LeFlore, not often lauded for his fielding, saved a 4-1 win over Oakland by leaping and reaching above the leftfield fence to rob Rickey Henderson of a homer.
If Luzinski can retain the stroke that in 1977 yielded a .309 average, 39 homers and 130 RBIs, then there will be dancing on West 35th Street. He has hit some tremendous shots in Comiskey Park, but is also prone to what used to be called "swat swoons." The White Sox always have Lamar Johnson, who was batting just .350 at week's end, and Wayne Nordhagen for righthanded power. And they're getting a boost from Centerfielder Chet Lemon (.288) and First Baseman Mike Squires (.303), who has one of the best gloves going.
All of the newcomers are happy to be in Chicago. The Sox have always enjoyed a reputation for treating their players well, and Almon noticed it right away. "They didn't promise me anything except a chance, but when it came time, they let me prove myself," he says. "I like dealing with people who are honest. I also like having a manager who's a lawyer. Tony is always thinking ahead, as if he were in a courtroom, and he always has a reason for what he does."
LaRussa isn't the first lawyer-manager, but he's in good company; two others—Monte Ward and Hughie Jennings—made the Hall of Fame. LaRussa, 36, held the distinction of being the youngest manager in the majors until May 7, when his old roomie in the minors, Rene Lachemann, took over the Mariners. But he may be the only manager who listens to the rock group Styx. In fact, several weeks ago LaRussa was thrilled to find out that Dennis DeYoung, the keyboard player for Styx, was a White Sox fan. When De Young came into LaRussa's office to exchange his Styx jacket for a White Sox jacket, it was hard to tell who was more pleased.