By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Wait… listen. Do you hear that?
It's unfamiliar, I know, but once you realize what it is, it's nice. We haven't heard it around here in years. Think about it. Try again. Hear it?
It's the sound of a first-place baseball team at the season's midpoint, unpolluted by excess noise.
This is the first All-Star break in recent memory that hasn't felt like the serene eye of a giant, swirling storm, in both good times and bad. The daily teapot-tempests of self-created micro-drama are long gone, leaving us with baseball. This historically sun-splashed summer has brought with it a White Sox team that also just feels… lighter.
Before eyes roll, shields come up and motivations are assumed, understand that this is not an attempt to either bury Ozzie Guillen or anoint Robin Ventura. I think Guillen is a good manager, and I believe the early returns on his replacement are just that, preventing any reasonable person from extrapolating conclusions about the quality of his work.
But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the differences so far, not with the White Sox running out to three-game division lead thanks to snap-back seasons from expensive veterans and sustained performance from virtual unknowns.
It takes more effort to fill reporters' notebooks now, and postgame press conferences are far from appointment television. That's OK. There's freedom in knowing watching the game is enough, not having to worry about missing the latest veiled shot at management, or tortured, attention-grabbing threat of retirement, or tone-deaf compliment of a brutal dictator.
We don't have to read every single newspaper game story mindful of the possible angle taken by the writer, trying to remember which are the front-office's "guys" and which are the Ozzie "guys," carrying extra responsibility as consumers to counterbalance biases and piece together the truth. Healthy skepticism is necessary always, but following the Sox had become too much like following national politics – tiresome and heavy, full of rancor and agenda.
I'm not sure how much Ventura is actually doing, and right now I don't care. He's relying on Don Cooper to run an entire side of the roster, leaning heavily on the experience of bench coach Mark Parent, and has sought the counsel of guys like Jeff Torborg and others wiser than he.
Credit Ken Williams, too, for avoiding temptation that other GMs may not have been able to resist: with his people in place, it would be easy to be a daily presence in newly comfortable environs, especially in a winning clubhouse. But Williams is maintaining professional distance, allowing whatever is working to work. He is far removed from the postgame-table-flipping hot-head he once was, even if he admits to still living and dying with every pitch. Age has seemingly taught restraint.
It all could turn after the break, of course. Aspects of many personalities are hidden until the real pressure is on in the months to come, and winning makes everything fine. We don't know the cause/effect relationships either – does Ventura merely look good because Alex Rios and Adam Dunn are hitting and Jake Peavy is pitching, or were those three put in a better position to succeed because of a new manager? Same goes for the reasons behind any other of the countless surprise successes so far.
It's just nice to have this without so much silliness.
Stories have surfaced lately describing how Williams and his lieutenants actually knew this whole time that all of the preseason assessments of the White Sox were flat wrong, and everything that has happened was clear to them in March. Sounds great, but don't believe all that.
One good way to interpret an MLB team's self-image is when that season's marketing campaign is rolled out. Slogans like "Our Time" "Why Not Us?," "All In" and others are evidence of genuine confidence. Sometimes regrettably.
This year the Sox came with something vaguely passive, certainly less than dynamic, at a minimum betraying a level of uncertainty that the product would be enough: "Appreciate the Game."
And what's strange is that I think I do.
It's easier when watching a winner, and not having to cover my ears.
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