Ballgames priority over winning city
GM focused on success, not perception of club
ANAHEIM -- Chicago might be affectionately referred to as the Second City. But residents of the Midwest metropolis understand it has just as much to offer, in terms of culture, sporting events and flat out fun, as anything New York or Los Angeles could bring to the table.
Picture that specific attitude on a smaller scale, and it defines the way general manager Ken Williams feels about how his White Sox team is viewed in relation to the Cubs as part of the city's baseball landscape.
"I've never accepted that we are the second team in Chicago or that's the way it's always going to be," said Williams on Saturday afternoon prior to the start of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Angel Stadium.
"I kind of cringe when I hear that," Williams added. "It's just not how I'm made up. I say, 'OK, what do we need to do to raise our level of interest in Chicago?' The only thing I can control somewhat is putting a product on the field and winning."
Williams certainly has accomplished that particular winning goal during the 2005 campaign, as the White Sox entered Saturday just two wins away from their first World Series appearance since 1959. The city itself is more familiar with postseason heartbreak than playoff success, with a short trip back to 2003 and the North Side of town as a prime example.
While manager Ozzie Guillen once again encouraged Cubs fans to join the current White Sox bandwagon Saturday, Williams acknowledged a rather humorous story in regard to his demeanor back in 2003 where the Cubs were concerned. Williams said that if the Cubs had reached the World Series, he already had informed his wife that they were headed for a vacation during that time frame.
That specific feeling might now be shared by Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, as the White Sox inch closer to making history. In Williams' estimation, though, the White Sox situation might be a little more personal where his work is concerned.
"I'm not so sure Jim feels the same way," Williams said. "I have a history as a player first here and then a scout and whatever, 20-some odd years. I have ample time to feel White Sox fans' pain.
"I think it's a different job for various reasons. I don't want to get into particulars, but that job is not the same as this job."
Although Williams already has plans for 2006 firmly in place, especially with so many key components signed and returning to the fold, he can tackle some of the more significant issues after the 2005 season comes to a close. There's the issue of franchise stalwart and Chicago icon Frank Thomas, a topic Williams declined to address on Friday.
The White Sox figure to exercise their $3.5 million buyout but could offer Thomas a new, incentive-laden deal, if the medical reports on his injured left ankle return positive. But the biggest contractual issue to be settled deals with first baseman Paul Konerko.
Williams had the chance to negotiate with Konerko during Spring Training, but they decided to wait until after the season was complete to avoid the ongoing distraction. On Saturday, Williams acknowledged the deferral process could have been a mistake in terms of what the market now holds for Konerko.
"As I explained to Paul at the time, this was not about our desire to not have him as part of our organization for a long, long time," Williams said. "This was about trying to determine whether or not what we did in the offseason was heading us down the right path, and there would be a time for us to talk.
"I didn't want him thinking because we weren't going to talk contract that it was somehow indicative of our feelings toward him. So, here we are.
"Obviously, it makes it a little more difficult to get something done," Williams added. "If there is a desire on both parts, then I'm more optimistic than not."
Truth be told, Konerko embodies the class, spirit and selfless playing style that Williams envisions for his team. Williams went as far as to say Saturday that he could see Konerko managing or in his chair some day, illustrating his high opinion of the White Sox cleanup hitter.
Future contracts and even increases in the team's $75 million payroll are not major topics weighing on Williams' mind, at this point. He's looking for a World Series berth first, followed by the first baseball title in the Second City since 1917.
"And after we do it, do it again and then, maybe things will change," Williams said of his team's status in Chicago. "If they don't, then they just don't. We won't let it bother us."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.