When the White Sox hired Tony La Russa, I told myself, “It can’t get worse.” After last year’s 81-win season of lethargy, I told myself, “It can’t get worse.” After last summer’s dysfunction, defined by a literal shooting in the ballpark, the hiring of Chris Getz as general manager and 101 losses, I told myself, “It can’t get worse.”
Naive is the word that comes to mind. I yearn for those days.
On Thursday, the Sox hit rock bottom. The Detroit Tigers announced they hired Jason Benetti, beloved White Sox TV play-by-play man. After eight wonderful years with the South Siders, Benetti, like many Sox fans, is moving on.
The foundation to any sustainable partnership is an ability to recognize when you have a good thing going and then committing to it. For the past eight years, Benetti was the best thing the Sox had going, and he committed deeply to them. Despite the terrible product on the field for six of those years, Benetti’s observational humor, love for the game and its characters, and ability to draw out nuggets of analysis from color analyst Steve Stone made the White Sox appointment television. Hanging out with Benetti made my day better. He made a terrible baseball team lovable because he is lovable.
Benetti grew up a die-hard White Sox fan in the south suburbs. He loves Chicago. He loves Sox fans. He had his dream job, and he excelled at it. Indeed, a great opportunity awaits him in Detroit. Three years ago, the Sox almost hired A.J. Hinch, the Tigers manager, but Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf torpedoed the process and chose his friend La Russa instead.
Scott Harris, Detroit’s head of baseball operations, once Theo Epstein’s protégé with the Cubs, has an experienced and shrewd baseball mind. Unlike the Sox, Detroit is moving on up in the world. Despite all of this, I imagine Benetti feels a sense of loss leaving Chicago. The franchise not only failed to build a winning team, but it also failed to fully recognize his brilliance.
The Sox didn’t hold up their end of the partnership. Benetti’s love for a job, a team and a city were no match for the dysfunction bred by Reinsdorf. For 43 years, Reinsdorf has been defined by a litany of mistakes and one magical 2005 season. After his worst season, 2023, losing Benetti will hurt most. The White Sox lost their best fan.
As MLB researcher Sarah Langs often writes, “Baseball is the best.” It’s the best because of people like Benetti — storytellers who can detail the game’s small wonders and rise to its defining moments, from describing a young fan in right field with ice cream slathered over her face to a bat flip by a young unburdened shortstop from Alabama, his full career ahead of him.
As I remember the Benetti era, one moment will always remain with me: turning on the television to see an empty stadium on opening day on July 24, 2020, four months into COVID-19. The sight felt like a warm blanket. Then I heard Benetti’s voice, which brought a tear to my eye.
“White Sox baseball is back. Every statue, every nook, every cranny, every seat, every hedge, every cloud, every angle to look at a cloud, every mural, every blade of grass is still here and ready for you to watch our national pastime from. We wish you were here. We really do.”
Thank you, Jason Benetti — for being there, not just with us, but for us. We wish you were here, too. We’re also proud of you for moving on. Maybe it’s a lesson for all of us.
Charlie Stanton is a speechwriter based in Oakland, California, and a proud Chicago native.