TCS Morning 5: The attendance is not going to turn around overnight

1. The 2005 White Sox were an absolute death machine from the moment the season opened. They won their first four series of the year, and then ripped off an eight-game winning streak. After April 29, they were never less than 10 games over .500 again, and were wire-to-wire division champs. Every galvanizing indicator of "THIS TEAM IS REALLY GOOD" burned bright all season, which wound up being a strong contender for the best season in franchise history.

And still, after a disappointing 2004 and an offseason that was more bizarre than it was exciting, it took a while to get everyone on board. After Opening Day, there wouldn't be a 30,000-person crowd until the last day of April. From there until July, they would only tip over 30,000 for weekend dates, half-price Mondays, and the Cubs series. It really wasn't until the All-Star Break, 28 games over .500, and nine games up in the division, that they became a consistent major draw. It still wasn't sell-outs every night; weak opponents like the Royals dragged them below 20,000 every game in a three-game set in the beginning of September. And this was an ideal year! The season's excitement would be responsible for a nearly 3 million attendance season, it was just that it came a year later, in 2006.

So you have to feel for Brooks Boyer, who actually just oversaw the Sox reversing a trend of annual attendance decline that had been going since 2006, defending the Sox attendance record in the midst of seven-year playoff drought, in response to the Tribune presenting various damning algorithms that seek to measure the Sox ticket sales erosion (fifth largest in the last decade) and fan base strength (27th in MLB) that show the team in dire straights. 

As Boyer admits, it simply hasn't been a stretch of baseball that allows for the slow build of enthusiasm and positive word of mouth necessary to grow attendance numbers. It's entirely possible the Sox don't have a strong fanbase, and will never sellout consistently, but that's not going to be determined fairly based on a 10-year window when the team has been especially bad and never consistent. Even if the 2016 Sox blow the doors off the league, it will still probably be too soon to assess.

2. CSN Chicago's little docu-feature on Jose Abreu's return to Cuba aired Tuesday night, and once I got over their summary of how the Cuban embargo started, it was...nice. It was relentlessly nice. Not knowing how long it would be going in, it became quickly clear that it would need to be a half hour long, because there's really one only note to hit.

It's a good note. Every scene is drenched in the encompassing sense of Abreu's goodness, so much that cutting between Abreu very sincerely and graciously expressing his joy to return to Cuba, shots of Cuban people joyously mobbing him, and soundbites from Joe Torre, Dave Winfield and Tony Clark talking about what a nice and great guy Abreu is, counts as variation. There's a lot be said for the way Abreu carries himself in public life and in the workplace, but it would mostly be saying the same thing.

And while it was hardly the purpose of a CSN feature on a joyous goodwill trip to turn up the seedy underbelly of Abreu's life, even in the world of positive personal profiles, Abreu comes off and is regularly described as particularly saint-like.

We've become so accustomed to disappointment and sleaze in sports that the vogue, smart-alecky approach to athletes can often be to embrace guys who are openly obnoxious or selfish, because it's assumed anyone who isn't open about it is merely trying to glide by on pretense. From this kind of jaded perspective, Abreu is hard guy to process; the theoretical 'good guy' that we were supposed to give up on ever encountering after we started accepting the complexities of adulthood, and he's a stud player to boot. He comes off as almost absurd.

I was doing post-game work at the Cell at the end of 2014, right after Dayan Viciedo had just launched a walk-off home run to win a meaningless September game over the Twins. We didn't know at the time, but could have guessed, that Dayan was playing his last weeks of baseball with the Sox. Despite this obvious pretense, Abreu still laid absurd praise on his teammate, saying he believed "from the bottom of my heart" that Dayan, 1700+ MLB PAs into his career, was going to figure things out and become a great player. I remembered thinking "Oh come on, I know you want to be nice but this is ridiculous." And yet, in the third year of Abreu's tenure in the states, there's yet to be a real crack in this image of a grateful, unselfish and genuine guy.

Part of this could be good maintenance of his personal boundaries. The most gripping element of Abreu's return to Cuba--a reunion with the young son he had to leave behind--is by far the most complicated and detailed of what we know of his life, and the actual encounter is tastefully kept off-camera. There are clear hints that he might be a real person with a complicated and challenging personal life like we all have, but Abreu, who speaks frankly and with self-awareness about the expectations that comes with being a living, breathing national idol, is wise enough to keep it separated.

3. There are no new reports tying the Sox to having conversations with Dexter Fowler, just a growing list of speculative lists wondering what teams could possibly have more need and opportunity for Fowler than them, while Ken Rosenthal wonders what teams--such as the Sox--who have both a reason to try to win now and first round pick protection in free agency, can possibly do to justify not snatching up the remaining free agent solutions.

The only problem with this logic is that was true for the major studs as well, and that wasn't enough to drive the Sox to offer a winning bid for anyone.

4. Just to lay out the need issue in clear terms.

That glaring hole in right field is...glaring, but ZiPs is bullish on Tyler Saladino's chances to hold his own and provide value on defense, loves the Alex Avila-Dioner Navarro platoon, and thinks Todd Frazier is the new best position player on the team. The result is the strongest projected Sox club in years, and one that is grading out stronger than other AL Central clubs at this stage, and pretty much no one thinks this roster is complete. I have my reasons for concern about Saladino's defense being enough of a saving grace at short, or Avila and Navarro still being up for reproducing their career splits, but it's amazing how Frazier and Lawrie raise the floor of the lineup.

5. The White Sox named their non-roster invites Tuesday, which Collin summarized in very serious fashion. Consider me mildly interested in Phillippe Aumont's fringe chances of getting straightened out by Cooper enough to work in middle relief.