As the MLB owners and MLB Players Union continue to have failed proposals for the start of the 2020 season, NBC Sports Chicago continues to show classic Chicago White Sox games. On Monday, they re-aired the 1993 Division clinching victory for the team against the Seattle Mariners. The game brought back a lot of vivid memories and served as a reminder of why the team was so special during that decade. Although the decade only saw the team make the playoffs just once, the 90s may have been the signature decade for the franchise.
Entering the 1990’s, there was optimism for several different reasons for Chicago’s American League team as they appeared to be a franchise with an arrow pointing upwards. A collection of young players, a beautiful new stadium, and new uniforms all contributed to the White Sox’s national popularity amongst a new and diverse fan base. Young players included Jack McDowell, Roberto Hernandez, Alex Fernandez, Robin Ventura, and lastly, Hall of Famer Frank Thomas.
McDowell and Fernandez would be one of the best starting pitching tandems of the early 90s as they were the anchors of the White Sox staff. Hernandez would go on to be one of the most underrated closers in the 1990s as he saved 161 games over a seven-year career with the team. Ventura was a perennial Gold Glove third basemen, reliable left-handed power threat, and an All-Star during his time with the team.
Thomas, was Chicago’s most important player during that time as he was a true baseball icon during the 90s. The MVP first baseman had advertisement deals, appeared in tv shows along with films, and was arguably the best hitter of his generation. Thomas had it all, as he was the marquee player for a team that was growing in popularity with the progression of the decade.
The team’s debut of a new uniform completely changed their popularity as they were one of the first teams to have a uniform that fit the 90s culture. With a white uniform that featured black pinstripes, the White Sox logo was a throwback, yet had a brand new design. It would be highly popular with the growing rap culture as music legends Ice Cube and Tupac were constantly seen wearing a White Sox hat.
On a bigger scale, the White Sox appeared in several classic baseball films of the 1990s, including Little Big League, Angels in the Outfield, and Major League II. Sox players such as Fernandez and Tim Raines had cameo appearances in Little Big League as Guaranteed Rate Field was featured in the movie. Major League II would do the same as the Chicago team served as the main antagonist team, with Jack Parkman being the villain. Parkman on the White Sox is viewed as one of the best sports film villains of all-time.
Chicago’s national popularity was driven by the star power and popular names that donned White Sox jerseys during the decade. The two most marketable athletes of the decade both were apart of Chicago’s South Side team in back to back years. Dual-sport legend Bo Jackson played with the team from 1991 to 1993 and was instrumental in helping the team win the 1993 American League Western Division. The following season, Michael Jordan, following his retirement from basketball, would sign a minor league contract and appear in an exhibition game with the major league team at Wrigley Field. Jordan’s time with the Birmingham Barons would be the most attention paid to a Double-A minor league team ever.
The team would add more star power in 1997 when they signed outfielder Albert Belle to the biggest free-agent contract at the time. Belle was seen as one of the best power hitters along with Thomas, and the pairing made for a resurgence in popularity for the White Sox. Unfortunately, mid-season of 1997 would begin the decline of the team’s popularity as the infamous “White Flag” trade dealt a blow to the team’s fanbase and popularity.
During the decade, the team was over .500 in six of the ten years and had several seasons of 90 or more wins. Although they did not have as much success as other great teams of the 90s, including the Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians, and New York Yankees, the White Sox still were one of the more memorable teams of the decade. For a team that was mere moments away from relocating to Florida in 1988, the 1990s proved to be the most influential decade for the team in its storied history.