April 20, 2024

 

Jason Benetti is leaving for Detroit and the White Sox lose … again

g……

Like a lot of South Side fans, Jason Benetti is quitting the White Sox.

Unlike most of them, he’s getting paid not to watch them. And more money, at that.

Don’t cry for Jason Benetti. He’s free now. No longer does he have to worry about Yoán Moncada’s back, Pedro Grifol’s lineups or Eloy Jiménez’s hamstrings. He doesn’t have to pretend Jerry Reinsdorf runs a competent organization anymore.

Benetti, the Homewood, Ill. native, realized a dream when he was hired to be the play-by-play voice for his favorite team starting in 2016. But like a lot of people who have worked for the Sox, he’s leaving with a dimmer view of a franchise that continually disappoints everyone.

It’s early November and the year from hell for the White Sox isn’t over yet.

With only one year left on his latest contract extension, it’s not a surprise to me that Benetti is leaving his hometown team, but I didn’t expect it to happen this offseason nor did I foresee him moving to Detroit to be their TV voice.

I figured he’d eventually commit himself to national jobs, which he has been doing in tandem with his Sox job for the past eight years. I thought there was a chance he’d stick around until his partner Steve Stone decided to retire.

The 40-year-old Benetti is a throwback to the days when broadcasters worked year-round, and he’s a favored voice by many for college football and basketball. But that busy schedule was part of the reason for a schism with the organization, one that complicated his recent contract negotiations.

Benetti only signed a two-year deal before last season, so it wasn’t like he and the team were making a long-term commitment to each other.

This news wasn’t as shocking as the Cubs firing David Ross to hire Craig Counsell earlier in the week, but unlike that move, which thrilled most North Side fans, this development has further devastated most of an already despondent Sox fan base.

No offense to Detroit, but what does it say about the state of the White Sox that the Tigers are considered greener pastures for a TV broadcaster?

When the Sox were an up-and-coming team trying to reinvent itself, Benetti was the one shilling for the rebuild on TV in the lean years, back when every Eloy Jiménez homer was a referendum on the future and every Tim Anderson bat flip was a flare in the sky to announce the arrival of baseball’s next powerhouse.

 

Who would’ve guessed that by 2023 the Sox would’ve wasted it all with only one real playoff appearance, Anderson would be paid to go away before his contract ended, Jiménez would be on the trade block and Benetti would leave for the freaking Tigers? (No offense, freaking Tigers.)

Before you scoff at Detroit, though, remember they finished second in the AL Central with a 78-84 record in 2023 and that’s with their big-ticket hitter, Javy Báez, hitting like, well, the 2023 version of Tim Anderson.

For those keeping score at home, that was 17 games better than the Sox, who came into the season with the top payroll in the division and finished as the laughingstock of baseball.

I’m not saying Detroit is ascendant, but the White Sox are about as popular in Chicago as a red-light camera. By the end of the season, Benetti could’ve counted viewers as his #SoxMath problem.

For a lot of Sox fans, the quick-witted Benetti — who introduced Sox fans to math problems beyond “How much for four beers?” — was reason enough to watch the games when the team fell out of contention.

He was a value add for what was increasingly a poor product. Benetti rejuvenated Steve Stone on the air after years of his awkward booth relationship with Ken “Hawk” Harrelson.

For all the things the Sox do wrong — player development, pro scouting, the farm system, stadium operations, stadium security, ownership, management, ticket sales — their TV broadcasts are solid. Benetti and Stone were a well-liked team and their pre- and postgame show featuring Chuck Garfien and Ozzie Guillen was more watchable than the actual games.

But Benetti’s once-perfect relationship with his boyhood baseball team had soured a bit in recent years over his schedule, which saw him missing games for national TV commitments in football and baseball. His new contract better defined their working relationship, Benetti told me this past spring when we took a field trip to the Museum of Science & Industry to see the Mold-A-Rama exhibit.

“That was the problem, it was all ad hoc in 2021,” he said. “And then the situation with my games missed was very vague. It’s not vague anymore. So we’re good. That’s done. For me, I thought the work getting better and better and better and better and better might make the level of fairness and respect grow with that. And for some people, it doesn’t. For some people it does.”

You can tell from that quote that Benetti was annoyed the team didn’t appreciate his work enough to deal with his occasional absences. He wanted to be respected for what he did do, but like in a lot of contract negotiations, the Sox seemingly wanted to focus on what he wasn’t doing. It’s why Benetti said he appreciated why player arbitration hearings are often so prickly.

Benetti lives with cerebral palsy and he thinks sometimes that people don’t take him as seriously because of it.

“I guess I thought it all was going to go away at some point, like when I was an adult, that people would treat me with equal respect or when I became, quote, unquote, a great announcer,” he said. “That’s never going away. People are going to see me for what I am, which I love in a lot of ways. I love that I see the world in a different way. But sometimes it’s like I doubt you would treat somebody who looks quote, unquote normal, like this.”

The losers in this move are most Sox fans. Now, they all didn’t love Benetti — some old-school fans preferred a more buttoned-up, less yakky broadcast — and he’s said he welcomes criticism. But most people greatly enjoyed his work. Benetti made the broadcast fun and inclusive. He could call a big moment, tee up Stone for analysis, hammer managerial decisions and find ways to keep you interested when the ballgame had gone south for the Sox. He was a national broadcaster with a distinct local flavor. He got Sox fans. He was one of them, after all. It was a perfect marriage, some would say. But for those in the know, this was a divorce in the waiting.

I’m biased here, but I will miss him. Given his intellect — he got a law degree from Wake Forest while broadcasting minor-league baseball — he should probably be doing something more important than calling AL Central baseball games, but that’s the life he’s chosen for himself. Tigers fans are lucky to have him telling their story.

Just like White Sox fans were lucky to have him telling theirs, in good times and in bad, for eight seasons. And now they’ll have to get used to someone new to narrate the dark, often depressing path of this franchise. That is, if they haven’t tuned out this team already and turned off their TVs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *