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Columnist
Sox' Williams keeping eye on youth, payroll, economy
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 11/25/2008 12:02 AM

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When the top athlete on the planet loses a big endorsement deal with Buick, as Tiger Woods did Monday, and unless you've had the door to your cave slammed shut the last few months, then you know things are kinda tough out there.

So, yes, the White Sox will be trimming payroll this winter.

That news, via Sox GM Ken Williams, came Monday, because unlike the very few teams in sports who are immune to recessions, the Sox will need to keep an eye on expenses.

Those who live for the chance to criticize the South Siders will no doubt enjoy hearing that the Sox won't be spending as much as they did in 2008, when they were fifth in baseball at $121 million.

"First of all, it's a continuation of a plan to get younger that started two years ago,'' Williams said Monday from Arizona. "But secondly, this was going to be needed anyway as a result of the economy.

"We can't hide from it. At the end of the day, the bottom line is you can't spend a dollar if you only have 75 cents, and we're talking about millions here.

"These are serious issues and we can't live with our heads in the sand.''

Williams has already subtracted $25 million in the form of Orlando Cabrera, Nick Swisher, Juan Uribe and Joe Crede, and you have to think he'd like to get Javier Vazquez and his $11.5 million off the books, though it doesn't help that Vazquez has a limited no-trade blocking deals to N.L. West and A.L. West teams.

As for the 2009 payroll, Williams said, "The number will depend on what we do over the next few weeks. Jerry (Reinsdorf) just tells me to break even and try to win the World Series.

"I'm charged with making sure we can keep the lights on, and do it in a competitive way.''

It's difficult to argue with Williams' results over the past eight years.

"It's pretty evident that I'm trying to continue on with a plan to turn the roster over and infuse the team with young talent,'' Williams said. "In the meantime, we'll continue to monitor where revenues are and keep having dialogue, but I'm more focused on how to put the best team on field that's more athletic and younger.

"So my goals, aside from the economy, were going to result in a lower payroll anyway.''

Meanwhile, some sports teams around the country may see a 25 percent drop in ticket sales next year, though we're not suggesting that could happen on the South Side.

"How can sports not be affected by it?'' Williams asked. "People work hard for their discretionary dollars and entertainment is often the thing that's cut first.

"But we survive in sports for times just like this, when people need a little break from real life for a few hours a day, when they can be passionate about their teams.

"We have a responsibility to keep our sport healthy, and I have to do my part to make sure of that.''

Bring back Chelios

Much like Lou Piniella, who got a handle on his team after a few months on the job, Joel Quenneville is slowly, but surely, changing the makeup of his club.

One thing he must surely see is that the Blackhawks did Jonathan Toews a disservice by burdening him with the captain's role so early in his career.

Make no mistake, because Toews was destined to be an NHL captain before he could even skate, but just as they shouldn't have made him the No. 1 center right out of the gate, giving him this responsibility is taking a toll on the 20-year-old.

He'd never admit that because he's too tough and won't make excuses, but it's hard for a kid his age to throw a veteran in a locker and tell him it's a team game, the way a Chris Chelios or Marty Lapointe would, or force a veteran to stand up after a game and answer questions, the way a Dirk Graham or Mark Messier might have already done.

So it's always the same guys waiting for the press, and it's the usually the youngest players on the team, like Toews and Patrick Kane, who do most of the talking.

Toews doesn't need a guy like Chris Chelios right now. He needs Chelios.

The good cause

The Wolves host their ninth annual food drive at home games today, Saturday and Sunday, after donating nearly 10,000 pounds of food in the last eight years.

Each fan who brings canned goods or nonperishable food items will receive a raffle ticket for a chance to win a $150 dinner gift certificate.

For more info, visit chicagowolves.com.

The Savage truth

Did Browns GM Phil Savage really need to apologize for blasting an e-mailer who had been abusing him over and over again?

I'll bet if you took a poll of public figures who are verbally assaulted by anonymous, hit-and-run artists, you'd find Savage getting great support for firing back.

The deep breath

From e-mailer The Last Bear Fan: "I'm glad they got a win, but whooping it up over beating the Rams is kind of like getting excited watching your son take out the garbage. If they can do it again next Sunday night in Minnesota, there will be some reason for optimism.''

Best headline

Sportspickle.com: "NHL Network Deportes lands first viewer.''

And finally ...

Comedian Alex Kaseberg, on Cowboys QB Tony Romo: "Already this year, he's helped an elderly couple change a flat tire, he took a homeless man to a movie, and last night he helped Jessica Simpson write a book report on 'Curious George'."

brozner@dailyherald.com