By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
Bill Walton has been associated with some of the most famous and winning teams in sports history — the UCLA men’s basketball dynasty, the 1977 Portland Trail Blazers and the 1986 Boston Celtics come easiest to mind.
Now, the big, spacy Deadhead of sports broadcasting has to forever be affiliated with the Chicago White Sox as well.
Walton’s unlikely friendship with Sox play-by-play announcer Jason Benetti, who originally worked with the basketball Hall of Famer as part of his winter-time work as a college basketball announcer for ESPN, led to the Sox and NBC Sports Chicago putting them together again in an ingenious move.
Completely leaning into this bit, Benetti and the Sox telecast essentially let Walton have his way for the entire nine innings of a 7-2 win at the Angels Friday night. The Sox were kind enough to splice together a neat collection of highlights from the truly one-of-a-kind experience, which you can see here.
At an initial glance, it would seem that Walton’s guest spot came simply because the Sox were in his home area of Southern California during a trip where Benetti’s typical partner, Steve Stone, declined to come along, but so much else made this stunt seem like it was meant to be, including this weekend being the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock and Friday night being the 50th year to the date that Walton’s beloved Grateful Dead performed at the festival.
Given the mystic chronological tie-in, it would only make sense to welcome back Walton each August 16th or thereabout to join his little nerdy friend again in the booth and surely Stoney could join in the fun too if he’d like. It’d be great to hear their opposing war stories from the defining counter-cultural era of their youth.
The only thing left to figure out from here is if Walton’s good vibes and “long, strange trip” brand of luck might spread to the up-and-coming Sox as it did with the teams he’s been associated with before.
Already a team with a seemingly bright future ahead of them, to add on Walton’s endless (and sometimes confusing) brand of optimism could be the last ingredient to make this current era of Sox ball transcend all others before it.
This may not be the season for loving, but we may not be far off, especially if you believe the big man who only needed one game to fall for the South Siders.
Bonus: Sid’s Top 5 Walton Moments
Our own boundless source of Sox positivity — Sidney Brown — had a great time watching the broadcast last night. Here’s his list of his favorite moments of Walton’s memorable debut in the Sox booth.
5) Lucas Giolito’s strikeout to end the 6th inning — “Send ’em home…take me out to the ballgame, take me out with the crowd…”
4) Ryan Goins’ fly out to end the second inning with the bases loaded with Walton, channeling his inner Harry Caray — “C’mon, over the fence, please?”
3) Tim Anderson scoring on a wild pitch to give the Sox a 2-0 lead in the 3rd inning had Walton complaining that Anderson should’ve stolen home plate.
2) The intro to the Sox/Angels broadcast — “It’s the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock and we have the beautiful waterfall behind us…..one thing we know what’s going to happen, it’s not going to rain and we’re going to play baseball.”
1) James McCann’s grand slam in the eighth inning to give the Sox a 7-2 lead — “Put Ricky (Renteria) in the Hall of Fame today after his contract extension. What a fantastic turn of events if you love the Chicago White Sox and I’m falling in love by the breath.”
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR