Rob Warmowski: an appreciation


We lost one of our own on Saturday.

And by “our own,” it’s not just a loss to the South Side Hit Pen and South Side Sox writing staff, or the family we’ve built in producing these sites, but a loss to the whole of Chicago White Sox fandom.

Rob Warmowski, a wonderfully wicked, hilariously cynical, delightful human, passed away. He leaves his loving wife and partner of 33 years, Maureen. He leaves a legacy of music and writing and friendship as rich as any could hope for. And unfortunately, he leaves us far too soon, with notes unplayed, words unwritten, laughs unshared.

As I can’t pretend to have been anywhere near Rob’s inner circle or family, let me take you on the path of discovery I made, in inviting Rob to join our writing family we have here.

As editor, most of those I invite on staff are undiscovered gems, underappreciated talents. I can sprain my shoulder with a back pat over my eye for talent, bask in the glow of, perhaps, a writer’s first experience with success as a sportswriter — doubtlessly special, for a diehard fan, no matter how many accolades that writer has in any other chosen field or study.

With Rob, I knew it would be different. In just the role I knew of him, a sort of White Sox raconteur, he was a heavy hitter. He was well-known to me at the effective dawn of social media and White Sox twitter, when I was a beat writer, a decade ago. We interacted then, and I knew right away I was dealing with an uncommonly sharp guy.

Why he would be interested in our endeavor here at South Side Hit Pen, I can’t say. I’d hope he saw in me a kindred spirit, but while I might suck up compliments and attention like a starving dog, Rob eschewed the spotlight. When I introduced him to our team, claiming as always that we’ve made a big addition — and this time being able to cite just a smidge of his resume in support of the notion — the man blanched. I felt guilty for playing him up. Perhaps he felt I was a phony. Hey, maybe I am.

But his authenticity rang true. How do I know? Well, in preparation for his introduction to our staff and in order to write semi-literately on him when it came to publish his staff bio, I read up on Rob, expecting to see some old Sox tweets, some blog entries.

That research was an invitation to learn just how much I didn’t know about Rob Warmowski.

Rob was a musician of note. While most of us White Sox fans around at the time took to gnashing teeth and shaking fists in Comiskey Park when the 99-win, Winning Ugly White Sox of 1983 slid 25 games southward and pumpkined into the just plain Ugly 1984 White Sox, Rob formed a punk band, the Defoliants, to channel his rage as singer/bassist.

In almost four decades since, Rob was in the middle of many more music projects, forming Buzzmuscle; playing with Califone; producing music for TV’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade as part of the duo The Real Welders; forming a surf-noir band, San Andreas Fault, who would play on bills with legendary guitarists Dick Dale and Link Wray, as well as score stage plays; and forming SIRS. His ongoing project, among many, was a solo project, Allende, which has such a strong Devo vibe I swear I must have pre-purchased some of his 45s in my prepubescence.

Sportswriting? Yeah, Rob did it. There’s the Whitesoxski blog, which like many sort of devolved into a Twitter account, because we increasingly write in bits and bites now, no matter how sweeping our prose. Before that, oh, dunno, Rob wrote on the White Sox for Gerard freaking Cosloy’s blog project, Can’t Stop the Bleeding. (Cosloy, via Matador Records, is the reason we’ve heard of such acts as Pavement, Liz Phair, and Belle and Sebastian, among many others. The notion that Rob went, by some measure, from writing for Cosloy to writing for me is giving me the shakes.)

The area in which I’m least informed about Rob but perhaps most impressed by is his work on behalf of workers, most publicly via Twitter @ScabbyTheRat (and promoted at Vice). That a musician, writer, consultant, artist, educator, animator, DJ, composer, sports geek would then take on, oh, the under-representation of the labor force as a second (or 12th) gig is beyond my comprehension. And admirable as hell.

Ours was a friendship that I hoped would grow. For all his growly punk roots (as I, mere years younger, was fully submerging in The New Wave), we would have doubleplus bonded over Devo, XTC, Flaming Lips, and very likely his own rather dynamic and wry recordings. His inclinations toward art and activism (I wish) would have helped better awaken mine. And, of course, our love of the White Sox, and apparently his longtime admiration of the work I’ve done on the team for lo these 15 years, would have seen us cement a bond over this excruciating, ascendant, delightful, aggravating, surprise-belch of a team this very blog is dedicated to covering.


You might say, boy howdy, this tribute to Rob sure is full of mes and Is and a prism uniquely large-schnozzed, quasi-hippy and nearly 100% Italian. What gives, Ballantini, you miserable egomaniac?

Well hey, I do know when to step aside, not only share the spotlight but shine all 1,000 watts at the deserving. But death, as much as it is fully engaged with the departed, is also deeply personal. When someone is lost, we immediately flood with memories, aspirations, regrets; hopefully, some love and laughter as well.

Is it fair to frame a de facto obit as a (aspiringly near-accurate) celebration of life, seen at least partially through the writer’s eyes? Well … how else do you do it? And how else do you convey anguish over not just what was lost, but what could have been?

My first of several tweets aiming to credit and admire Rob was this:

And here’s the thing: There’s also no way to attempt to offer a tribute that is guaranteed not to be melodramatic. The pain so many more are feeling absolutely swallows any loss we feel in the White Sox community, or me personally, for a man I was just, finally, getting to know.

But perhaps if someone on the periphery of this fabulous life can lob this sort of love Rob’s way, it’s an indication to anyone reading just how wonderful and resonant he was to those he lived and loved with daily.

When I got a message from Maureen on Saturday afternoon, I got a lump in my throat. I hoped, desperately, her vague-enough words were referring to some trivial thing, a misunderstanding, or who knows, maybe even a future birthday project. But … well, no matter what you’re hoping, you worry. For 24 hours, I worried. And on Sunday, the very worst was confirmed.

Though public, I don’t think it’s my place to share Maureen’s full message on the passing of her husband, but as an end note to what I hope reads as an affectionate homage, she should have the final word:

I was so lucky to have his wit, devotion, kindness and incredible talent as a daily part of my life.


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Actor (final credit: murdered by Albert Einstein in "Carnage Hall"), musician (Ethnocentric Republicans), and Nerf hoops champion, Wiffleball aficionado and onetime bilingual kindergarten teacher, Brett Ballantini also writes about baseball, basketball and sometimes hockey, publishing at the NBA, MLB, NHL, and for Slam, Hoop, Sporting News, the Athletic, and others. He was CSN Chicago’s Blackhawks beat writer for their first Stanley Cup season of 2009-10, and took over the White Sox beat after that. He currently is the editor-in-chief of South Side Hit Pen and managing editor of SB Nation's South Side Sox. He also wrote a book about Ozzie Guillén but is running out of space, so follow him on Twitter @BrettBallantini and he'll probably tell you even more about himself than you ever wanted to know.

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steely3000
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steely3000
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My condolences to his family and friends. It’s tough to lose a good friend, so thank you for your heartfelt post.

katiesphil
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katiesphil
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Thank you, Brett. Wish I’d had a chance to get to know him a little through here, but more – my sympathy and condolences to those of you who did, and those who both knew and loved him.

FancyHughYancy
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Beautiful, Brett. Thank you for helping us all get to know him a little better. My deepest condolences.

Jim McCabe
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Jim McCabe
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A Sox fan with great musical tastes. Respect, sir. RIP

dan thefan
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dan thefan
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Thankyou Brett, ThankYou! When anyone who Lives in Your Heart Dies come back & Read This, a WonderFULL Appreciation that will Help Slowly Heal & Keep Their Heart Beating in Your Life. Peace & Love Rob, Rawk Rock IN!, dtf

Timmay
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Timmay
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RIP