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Sunday, April 22

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The Sox won the Wrigley Field series 2-1. They'll take two more at Sox Park, bringing the season series to 4-2, which means no matter how far the Cubs go, unless they win the World Series, the Sox will be kings of Chicago. Again.

The attendance at Wrigley Field will always out-pace that of Sox Park. It will simply always be the case; Wrigley Field is a tourist attraction, whereas Sox Park is an actual baseball stadium. The Wrigley Field marquee staring out from the north-west corner of Addison and Clark Streets is a symbol of Chicago, whereas Sox Park is where the city's actual baseball team plays.

Fig. 1. Wrigley Field. On a non-touristy no game day, a woman hangs out.

No matter how well they perform, the Chicago Cubs are the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. Lots of people go to see the Globetrotters, but not because they want to watch basketball.

No, they go because Wrigley Field is the place to go if you're a young white urban professional seeking to do something quintessentially "Chicago." In this respect its the same as playing 16" softball, eating deep-dish pizza, or hinting that your precinct captain should shovel your sidewalk before you put up a campaign sign. It's also the place to go if you want to show your kids a little bit of baseball history, or if you're a jolly, toothless old black guy with relentlessly endearing catchphrase. But it's not where you go if you just want to watch some baseball.

The White Sox are a perennially competitive team. Even when they're bad, they're good. In fact, they've been playoff contenders more or less every year since 1993, whereas the Cubs have been wretched more or less every year since the Trust-Busting Era.

The contrast between The Big Hurt Frank Thomas and juiced-up Swingin' Sammy Sosa is a microcosm of the difference. Why?

Frank Thomas is one of the best pure hitters in the American League since Ted Williams. His career on-base percentage is one of the best in the history of the game. He always walks much more than he strikes out, and while his home-run numbers are never gaudy, his hitting in general is always a threat. Sosa is just another of the modern juiced-up sluggers who are flashy and beloved but not a real boon to his team.

There you go, right there. The Cubs, in their Sleepy-Time Baby Bear Pajamas--which should come with attached feet, and never be worn by anybody calling themselves grown men--are flashy and beloved. They're historied and adored and represent Chicago. But they're not a real baseball team; and I'd say that 65 percent of people who call themselves Cubs fans aren't real fans of baseball, but rather of The Cubs specifically, also known as The Budweiser Spokesmen Who Call Themselves the Cubs.

But the South Side, for whatever reason, lives and breathes sports. Maybe because it's the "poor side of town," as Frank Thomas put it, but sports are a very real and very important part of South Side community culture. I took a drive in a friend's car through the North Side last week on a nice late afternoon. Along the way, of 12 parks including ball fields or basketball courts we drove past, 7 were empty; and the other five were in poorer neighborhoods. A part of this is that much of the North Side prefers private gyms, which predominate in North Side Proper (the area north of the Loop and east of the Chicago River, but also including much of Wicker Park and Bucktown), and some of it may have been coincidence. Whatever the reason, if on any given day you take a cruise past any of the numerous ball fields and basketball courts on the South Side, you're sure to see them packed to the gills.

Fig. 2. Comiskey Park. What's that you say? They named it US Radiation-emitting-killing-us-all device Field?.

My old neighborhood, near Fifteenth and Ashland, had a public pool for the housing projects and a basketball court, which were not just always filled, but would often be illuminated by car headlights parents would bring near the courts just so their kids could play later into the night. I'm not at all suggesting North Siders are lazy: just not as sports-prone as South Siders. As a West Sider, or Great Mediator, I get to say such things. Trust me, its in my lease.

Or take a trip down to the Gem Lounge near 26th and Loomis, just north of Bridgeport. The South Siders, mostly white, who populate this bar are almost all neighborhood folk and eye newcomers suspiciously. On my first visit there last summer, I took a seat at the bar and even though the place was packed, the seats on either side of me were empty. The bartender serving me merely grunted and then refused to pick up my tip. That is, of course, until he noticed me rolling my eyes at a Sportscenter piece about Sosa. He shook his head at it and I told him I was glad they traded the "30/30 Guy" as he used to call himself, and all of a sudden I was at home.

Long story short, sports is big on the South Side. However much of a social lubricant it may be up North, it is gospel down South. (And if you ever find yourself in Oak Lawn, wear a Blackhawks sweater and you're gonna make friends.) South Siders take their Sox very seriously and its for that reason the Chicago White Sox as a baseball team are infinitely better handled than the Cubs, while the Cubs as a money-making organization are more successful than the Sox.

The Cubs are a gimmick. The Sox are Chicago's only baseball team. But Chicago needs the Cubs to play at Wrigley for the same reason the Italian government pays people to dress like Centurions and hang out at the Colosseum: you know, it's cute.

Comments

Rc / June 27, 2003 12:49 PM

Just remember, it's only sport.

Andrew / June 27, 2003 1:29 PM

As one of those rare Northside Sox fans, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Nobody cares if the Cubs win or lose, because they had fun in the sun no matter what. We get mad at the Sox when *they* lose because they're a real team, not an adult amusement park.

Kevin / June 27, 2003 2:54 PM

Don't worry poor Sox fans; soon you'll be yuppified, yuppyized or whatever cute 1990's name you have for us Cub fans. You're getting three Starbucks. Mmmwahhhhh!!!!!!

(Isn't that nice Andrew how I tie in with another entry?)

Andrew / June 27, 2003 3:44 PM

Very good, Kev. Back in your cage.
;)

miss ellen / June 27, 2003 4:21 PM

GO SOX! GO SOX!

We're up 3 games to 1, and looking good lately, too. Now, those Cubbies on the other hand.....

Great article, RC. Sent it to my bro & he agreed wholeheartedly.

Cinnamon / June 27, 2003 5:06 PM

Radiation Field (aka Comiskey) has better nachos. That's why I go to the games. You'll often find me cheering for every home-run, no matter what the team. I like good plays no matter who played it.

Kevin / June 27, 2003 7:14 PM

Sox win the pennant! Sox win the pennant! What?..

Oh they just beat the Cubs.. Oh well, I guess we all have our own World Series.

Lisa / June 27, 2003 8:16 PM

The Cubs may be weak compared to the Sox, but it's blind to say that the Cubs' popularity is just Chicago yuppieism rearing its ugly head. I grew up in Michigan, and my family and the families of many of my friends made summer pilgrimages to Wrigley. My brother grew up a diehard ball fan, but the Cubs were always his chosen team. Obviously we had no North Side identity to prove, and I don't think it was the lure of Harry Carey's beautiful singing voice that drew fans from out of state. There's got to be something more to it, even if it's nothing more than the call of the underdog.

Kris / June 28, 2003 9:58 AM

Well that was inflammatory. And I appreciate that that's the point.

I don't know why I became a Cubs fan instead of a Sox fan when I moved to the city. I went to Comiskey before I went to Wrigley. I watched both on TV. But I was drawn to the Cubs.

I'll allow that for a lot of people Wrigley is nothing more than the world's largest beer garden and singles bar. Really, can you blame people for wanting to go to a *nice* park instead of that sterile monstrosity on the expressway? But that doesn't mean the Cubbies aren't a real team or that they don't have real, die-hard fans.

The truth of the matter is that both Chicago teams have sucked hard for most of their existence. You can't say all Cub fans are yuppies any more than you can say all Sox fans are toothless belligerent drunks who like to attack coaches and umpires.

RC / June 28, 2003 1:45 PM

How defensive people get. You'll note that at no point anywhere in the essay is it stated that all Cubs fans are yuppies. In fact, the word yuppie is never used. The nearest thing to it is that "65% of people" who claim to like the Cubs don't actually care. And nobody can dispute that Wrigley Field is immensely popular among young urban professionals. (as well as tourists, and parents taking their children to a game--all are mentioned). Nor did I say the Cubs don't have die-hard fans. That one was never even implied.

Everybody else, I think, decided to call Cubs fans yuppies and make all of these allegations. I didn't.

Go Sox!! and when you play the Mets, Dodgers, or Giants, go Cubs!!

Jeff / June 28, 2003 7:05 PM

I moved to Chicago after a lifetime spent in Southern cities where I had no major league team to call my own. And now I have TWO? To heck with choosing one or the other, I'm just revelling in it.

That said, while I respect this passion for the Sox, and I was entertained by the piece, dismissing the Cubs as a legitimate team based on the culture and history of the franchise and its fans is well, kinda dumb.

The fans don't play for the Cubs. Neither do the marketing folks who sell that "lovable losers" line to a slobbering public. Neither do bored North Siders who don't appreciate sports. There are 25 people who play for the Cubs, and not a whit of this applies to any of them. They're as dispassionately and borderline arbitrarily assembled as any other professional sports franchise.

And you know what? They're pretty good this year.

Jeffrey Utech / June 30, 2003 10:55 AM

"65 percent of people who call themselves Cubs fans aren't real fans of baseball, but rather of The Cubs specifically"

I'd buy that. Summertime is a sports dead-zone between the end of basketball and hockey seasons and the beginning of football season. So for those people that enjoy sports, want to watch a game occasionally, but aren't necessarily fanatic about baseball, the Cubs work to fill the void. They're always on television and provide something consistent to halfheartedly follow until the fall.

I cheer for the Cubs to win, but if they lose I'm not that heartbroken. They always have, they always will, and who wins in baseball doesn't really matter to me.

Andrew / June 30, 2003 11:00 AM

4-2 Sox over the series. Looks like we've got a winner.

Benjy / July 1, 2003 7:01 AM

I've always been a huge Sox fan and therefore hate the Cubs, but I also love Wrigley Field. So I propose that whichever team wins the crosstown series should get Wrigley as their home ballpark for the following season.

murgatroit / July 2, 2003 2:30 PM

is it even about sports anymore, or is it some assinine branding push. US Cellular Field, the BankOne Bears, what's next... changing the name of the sport to WallMart Ball?

miss ellen / July 2, 2003 5:19 PM

of course it's still about sports.

the music didn't stop playing when the "new world" became the "tweeter center", and deer creek turned into verizon wireless amphitheater.....

it's still comiskey, just as i'll always think of the rosemont horizon as just that, not the allstate arena.

and, now the SOX are making pretty bold moves, trying to angle in for a shot at the series. the world series, that is. we made two big trades and people seem very happy about it, and with 14,000 walk-ups at yesterday's game (a record since the new comiskey opened!), things are looking up.

the cubbies on the other hand, hmmmmmmm, just as expected, a long slow tumble going into the all-star break. such is life.

 

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Ramsin Canon has lots to say about life in this great city at CHICAGO: Howtown on the Make.

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