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Friday, December 8

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Baseball Wed Jul 16 2008

NOW The Season Begins

So now it REALLY begins.

Not to dismiss the first half of the 2008 baseball season, but for me, my battle cry has always been, “Talk to me AFTER the All-Star break.”

Countless frantic fans on both sides of town, giddy with early-season promise have, through the years, approached me with manic glee in their eyes, fully convinced that this was The Year due to the fact that either the Cubs or White Sox are in first place at the break, a sign that supersedes anything a billy goat or Shoeless Joe could conjure up.

I’ve seen it so many times I’ve lost count. Take this season, for instance, which finds the White Sox AND the Cubs in first place in their respective divisions. Or rather take 1977, the year to which this year has most often been compared. For it was 1977 which marked the last time both teams were in first place at the same time.

The prospect of having not one, but TWO teams on top of the baseball world and (maybe) finally make it to the World Series was almost too much for the town to bear. Up until then, Chicago wasn’t even a poppy seed on the bagel of sports, instead serving as a place for other teams to arrive and improve their fortunes. The year before, the 1976 Bears were a very mediocre 7-7-0. The Chicago Bulls, led by the coach with the kids’ cartoon character name, Ed Badger, managed to make it to the NBA playoffs with a 44-38 record but were bounced out in the first round. The Blackhawks were 23-46-11 in 1976 and that was with a lineup that included Bobby Orr, Stan Mikta and Tony Esposito.

So when the Cubs AND White Sox shot out of the gates in 1977, it was an unexpected delight. Unexpected because the White Sox finished sixth in the AL West in the previous season and the Cubs finished fourth in the NL East in ‘76. So unexpected that Sports Illustrated did a feature on this Halley’s Comet of the baseball universe. As we all knew then, neither team had even touched a World Series trophy for longer than any of us could remember. So seeing our two perennial also-rans standing atop the heap, even for half a season, was enough to make grown men giddy.

But not me. I was probably far too cynical for a kid my age, but while Jack Brickhouse and Harry Carey were going nuts in the TV booth for the Cubs and White Sox, respectively, I was watching the television set with one skeptical eye, mumbling over and over, “wait ‘til after the All-Star break…wait ‘til after the All-Star break…” See, I had been there before, in first place at the break, with both of these teams and knew better. Putting my faith into the Cubs and White Sox was like driving a car off the cliff: the ride was exhilarating but you knew you were going to hit bottom at some point.

Sure enough, the Cubs went 54-35 in the first half, but 27-46 in the second half of the season to finish a very Cub-like 81-81 and 20 games out of first. The White Sox took a similar nosedive, posting a 54-35 record in the first half and finishing up 27-46, some 13.5 games out.

There are those who will call me a miserable spoilsport who’s committing a disgusting act in the city’s collective corn flakes. I like to call it “Chicago optimism”. The Miracle of 2005 notwithstanding, anyone who has spent any time rooting for any sports teams within the confines of Howard and 138th Streets knows to keep any early success, even first-place type success, in perspective. Too much can happen: key injuries, early season stars coming back down to earth, the rest of the league awakening from their slumber.

The All-Star break is over. The Cubs and White Sox resume play on Friday. Let the season begin.

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