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The Turncoat Mon Apr 19 2010

The Turncoat

Sports, like politics, religion and pop culture, attracts fanaticism of a very vicious nature. When there are rivalries involved, the typical sports fan can regress from jovial enthusiast to belligerent maniac. Anyone who has been a Gapers Block reader long enough to remember the comments from Ramsin Canon's "Hate, Hate, Hate the White Sox" column (comments now rendered even more hilarious since the Sox did eventually go on to win it all) will note that not even the classy denizens of this website can abstain from ad hominem attacks and personal insults regarding the other side's sexuality, socio-economic status and level of education when defending their team. Even though Chicago is easily the greatest city in the world and stuffed to the condos with admirable people, we tend to turn pretty barbaric when the Packers come to Soldier Field, the Red Wings visit the United Center and, most of all, when the Cubs and White Sox are compared in any capacity what-so-ever.

So it is with that in mind, that I leave you with the following warnings: if you are a Northsider with a perpetual dislike of Sox fans, you will come to loathe me. If the thought of someone scribing preference of the White Sox and The Cell over that of the Cubs and Wrigley Field is a notion that angers your blood, then you will most likely curse my name to your grandchildren. None of this is my intention of course, I am not picking a fight. I am merely examining the facts of this city and my own life. For you see, I used to be one of you, but my taste in baseball has since matured. I used to be a Cubs fan but I now root for the White Sox. I am a turncoat.

One of my earliest childhood memories is the Cubs "1984 Eastern Division Champs!" pennant hanging in my bedroom. I was only five years old in 1984, so I don't remember much of that season or the inevitable heartbreak that followed. I just knew, even as a young boy, that there was something about that pennant that made my father very sad. The men in the portrait on that particular keepsake had failed to do something very important, and the end result was my father looking very depressed whenever he came within its vicinity. This is the life of a Cubs fan: even our earliest memories of this team are tarnished with failure and sorrow.

Cubs_no.pngCubs fans often wear that fact on their sleeve. The longer you have endured this disappointment, the more true-blue and die-hard you are, and this in turn makes you a better baseball fan. Somehow self-abuse is the most admirable quality a fan of the sport can have. This is a notion I have since come to find ridiculous, but I am getting ahead of myself.

I suppose part of the draw to this mentality is that someday it will all have been worth it. If the Cubs ever do win it all, just think of what an investment all those previously blown opportunities will have been! How will the memories of the collapse of 1969 and the infamous Bartman Game have appreciated in value after finally seeing the Cubbies celebrating with champagne and passing around 20XX World Series Champs hats? This is such a seductive thought, that for many true fans, it would be ludicrous to ever turn away. Look what you would be missing out on!

Aside from a strong family allegiance to the Cubs (a family that I am on the verge of being disowned from for being such a traitor as their love of the Cubs is best described as reckless), it was this fear that kept me on board with them for over three decades of misery. I couldn't bear to turn my back on them because they just might win it all someday. So at what point does it make sense to walk away? For me the answer is when you have been disappointed and heart-broken to the point where no number of victories will ever matter again. It is the point where your team has been humiliated and annihilated to where not even the concentrated joy from the victories of Lucas, The Miracle on Ice and Kirk Gibson's home run could ever make you care about your team again. For me, that moment was the 2008 Divisional Series.

Make no bones about it: the Cubs were amazing in 2008. Throughout most the season, they had the best record in baseball. By the last game of the season, they had a run differential of 184 runs, 50 more runs than the next highest team. Everyone was hitting well. They were consistently at the top of ESPN's baseball Power Rankings that summer, a website not often known for showing our dear town any love.They had a great rotation ably backed by Carlos Marmol and the affable Kerry Wood. It seemed like every other week, they were scrapping together comeback wins from massive run deficits. They even clinched the NL Central against the hated St. Louis Cardinals. This was not the Cubs of our forefathers, this was a team in the midst of one of those rare, magical seasons that graces fans from time to time, like '85 Bears or the '04 Red Sox. Clearly, if this was not the year IT would finally happen, IT would never happen.

Of course, IT didn't happen. Not only did IT not happen, IT didn't happen in the worst way possible. The Cubs didn't just lose that series against the Dodgers, they were decimated. High hopes were washed away quickly after James Loney's grand slam in Game 1. If you were foolish enough to not recognize that swing of the bat as the door slamming early, the following day's massacre as a result of the Cub's sloppy defense on their own field would spell it out for you: Nope. Not this time. Probably not ever. They couldn't even win one lousy game. They couldn't even lose any of the lousy games without humiliating themselves.

I spent a lot of last summer angry at baseball. The Cubs had shredded any optimism I had left, leaving me bitter and despondent. The thought of sitting in Wrigley for one more game with a bunch of tourists and rowdy dipsomaniacs so we could all watch a squad of overpaid has-beens and underachievers filled me with too much anxiety. My relationship with this horrible team had to end. I needed a new team if I was ever going to care about this sport again. Certainly there was no point in caring about the Cubs, who had empirically demonstrated that failure was their only destiny. But where to turn?

I like the Red Sox a lot. I went to school out East and was lucky enough to live in central Massachusetts when they showed the world what overcoming decades of failure can look like. That 2004 ALCS will forever be burned in my memory as one of the greatest moments in sports. I know many Red Sox fans and I think they're pretty great guys, I so would theoretically have people to cheer with. I like Fenway Park too. It is like what Wrigley Field could be if you toned down the urinal element and the majority of the fans in attendance actually cared about the game. Rooting for another city's team seemed strange though. You could never really go to any games and the emotional element just wouldn't be there - it's fun when you're cheering for your team from your city. Clearly there could be no long distance relationships in baseball.

That only left one option. There was only one other team in this city, but could I root for them? This is the team I had been programmed to hate since that pennant hung in my bedroom. Someone, I don't remember who, got me a Sox hat to piss my dad off when I was very young. It worked - I was forbidden to wear it and I am pretty sure he threw it away. Growing up, friends who came to my parents' house wearing Sox regalia were often turned away at the door. They were my natural enemy; my family's allegiance to the north side was generations deep.

However, if I now hated the Cubs, and I still do, what did I have against the Sox? Wasn't I now in the same position as 99% of all the people who call U.S. Cellular Field their home, looking north with disdain at the lovable losers and their loyally delusional fans? The enemy of my enemy was the answer to my team-less conundrum. I began to look south, tempted by the dark side. The allure grew stronger as the summer went on. They had a great pitching staff led by Mark Buehrle. Steve Stone was their color guy, and god knows his departure from the Cubs didn't help my love of the north side any. Plus they had all around good guys like Jim Thome and Paul Konerko bringing fireworks to the fans on a regular basis. All I needed was a little push, something monumental to really make me want to root for the White Sox with sincerity. Something like...

A perfect game! My soul was sold. It was over. How could anyone not want to be a White Sox fan? They brought a World Series title to Chicago for the first time since Tsars were an official title and now this? Even if you hated the Sox, you had to love the fact that a perfect game was thrown here, in our city, by one of our teams. Clearly I was a man who needed to rearrange his baseball priorities. Sure rooting for the Sox would allow people to question my character, but baseball could be fun again.

So this is it. 2010 begins my own personal Year One. No longer will I romanticize futility and revere an uncomfortable, decaying ballpark. No longer will I sit and hope for a glory that will never come, getting heart-broken in October as the Cubs march towards Year Infinity. No longer will I neglect the talented baseball team in this city just because it is 9.5 miles south of where my family pledged its allegiance. From now on, I would be a rotten traitor, a true Baseball Benedict Arnold worthy of derision from most, but I would enjoy baseball a hell of a lot more than I used to. Go Sox.

 

Sean / April 19, 2010 9:03 AM

Well done friend, well done.

Charlie / April 19, 2010 3:31 PM

Well done and well said. It's always more enjoyable to root for a baseball team that actually wins from time to time. Plus, I still say Sox fans have a lot more class and manners.

Ramsin / April 19, 2010 6:46 PM

Rick, I did find a mistake in your piece:

" 20XX World Series Champs hats? "

should read:

" 2XXX World Series Champs hats? "

Matthew / April 19, 2010 11:14 PM

I can't believe I actually wasted the time necessary to read this. Really? A long-winded rant about Chicago baseball teams? What. Is. The. Point?

Andrew Huff / April 20, 2010 12:35 AM

@Michael: Yeah, who would've expected that in the sports section of a Chicago website?

Amanda / April 20, 2010 8:42 AM

Great article Rick! Welcome to the South Side! :)

Dennis Fritz / April 20, 2010 9:10 AM

Amen to this. I gave up on the Cubs in 2008. I figure any team who cannot pull out a single championship in 100 years should just quit, do something else. Seriously. The hwole Cubs organization ought to quit trying to play baseball and start a band or something.

kate / April 20, 2010 9:46 AM

I've had this conversation in my head a few times since 2005 and just yesterday talked about it with a coworker. I put it this way: if I was in a relationship with a total loser who kept breaking my heart and sucking year after year, I'd be a damn fool to hope next year would be the year he'd change.

Every September (and October if I'm lucky) for the past few years, the Cubs have pushed me closer to a complete disinterest in baseball. It shouldn't be this way.

flange / April 20, 2010 9:50 AM

as a boston native who's lived here 12 years, rick, i hope i get to buy you a beer someday.

MilgoFlorm / April 20, 2010 10:06 AM

My own experience suggests that the entire White Sox vs. Cubs "rivalry" is more of a fabrication than a reality.

Sure, you will find vocal fanatics of each team wishing ill on their crosstown adversaries.

However, I suspect that for most Chicago baseball fans, the whole crosstown rivalry is incredibly overblown.

I grew up in this city following both teams. I am more of a Sox fan, but I keep tabs on the Cubs, wish them luck, and would love to see them in a world series.

Most of my friends have a similar attitude--they have an affinity for either the Cubs or the Sox, but have fun attending games of the other team and generally wish to see Chicago teams succeed.

It seems that the people who really perpetuate the whole "rivalry" meme are those who have recently moved to the city and feel that they have to pick the Sox or the Cubs, vociferously defend their adopted team and denigrate the crosstown rival.

These people are obnoxious and, in my estimation, represent a small minority of either team's fans.

Let's put the Sox vs. Cubs meme to rest. It is tired and not based in reality for most fans.

Rick AbplanalpAuthor Profile Page / April 20, 2010 11:04 AM

MilgoFlorm, while I will agree that a lot of the more obnoxious fans on either side of the city are most likely new comers looking to make a name for themselves, I disagree that the rivalry is fabricated. The gross majority of all the baseball fans I have met in my life have pretty strong feeling for their team, and even stronger feelings against the other. All of these people, like myself, are lifetime Chicagoans. If you don't believe me, wear a Cubs hat the next time you head to the Cell.

Anna Tarkov / April 20, 2010 11:31 AM

Rick, we welcome you with open arms and apologize for the rough start to the season. But then, I have to remind myself who I'm talking to. You're used to disappointment.

T. Doug / April 20, 2010 11:37 AM

Its sort of sad to hear of a lifelong Cubs fan throw away his love no matter how non-fulfilling or unrequited it may be. I'm not a baseball fan, but I do know what its like to love a loser team. If I ever had the chance, I'd give Rex Grossman a hug, tell him it will be ok, and that yes, I WOULD like some fries with that.

I'll love the Bears until I'm dead, I don't care if they have 40 more seasons of 6-10. That's Chicago sports fandom.

Kevin / April 20, 2010 12:59 PM

This is the dumbest thing I've ever read. You became a Sox fan because Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game and the Sox won a World Series 4 years before you finally got fed up with the Cubs? That's beyond stupid. You are either doing this for shock value or because you are a moron.

Ken Green / April 20, 2010 1:25 PM

Nice column and one that hit home. I, too, was a former Cubs fan (and partial Sox fan) who became a Sox fan full-time after years of frustration and disappointment and a refusal to reward mediocrity with loyalty. But for me it came a LONG time ago, back when I was in my teens and it can be summed up in two words: Bill Madlock. Having been a Cubs fan for about six years at that point (despite growing up a few blocks from Comiskey Park), seeing Bill Madlock on the team was a godsend. A guy who hit and hit for power, who was the best third baseman the team had had at that point (yes, I'm looking at you, Ron Santo). And then contract time came around in 1976 and the Cubs, unwilling to pay the big bucks he was due, let him walk away. And I walked with him, leaving behind my heroes (Banks, Williams, Holtzman, and even Santo, etc.) But I think that's the difference between my reason for leaving and yours. I tend to view mine as more tangible, basing it on a concrete reason for giving up on them (horrible managemement). I loved the team, but hated management. Maybe I missed that in your article, but I don't see any real reason for abandoning theCubs, other than you're sick of their losing ways. Perhaps the blame for management is inherent in what you're staying. I don't know. I just know that if you're expecting better things from the Sox with regards to winning, don't hold your breath. I sat through a LOT o f losing Sox season since "coming to the light" and it hasn't been easy and doesn't appear to be getting any easier. But I always believed in the management there, the most important part of the team. Veeck may have been a great showman and not the best at building a winner, but I always believed he was trying to win. And I've always believed Reinsdorf was trying to create a winner, particularly after he got a (big) taste of it with the Bulls and knowing that baseball was his first love. I never got that sense with the Cubs, despite what may be happening now. I don't want to get into the old stereotype of Cubs management only caring about ticket sales, but well... when your biggest off-season concerns with a new owner seem to be ad/revenue related... Anyway, I hope you have more tangible reason for leaving the Cubs other than they haven't produce a Series winner. Leaving someone just because they're nice but a "loser" is easy. Men and women do it to their ex-spouses all the time.

Anyway...Go Sox.

Favis / April 20, 2010 1:46 PM

I am going to have to file you away with my other White Sox friends now...we can no longer speak of the sport. I have no beef with the actual White Sox baseball team...they are clearly talented athletes and deserve recognition for their playing. HOWEVER, after almost 30 years of being personally attacked and insulted by various White Sox fans, I just couldn't bring myself to set foot in The Cell. I realize that MANY Cubs fans are no better, but I do not count myself among these people. Like I have said before, screw baseball (I am too jaded by 2008) and onto THE WORLD CUP!

Rick AbplanalpAuthor Profile Page / April 20, 2010 2:53 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Ken. I don't expect my world to change now that I have decided to root for the Southside. Obviously my new team is already having their fair share of struggles in 2010. I just have a hard time caring about anything the Cubs do anymore and would still like to watch baseball. It's not just that the Cubs lost horrendously either. I didn't talk about too much in the article, but I was also just so tired of the culture.

I think your right: ownership has a lot to do with it, so here's hoping the Ricketts don't make a fool of me too soon. As you also pointed out though, they, like their predecessors, seem more concerned with filling the seats than loading up the bases.

Attrill / April 20, 2010 3:16 PM

I completely relate. I moved here from Boston 16 years ago expecting to become a Cubs fan. Both teams play in historic ballparks, had gone for decades without a World Series win, and I had moved to Northside and everyone I knew was a Cubs fan. So I had to be a Cubs fan, right?

Wrong. Within a year I had become a White Sox fan. Part of it was just being more comfortable with the American League, but there was a lot more to it. Even before the Red Sox won the World Series I felt that the Red Sox and Cubs were almost exact opposites. The Red Sox's greatest obstacle in winning the World Series was being in the same division as the Yankees, the Cubs biggest obstacle to winning the World Series seems to be themselves. It got frustrating very quickly for me.

Kenzo / April 20, 2010 5:49 PM

Let a guy switch teams, already! Rick, just be forewarned, if you ever run for public office any policy ideas you propose will be shot down because you're a "flip flopper," common parlance for "critical thinker."

Jeff / June 23, 2010 1:31 AM

I'm sorry, but if you truly think that the Cubs' eternal destiny is to be losers forever, then Cubs fandom is well rid of you.

I'll never give up on them. Never.

Paul / June 25, 2010 10:50 PM

All I can say is "wow." You had talked about this move for a while, but I never once thought that it would ever become a reality. Little did I know that fateful day you burned your Cubs hat outside Sanford Hall would serve as a foreshadowing for this epic transition. Welcome to the American league my friend.

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