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The Turncoat Thu Sep 23 2010

The Turncoat: Retrospecticus

the_turncoat.jpg

What will treasonous sports fandom get you? In my case it got me a team that (at the time of this post) cobbled together 11 more wins than the team I abandoned. While this season could have gone a lot better (or a lot worse), I was never naive enough to think cheering for the Sox would be an endless trail of sunshine and RBIs. As a wise commenter on one of my earlier posts said, I "would bleed and taste blood" as a Chicago White Sox fan. That was certainly the case this summer as I spent my first season on the South Side as a friend rather than a foe. The 2010 White Sox produced some of the streakiest baseball possible. Their extended runs of one extreme or the other made it very difficult to judge if this was an under-performing squad of excellence that should have taken the division or an incredibly lucky group of trade fodder that never had any business contending with the Twins in the first place.*

In my case it was never about rooting for a team that won more games. It was about not wanting to waste time rooting for a team that didn't have a reason to win at all. At U.S. Cellular, like it or not, the fans are smarter. They are wiser with their baseball dollar. Kenny Williams has to put a winning team on the field or people stay home. The White Sox have several parking lots surrounding their stadium, not a bar district. For a lot of Sox fans, the games are only enticing when the team is doing well. This of course arouses suspicions of fair-weather fandom, but it's not. Cubs games may be more fun to go to regardless of the level of baseball being played, but for fans of the game of actual baseball this is amusement for the wrong reasons. If anyone thinks Wrigley would maintain its attendance figures if it were rebuilt in an area less accommodating to Big Ten grads looking for a place to booze, they face a sad reality when that place finally finishes crumbling to dust. For every respectable diehard like my dad or Brian Livingston, there are 25 tourists along for the nostalgia, beer and trixies.

The Ricketts may change all this, but I see a lot of the same in the Cubs future. Their hopeful but silly "Year One" campaign was marred by an early retirement by one of this era's best known skippers and a gratuitous display of emotion by one this era's best known powder kegs. Their accomplishments included getting a nice chunk of change for a controversial Toyota sign and some slightly better bathrooms. The Year One team was one of the first eliminated from the playoffs.

Let's say none of that matters. Let's say the Cubs win the World Series in the near future, would I come crawling back? (I was asked this question recently in an interview with Timeout Chicago.) The answer is no. Let me try to add some credibility to that. While I have grown tired of Red Sox Nation, there was a time when I really identified with their fans. I lived in Massachusetts for a couple years and have been lucky to have attended games at Fenway post '04 championship and and post '07 championship. Each time, the place got a little less bearable. Boston, it seems, is also host to a generous amount of fair weather fans. The excitement of seeing a formerly futile team go all the way captured the imaginations of countless people. It is also home to a small, ancient stadium not unlike everyone's favorite urine shrine on the North Side. As the demand for winning baseball went up, the supply of available seating diminished. The cost of seeing a game is now significantly higher, and unfortunately for the old school fans, so are the odds of being surrounded by people who are more interested in their cell phone than the play at the plate.

Apply that same scenario to Wrigley Field, and keep in mind, many Fenway grandstand sections do not have beer vendors. The Cubs might be the only team in the MLB who would be better off never winning the World Series at all. Games are crowded now, but at least tickets are obtainable. So while I concede being a curmudgeon, I find it unlikely that baseball on the North Side will ever appeal to me again. The bridge has been burnt. I am stuck with the Sox from here on out regardless of how many former heroes go on to help the Twins take the division, regardless if Ryne Sandberg** blossoms into a five-time World Series winning manager.


Smiling Thome.jpg


"Hi! I am impossible to hate! Like my hat? I get to wear it in October!"

I spent a lot of time at U.S. Cellular this summer. I would be lying profusely if I denied the existence of idiot fans there as well. I was reminded of Wrigley more than a couple times throughout the summer. The obnoxious are everywhere, only at the Cell they are more diluted amongst the earnest. More often than not I got to meet fans who were fully engaged with the stories of the season and would be happy to give an educated assessment of the situation. The Cell is an easy place to get along provided you're not wearing a Cubs jersey.

When it comes to the baseball the Sox played this summer, it was about what I anticipated in terms of where they finished in the division and their win/loss record. The season was just full of more continuous surprises than I expected. The second I braced myself for an early exit to the season, the Good Guys decided they were going to spend the next month and a half as the hottest team in baseball. When I got used to them winning and expected them to maintain a nice lead over Minnesota, they played haplessly against the Baltimore Orioles and fell off their throne. When I hoped they could regain some ground in their final set against the Twins, they began a nine an eight game, season-ending losing streak. At the end of the day, Chicago baseball is Chicago baseball.

As I pointed out, my bed is made. I am no longer a turncoat, I am simply a Sox fan. With all the grumblings and rumors of either Kenny's or Ozzie's exit, and the likely departure of Paul Konerko or A.J. Pierzynski, the Sox could very well be a much different team next year. I am glad that I got to catch the Ozzie-era Sox for one last wild season but future of this club is truly uncertain. It is entirely possible the Cubs fans will see better fortunes than I do next year. Regardless, I stand by my choice. It was a hell of a fun summer, and I can't wait for more. Here is to the home opener in 2011!

*Clearly it was the former.

**I am of the opinion that if they don't go with Sandberg, they will be making a mistake.

A few random thoughts:

Unsung Hero of the Season: Gapers Block's own Brian Livingston. The anti-Cubs sentiment here at Tailgate was omni-present this summer. Even site founder Andrew Huff got in on the fun. Meanwhile, Brian kept quietly posting his Cubs articles with faith and diligence. He had every reason to rub it in our faces when Manny Ramirez went game after game without an RBI or an extra base hit or when Thome hit his walk-off homer weeks ago. But he never did. He never took any shots at anyone; he just wrote about baseball. He is a good guy and he is on the list of people I hope the Cubs win it all for.

Single Indecent That Contradicts My Romanticizing the South Side: While attending last Friday's contest against the Tigers with my brother in law (a huge detroit fan), we sat in front of an astonishingly wasted couple. I cannot tell you how impressively drunk these people were even before "Thunderstruck" started to play. Towards the end of the game, after the Tigers had made it clear the Sox losing streak would continue, the gentleman of the couple assured my brother-in-law that he shouldn't cheer so loudly. "We beat up umpires here!" he bragged. And my heart died a little.

Fun Fact: I am not a teetotaler. I am very far from it. I love beer and drink at ball games. It was never my intention to be baseball's Ian McKay, I just don't like when the party is the main attraction of a ballgame; baseball is a fantastic sport on its own merits.

Biggest Personal Surprise of the Summer: While I love heavy music, I hate, and have hated for a very long time, AC/DC. Most bands that are part of 97.9 The Loop's bludgeoningly small rotation make me sick to my stomach at this point and the Aussie rockers are no exception. So when I feel my arm hairs start to raise from excitement when I hear the intro to "Thunderstruck," it is confounding.

Twitter People You Should Follow for Live White Sox Banter: If you're like me, more often than not you're watching the game with your poor, bored girlfriend at your side. When her threshold is reached and she bails, it's good to have some imaginary friends to turn to. @SoxYak, @WhiteSoxski, and of course, the ever insightful @SoxMachine made the season far more entertaining than it would have been otherwise. Go Sox.

 
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Brian L. / September 23, 2010 11:37 AM

Excellent Simpsons ref. in the headline. "You taught us about nature and why we shouldn't seawater."

McGone / September 23, 2010 11:41 AM

Great article, as usual. "Urine Shrine on the Northside" has a certain poetry to it.

Joel / September 23, 2010 2:59 PM

You want to switch to the South Side? Great. Go ahead. You want to snicker about Wrigley Field being a "Urine Shrine on the Northside [sic]" and pretend that anonymous stadium off the Dan Ryan that looks like an upside-down beetle is better? Feel free.

But please, spare us the tired -- and repeatedly disproven -- theory that White Sox fans will only go to the games if the team is doing well. "Kenny Williams has to put a winning team on the field or people stay home." Riiiight. Keep telling yourself that. So Sox fans are so knowledgeable about baseball they'll stay home to read Granta if this fine collection of gentlemen is not victorious enough on the field of sport. Is that correct?

So if that's the case, please explain this: When the White Sox were within striking distance of the Twins a few weeks back, the first game against Minnesota drew a whopping 29,223 fans. Why?

Just wondering.

Rick AbplanalpAuthor Profile Page / September 23, 2010 5:34 PM

@Brian - And here I thought that was a real word.

@McGone - Thanks for the kind words.

@Joel - While I am impressed by your expert sarcasm (I mean that sincerely), I don't think you have refuted my claim that fans show up in larger numbers when the team is doing well. While the turnout for the Twins series was a letdown, I think we could both agree that it would have been significantly less than 29K had there not been a chance for the Sox to redeem themselves in the first place. Granta was an odd reference. Anyway, this blog has never been anything more than a collection of my own experiences, all of which unfortunately add to this "tired theory" you speak of. You know what has always been my ideal sports watching setting? Pre-comeback Blackhawks hockey. When fans would scream "Wait for the whistle!" at anyone getting up during play, I would beam. Much like people who talk during films, sports fans who get up repeatedly and refuse to pay attention to the game drive me insane. I have found that these people are (relatively, of course) less frequent at the Cell. And yeah, I have also found more people at the "upside-down beetle" are more fun to talk about baseball. Again this is limited to my experience, but we're talking a lot of games here.

Dann / September 24, 2010 9:01 AM

A Fugazi reference in a baseball article?!?!
You rock, Rick!

Joe / September 24, 2010 10:04 AM

I always get a kick out of it when the tired, pathetic, completely false "sox fans only support winners" BS that was popularized by the sportstalk radio dregs a few years back gets reregurgitated by every Cubsessed Sox fan.

2007: The White Sox draw the third highest single season attendance in their over 100 year history.

2007: White Sox record, 72-90.

If your going to use completely false statements in attempt to prove a point, at least try to be original.

Joel / September 24, 2010 11:10 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful reply -- it always takes the wind out of my sails when someone replies to my sputtering indignation with a sincere note. I'm like, "But... but... where's my chance for more righteous anger?!?!"

Anyway, I don't know that your argument disproves my point. To say the attendance would have been even lower if there hadn't been a chance for the team to get to the playoffs doesn't negate the fact that the park was filled to 72% capacity, according to ESPN. That's not great.

My bottom line is this: Go ahead and jump to the Sox. Enjoy. But expect some blowback if you slag Wrigley Field or Cubs fans.

To the former point, I don't think many people would trade Wrigley for The Cell. (Surely you'd agree with that.)

And to the latter, are there drunken frat boys at Wrigley Field who are more interested in chugging and bro-fisting than watching Starlin Castro mature? Sure.

But you can make similar easy, tired points about Sox fans: They'd rather listen to Foghat and bitch about Cubs fans than support their team.

Also, you wrote: "The Cell is an easy place to get along provided you're not wearing a Cubs jersey." That's no small point. I went to the Cell a few years ago (they were playing the Rangers, and I wasn't displaying my Cubs fandom -- my momma didn't raise no fool.) I was in line in the bathroom, when a spontaneous chant of "Cubs suck dick!" broke out. There was no reminder of the Cubs in sight.

Also, I have a friend -- a very, very mellow guy -- who had to leave The Cell with his girlfriend because they were getting harassed so badly. Yes, he was wearing a Twins hat. But so what? A little good-natured ribbing, sure. But he said he had to leave the bathroom fast or was going to get his ass kicked. I don't think Cardinals fans face the same problem at Wrigley.

Rick AbplanalpAuthor Profile Page / September 24, 2010 12:00 PM

@Joel - I try to remain civil in the comments of my own articles. I think we can agree that the only thing sadder than some of the fans you just mentioned are two grown men waxing alpha-male at one another on the internet.

I actually wrote a piece on Sox fans' bizarre fixation on the Cubs. You are welcome to read it, but I warn you there is more of my own anti-Cubs snark there is well. (http://bit.ly/d7AEx).

You have plenty of evidence to support that more people are interested in the Wrigley experience than that of U.S. Cellular. Case in point, when the girlfriend's family came to visit earlier this summer, their choice of park to visit would have brought a smile to you and everyone else at Cubs Fan Report. They have yet to see the interior of the Cell. For me personally, I have actually come to prefer the modernized park. Maybe I just like churros that much.

As for the violent fans. That sucks frankly. I think you good people at CFR linked one of my earlier Sox fan articles where I refer to my family and I being treated to similar experiences during the 2005 crosstown series. It was ugly, but I haven't seen anything like it since. I was at last Wednesday's Twins game (gotta try and add to those numbers) and even though I was in the outfield (where regardless of the park, the worst fans always seem to congregate) and I didn't see anything that time. The guy at Tigers game was too withered and tanked to take seriously as a legitimate threat. As we both agree, there are idiots everywhere. I just prefer the idiots at the Cell. I suppose potential violence is OK by me, just stay the hell out of me way when I am trying to watch the damn game.

Thanks for your thoughts and spelling corrections. I don't know why I always combine North Side (and South Side, and West Side) as one word. CFR looks like a great site. I wish I knew about it when I was rooting for the Cubs. I'll send links to the family.

Joel / September 24, 2010 4:28 PM

Damn you and your civility and kindness! Can't you call me a icing-my-bros frat boy, I'll call you a Molly Hatchet-listening mullet, and we'll angrily impugn each other as only internet wonks can?

No, seriously, I did enjoy your work. I just felt compelled to stick up for my beloved Cubs and Wrigley Field -- and will likely do so in the future. Thanks for the compelling writing.

PS: I still think your last name looks like a palindrome. (Now are THOSE fighting words?)

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