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Baseball Fri Feb 11 2011
Spring training hasn't even started yet and Joe Cowley is already stirring up trouble in the Cubs-Sox rivalry. His Sun-Times column today advances the idea that Chicago is now "a Sox town." It begins:
It was a nice little run for the North Side.
There was drama, Sammy Sosa's hop and then flop, a sold-out ballpark/museum on a daily basis, a fall guy named Bartman and even a few wins and division titles thrown in along the way.
But it's over.
It's a Cubs town no more.
Beginning next week and playing out all summer long, the only relevant baseball team in New Gotham is at 35th and Shields. Yes, for the first time in decades, this town belongs to the White Sox.
Cowley is known for making waves. In 2006, he bucked convention by voting Derek Jeter sixth in an AL MVP race where Jeter finished second. Last year, he compared Toronto to a third-world country and urged MLB to relocate the Blue Jays. And he mocks players, teams and other media members on Twitter all the time.
So there's no surprise he'd be the one to rile up Chicago baseball fans.
That said, there is some validity to his column. Cowley's measurement for the Sox taking over the city is predicated on their success this season, which is warranted and likely accurate.
It's no secret the Cubs are struggling. The team finished 75-87 (.463) last year and general manager Jim Hendry continues to step wrong when it comes to making decisions for the organization.
The Cubs had a marginally successful offseason in terms of acquisitions (for a team largely unwilling to spend money on big contracts) with the addition of Matt Garza and Kerry Wood. The organization also took a leap of faith on a one-year pillow contract for Carlos Pena (who batted .146 last season), which could also pay off if he returns to form.
Yet the Cubs will undoubtedly struggle this season. Their inability to create runs, stay healthy and play as a team dramatically impacted their record last season. Morale among players and fans reached at an all-time low by the end of the season and it's likely parts of that will bleed into the new season.
That said, hope springs eternal for the Cubs and their fans. A new season begins amid hope this will be the season to erase the 100-plus years of waiting for another World Series championship. The Cubs are one playoff series away from renewing the faith of long-time fans, pulling them back from the edge and perhaps bringing a whole new set of fans to the mix (see: 2010 Chicago Blackhawks).
Regardless of wins and losses, people will go to Wrigley Field and people will cheer for the Cubs. The Cubs organization has built an institution and empire whose branding and mystique always transcends their team's record. It's not over for the North Side, it is just a bit quieter there than in past years.
It seems all of the things the Cubs have done wrong, the White Sox have done right.
Last season the Sox finished 88-74 (.543), sixth in the American League and six games out of first place in the AL Central. They gained a lot of confidence in their abilities to be contenders in the coming years, and people are starting to notice.
General manager Kenny Williams talked in November about possibly leaning on the youngsters this season, but Jerry Reinsdorf wound up green-lighting another spending spree, led by the addition of Adam Dunn and the retention of Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski.
While the Cubs have tradition and mystique, the White Sox have personality. Manager Ozzie Guillen has more personality than the entire Cubs organization combined (Carlos Zambrano excepted) and Williams always does what needs to be done to ensure the success through acquisitions that make the most sense for their ball club.
The White Sox's ad campaign of "We're All In" is not just lip service; the franchise has spent this offseason focused on keeping their ball club competitive and filling in the gaps that kept them close but just out of reach of the playoffs.
If the White Sox are able to produce as well as anticipated, then some of the focus in the media and among new fans in Chicago should switch to 35th and Shields--and deservedly so.
While it doesn't seem likely that either fan base will be burning their jerseys and switching allegiances any time soon, it's also not likely that Cubs fans give up their stranglehold on fandom because of a couple bad seasons, either.
Perhaps this era of competitive South Side baseball ushers in a renewed media attention and a new set of fans for the White Sox -- and intensifies the cross-town rivalry in the process.