Happy Anniversary, Steve Bartman. It was seven years ago today you brought more scorn upon yourself then Ozzie Guillen or A.J. Pierzynski could ever hope to. You weren't the only one who went after that ball. That fellow in the gray sweatshirt to your right and the guy behind you wanted that foul ball just as badly, you were just the only one who got in the way. The people to your left wisely backed off. Everyone in that section made the mistake of being a Cubs fan. Oh, the woe...
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.*
To be completely honest, I have become far more immersed in White Sox culture this summer than I expected. I figured that, at best, my treachery would result in me listlessly distracting myself with another team while I subsisted on a hatred for the Cubs. Maybe after a couple years, I would come to fully love the White Sox, but in the meantime, they would be a way to be entertained by baseball while I refused the brand offered on the other side of town.
Lo and behold, this was not the case. I quickly became so adequately obsessed with the Sox that I forgot why I ever cared about the Cubs in the first place. I was aided by a great ballpark and a bizarrely streaky team. Every game I went to this season was baseball bliss. The great fans, the park with its staggeringly low supply of bad views, and the team that dared you glance away for even a second because they were always one play away from their next huge string of wins rapidly accelerated my passing interest in Chicago's oft-neglected team into a full borne fascination with the Southside. The only thing more surprising than my sudden willingness to chirp out random renditions of "Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox," was how quickly I came to loathe the motherless collection of small-market dirtbags that hail from Minnesota. My god, how I hate the Twins.
After previously announcing that 2010 would be his final year as a Major League baseball manager, and subsequently his last year on the Cubs, Lou Piniella decided to take a well deserved early exit from the crumbling confines of Wrigley Field to take care of his mother. It was not a surprising move, nor was it a decision that had much consequence on the 2010 Chicago Cubs. Their season ended in the visitor's bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field on June 11th when Carlos Zambrano smashed his way through his team and some Gatorade coolers because Derrek Lee gave up that home run. The look on Lou's face during that incident said it all: "Please god, I am but an old, tired but accomplished man. Please get me the hell away from this train-wreck. I'll even go back to Tampa. What? They're good now? Well, sh*t!"
And so the Cubs' Piniella era came to an end. He was the first manager to bring the Northsiders to two consecutive playoff appearances since 1908, the last time they did that other thing. He brought the promise of intensity in a post-Dusty town. He was the Lovable Losers' lovable old codger. After a Cubs win, he was snappy and affable, drawing laughs from the media. After a Cubs loss, he was surly and quick to anger. He was the most memorable manager the Cubs had in ages and he is now gone, off to the Florida sunset so he can take care of his family and meander around his house in his old Reds jersey.
One notable evening was during one of their last home games during this stretch, Friday, July 9th to be exact. Everything that could have gone right did. Aside from Mark Buehrle getting smacked on the hand by a line drive from former Sox lead-off man, the turbo charged Scott Podsednek, it was a perfect evening. Buehrle soon recovered from the incident and refused to allow anyone to cross the plate for six strong innings. A.J. Pierzynski went out of his way to prove why he is still a fan favorite and clobbered two home runs. The Friday night post game fireworks show supplemented A.J.'s dingers as Sox fans throughout The Cell relaxed and reflected on what a great ride our team was taking us on. It was a perfect evening and an exceptional game. Nobody there could have possibly asked for more.
This weekend, the Cubs and White Sox will begin their annual showdown. Despite the fact that either team has yet to display anything resembling professional baseball in 2010, fans in this city will still treat this with the importance of the World Series times the Super Bowl times the second coming of Babe Ruth. No matter how bad the Cubs and Sox are performing, you can always count on interleague play being over-inflated with importance due to both sides of town having equally crippling Second City Complexes. Will the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this week? It doesn't matter June 11th through 13th (and again June 25th through 27th), as baseball fans from both sides of the city come together to drink, yell and fight in the contest over whether the American League or the National League Central Division has the slightly better under-performing major market team.
This year also marks the inaugural Crosstown Cup series. In addition to giving their fans a weekend distraction from how poorly they're doing in the standings, the Sox and Cubs will now be battling for a cheap piece of PR from the company that just took a two month crap all over the Gulf of Mexico and the proprietors of suburbia's favorite feedbag, British Petroleum. The series is still sadly being sponsored by the oil conglomerate, though it is now "scaled back," which hopefully means less AM/PM commercials. Having the crosstown classic sponsored by a company responsible for such an immense disaster showcases just how sad the rivalry in this town really is. If either Cubs or Sox had anything to be proud of this season, fighting over a trophy might actually mean something. Both teams are sub .500 and in third place, and both are lucky to be there. Both the Cubs and the Sox played the worst teams in their divisions this last weekend and both dropped two out of three games. Top off this mediocrity with a trophy presented by the company responsible for murdering countless wildlife and deluging nearly 20,000 gallons of crude oil a day for the last 50 days, and you have what stands to be the most depressing contest in the history of baseball.
Let's take a look at how each team has been doing so far.
Father's Day is right around the corner. I hope to use this holiest of days to back my father a little bit since I broke his heart by rooting for his sworn enemies. It has been over two months since I have declared myself a Sox fan, and the poor man, clearly deserving of a better son, is still having a hard time dealing with it. The best way to get back in his good graces, of course, is to show him I still hope the Cubs make him happy somehow, some way. I would like to buy him a gift, or a few gifts, that would demonstrate my appreciation for the fact that he is still a Cubs fan.
There is however quite a lot of sports memorabilia out there. While I have found some nice gift possibilities, there is a great deal of useless crap to sort through. Obviously, the more popular the team, the more ostentatious and outlandish the wares will be. So given that the Cubs not only have a massive, nationwide fan base, but also a patently naive one, the amount of Cubs swap meet material no human should ever purchase under any circumstances is pretty staggering. But sort through them I did. Here is a list of items so terrible, I imagine they would only make my father hate me even more.
Chicago is fortunate in that we have not only two baseball teams, but also that each team has a manager that does a great job embodying the spirit of their respective teams. This is important to Chicagoans. We like to identify with our teams. The Cubs have Lou Piniella: the sleepy old codger, with not quite enough pep to make it to the finish line these days. The White Sox have Ozzie Guillen: the feisty ball of anger, full of scorn for the media, his players and the North Side. Despite all the trouble both teams are currently having, we should at least take solace in that fact. As someone who spent a few decades on the Cubs managerial merry-go-round, with its Trebelborns and its Rigglemans, I can appreciate the Piniella's and Guillen's of the world.
I was excited when the Cubs hired Lou. Like all Cubs fans on the smarter side of Addison, I really wanted Joe Girardi to replace Dusty Baker when the Cubs finally wised up and showed the toothpick-noshing whiskey lover the door (I am well aware he is having a good year, get off my back), but the Cubs got Lou and Girardi fell into obscurity. Lou was a good second prize for the Cubs at the time. He had won a World Series; but more importantly, he had intensity. Sports fans, like the American public when electing a new president, tend to want a leader who is the opposite of the guy who failed last. The bookish, hyper-educated, smooth talking Barack Obama was an easy pick to contrast the seemingly dimwitted, speech and grammar pillaging George W. Bush. Similarly, the brash, base-throwing, ump-hating Lou was easily embraced by the Cubs fans tired of the sleepy dog, rotation-mismanaging, mediocrity-begetting Dusty Baker. With Lou came the promise of fire and brimstone for all that stood in the Cubs way. No longer would the talent on the Cubs slack off and let the team slide into third place behind the Cardinals and Astros. Lou was going to set things right.
I have to admit that I have been playing to stereotypes a little in this column. Normally I would feel guilty about that sort of thing, but we're dealing with baseball fans -- namely, the hard drinking party-guy Cubs fan, less interested in the number of runs on the old, green scoreboard than the number of pink Cubs hats in the bleachers and the bitter but noble, baseball -savvy Sox fan, hunched over his score card ready to boo the hell out of under-performing players -- not the United Nations. It is more in the interest of fun than any attempt to be mean spirited. I would much rather share some laughs than pick a fight. I do this partly because it makes my job easier, but also because sometimes these stereotypes have a few thousand grains of truth to them. But, to be honest, when it really comes down to it, the disparity between the North and South sides of our city are probably not that great. I am sure there are plenty of frat boys at U.S. Cellular and I am also sure if I really spent all weekend with a team of super detectives at my disposal, I could round up a few Cubs fans capable of explaining the Infield Fly Rule. Probably.
There is however one aspect of Sox fandom I have yet to touch on, and that's because it is a more sensitive element in the gamut of Chicago baseball sociology. It is an especially delicate facet for me to talk about, since I am new to this particular side of town, figuratively speaking. It would seem unwise to take an entire subculture to task while simultaneously asking them for acceptance. In the interest of maintaining honesty though, it is probably something I should address since I have already made my case for the silliness of Cubs fans. So since I am a fair guy, always willing to look at all sides of a pointless issue, I am now forced to deal with the specter of whether or not Sox fans are A-Holes.
Hey guys, how's it going? I'm fine, thank you. I hope your trip home went well, given that most of your time away from Chicago looked to be pretty aggravating. How was the weather in Texas? Did you have fun in New York (when you weren't getting trampled by the current World Series champs, I mean)? I heard Alex Rios had a kid while you were on the road. Good for him. At least one of you guys is scoring, am I right? I'm kidding; I'm kidding. But actually, that brings me to the point of this letter.
Now I know we haven't known each other very long. I mean, I've known you guys my whole life, but up until now I haven't really cared about your success. Well, that's not true either. I cared a lot in 2005, but not the way you would have wanted me to. I pretty much did everything short of sacrificing a child to Old Testament God to stop you guys from winning that World Series. It's not that I disliked you at the time; I think you're all real swell. It's just that I am lifelong friends with some pretty relentless Sox fans, and I didn't want them to have the bragging rights to end all bragging rights. I was a Cubs fan until recently, and these same friends dressed up as the Florida Marlins for Halloween in 2003. So you can see why your success made me a little uneasy back then.
During the summer of 1969, that fateful summer the Chicago Cubs had arguably the best team in their history yet still failed to make it to or succeed in the World Series, my father was 12 years old. He was fortunate enough to attend many of the Cubs home games that season. Back then, Wrigley had not yet established itself as the overcrowded den of inequity in high demand it is today. A neighborhood kid, such as my father, could get into Cubs games easily -- go to a game, help sweep the aisles afterwards and get free tickets to the next one. In doing this, he was not only able to obtain a first hand account of a monumental season in the history of his favorite ball club, but also establish himself, in my mind, as one of the greatest sports fans any team could be lucky enough to have. He has always been a true fan, honest and dedicated, regardless of how poorly his team performed or how difficult it was to root for them. He has always been there, as much a part of their history as they were his. More then anyone else, he deserves to see them win.
Growing up with this man as my example of what a Wrigleyvillian embodied, it was a long time before I could ever fathom the idea of someone not liking Cubs fans. All the man wanted in exchange for his fanaticism was to see his team win. He isn't a bleacher bum and he isn't frat boy, he is just a great guy rooting for the wrong team. Based on the wrongful assumption that all who attend Cubs games are a lot like him, it only made sense that A) people who don't like Cubs fans are in small number and B) those who do not are dismissible crazies. Well, it might come as a surprise to some of you, but a lot of peoplejustdon'tlikeCubsfans.
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.