Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Crosstown Series

This evening weather permitting, is the beginning of what most baseball fans in Chicago wait for all year, the Crosstown Series between the Cubs and the White Sox. This is one of the most bitter rivalries in American sports as most Cub fans truly dislike the Sox and most Sox fans hate the Cubs.

Here's a link to something I wrote several years ago. It is dated only in the last part when I wrote about bragging rights which I said were a tossup at the time. Bragging rights now clearly belong to the White Sox who in 2005 won the World Series. In contrast this year marks the beginning of the second century of futility for the Cubs, not that I need to rub it in.

I became a White Sox fan in 1973. Before that I rooted mostly for the Cubs, I lived and died with them in the tumultuous 1969 season when they were set to take the division in August. Unfortunately they forgot they had to play through September.

The pitching staff was led by Hall of Famer, the great Fergie Jenkins. I still remember the lineup, Kessenger, Beckert, Williams (Hall of Famer), Banks (Hall of Famer), Santo (not in the Hall of Fame), Hundtley, then a few rotating Bozos in center and right field, let's see, there was Jim Hickman, Adolpho Phillips, a few other guys, and of course the immortal Don Young who single-handedly lost a few games with his scintillating outfield play. Even Jack Brickhouse, the broadcaster who never uttered a word of criticism of the home team had to express his disgust.

Frankly it was a too hard of a life lesson for a ten year old and I began to lose interest.

Then a few years later, a little older and wiser, I started watching the Sox. They weren't a better team by a long shot, but they were way cooler. They played night games and the fans weren't screaming little kids as they were back then in Wrigley Field. They had bad ass Ritchie Allen, who later became Dick Allen at first, Bill Melton at third, Carlos May in left, Pat Kelly, who my mother thought was an Irishman before she saw him, in right. Wilbur Wood the big fat knuckleballer who was about 50 at the time was their ace. Big fat Ed Hermann with his mitt the size of a small house was their only catcher who could handle Wilbur's knuckleballs. Bucky (F-ing) Dent as they call him to this day in Boston, was a rookie short stop. They tore up the league for a while but unlike the '69 Cubs, started to fade in mid-season and finished a distant fifth that year.

The best thing about the Sox was Harry Caray. He was already a legend after many years as the Cardinals' broadcaster. Such a breath of fresh air after the avuncular Brickhouse who spent most of his on-air time reading his mail. A typical Brickhouse broadcast would feature more dead air than the lunar atmosphere.

Harry was always pitching some kind of beer. In '73 it was Falstaff. One of his frequent guests in the booth was Dizzy Dean. They'd banter back and forth both of them filling up on Falstaff as the game went on.

One of my favorite exchanges was when they were talking about Sox 300 game winner Early Wynn. Harry said that Early was so mean that he'd even pitch high and inside to own his mother. Diz retorted, "his mother was a good fast ball hitter!"

Harry would not mince words about the home team, if they stunk, he'd yet you know. I can still hear his voice, bottom of the ninth, two outs with the bases loaded, the Sox down by a run, Dick Allen at bat, 3-0 count. "Here's the pitch.... paaaaahped it up"

Losing was never that much fun with the Cubs.

I've been a Sox fan ever since, even after Harry defected to the north side.

Some fun teams since then, the "South Side Hitmen" team of 1977, the "Winning Ugly" 1983 team that could have maybe won the pennant if only they could have won game 4 of their series against the Orioles and had given the ball to the at the time un-beatable LaMarr Hoyt. The '94 team that looked un-stoppable and might have been had it not been for the baseball strike.

Lots of coulda, shouldas in Chicago sports.

Then of course there was the glorious 2005 season.

A typical Sox fan's two favorite teams are the Sox, and anybody who's playing the Cubs. On the contrary, I don't hate the Cubs, I root for them, just not emphatically. In 1984 I too was depressed when the ball went through Leon Durham's legs in San Diego. I suffered as much as anybody during the Bartman game. And after a magnificent season, last year's playoff performance was like watching a giant deflating beach ball.

The Cubs notably have found more creative ways to lose than any other team in history.

This Friday I'm bringing the boy to his first Cubs game. He's been to White Sox games but he hated the noise of the fireworks so much that he became a Cub fan much to my consternation.

Maybe the drunken frat boys who now populate Wrigley Field will make him want to be a White Sox fan again.

But I'll be rooting for the Cubs just the same. They're playing Cleveland, the Sox' divisional rivals.

I'll let you know how it all turns out.

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