Sitting here, hoping that the White Sox-Cubs game would resume after a long rain delay, I recalled that my son Don and I were at the first interleague series that counted. (Except for long ago World Series, all previous games were only exhibitions.) Speculation was rampant about the coming chaos in stands as hateful fans unloaded on one another. Didn't happen.
Here's my Chicago Sun-Times column from June 19, 1997 about the experience:
The decline and fall of uncivil civilization
By Dennis Byrne
More than 44,000 Sox and Cubs fans confined together for three hours - and when it is over, everyone leaves in one piece.
Has Chicago come to this? North Siders and South Siders, baseball's Hatfields and McCoys, elbow to elbow, in the bleachers, at the latrine, yet: no punches thrown, no arrests made. The first Cubs-Sox series in 91 years to mean anything, and no reported brawls, not one good decking.
Could this mean that Chicago has become . . . civilized?
Son Don and I were at Comiskey Park Tuesday night, expecting that the action in the stands would surpass that on the field. Instead, we found polite folks joshing good-naturedly. Signs ribbing the enemy weren't ripped from small hands and crushed underfoot.
"I think people were caught up in the moment," said Sox senior vice president Rob Gallas. "There was a wonderful, electric atmosphere. . . . It felt good."
It felt, if you ask me, entirely too proper. Have you people forgotten Chicago's reputation, so well-honed all these generations, for grittiness and combativeness? Do history and tradition mean nothing to you? Unless mayhem broke out Wednesday night after this writing, we risk having to think about Chicago in new ways - gentle and nice.
And if what happened on the South Side isn't jarring enough, look at what's going on at City Hall: The City Council wants us to think it's going legit.
In the wake of Sun-Times investigations revealing serious conflicts of interest by powerful Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) and of federal corruption investigations, many aldermen seem ready to subject themselves to some tough-sounding rules. Some are even falling all over themselves to out-ethic the other guy.
Sure, the indictments continue to roll in as quickly as the convictions. No sooner than a jury disposed of Ald. Jesse Evans (21st) on Monday, U.S. Attorney James Burns roared back with indictments of Thomas Fuller, former head of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and an "associate," for allegedly taking money from government snitches.
But are Chicagoans at last growing less tolerant of scoundrels and rascals? When Fuller was identified last year as a target of a probe, the voters, in a heretofore unusual move, refused to return him to office. Thoughtful scholars of Chicago greed might also note that today's boodling is, by historical measures, peanuts and that today's grafters are exercising measures of moderation and decorum.
That's hardly how they behaved back in the 1960s, when graft was graft and the stink drifting in from the rogues running the Metropolitan Sanitary District rivaled the stench from the district's settling ponds. Those folks meant business. When a reformer, Vinton Bacon, took over and cut deeply into the bid-fixing, pension-dipping, test-rigging, payroll-padding and payoff-taking, they had the bad form of wiring his car with several sticks of dynamite, which he, fortunately, discovered unexploded when he pulled into a Wilmette gas station for a fill-up.
City Hall sages, of course, will advise us that whatever reformist rules and attitudes appear on the scene, they will only generate a crop of more creative grafters who will rise to the challenge. Nothing changes.
Maybe. But, still, we do need to preserve appearances. And for that, I'm counting on the voters of Burke's 14th Ward. We, who cherish Old Chicago's classic and fine art of nest-feathering, ask of you: Stand by your man. Tell the downtown media to shove it. When the election rolls around, return him to office by the usual 14,000-to-1 margin. Send a message to the rest of Chicago: This ain't no Milwaukee.
Dennis Byrne is a member of the Sun-Times editorial board.