It was on a dreary April afternoon in 1987 when my dad heard me open the door after school.
“Hey, Johnny! Sox are on. Opening Day! Channel 32.”
I was 7 years old, and my sports persuasions were set mainly by Walter Payton and Michael Jordan. My baseball knowledge was in its infancy, but it was about to be directed by my father in an interesting/telling way.
My father was/is a direct man. I was lucky enough to have a father who was at home during the day since he worked the night shift. Afternoon weekdays growing up featured a simple schedule: 1) Dad wakes up, 2) Dad makes popcorn 3) Dad turns on the Cubs or Jeopardy! 4) We all get bored about five minutes in and leave the house to play with friends.
The fourth step was followed until 1987. This was the year I discovered baseball cards, the Topps Sticker Yearbook, and the scorecard page of the sports section.
My dad could see my interest piquing in baseball, but never shoved me in its direction. His own experience of baseball came naturally, without persuasion, and he felt my passion should come the same way.
My father was raised by a man whose main extra-curricular passions were painting, sketching, new episodes of NOVA, World War II specials on PBS, and praying the rosary. If my dad wanted to attend a game, or play in a league, it was usually navigated through his older brothers.
Which brings me to my dad’s family dynamic. My father was born and raised on the south side of Chicago. He was one of seven kids in a typical Irish-Catholic enclave of the city that featured a local parish, a local baseball league, and hundreds of kids running wild in the summertime. My father didn’t have the typical influence from his dad on ‘which team to pick’ that normally exists in this area.
The Cubs/White Sox decision is influenced by a wealth of factors, and sometimes it isn’t as cut and dry as we make it out to be. There was an old adage from newspapermen that the Cubs were the Protestant team and the White Sox were the Catholic team (which had to do moreso with the settling of the city’s 19th century immigrant population than any endorsement from a bishop). The Cubs had the more affluent fan base, while the White Sox were the ‘Team of the Yards’. The Cubs were all north side fans, and the White Sox were all from the south side. So on and so forth.
So, here was my dad in 1967 following the Cubs and the White Sox because he was just a fan. He loved baseball. And the two teams that played in his city were in first place on the 4th of July, 1967.
It was also in this backdrop that his world was slowly changing. The family was moving from the south side to northwest suburban Hoffman Estates due to a switch in my grandpa’s job location.
My dad’s older brothers, would be staying on the south side while the rest of the family moved north. The eldest brother, Patrick, was a die-hard Sox fan. His next oldest brother, Michael, bought tickets to my dad’s first baseball game ever at old Comiskey Park in 1965.
The White Sox influence was heavy. Then, suddenly, my dad was living in a home in the late 60’s without influence. The changing climate in the city’s baseball landscape saw the White Sox slide through the next two years, while the Cubs ascended through their hot summer of 1969.
And where was my dad to go? While he was playing ball with his new friends in the northwest burbs, kids wore Cubs hats and talked about Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Billy Williams. My dad didn’t quit on the White Sox, he just invested in the Cubs. The Cubs were always on before practice or after school. They were the destination for school field trips, and the talk of the town.
My dad planted his feet with the Cubs in 1969. If he followed them through the summer, watched them gather a 10 ½ game lead only to blow it, then by god he would stick with them through anything.
And he did.
Through the predictable collapse of ’77 after a torrid 47-22 start, through the gut-wrenching fall of the 1984 NLCS versus San Diego, and even through the mind-boggling destruction of the whole starting rotation in 1985, my dad stuck it through.
My dad planted his feet with the Cubs, made his decision, and had to accept the known tragedies waiting in the near future.
The question was simple: would he be willing to impart these cruelties on his youngest son who had just shown interest in baseball.
So, my dad gave himself an out. He’d give me a chance. He’d entertain the thought of me rooting for the White Sox. He’d give it a shot.
And that’s what I got on the afternoon of Monday, April 6th, 1987.
“Hey, Johnny! Sox are on. Opening Day! Channel 32.”
It had to be a trick.
My older brothers had started to buy baseball cards. I’m pretty sure one had just gotten a collection of cards that was just Cubs. I knew this because I’m pretty sure nobody would purchase a Dave Gumpert card on their own. If they had Cubs cards, then they too must be Cubs fans…and if my brother’s had chosen the Cubs and my dad had chosen the Cubs then…shouldn’t I be choosing the Cubs?
I paused. I tried to search for a reply.
“White Sox? Why would I want to watch the White Sox?”
My dad smiled.
“I don’t know, Johnny. I’m just saying they’re on TV. Playing the Royals. It’s a game, you know you can watch anybody it doesn’t have to be the Cubs. Sometimes, it’s just nice to watch baseball on TV.”
It was getting more confusing. I stood there not sure how to tell him that I just didn’t have an interest in watching the game. I wasn’t even sure why. My interest in baseball wasn’t even fully formulated and yet, even then…I just knew that I didn’t want to watch the White Sox. Why? I couldn’t put a finger on it.
“Just go inside and I’ll make you a sandwich.”
And that was that. The Cubs would open their 1987 campaign against the Cardinals the very next day on WGN.
I would watch that game after school with my dad.
And my dad never asked me if I wanted to watch the White Sox ever again.