Now we come to that point of the season that has been declining in interest for at least the last four years, maybe more. I feel like I've written about this before. That's right, I did. Matt Speigel wants us to believe that these games still matter, that there is some sort of civic rivalry to get caught up in, let the inner meatball out. I'm sorry, but there isn't. We've moved on, even if MLB and Comcast don't believe it.
Familiarity may breed contempt, but it also breeds apathy. Playing the Cubs every year has become a yearly barbaque at the neighbors that you don't really like anymore. You take the family over because it's what you've been doing for years. It used to be fun, when the kids were little and it gave you respite of child care and some grown up conversation. Fifteen years on, the kids are big, the conversation stale and the brats always kind of sucked, but you eat them anyway.
It's the same with Cubs vs. White Sox. The anger and bile that defined this series when it first started has died down. I do think 2005 still has a ripple effect. After the World Series, there was a visible decline in the enthusiasm from White Sox fans. What's had an even greater effect is that neither team has been particularly good, with both making their last playoff appearance in 2008. As much as television stations try and trump up "records don't matter!" in fact, they do. Watching two mediocre to bad teams just isn't entertaining and it most certainly worth buying advanced tickets. My fellow baseball fans seem to agree with the amount of fans show up, in both ballparks mind, has been shrinking.
In 2006 at US Cellular Field the Cubs/White Sox averaged 39,128 per game of a 3 game series. In 2011, five years on the average on the south side was 35,521 for three games. Last year, for a two game series, the average at the Cell was 31,091. Last night's attendance? 21,075. That isn't even the largest crowd the White Sox have drawn since opening day. Maybe the final game of the set will be, but I kind of doubt it.
Looking at the north side attendance, as you might guess, the Cubs and Wrigley outdrew the Cell, and the drop isn't as severe nor consistent. In 2006 for three games, Wrigley drew an average crowd of 40,888; 2011 41,987 (July Fourth weekend); 2013 31,623 for two games. This past week? 33,725. The bump from 2013 to 2014 is significant, the overall numbers demonstrate a decline in interest of the White Sox as an opponent.
It isn't just Chicago either. The buzz around interleague games is pretty much gone. Was there a big media blitz when the Cubs visited the Yankees this year? No, it's been done, not that long ago either. What's more since the move to equal teams in both leagues, interleague every day has blunted the uniqueness even further.
What is funny is that around Chicago local media are in a tizzy about the Cubs and White Sox being scheduled early in May and early in the week. While the games were a few weeks later in 2013, they were still a Monday-Thursday set. Also, while one of the 3 game series of 2012 were over a weekend, the 3 games at US Cellular were Monday-Wednesday. I didn't here much of an uproar then about how MLB wasn't "respecting the rivalry. Interleague play was fun, now it's just another bunch of games on the schedule. The Cross Town Cup is a last ditched effort to charge the Chicago edition with some meaning, but it too will fail.
It's time with the balanced leagues to go back to a balanced schedule. Baseball trades on nostalgia better than any sport in the country, maybe in the world. Bill it as a return to the separate league era, when the World Series was the only time the two meet. In the spirit of nostalgia as innovation, make a modified return to the single table to determine playoff positions which has been bandied about from time to time. No matter what the change is, something has to give. Interleague play has run its course. Time to call it quits.
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