Congratulations Chicago Cubs. You’re going to win the World Series. Believe it or not, the NLDS should have been the series of concern for Cubs fans. Giants are a tough draw with Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner heading up their rotation and most importantly, it was only a five game series. The more games in the series, the larger the margin of error for the MLB’s best team. So with the Cubs escaping the five game series, they're in great shape. Plus, both of their potential opponents have to burn their best arms on Thursday in the Game 5 eliminator of the NLDS. When you give the best team in baseball that kind of comfort, they’re going to take advantage of it in all probability.
That being said, the Cubs still have to go through the formality of actually playing the games while the fans watch the game with other fans. Given that it’s October and the Cubs are on the cusp of their first World Series Championship in 108 years with a young, exciting team, there are a lot of new fans out there. That’s not a dig on the Cubs, as every fan base has this happen when they get good. In reality, most of us saw this coming. As a Sox fan, I definitely don't hate the Cubs players, coaches or executives. I respect their lifelong, committed fans too. They're like me, except they were born on the North Side of Chicagoland (take offense South Side Cub fans). Admittedly, and maybe it's immature, I struggle with taking any flack from those who skipped out on the torture of being a Chicago baseball fan and have now shown up for the party like they've been there all along. So to those of you I grew up with who bailed on your team when they sucked and are now proudly donning your Soriano jerseys at the bar these days, I refer back to a tweet from the winter.
If we didn't talk baseball when the #Cubs were terrible I don't want to talk now. You guys were not with Theo shooting in the gym.
— Brian Bilek (@BrianBilek_) December 11, 2015
Last year, when the Cubs made the playoffs, I started hearing a lot from Cub fans. I don’t visibly or audibly cheer either way during Cubs game but I’ve been known as the Sox guy my whole life so when the Cubs win, I am the natural target for the drunken guy at the bar and I’ll always get at least one “How about the Cubbies” text after a big win and that’s fine. I don’t get bothered by that unless it gets excessive. That is what rival fans act like (I am aware the Sox and Cubs are not in the same division or league for that matter). What I can’t get myself to understand is the fans who don’t gloat when the Cubs achieve, they don’t make any observations about the game but still, they feel the need to project their opinion on which team I should root for.
“You’re from Chicago. You should root for the Cubs.”
I have heard this ad nauseam the past two Octobers and I don’t even know how to respond to it. At first, when it was coming from someone who doesn’t commit excessive amounts of time, money and emotional attachment to something that they have no control over, on an annual basis, I excused it. They don’t understand what it’s like being a committed baseball fan. We’re coming from a different level of understanding. So it rolled off my back.
However, when I got this line of questioning from a Cubs fan who's baseball knowledge I respect - a fan that does the annual rounds and knows what it’s like to endure season after season of failure and disappointment - I couldn’t take it anymore. If you are a Cubs fan who sat witness to Bryan LaHair’s 2012 All Star and (unintentional) retirement campaign and you are telling Sox fans to “root for their city” you should be ashamed of yourself. You’ve suffered through it all and you know what it’s like to watch the other side of town become champions. You remember that sick feeling in your stomach you had when Juan Uribe threw out Orlando Palmeiro on October 26th, 2005 and Joe Buck belted out, “And the White Sox have won the World Series.”
It seems the city had gotten so removed from caring about baseball that it doesn’t even acknowledge the rivalry that used to exist here. Back in the 1990’s and 2000’s and baseball had widespread appeal (i.e. steroids). It wasn’t like today where people routinely call baseball boring and even have the nerve to mention it in the same vein as soccer. In Chicago, when I was growing up, people cared about baseball, they rooted for their team and they hated the team on the other side town. I am pretty sure every one of my Sox friends wore that Sammy Sosa Cork T shirt until it had holes in it. It was widely accepted on both sides and even the most tranquil of person would never question allegiances in Chicago. It was the lay of the land.
Up until 2005, the Sox and Cubs never really came close to a World Series Championship and seldom made the playoffs. Most seasons, those six inter-league Sox-Cubs games were the biggest games of the year for the fans. Over the years, the teams have played remarkably close with the White Sox edging them 57-51 since the start of inter-league play. I remember Jose Valentine walking off on the Cubs and doing the Sammy Sosa kiss after rounding the bases just like Cub fans remember Brant Brown going yard in extras to walk off at Wrigley Field. Something changed though - a couple things actually.
First and foremost, the Sox won the World Series. The two Chicago baseball teams had the longest Championship droughts in all of sports. It was the lovable losers and their ugly little sister playing for pride and nothing else. Then the Sox made history. We were vindicated as fans and the usual comments about lack of attendance, getting shot outside of Comiskey and having ugly fans ended from the Cubs’ fans because we were the champs of the league and the champs of the city. However, the height of Sox didn’t last long. They couldn’t make the playoffs with 90 wins in 2006 and they fell apart in 2007. The White Sox and Cubs both failed to capitalize on their aging cores in 2008 and 2009 when the two teams combined for three playoff appearances and one playoff win. From 2006-2014 the two teams had one win in the playoffs. Steroids left the game (in grand scale), scoring went down and both of our teams yielded nothing year in, year out. So the rivalry dwindled to a quick mention on the local news.
Past the 2005 World Series, Theo Epstein takes the brunt of the blame for ruining the rivalry in Chicago. And I mean that in a complimentary way. Epstein joined the Cubs prior to the 2012 season after a shrewd, trend-setting acquisition made by Cubs’ new owner Tom Ricketts. I remember the day it happened and the certain four-letter word that came to mind when the Cubs got one of the best executives in the league to head up their baseball operations. Epstein took a full embrace on losing. To his credit, he built an incredible glut of young talent by emphasizing not only homegrown development, but also by making a handful of trades that look incredible with hindsight.
Before the Cubs young players graduated, they were an awful product. That’s how they were able to bring in players like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in the draft - by averaging ninety-something losses a year. The Sox, while better than the Cubs, were just toiling away trying to retool their way to the playoffs. It never came into fruition. As a result, both teams’ fans lost interest and Chicagoans rendered the rivalry trivial. In 2013 the Cubs had their lowest attendance in almost two decades and the White Sox couldn’t even sell out their stadium when the Cubs came across town. The baseball product started sucking in Chicago and the youth were far less concerned with baseball than their predecessors.
To the diehards, on either side, who have witnessed it all and been through it all, the rivalry meant something. Frankly, it meant something because the average fan's participation heightened the public interest and the stakes. It wasn’t just you and your niche group of baseball friends paying attention, it was the whole city. When the average fan turned their attention elsewhere and the teams sucked, the rivalry went away. Nowadays, Cubs fans are as plentiful as ever and the White Sox fans are subjected to their braggadocio. If you are a Cubs fan who watched through the Edwin Jackson and Felix Pie days or if you watched Kerry Wood and Mark Prior fall apart, I commend you. I am happy for you. I’ve been there. I have ran the annual baseball marathon that ends in sadness with you. I am fully engaged in the unrequited love with you. That being said, all of the struggles you went through will make your championship experience that much better. I don’t know if 2005 would have been as special if the Sox weren’t beaten down a second place finish by the likes of Lew Ford, Johan Santana and Nick f******Punto the three Septembers prior or handily swept out of the playoffs in 2000.
Even so, whether you are a 50-year season ticket holder at Wrigley, or you just started watching because your boyfriend is a fan, do not tell me, or any other White Sox fan, to root for the Cubs or root for the city. The idea that “rooting for the city” is some altruistic stance is absolutely ridiculous and it flies in the face of everything Chicagoans have been raised on. You can call me bitter, you can call me a sore loser but the reality is I, and many other Sox fans, are committed to something that you obviously don’t understand. Other than my immediate family, the White Sox are the only thing that’s been a part of my life from the go and I don’t waver on an allegiance like that.
Like the Ballad of the South Side Irish says, when it comes to baseball, the South Side has two teams: "the White Sox'...and whoever plays the Cubs." Personally, I root against the Cubs mostly because I don’t want to deal with the meathead fan that I’ve never talked about baseball with before, but past that, it's engrained in me. It’s what we’ve always done as committed Chicago baseball fans. It hurts to say but the Cubs are a likable team. Everyone who follows me on Twitter has seen me fawn over Javy Baez over the past couple years and repeatedly praise Theo Epstein for not trading Baez, among all of his other moves. I don't have any distaste for Anthony Rizzo or Jake Arrieta. However, I do have a problem with those of you who feel the need to tell me who to root for and put yourself on pedestal when doing so.
In essence, whether you’re new to baseball or you’ve been waiting for this for your whole life, don’t impose your illogical, altruistic message of: “You should root for our city.” You don’t get it. It’s disrespectful not only to Chicago White Sox fans who couldn’t fathom rooting for a fan base that has tormented them as long as they’ve been fans, but it’s disrespectful to the Cubs fans who have been there throughout suffering annually to hopefully one day experience a Championship that their father and Grandfather have never experienced. So when the Cubs do hoist the trophy, you shouldn’t want to be cheering alongside a White Sox fan. This is your party. Enjoy it with your people and take it all in but spare me, and the rest of the White Sox fan base, your righteous impositions.
Filed under: Editorial