White Sox First in the American League, Second in Chicago

Some towns are known for their great baseball teams, others for their great fans. But Chicago holds a special place in the baseball world -- it's known for losing. That's why the Chicago media

Jerry Dowling

Some towns are known for their great baseball teams, others for their great fans. But Chicago holds a special place in the baseball world — it's known for losing.

That's why the Chicago media went through September so hyper-sensitive, fearing the White Sox might lose their lead in the AL Central, framing the Sox performance as a choke. Thus the suggestion nearly four decades ago that the name of one of Chicago's teams, the Cubs, is an acronym for Chicago's Usual Baseball Slump.

Now a Chicago club is going to the World Series for the first time in 46 years.

The Cubs and White Sox, between them, have played before nearly 150 million home fans since one of them last went to the World Series. Last time Chicago put a club in the World Series, it really was the Second City. Since then, Los Angeles has surpassed Chicago in metro population.

Only a Chicagoan could truly appreciate that the club going to the World Series is the White Sox, the second club in the Second City. And you know a lot of Chicagoans don't appreciate that one bit.

They're called Cubs fans.

What must those poor people be going through right now? As much as they'd love to pull for their wonderful town in the World Series, they have to pull for the White Sox. It would be like Charles Montgomery Burns pulling for Homer Simpson to win the mayor's race in Springfield.

For some flavor of what Chicago must be going through, consider a Cincinnati analogy. Suppose two ball clubs did business in Cincinnati, one on the West side and the other on the East side. Neither club goes to the World Series for about 50 years. And when someone finally wins a pennant, it's the West-side club.

During the summer, a man would call Tracy Jones' Extra Innings radio show after the Reds games claiming to be an investment banker who wanted the Reds to cordon off rowdy fans making so much noise that he couldn't entertain his clients. Without remembering his name, we'll call him Ron.

This caller, Ron, spoke the language of class snobbery so subtly that it's suspected he was a ringer to heat up the phone lines, since no one really felt like talking about the Reds. The bit worked beautifully, because lots of callers came in to bash Ron, who isn't a real fan.

On our analogy, the problem wouldn't arise in quite the same way. Ron would be an East sider, a Cubs fan, and his detractors would be West siders, White Sox fans. They wouldn't be caught dead in the same ballpark.

Analogies are never perfect, of course, and this one breaks down on the difference in intensity. The east-west split in Cincinnati doesn't approach the north-south split in Chicago. Traditionally, affluence finds its home on the north side of Chicago with its higher ground and closer lakefront access. Immigrant groups settled on the south side.

You go to the Cubs game, and you're surrounded by cutesy Wrigleyville with its plastic cup drinkers. You go to the White Sox game, and you're surrounded by high-rise housing projects with their paper bag drinkers.

The north-south split in Chicago is the split between rich and poor, WASP and ethnic, white collars and blue collars, established families and immigrants. It's Cubs and White Sox. And the White Sox are going to the World Series after their five-game win against the Los Angeles Angels in the American League Championship Series.

No franchise in sports has lived in shadow quite like the White Sox. The mythmakers in Chicago haven't seen fit to describe their tale of woe because they view the Cubs as a truer tale of woe. After all, poor folks are supposed to lose.

The Boston Red Sox broke their own curse last year, as they hadn't won the World Series since 1918, but the White Sox haven't won it since 1917 and haven't been to the Series since 1959. Even in terms of futility in their own town, the Cubs have them trumped, since the Northsiders haven't been to the Series since 1945.

The White Sox actually were the more popular club in town at times, but that was a long time ago. From their inception with the start of the American League in 1901, the Sox won four pennants through 1919, while the Cubs won five NL pennants during those years. But the Sox outdrew the Cubs more often than not.

The discovery that eight Sox players threw the 1919 World Series to the Reds pushed the franchise into a tailspin. And the Cubs took off during the Depression and World War II years, winning five pennants from 1929 through 1945. During those seasons, the White Sox never drew more than 677,000, while the Cubs dipped below that just four times and four other times drew more than 1 million.

During the 1950s through 1967, the White Sox took over the town again. They routinely reached 90 wins or its 154-game equivalent and still usually finished well out of the running because the Yankees were so good. If the AL were divided in two divisions, the White Sox would have won the West almost every year. Meanwhile, the Cubs were legendarily awful.

The Cubs have managed back-to-back winning seasons only once since 1973, but they ride high on a kitsch factor that keeps their turnstiles humming.

Sadly, White Sox fans are gripped by an inferiority complex. With justification, they claim a media bias toward the Cubs, since the Cubs, the big newspaper and the big television station in town are owned by the same company. With their winning club this year, the Sox still drew only three-quarters as many fans as the Cubs and the Cubs still slaughtered the White Sox in the Chicago television ratings.

But no one's watching the Cubs now, and everyone is watching the Sox. The have-nots have something. Only in sports.