There are several historic rivalries in baseball. One can think of the Yankees and the Red Sox, or the Cardinals and the Cubs. These both go back for longer than a century. They are unique because they pit regional rivals who have a long history of struggling against one another. Then there are the new rivalries created by inter-league play in 1997.
One can think here of the Mets and Yankees, the Angels and Dodgers or the Giants and the A's. All of these are intriguing and interesting match ups, with the New York teams getting the most national press attention.
But to my mind ESPN got it right when they decided to cover the White Sox and Cubs games over the past two weekends. This "cross-town" series has become intense, loud and very, very big here in Chicago. Most fans love one team and despise the other. Outsiders cannot understand this since both teams play in Chicago. I guess you have to live here to understand how this works and why. I didn't get it either until I lived here a few years. Cubs fans and the park they play in sealed it for me.
The Cubs and Sox met in the World Series in 1906 and the underdog Sox won that year. The last Cubs winner was in 1908 which makes this the 100th anniversary as Sox fans are quick to note. The Sox won a World Series title in 2005 and this irritates the Cubs fans even more. The pressure on the lovable losers from Wrigleyville to win and win now is huge since 2005.
This year the "cross-town" series pitted two first place teams against one another. The first weekend the Cubs swept the Sox and won all three games at home. This weekend the Sox returned the favor and swept out the Cubs. One of the great signs I saw on ESPN last night, held up by a young fan behind the Sox dugout, read: "Friends Do Not Let Friends Become Cubs Fans."
Look, my team has been the Sox since I got here in 1969. I tried to like the lovable Cubs. I even went to Wrigley Field several times before I ever went to crusty old Comiskey Park, itself a dump by then. And 1969, if you know your baseball history, was the year the Cubs were supposed to win it all. They led the National League East for five months that year and had several future hall-of-famers on their roster: Billy Williams, Ernie Banks and Fergie Jenkins. In addition they had Ron Santo and Randy Hundley and a host of other fine players. But they blew a comfortable lead in September and the upstart Mets won the division in the first year of division play in MLB history. Ever since I have heard Cubs fans tell me why this was one of the greatest teams of all time. I knew then that Cubs fans were irrational. My awareness of this has only grown over the last 39 years.
Cubs fans love a ball park like few people I know. But they love a park that is over crowded, not really fan-friendly and has the worst food in all of baseball. The place is a dump but almost no Cubs fan I know will ever admit it. The White Sox manager, the ever out-spoken Ozzie Guillen, referred to Wrigley Field as a "tourist attraction" and compared it to the Statue of Liberty. He said one thing you know about Sox fans is they come to watch the game. Cubs fans come for the experience itself. I think Ozzie is right on.
I have been to scores of games at Wrigley Field over the years. I suppose it could easily be 200 or more games in 39 years. (That is about five-plus per year and I feel sure that is about right.) I have to tell you I went to my last game on June 12. I sat in aisle 114, Row 1 and seat 6. I keep the ticket on my desk under the glass top. Why? To remind me of just how much I dislike this place.
Some may say, "Well, you are just unhappy because the Cubs swept your Braves in that series." Though this is true it is not why I do not want to go back again. My reasons for my decision are rational and strong:
1. The place is a dump and it smells.
2. The beer vendors are always in my way and asking me to pass beer the entire game.
3. The seats are lousy and uncomfortable.
4. The bathrooms are terrible and also smell badly.
5. The fans (many at least) are rude and act like rebellious children.
6. The ushers are "enforcers" and check tickets 5 to 10 times in a game. It is ludicrous.
7. The tickets cost a fortune. I am quite sure only the Yankees charge more. My seats were $66 a seat. I can see five minor league games for that price and two-plus Sox games ($30 for the same ticket).
8. If you root for the visitor you will be abused in a number of ways like I have not experienced in any other park and I have been in 25 of 30 now.
9. The place is impossible to get to by car.
10. When you do get there you cannot park.
11. The best way to get there, and 38% of the fans go this way, is by train and the subway/elevated tracks. But this takes a long time, is costly and the crowds on the trains are rude, especially after a game.
12. The seventh inning stretch ritual is so silly and Harry Carry had the biggest ego in the entire city. He was a marketing genius but a terrible baseball announcer. His legacy lives on and breathes life into the games at Wrigley. He is an icon, complete with a statue outside the park and his image stuck on the press box.
13. No one has more excuses for losing than the Cubs. If it is not Steve Bartman trying to catch a foul ball in game six of the NLCS in 2005 then it is the longtime "hex of the billy goat." You would not believe the stories these fans use to support their team's ineptitude unless you heard them as often as I do.
I could say more but this is enough. If you are a Cubs fan do not hate me, please. I just do not like your team or your beloved park. In fact, the only thing I like about the Cubs is the great neighborhood bars and eating places outside Wrigley Field. These have to be the best in all of baseball. I may go back and eat sometime and then leave. Maybe, in fact, I will just go and eat when the Cubs are not in town and that will solve my problem.
When my daughter and I went to our last Wrigley Field game on June 12 we had our photo taken just for posterity. You can see it (side left) and now understand better what we actually thought about being seen by anyone we knew at Wrigley Field. We wanted to make sure that no one even knew who these mysterious Atlanta fans really were. We went, bags and all, incognito! What a great way to finish my career at Wrigley Field. If they ever tear it down I will not miss it at all. I can assure you of that.
Now you know why I was celebrating last night when the Sox swept out the Cubs in three games. My favorite teams, as some of you know, are the Braves in the NL and the Sox in the AL. My second favorite team is whoever is playing the Cubs. The sooner we Sox fans can celebrate the Cubs 100th anniversary without a World Series winner the better this season will be. Stacy and I already have our invitations printed for a little party! Though the Cubs look pretty good right now we think they will find a way to do the same thing they have done for 100 years. You can always count on the Cubs to be the Cubs.