Chicago is a hard town. Backs broke creating this joint, not once, but twice. We don’t suffer fools lightly, and we know immediately when someone is full of shit. We don’t pride ourselves on the curbside appeal of the Magnificent Mile, but instead, we’re proud we built it with our own two hands. The attitude of the people takes no prisoners, and if we’re friends, we’ll stand by you. We keep acquaintances to the barrooms, ours is a culture of lifetime commitments.
The Blackhawks might have stolen the limelight with their Stanley Cup hoists on the ice, and the Bears exist on the futile fringes of insane jealousy for just about every ownership group that’s not Cleveland, but Chicago always has been and will be a baseball town. This city belongs to the Cubs and White Sox.
A rivalry should mean something, should inspire the emotional heft of “fuck that dude, forever” and stand by it. A shared sense of doom and frustration based on the agony of mediocrity is an excellent place to start. For years, all we had were the games the White Sox and Cubs played against one another. Neither of the team had a snowball’s chance making it to October, so winning those six games was our only chance at glory, even if it only mattered to us.
But, then the White Sox won the World Series, and then the Cubs burned everything to the ground and rebuilt the franchise, ultimately getting their ring, too. Now, neither of the teams exist in that “cursed” space any longer.
The White Sox shirts with the big middle finger reading “Hey Cubs, where’s your ring?” no longer have the sting they used to. But, as the Sox are rebuilding and the Cubs are still fighting off a championship hangover, the steam is collecting under the lid.
Cardinals vs. Cubs isn’t a rivalry. It’s two teams who dislike one another and play in the same division. The idea of a rivalry lends itself that the teams in question are competitive. The Cardinals have perennially kicked the Cubs ass for a century; it’s the moral equivalent of Bears vs. Packers. One faded championship and a Super Bowl loss don’t stack up against the legacies of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Same goes for St. Louis with their 11 championships.
It makes no sense to hate one another, we have no impact on one another’s chances for the playoffs, but yet, we can’t accept one another’s fandom. It’s a caveman’s point of view, but can you imagine a Chicago without fighting about baseball?
The Cubs have always had one advantage over the White Sox, they were nationally broadcasted. Middle America grew up Cubs fans, while only people from the Chicago area cared about the Sox. Because busloads of tourists from Iowa and Nebraska pull in front of Wrigley every week, it’s become a point of pride and contention, depending who you ask.
Because our teams share the same space, the same city, the same statutes get the goofy hats slapped on them. We love arguing about who’s fans suck more or why Wrigleyville is packed with douches or why Sox Park sits empty half of the time; shit talking is our sport within a sport. When a Cub fan tells me he hates the White Sox, I love it. I want to roll around in his hatred of my team like Scrooge McDuck in a pile of cash. Our rivalry has one distinct point that makes it unique: every pitch, every at-bat is fueled by raw emotion. These teams represent us, our space, our beliefs and our families. Most Chicagoans are born into a baseball family, can other places say the same for over 100 years?
Barroom mystic and owner of the Old Town Ale House, Bruce Cameron Elliott, put it down as cold as can be, “A perfect day for a Sox fan is the Sox win, the Cubs lose, and then the Cubs plane crashes.”
Cubs culture is just….different. I’ll never understand the appeal of their dumb song, but whatever. They’re happy and shiny, and Eddie Vedder plays on the street because he’s an uber fan (even though we all know you were a White Sox fan back in the early 90s). I could also give two shits about anything Bill Murray ever does.
I moved away from Chicago a decade ago. I live in the far away land of Austin, Texas. No one around here wears a White Sox hat, even though there’s a Cubs bar in town. We also just got a second “Chicago eatery” where it’s nice to get a Vienna beef hot dog, but not for $5.00. Rarely, when I do spot a Sox fan in the wild, we lose our shit.
When I visited home a few weeks ago and saw White Sox gear aplenty and saw people in the hats, or wearing the shirts, it was a good feeling, something that didn’t make me feel so alone in a sea of Astros and Rangers caps.
But, it was a good feeling to hit the bar and still, no matter where I had a drink, whenever baseball came up, the insults and the trash talk revved up. It was a homecoming moment to hear someone point by point rip down the White Sox rebuild, to with the natural Sox fan rebuttal of Cub fans can’t name more than Rizzo and Bryant or that half the crowd is there for a tan.
When Michael Barrett sunk his fist in Aj Pierzynski’s mug, it was on like Donkey Kong. Every front room, watch party and bar across northern Illinois roared because psychologically, that was all of us out there putting up the dukes. We’d been waiting for a moment like that, for the players to feel like the fans. As the White Sox were coming off a recent World Series win, Michael Barrett did what Cub fans felt watching the Sox charge the mound in Houston.
Remember when Derrick Lee and Carlos Zambrano almost boxed in the dugout because tensions were that high? That was a lost season and guess who they were playing? The White Sox. Ozzie Guillen said Wrigley Field makes him want to puke, and Hawk refused to step foot inside the Friendly Confines for the rest of his life.
Kris Bryant might be good, but he’s kind of a douchebag. He’ll never care. He’s been on Cub teams who’ve been competitive, they don’t know what it’s like to lose over and over and over again.
To him, it’s “just a series” but go ask some carpenter who slaps a chunk of his pension down every season just to keep his seats that he’s held since 1984 if beating the White Sox is “just another game.” Fuck no it ain’t, that guy survived the lean years, and when Bryant is a bloated has been, he’ll be the old timer buried in his blue cap. To him, beating the White Sox still matters because as the years pass from a championship, the hunger for blood returns. I was there in 2005, I know.
But, if there’s a new era of Chicago baseball, we’re on the cusp of it. For the first time in the history of these two teams, we have the possibility of seeing two competitive teams to battle for not only the headlines but for the hearts and minds of the city.
The Cubs have the best manager and front office in the game. The White Sox are learning from the Cubs successes and are on the path to contention by 2020.
We’re now closer than ever to a Red Line World Series. The ultimate showdown of Chicago’s bare-knuckled, shirts off, screaming at the sky fandom. Take a moment to imagine that atmosphere. The Red Sox and Yankees will never meet in a World Series. The Giants and Dodgers can only act as spoilers to one another’s playoff hopes, but not Chicago.
I want the Cubs to continue to kick ass. It motivated my team to quit buying up cast-offs while elite free agents pass by because we never had a clear path to a championship. Any true baseball fan in Chicago wants to see the rivalry mean much more than just a few games. We now stand at that precipice of possibility.
As the el trains rattle down the tracks and the boats drift down the river, the city with a five AM bar shift, and all night hot dog spots will remain true to one thing: we’ll make you pick a side. No “Chicago fans” are allowed. We can all agree those dudes are THE WORST.