Chicago is center of baseball world
Cubs, White Sox fans glad, uneasy about both teams
CHICAGO -- While the White Sox are down in Florida preparing for their American League Division Series opener against the Rays, George Will is walking up an ancient ramp toward his luxury seat in a place he once described as a "pleasant purgatory." The Cubs are about to toy with your emotions again, starting a new postseason.
"What do you think of two Chicago teams in the same postseason for the first time in 102 years?" the noted Cubs fan and author is asked as he climbs.
"It's a shame there aren't three," he says.
"What if the Cubs and White Sox meet in the World Series?"
"If they wind up in the same World Series, it would be like the Civil War, only nastier," he says.
With that, he disappears into a sea of other Cubs fans, as the Wrigley clock shows 4:44 p.m. CT, and he settles in with so many others to watch Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers.
Neil Fiorito is bell captain of the hotel in which I am staying. It is next to Lake Michigan, and in perhaps a remarkable omen, construction on it began in 1908, the year the Cubs last won the World Series. Fiorito gives the hotel guest a tour of the facilities, but like everyone here, he really wants to talk about baseball.
"I'm proud to have both Chicago teams representing the city in the playoffs," he says. "If it's either-or, I'm a Cubs fan, and that's what game I would go to. But I got chills when [White Sox center fielder] Brian Anderson dived for that ball to get the last out [in the one-game tiebreaker on Tuesday]."
Scott Reifert is vice president of communications for the White Sox, and he is on the phone from the St. Petersburg area. He saw his team do the impossible just three years ago, ending an 88-year drought to sweep Houston for the World Series title. Now this ... this is something very different -- two Chicago teams in a postseason.
"In Chicago, there's such a rivalry between the fans of the two teams, that to have both of the teams in the playoffs is just tremendous, because it keeps both fan bases engaged and rooting," he says.
"Generally the tendency is, if we're in, our fans stay involved and Cubs fans tune out, because they don't want to deal with the co-worker or next-door neighbor or uncle or friend talking trash to them, so they tune out on the baseball season. Conversely, if the White Sox aren't in and the Cubs are, White Sox fans dial it out.
"So in this case you've got an entire city engaged in the next week with rooting interests and all the bets and challenges to one another. It amps up the excitement for everybody. It amps up the interest in the entire city."
The wind is blowing in. Jim Hendry, the Cubs' general manager, is standing behind the batting cage, momentarily with no one around him. Maybe one day, he will be standing in the middle of the biggest party in recorded human history, which is what some people think will transpire if the Cubs win it all. Right now, he is talking about how the Second City earned a second representative thanks to Tuesday's tiebreaker.
"It's great for the city," Hendry says. "Both had exciting summers, obviously different conclusions to get into the playoffs. It's become quite a baseball town. Wouldn't it be something if we meet a few weeks from now?
"The White Sox have already won it. They've already had a great accomplishment. We're trying to get ours, too. I tell people all the time, I only root against the Sox six days a year. On those [Interleague] days, I root against them. But there are no hard feelings for us."
During batting practice, Jeanne Bricker of Naperville, Ill., is standing with her friend, Terri Burns, of nearby Yorkville, Ill. They are precariously near "The Seat," which is the one Steve Bartman occupied before he stood up and extended his arms in 2003.
"I don't want the Cubs and White Sox to play in the World Series," Bricker says. "It'll be too crazy. You wouldn't be able to get near the city. I do believe fans will get out of hand. You couldn't even celebrate because it would be too crazy. There would be so many fights. They might kill each other."
This is a known fact: The average Cubs fan doesn't like the average White Sox fan, and vice versa -- at least in a baseball sense. That is just life here. It is a similar story in New York, where Yankees and Mets fans rarely hang tight with each other. But here ... Will was so right on with the Civil War thing. It would be so different than in Los Angeles, where they would have great pride over two locals in the Fall Classic, yet no thoughts about keeping the National Guard on a state of readiness.
Sometimes you see it as friendly, and sometimes, it is as real as the chill of an October night here. It's how many people were raised here.
"My boyfriend's a Sox fan," Bricker says, refusing to identify her boyfriend by name -- honestly. "I just ignore him. He became a Sox fan when they won. That's what a Sox fan is. He gives me crap about being a Cubs fan, saying how long it has been since we won."
She adds that they don't actually live together. It would be hard to imagine how they could.
Evelyn Binz works at the "Information" booth at O'Hare Airport's E Concourse, and she was the first Chicagoan I asked about this freak topic when my flight arrived earlier in the day. She is only happy to provide information about this matter.
"It would be the most exciting thing for the city to have two teams in the World Series," she says. "I've been living in Chicago most of my life. I know everything about football, because I'm a Bears season-ticket holder. My son is coming up from Florida for a Bears game, and he is going to Wrigley during the week with my grandsons and stand there hoping to get a ticket to be one of the millions who want to go.
"My son was in high school his senior year, in the late '70s, and he loved the Cubs so much he skipped school and went down to Wrigley and sold hot dogs. Old Man Wrigley was still there at the time, and he got to meet him.
"The White Sox already won. The last time the Cubs won, I wasn't even thought of. People have a tendency to love the Cubbies. I like the White Sox, because they remind me of the Bears. Tough guys, kind of raw. The Cubs are the Cubbies."
Someone next to me has a real question about airport information. I yield to the other passenger and head for baggage claim, about to begin a month on the road, possibly ending here with an all-Chicago World Series. Or not.
Brett Ballantini is a White Sox fan and a sportswriter from Buffalo Grove, Ill. He was among those decked in black on the South Side for the tiebreaker victory on Tuesday, cheering down the left-field side and watching as the White Sox bullpen frequently looked around at the astounding sight in the stands.
Some different things are happening.
He calls this "uncharted territory."
"I don't think Sox fans care particularly much about the Cubs," Ballantini says, "but they care enough to say it would be a dream to play in the World Series and extend their misery."
He also says the White Sox are "the one team the Cubs would not want to play. ... Nobody's expecting anything from the Sox, the Cubs are kind of the preordained favorite, and that would play into it."
A year ago, the Cubs turned in one of the most unsuccessful postseason performances in recent memory, no competition for the D-backs in a sweep. Many people think this is really the Cubs' year and are just living in the moment.
"Last year was funny -- every single expert on the [Chicago] Tribune predicted not only a Cubs victory, but a big Cubs victory," Ballantini says. "They need to guard against that. The Cubs are certainly a good team, and they deserve some of their front-runner status because they had the best record in the NL. But it's always something.
"In 2003, I gave up. I thought they would finally do it. I shut the TV off, and turned it back on, and realized my lack of faith should have been rewarded. I should have known something would happen. I just know something will happen again. It's a balance of the universe. As much chaos as the world is in today, the Cubs continuing to fall short and losing will sort of help the world find some sort of balance."
"Baseball is heaven's gift to mortals," Will once wrote in his book "Bunts."
The mortals are happy here. The Cubs are playing the Dodgers. The White Sox are playing the Rays. Neither fan base has tuned out. Local ratings are going to be ridiculous, through the roof. Tensions at the office and elsewhere will be palpable, as fans and enemies share close spaces within one hot baseball city.
It could be a Civil War again. Right now, it's just a curiosity and a topic of conversation. There is work to do on the field, and they will all be watching.
The chart below details all playoff seasons for the four cities/regions that currently have two Major League franchises.
|2002||2002||Won WS||2002||ALDS||2002||ALDS||Lost WS|
|2000||ALDS||2000||2000||Won WS||Lost WS||2000||ALDS||NLDS|
|1989||NLCS||1989||1989||1989||Won WS||Lost WS|
|1988||1988||Won WS||1988||NLCS||1988||Lost WS|
|1981||1981||Won WS||1981||Lost WS||1981||ALCS|
|1978||1978||Lost WS||1978||Won WS||1978|
|1977||1977||Lost WS||1977||Won WS||1977|
|1974||1974||Lost WS||1974||1974||Won WS|
|1973||1973||1973||Lost WS||1973||Won WS|
|1967||1967||1967||A's moved to Oakland in 1968|
|1963||1963||Won WS||1963||Lost WS|
|1961||1961||Mets began in 1962|
|1960||Angels began in 1961|
|1906||Won WS||Lost WS|
- The Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers met seven times in the World Series from 1941-1956.
- The Yankees and New York Giants played six times in the World Series between 1921-1951.
- The only other time since 1901 that two teams from the same city played in the postseason the same year came in 1944, when the St. Louis Cardinals beat the St. Louis Browns in the World Series.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.