At last year’s blog night, someone asked Steve Stone why there was such animosity between Cubs and Sox fans. Apparently, the enquirer was a Sox fan who had grown up elsewhere in the country, and because of this he hadn’t had to deal with all of the friction that goes on between the two teams daily in the Chicagoland area.
I forget what answer Steve Stone gave, but I know what my answer is. I’ve been meaning to put it down on the blog for a while now. Since we’re on the eve of the battle for bragging rights, I thought now would be a good time.
While the question itself is pretty simple, the answer is far more complex. In my opinion, there are several reasons.
One of the most popular radio stations in Chicago – if not the most popular – is WGN 720. It’s also the Cubs flagship station. This means that the radio station most people are listening to is mostly Cubs all the time. When Sox fans have complained, the on-air personalities invariably point out that because WGN is the Cubs flagship station, they’re going to spend more time talking about the Cubs. As much as it does grate on my nerves, I have to side with WGN radio on this point. Fellow Sox fans, you’re just going to have to accept WGN radio’s pro-Cub bias.
WGN-TV Channel 9 has been a powerful station for decades, watched throughout the northern half of the state of Illinois, southern Wisconsin and western Indiana long before it became a nationwide Super Station. Channel 9 has also been synonymous with the Cubs for decades. Therefore, people outside the Chicago area have long been exposed to the Cubs, while for years the Sox were shown on smaller stations which didn’t reach beyond the Chicago area. When WGN became a Super Station and was broadcast nationwide, the Cubs enjoyed nationwide exposure. It’s only been in recent years that WGN has been carrying White Sox games as well.
So the Cubs have been known outside Chicago for decades, while the Sox were predominately locally known until 2005. Because of this, Sox fans have felt as though they were rooting for the team that was sort of the illegitimate stepchild of Chicago. All of this causes a small amount of irritation to Sox fans. Most of the time, you just accept it, largely because you don’t have much choice. Sometimes it does wear on you to the point where you do get a little resentful. In any event, we Sox fans know who we are. We take a measure of pride in staying true to our team despite sometimes being adrift in the tidal wave that is the Cubs.
Let me tell you a couple of stories to illustrate this:
Back when I was a senior in high school, I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Europe. We had a nonstop flight from Chicago to London when we left, but our return flight from Paris had a stopover in New York. With us on the plane from Paris was a group of New York high school seniors returning from their trip to Europe. I struck up a conversation with a girl from New York, and the topic turned to baseball. She was a Mets fan. She asked where I was from, and when I said Chicago, she smiled brightly and said with genuine enthusiasm, “Go Cubs!” I sort of grimaced and said, “Actually, I’m a White Sox fan.” Feeling a little awkward, she quietly replied, “Oh.”
Silence reigned for a few seconds. The conversation could have been over at that point. Indeed, if I hadn’t said anything else to her, it probably would have ended right there. However, this was back in 1989. Working on the theory that I may never see the White Sox win the World Series in my lifetime, I asked her what it was like when the Mets won it all in 1986. I wanted to live the experience vicariously through her. She was kind enough to oblige me. Fortunately, all White Sox fans got to have that experience ourselves in 2005.
In 1991, I met a wonderful man who I wound up marrying in 1993. My husband is from the Peoria area, and down there everything is Cubs or Cards. We lived there for 11 years, and I can tell you with relative certainty there are maybe a dozen White Sox fans in Peoria. Everyone else is either wearing Cardinal red or Cubbie blue. Shortly after I first met my husband’s parents, I got to meet my husband’s friends. One of them said to me, “So, Jerry tells us you’re a big baseball fan. Who do you root for, Cubs or Cards?” Jerry started to snicker, and I answered with pride, “Sox.” “Sox?!?!” the friend asked, stunned. “Yes,” I confirmed. There was a few seconds of confused silence before the friend asked, “What do you want to root for Boston for?”
My husband began to laugh and moved closer to me, half wondering if he might need to physically restrain me. I was more stunned than anything else. What stunned me was that the friend was genuinely confused. He wasn’t trying to tease me. He literally did not know what I meant. I said pointedly, “The White Sox.” My husband’s friend was quiet for few seconds before realization dawned on him. He said, “Oh, yeah, I guess they are in Chicago.”
So, as I said, the White Sox and their fans tend to be forgotten in the midst of the Cubs presence. In terms of sheer numbers, there are probably more Cubs fans than Sox fans. However, what we Sox fans may lack in numbers we more than make up for in passion, pride, and loyalty.
A couple of days ago, my 11-year-old daughter asked me why we were Sox fans. At first, I couldn’t give her an answer. Then I realized why we’re Sox fans. It’s partially because my mother is a Sox fan. In our family, baseball is passed mother to daughter. One of the biggest reasons why I personally am a Sox fan – and am proud to be a Sox fan – is this: Anyone can be a Cubs fan. It takes no extra effort to ride the bandwagon everyone else is riding. However, it takes someone special to root for the team which is overlooked, forgotten, dismissed and ignored by most, especially during the lean years when the Sox were just terrible. In short, it takes a different kind of person to be a Sox fan. It’s more difficult. Being a Sox fan means that you will be just as overlooked, forgotten, dismissed and ignored as the Sox have been. You have to accept that and be committed to your team despite it. I have always professed myself to be a Sox fan, even when the Sox stank. Why? Because being a fan when the Sox stank meant that I was also a Sox fan in 2005. Others may have jumped on the bandwagon, but I and fans like me never jumped off of it.
So as I said earlier, being overlooked as much as the White Sox fans have been does generate a little bit of resentment towards the Cubs. This is a small part of why the series between the two teams is so huge.
The biggest reason why the series between the Cubs and the Sox is so huge is pretty simple. For so many years, both the Cubs and the Sox weren’t just bad; they were dismal. Prior to 2005, it had been decades since the last World Series title for both sides of town. During those lean seasons, fans from both teams knew they weren’t going to be in the playoffs anytime soon, let alone in the World Series. The cross-town series was as close to the World Series as Cubs and Sox fans were likely to get, so it became the World Series for us. If nothing else, it allowed one team to look at the other and say, “Yes, we’re terrible, but at least we beat you!”
After the White Sox World Series title in 2005, the Cubs-Sox series changed a little. It wasn’t quite as big for the Sox fans. The desperation so long present on the South Side had vanished. Finally, the Sox we
re the better team and were on the map, and they had the World Series trophy to prove it. Seeing the Sox beat the Cubs went from being a necessity to being a nicety. For the Cubs, though – still without a championship after a century – it suddenly became a way to regain the spotlight.
For me, the Cubs-Sox series is now more fun than ever. Now that I’ve seen the Sox win the World Series, I understand that the cross-town series is just for bragging rights. More than anything else, it’s about wins and climbing higher in the division standings. Even if the Sox lose to the Cubs, I can still take comfort in the fact that we have recently been the champions and are working on getting back there again as soon as possible.
By the way, I don’t hate the Cubs. I don’t root for them (unless they’re playing the Twins or another AL Central team) but I don’t hate them. I have laughed at their misfortunes, as I’m sure Cubs fans have laughed at the Sox’ misfortunes. I think Cub fans are crazy to blame their losing on a curse. As long as you believe you’re losing because of a curse, you’re powerless to stop it. If you believe you’re losing because you aren’t playing well enough to win, then you have the ability to correct the problem. The Sox fans never talked about the Black Sox causing a curse as the Cubs have done with the goat.
I will admit one thing, though: I was watching, breathless, in 2003 when the Cubs looked as though they finally believed they could win it all and had the talent to do so. Even as a Sox fan, I was hoping they’d win it, if for no other reason than just to see a World Series title finally come to Chicago.
I’m glad the White Sox ended the championship drought first. I’d like to see the Sox noticeably and permanently on the baseball landscape of Chicago on a nationwide stage. I’d like people around the country to remember there are two baseball teams in Chicago, rather than having to remind them. I think one or two more World Series titles would do that.
Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m thankful for what the Sox have accomplished and what they are still trying to accomplish. I wouldn’t even mind seeing the Cubs win a World Series – but I’d prefer it if the Sox won at least one more title first.
What can I say? This lady’s a White Sox fan.