By Frankie O
Upon moving to Chicago in 1995, I was fascinated by just about everything about the city. Being a native east-coaster, I never dreamed in a million years that I would move away from the Atlantic Ocean and head to the heartland. But thats what love will do and thats also another story for another day, although I never get tired of telling it. (Ask my eye-rolling co-workers!) The thing about the city that excited me most, and this should not come as a surprise, was that it was a two-baseball team town. How cool is that? I can see every team in the Majors if I want. For a baseball geek it doesnt get any better than that. That one of the stadiums that I would get to go to was Wrigley Field made it even better, if that was possible.
Like much of the new city that I was about to inhabit, I knew about the White Sox, but there was a lot for me to learn. My eventual move to the far, far Southside would help with that and would also help balance the fact that I work in a Cubs bar. For me, it was never about drawing lines, I could enjoy both sides. In this town though, you are supposed to choose. I might have more of a rooting interest for one over the other, but since I pay attention to every game that both teams play, you could say Im a follower of both and not the typical Chicagoan. (Big shock!) And I do believe that gives me a different perspective on the two teams.
They are as different as you can get, while being very similar, kind of like brothers. From the neighborhoods they inhabit, to the feel of the ballparks and the TV and radio broadcasts that fans watch and listen to, there is a distinction between the two that is unmistakable. The common bond being the city they play in and the passion in their base fans.
But being an outsider, I realize that this should be the case, since that is the way it is with the 28 other teams in MLB. Each team and every dynamic around them are unique.
The big difference here is that they are sharing the same house.
And the even bigger difference being that while I dont think the Cubs give it a second thought, it drives the Sox crazy. Well, crazy for one specific reason: Attendance. (Some would say the dollars that go with it, but Im not that cynical, yet.)
Because of the ballpark and the location, the Northsiders have become a national treasure, albeit a non-threatening one, given the whole 104-year thing and all. This didnt always reflect in the attendance as much as it did the public consciousness. I remember when I first moved here it was always easy to get tickets. (On both sides of town, as a matter of fact). The Cubs always drew relatively well, but they werent an attendance juggernaut, they were always around the league average for years. Then in June of 1998 Hippity-Hopity hit 20 homers and it all changed. In the chicks-dig-the-long-ball age, Wrigley became a happening, a place to be. By 2003 there also came a thirst for success and everyone wanted to be a part of it, and they came oh so close. Maybe you heard about it? They didnt win but for some they became something better, a three-million-fans-a-year behemoth (8 straight years and counting.). They are the definition of a financial player.
Now consider on the Southside, they did something their Northside brethren havent in the last 104 years, well actually they did it twice but had their own drought, (Theres a new definition for that word!) and thats winning a championship in 2005. (Seems like a long time ago.) What did they get? A spike in paying customers in 2006, but then it has declined every year since, from a high in 06 of 89.9 capacity, all the way down to this years current rate of 50.9 Ouch.
This makes me understand what I thought to be a curious statement by Sox GM Kenny Williams after they won in 05. When posed a question about the Sox position in baseballs hierarchy, he felt that the Sox needed to win another title to remain relevant on a national and local scale. I guess he couldnt have been more right.
Although I will say, I wonder if this is some of his and the Sox own doing.
Kenny has never been shy about expressing the opinion that fans need to come out to support the team. Or else.
That was the message last year, when after signing Adam Dunn he said the fans need to come out or the team was going to have to start slashing its highest payroll ever by dumping players at the trade deadline. Not a white flag moment, but at least a shot across the bow.
That the season kind of turned into a circus and their competitive level was not what was expected (understatement) might have taken away from those comments, but I wondered what effect they still would have.
Is that being expressed this year? Are there other factors?
I know that a lot of fan bases take pride in showing up no matter what, take St. Louis for instance, but then I consider, they live in St. Louis, what the hell else are they going to do?
In Chicago, all summer long, people have options. And when the price of going to any game is getting out of control for most working-class folks, things have to be considered before you drop a couple hundred going out to a game.
But it still surprises me a bit that people arent going out to watch this team play. In my post last week, I mentioned that I was hopeful that they could capture the public's attention. All theyve done since then is sweep Cleveland and Tampa Bay to extend their win streak to eight and take over first place in the Central.
And I still dont hear a buzz. All I hear is the GM playing chicken with the fans by calling them out in public.
Kenny Williams: Every day that you dont fill the seats at least to a greater degree than we are, it hurts.
Meaning: If you want the team to compete, and you want me to buy at the trade deadline, get your but in a seat so I can pay for it.
Again, I am fascinated and entertained by Williams to no end. He is one guy that I would love to see pull up a stool at the bar to talk baseball.
But I dont know if everyone else feels that way, and by everyone I mean paying customers, since for six years in a row now, there are less of them coming out.
Even worse, and this has to gnaw at him, is that he has a first place club, yet a team 8.25 miles to the north, that doesnt have a prayer, is outdrawing his by 16,500 a game. (Figure the real math)
I guess I would call my fans too if I had a team in 1st and they were playing in front of 50 of capacity.
I cant wait to see how this plays out. I know Ill be watching and rooting on TV and going to U.S. Cellular Field on at least two planned occasions. And now thanks to Kenny, maybe Ill have to plan a third trip. Every little bit helps I guess.
Oh, and about the title. Its just a play on words, nothing sinister, but feel free to have your own interpretation. In my eternal quest to learn more about Chicago, Im currently listening to the audio version of the book that details the Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson. Its about the Worlds Columbian Exposition hosted by Chicago in 1893. It is a great listen, almost as good as Kenny, and makes my trip home from work fly by.
Only a smart aleck like me would point out that a lot of folks that went to that once-in-a-lifetime event also saw the Cubs play in 1908.
Ill play nice and leave it at that.