October 19, 2005
South Side StoryBy Richard Baehr
There is no White Sox Nation. There is also no national White Sox diaspora, only those who left the declining Southwest—Side ethnic neighborhoods and moved to distant suburbs in the last few decades. When the Pale Hose play on the road, there is no large cheering section to welcome them, as happens routinely for the Red Sox, Cubs, Braves, and Yankees, teams with a national identity, or at least national cable TV exposure.
And as P.J. Huffstutter has written in the Los Angeles Times, despite a few Johnny—come—lately fans in Chicago, the team's great success in 2005 has still not earned it commensurate local respect. Of course, the Los Angeles Times is now owned by the Tribune Company, the owner of the Cubs, and the owner of WGN television and radio, which broadcasts the Cubs. So belittling the White Sox, or ignoring them, is a newspaper family tradition.
When the White Sox clinched the American League pennant the other night in Anaheim, the local Chicago media, trying to hype the excitement of joyful White Sox fans, reported huge traffic tie—ups and closed freeway exits near US Cellular Field, as crowds of Sox Fans supposedly showed up to party. The reports were ridiculous. The party outside the Cell was a sprinkling of perhaps 200 people.
After all, virtually nobody lives within a few blocks of the Cell, and of course, there are no cute intimate rooftop boxes atop apartment buildings across the street to watch the game, or bars nearby for the locals. The team chose to sell the name of its stadium to a phone company. Given the track record of Enron Field, US Air Arena, and the United Center, the corporate prospects for US Cellular may not be bright. Can anyone imagine the Cubs or Tribune Company selling the name of beloved Wrigley Field to T—Mobile?
The media also wanted to capture the excitement in some Sox fan bars. To do this, they ventured into unknown territory on the far Southwest side, places never before entered by self—respecting Chicago reporters. One could have measured the pulse of Cubs fans in any of a thousand bars during the infamous Bartman game against the Marlins in 2003, as the Cubs were on the verge of a World Series appearance for the first time in 58 years. And some of these bars were probably on the regular itinerary of many of the reporters who live in the city, and on the North Side. No maps or directions were needed.
But the turn in the White Sox fortunes is part of a broader comeback on Chicago's South Side. Where for most of the past few decades, Chinatown and Hyde Park were the only two pockets that attracted anybody from the North Side, now the 3 mile area from the Loop south to Chinatown is filling in with new attractive housing and desirable neighborhoods, some built upon the old railroad yards. The new museum campus has created one of Chicago's most beautiful new areas. Richard the II, Chicago's current Mayor Daley, has moved his family to this new area.
New housing is beginning to appear in the black neighborhoods north of Kenwood. Chinatown is bursting through its former boundaries. The Mayor's old stomping ground in Bridgeport is the site of a building boom replacing the old bungalows with new (and pricy) condos. Chinese, Mexicans and Irish, share the streets.
In Hyde Park, the University of Chicago is expanding south, beginning a renewal of the Woodlawn area. Several of the new South Side neighborhoods are integrated, a phenomenon almost unknown to the North Side. Midway Airport has been completely rebuilt, and is now a far more efficient and pleasant facility than O'Hare. It even houses the hub of a solvent airline, Southwest. New hotels and restaurants have been built south of Midway, attracted by the success of the airport.
Venezuelan—born White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has taken a team considered an also—ran in a weak division to 99 wins, and two surprisingly easy playoff series victories. In 2004 the team's theme was: 'These kids can play'. This year, it was 'Small ball' for a team supposedly built on speed and defense. Forget the slogans. The team is mostly veterans, not rookies, and has relied on power hitting (more home runs that the Red Sox), with magnificent starting pitching, and generally reliable relief pitching (generally reliable relief pitching was not good enough for the Astros Monday night).
The team bolted to a fast start, and was playing near .700 ball for the first half of the year, peaking at 57—26 just before the All Star Game. The second half was tougher and scarier. The Sox played a little over .500 and had some embarrassing series at home, getting swept by the A's and Angels. The Cleveland Indians mounted a major challenge, cutting a 15 game lead to a game—and—a—half in late September.
I was in Europe as the Sox' fortunes ebbed, and only when I returned for the last week of the season, did the Sox right the ship, winning the last five games to clinch the division and home field edge in the playoffs. I am, after all, the kind of sports fan who will turn off a TV broadcast of a game if it is going poorly, concluding that my not watching will help the situation. And of course, it often does. If my team comes back, my viewing absence must have helped. If it fails to mount a charge, the team was losing before I switched the game off, so no harm was done.
If Chicago wanted a team that captured the city's ethnic mix, that would be the White Sox. Chicago is America's most Polish city. Local favorites — including ALCS MVP Paul Konerko, and fiery catcher A. J. Pierzynski, the player who stirred the brew several times in the series against the Angels — did their ethnic brethren proud. For a city that will be more Hispanic than black or white within a few years, the Sox roster includes pitchers Jose Contreras, and Freddie Garcia and shortstop Juan Uribe. Tadahito Iguchi does not have the notoriety of Ichiro or Hideki Matsui, but he is the one who will be playing in the World Series.
No Sox player is likely to win MVP, or Rookie of the Year honors, though Guillen is a good bet for Manager of the Year. Different players stepped up at different times during the season, and in the playoffs. Team is a greatly overused word in sports, and especially in business, but this was a bunch of players in a happy dugout, and much of the credit for that goes to the manager's focus and style.
Fans began to show up at the Cell in late spring when the Sox early success continued into the warmer months. The team drew almost 2.4 million fans. The ballpark is not intimate like Wrigley or Fenway, but has better bathrooms than either, far better food, more comfortable seats, and much more parking. It also costs a lot less to see a game than at either of the aforementioned jewels.
If the Sox win the World Series, it will be Chicago's first baseball title since 1917. The win over the Red Sox in the division series was the first playoff series win of any kind for the Sox since 1917. When the Cubs beat the Braves in 2003, that was their first playoff series win in 95 years. Take away the six Michel Jordan—led Bulls titles in the 90s, and Chicago has been a sports losersville for most of a century, making even Philadelphia look like a city of champions. The Sox, if they can retain their free agents this year, can be a contender for several more years. Things are looking up on the South Side, in more ways than one.
Richard Baehr is political editor of The American Thinker.