The Crosstown “Classic:” Why Should Anyone Care About The Cubs Playing The Sox?

[from The A.V. Club Chicago, with Andy Seifert / June 10, 2010]

Andrew: Andy, do you know happens this weekend? I’ll give you a hint: It starts with a “C” and ends with your favorite team getting its collective ass kicked by mine. Of course, like clockwork, the naysayers are out in full force trying to talk down the series, saying there are more important matchups to worry about, and that everything changed after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. How weak!

Look, here’s what changed after 2005: A certain minor-league team at Clark and Addison was exposed as a fraud, and it makes me chuckle when the same Cub fans who previously couldn’t wait to take shots at the White Sox talk about saving their energy for the series with division rivals, as though “real baseball” were ever the small bears’ M.O. You know what happens if the Cubs save their energy for division rivals? The same thing that happens when they play anyone else: failure, sadness, and dread in the hearts of the Cubbie faithful. Still, I can see why those fans would try to downplay the crosstown series: It’s one thing to lose to crappy teams like the Pirates and Astros, as the Cubs have been all season long, but it must be torture to lose to the crappy team next door.

Andy: I see what you’re doing Andrew, and it’s adorable. You’re taking potshots at my team, trying to crawl under my skin in an attempt to make me jump up indignantly and accidentally spill Old Style all over my khaki shorts and offensive “Ozzie Guillen mows Wrigley Field” or “Horry Kow” T-shirt. You can keep on pounding your war drum and setting our “W” flag on fire, but it’s not going to make this series any more relevant. Personally, I don’t harbor animosity for the White Sox, and I suspect there’s a pretty large contingency of Cubs who don’t necessarily love or hate the South Siders—they just couldn’t care less. Yeah, you play down the street from us. Yeah, Sox fans find a way to seamlessly insert a “Cubs can suck it” remark into casual conversation about, say, the Middle East peace talks. But what good is this rivalry if the Cubs can’t beat the Pirates and the Sox can’t beat the Indians?

See, the Cubs already have the bane of their existence, and it’s the Cardinals. Spending five series a year spewing vitriol at each another and wondering how any organization could embrace Tony La Russa and the Mark “Not talking bout the past” McGwire is pretty draining. Naturally, we’ll choose to direct our unbridled anger at the team we’ve played more than 2,000 times and that historically has been a thorn in our sides and an annoyance at all levels. As for Sox-Cubs, it’s pretty damning if the two teams have to artificially drum up hostility in the form of the BP Crosstown Cup. By the way, who’s having a worse year: the Cubs, the Sox, or BP? Tough call.

Andrew: You know, I’ve never understood that Cubs-Cardinals rivalry. When the Cardinals have 10 World Series wins and the Cubs come through roughly one-fifth as often, how could the Redbirds possibly see them as a threat?

Truth be told, Andy, they don’t. No one does. Revise all the history you want, talk about the golden years of the Sosa/Prior/Wood non-dynasty or how non-Hall-of-Famer Ron Santo led the team to that historic second-place finish, but in the end, the only thorn in the Cubs’ collective side is the threat of rising gas prices keeping the tour buses from making the trip from Iowa. They’re a third-rate franchise, one made even worse by what’s happening on the field. Good to see Alfonso Soriano hitting so well three years too late; even better to see “ace” Carlos Zambrano win a spot in the rotation out of desperate necessity while Michael Vick Aramis Ramirez puts up numbers even the White Sox’s pitiful lineup can laugh at. But even if the Sox and Cubs both trail their respective leagues in every category that counts, winning the Crosstown series will at least make one of them the best baseball team this city has to offer. How can you deny the value of that kind of civic pride?

Andy: Sure, there’s civic pride, but it’s infinitesimal and short-lived. Does anybody even remember who won the series the last few years? Even if the Sox win the Crosstown Cup, by the following Tuesday the line of thought will be back to, “Did Gordon Beckham just strike out swinging at a pitch that was headed toward his neck? The trading deadline can’t come soon enough.” It’d be the same deal if the Cubs won. See, Sox fans and Cubs fans are more alike than either side wants to admit. Both experience small bursts of blissful success (’05 for the Sox, ’08 for the Cubs) in the middle of an ocean of self-loathing, and the bleak agony we’re both experiencing this season is the quintessential, most natural experience of sports fandom. We’re supposed to feel like crap unless we’re legitimate contenders, and some ho-hum victory over the Sox isn’t going to automatically make the Cubs the NL Central favorites. At best, it means they’re about as good as the Nationals, and maybe a bit better than a top-tier Triple-A squad. Hooray?

There is one thing that could change my mind, and that’s if the series is highly competitive and wildly emotional. Something like Álex Ríos plowing into Mike Fontenot—abandoning all pretense of sliding—to break up a double play, Alfonso Soriano breaking his nose laying out for a fly ball, and a minimum of two bench-clearing brawls. Something needs to stanch my apathy, and that something is blood. And maybe A.J. Pierzynski tackling a defenseless Derrek Lee from behind. If the squads displayed interminable anger for one another and were willing to throw sportsmanship out the window, that would be a blast. But as much as Sox fans want to throw Cubs fans into the fires of Hades, the players on either side aren’t caught up in this rivalry. How many players have stuck around with these teams long enough to develop any civic pride for Chicago—maybe three or four? I’d guess that instead of fiercely contested, extra-inning thrillers, we’ll be relegated to watching lazy blowouts that showcase both of our team’s debilitating weaknesses. My prediction: A 3-3 tie, with the Cubs winning the last game, thus winning the Crosstown Cup, and causing Sox fans to bemoan that it was actually a tie. Hopefully, this all ends with Cubs and Sox fans uniting to blow up the trophy, a la the Bartman ball.