Thursday, October 27, 2005
Last night I didn't have much to say about the World Series. It was pretty late, I was tired and, frankly, drained from an endless string of nail-biters. It was really fun to watch (in retrospect, of course; my ulcer treatments will have to begin soon) and I thought I'd never see a baseball championship in this town. The last out was surreal for me--I kept thinking there had to be another game to play, another team to defeat, another series to sweat through. But, no, this was it. It was over and my team had won it all.
If you had told me 25 years ago that it would take, well, another 25 years to witness this I would have been, on the one hand, very disappointed at the notion of waiting a quarter-century to do it but, on the other hand, thrilled that it actually would happen.
When I was wee lad, I grew up in a house that didn't have Cubs/Sox divisions. Honestly, I don't remember there being any type of Cubs/Sox division. Certainly not in my Northwest Side neighborhood. Not among relatives or friends, not in school...not anywhere. There were allegiances of course; my eldest sister has always been a rabid White Sox fan and my dad grew up in his earliest years near Comiskey Park. My youngest sister and I, having been indoctrinated into baseball early in our pint-sized years, favored the Cubs and were even allowed to travel to games by ourselves. Imagine that nowadays: two kids, 12 and 9 (or thereabouts), taking two buses and attending a ballgame by themselves. We would have enough money to ride the bus, purchase grandstand tickets ($1.50 each!), and buy a hot dog and a Coke. And it was all we needed. Back in those days, the grandstand seats were the sections in the lower deck at Wrigley that began just past the support posts. And they were general admission so if you were like us, you'd get there just before the gates opened, charge up to the first row behind the boxes--we always sat on the first base line between home and first--and hunker down for batting practice. On most days, because the Cubs played day games exclusively and because they weren't that good, we had little competition. Good times.
So how did I make my transition to favor the team from the South Side? Well, I recall the first game I went to at old Comiskey. The Sox were playing the Twins. It was back in the days when they had that goofy artificial turf infield and real grass outfield. An affront to the baseball gods and quite possibly one of the reasons we have been punished with non-winners all these years! Anyway, compared with my familiar route to Wrigley, going to Comiskey was like traveling to a foreign country. My conversion didn't begin right then.
Then came 1977.
In 1977, I was a 13-year-old punk. Ok, I wasn't a punk, but I was 13 and that's bad enough. My aforementioned Sox fan sister decided that was the year that she would introduce me to night games at Comiskey. And I was hooked. Big crowds, boozing, brawling...I loved it all. All I could think to myself was, "This is where I want to hang out. This is cool." And the Sox had the South Side Hit Men that season, really mostly a bunch of second-rate players that played way over their heads for a good portion of the season, ultimately losing out to the hated, and much more talented, Kansas City Royals. But that was a great year. Almost every game we would wait for the players to come out afterward, just to get a glimpse and maybe an autograph. For night games that was kind of scary, because that meant hanging around as late as 11:30-12:00am and then taking two els and a bus home. To be diplomatic, the area around Comiskey was, ahem, vaguely threatening in those days. My parents used to get piiiiiiiiiiissed. My sister took me to 21 games that season and I saw every team except the Yanks. You know, because screw them. Or maybe we couldn't get tickets, I don't remember.
This is not about Cubs vs. Sox. To me that is just wasted energy. This is just my reflection on how I came to be sitting on my couch in 2005, stomach curdling as Bobby Jenks tried to salt away a 1-0 win.
By '83 I was old enough to attend games with my friends. Another year that was a total blast. In those days (how much of an old man am I?), you could get a "bleacher" ticket for three bucks. The bleachers at that time consisted of the benches beyond the 445-foot center field wall. There was room for maybe 1000 people there. But we sat there whenever we could, soaking up the atmosphere and hoping the beer vendors wouldn't card us. My favorite memory from that season was a Monday night game against the Yankees, back when they had Monday Night Baseball. Yep, Howard Cosell was in the house. The Sox were rolling then, it was probably July or August. They pummelled the Yanks that night and Greg Luzinski jacked a home run onto the left field roof. Beautiful stuff. We had dreams of the World Series that night.
Alas, it was not to be. The Sox, of course, did win their division that season, compiling an identical record to this year's team (99-63). We knew that the series against Baltimore would likely crown the next champion. I took the day off from my afternoon job after college to watch game 1. Lamarr Hoyt was on the mound and the Sox won a nail-biter 2-1. The O's took the next two lopsided games, but we thought we had a chance in the final two with Britt Burns and then Hoyt again. Burns pitched an outstanding game, scoreless through nine but then that horrifying three run homer by Tito Landrum in the tenth. Tito Effing Landrum. We would never see Hoyt for game five and, as expected, Baltimore went on to crush the Phils in the WS.
During a series of very bland years in the 80s my interest drifted in and out. The Sox did nothing remarkable during that time, I had different things going in my life--finishing school, moving out, making ham-handed and unsuccessful passes at women out of my league (basically any woman with a pulse and reasonable personal hygiene). When the early 90s came around though, suddenly the White Sox had assembled a decent staff and some exciting players, led by Frank Thomas. When they finally hit their stride in '93, they looked poised to make some noise in the playoffs and they did...but again to no avail. I attended the frigid game five against the Jays that year. So many missed chances in that game. I distinctly remember Robin Ventura crushing a ball down the line with men on base...only to see it land a few feet foul. A late rally by Toronto put the game out of reach and the Sox couldn't touch Dave Stewart throughout the series.
'94 should have been the year. On paper, it was. The Sox were in first place, had a great pitching staff and a solid lineup. Then the strike came. The Sox were a startling 67-46 when it came crashing down. Frank Thomas was batting .353 with 38 home runs with 101 RBI. The playoffs never took place. Of all years for a season-ending strike, why did it have to be this one? I think that year more than any other I felt like we were doomed. It just never seemed to be in the cards.
The 2000 season was the next foray into the playoffs, but this one would prove to be more fruitless than any of the previous post-season efforts. Once again, I found myself at game 2 (with Stoj!). But once again the Sox didn't hit in the clutch. A home run by Jay Buhner took the air out of everyone and an 0-2 deficit at home quickly turned into an 0-3 loss in Seattle. For all the build-up of the muscular Sox lineup during the season, they were unable to do much hitting in the playoffs.
So there I was, five years later, watching the impossible unfold. Every time something went wrong during a game I was convinced it was our death knell, the "thing" that everyone would write about years later as the moment that turned the tide against us and sent us down the familiar memory hole of postseason failures past. Oddly, it never happened. Every time something went wrong, it went bad for the other team for once. At no time did I allow myself to get comfortable. As each game passed I thought, ok we won this won but it can go south tomorrow. But it never happened. And there they are, World Champs.
And the Bears are in first place!posted by the wolf | 9:04 AM