September 22, 2003

A Tale of One City: A Storied Season or Fate’s Cruel Joke?

On Tuesday, September 2, 2003, 95,233 baseball fans attended games in Chicago. They witnessed thirty-three innings, 217 at bats by 72 different players, 1023 pitches, and fifty-eight strike outs in 607 minutes of play (“95,233 Served” 10). Typically in September this would be a painful, excruciating experience for Chicagoans, watching as their beloved teams are dismantled, the Cubs in a doubleheader no less. But this season something is drastically different. These games did not send Northsiders, heads hung low, back to the L saying to themselves, “Maybe next year.” On the Southside, fans walked out of U.S. Cellular Field - lovingly nicknamed “The Cell,” or to a smaller few “The Joan” – disheartened by a loss, but not like a skinny kid on the playground whose being kicked while he’s down. This was a small blow, like the kind that makes a prizefighter shake his head and come back swinging harder than before.
Something is terribly wrong. Perhaps it has something to do with the close proximity of Mars to the Earth in recent weeks, but somehow the unfathomable has happened. In mid-September both the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox are very much alive and in the heated battle of pennant races. How is it possible that both the Windy Cities baseball teams can be succeeding simultaneously? It is unheard of for any two of its sports teams doing well in the same decade, let alone having two teams in the same sport vying for spots in the playoffs in the same season. The oldest living person in the Chicagoland area probably is not old enough to remember the last time the Cubs and Sox were in contention for division titles in the same year. In fact, the last times these teams earned a pennant in the same year was 1906 when they last met in the World Series (“Major League Baseball Statistics and History”).
Last season the Cubs lost ninety-five games and the Sox ended up thirteen and a half games out of first place. In one season these teams have transformed into formidable forces in their respective divisions. The Cubs have arguably the best starting rotation of pitchers in the National League; Mark Prior, who went six and six last year, leads the way with a seventeen and six record. The White Sox are being led by a rejuvenated Frank Thomas who, with forty-one homeruns, one-hundred runs batted in, and a .262 average, is performing better than he has in years (“Major League Baseball Statistics and History”). This kind of alignment of events is the kind of harbinger of apocalypse foretold in Revelations. If the Cubs and the Sox both make it through to the playoffs, we can all expect floods, hurricanes, locus, and frogs to follow soon after.
What could possibly lead to such a strange sequence of events? Perhaps Chicago baseball fans’ are finally being paid back for their years of tireless loyalty, their inextinguishable, starry-eyed belief that next year will be their year, their hours spent in the bleachers of Wrigley and Comiskey watching their beloved teams snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Maybe there is some sort of balance in the universe, some sense of justice that will not allow that 80 year old fan nearing the end of his days to die without ever seeing the team he has followed passionately for his entire life- through ups and downs and more downs and more downs - succeed.
Maybe the answer is as simple as magic. It could be that there is just something magical in the air of Chicago this year. The baseball spirits may have decided to turn away from New York and Atlanta and let another city have a storied season for one year. Or maybe Ron Santo didn’t really loose his legs to diabetes. Maybe he sacrificed them in some sort of ritualistic magical pact to guarantee the Cubs a shot at the fall classic. That could be why they decided to retire his number this year. It’s also possible that the toothpick Dusty Baker is always flipping around his mouth holds some sort of magical ability. On the other side of town, there’s a good chance Jerry Manuel sold his soul to the devil to save his job. He may have finally given up trying and taken the path Yankees owner George Steinbrenner took years ago. And that doesn’t mean spending the most money to get the best players. What other explanation is there for the way the Sox turned their season around so drastically?
Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that the success of these teams might be something magical. According to Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey, “Cubs fans are suspicious of the concept of magic because, let’s face it, what has it ever done for them? And they carry this fear that if magic really does exist, then all the good things happening to their team could be one big cosmic practical joke. Magic could have a six sense of humor, and this flirtation with first place just might be a mirage” (1). This outlook seems to be what Chicago fans have come to expect: whenever things are going well, these teams will find some way to mess it up. This season seems to be different. June came and the Cubs and the Sox didn’t swoon. Both teams were doing well at the All-Star break and they’ve continued their success long afterward. But what if it is all just a cruel set up by Fate? What if these teams manage to make another disappointment out of such a promising season? It would just be typical Chicago baseball.
Maybe it would be better for the city if both teams did not have their chance at the fall classic in the same year. The possibilities of what could occur if both of these teams were actually to bring the successful seasons they have been having to fruition are rather frightening. Over the past decade we have all seen the kind of drunken, orgiastic violence that can result from a victory or a loss in a professional sports championship. Chicagoans remember the riots of the early Bulls championships: the overturned cars, the fires, the millions of dollars of damage. In an article from the East Lansing Journal, columnist Robin Swartz described the mentality of rabid fans in championship situations, “We win, we riot. We lose, we riot” (1). This state of mind would present an interesting predicament for a city where two teams could hypothetically go head to head in a championship series. The Cubs and the Sox facing each other in a World Series could only mean one thing for the City of Chicago. Certain Destruction. Whatever the outcome of the series, the streets of Chicago, from 35th Street to Addison Avenue would be filled with angry and elated baseball fans beating each other senseless and destroying everything in site. This could result in the destruction of such landmarks as the Art Institute, the Sears Tower, and the Harold Washington Library. Of course, there is still a week left in the season, plenty of time for these teams to screw up. And if somehow neither of them manage to make the playoffs, we can always tell ourselves, “maybe next year.”

Posted by dpetrella at September 22, 2003 11:35 AM
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