I will never understand the rivalry that exists between the fans of Chicago’s two baseball teams. I think it is something that develops at birth. I was not born here. I did not grow up here. I missed out. I came to Chicago as an adult. Granted, a tabula rasa when it came to professional baseball– but I still missed out. I think it is too late for me.
I understand that a division exists: as much as Chicago likes to describe itself as a diverse collection of peoples, places, things and ideas I’m convinced that what is really important to Chicagoans is not Chicago, but the local block. So we have a city of almost three million people. In that city I see more people describe themselves by their sports teams, political alliances, and neighborhoods than the city at large. “I’m from Bridgeport.” “I’m a Bulls fan.” “Me? Wicker Park hippy-artist.” That trend plays on stereotypes both good and bad. I mean both kind and unkind. Whirl expressed that she has never lived anywhere where so many people were so concerned about how she ate something. Pizza has to be like this. Nobody puts ketchup on a hot dog! We’re fat and happy and God damn it all we want you to be fat and happy, too.
As a curious counterpoint, I notice most suburbanites identifying themselves as Chicagoans rather than Palos Hillfolk, Oakbrookians or Schaumburgers.
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Last night’s game between the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers was a treat. It showed teamwork. It showed skill. It showed drive and determination. It was a joy to watch. Last night’s game was also the first game in major league history to feature all of the following events. Each of these is something special in its own right, but to have all three happen in one game for the same team. Incredible:
- a no-hitter (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) (Mark Buehrle)
- a multi-home run game (2) (Jim Thome)
- a grand slam (Jermaine Dye)
And just for good measure: That walk Buerhle issued was to Sammy Sosa. Buerhle picked Sosa off first base two pitches later. Oh, and Jerry Hairston Jr. gets tossed out the game for arguing with the umpires about being thrown out at first base on a bang-bang play. Buehrle has long been one of the majors’ fastest working pitchers. He completed this no-hitter in two hours and three minutes.
This is why I love baseball.
Opening Day has come and gone this week. The Chicago White Sox have lost their first two games of the season. While I listened to game three against the Cleveland Indians, yesterday, it occurred to me that I had finished my last book and needed another. Bottom of the ninth, game tied 3-3. Mark Buerhle left the game in the top of the second after a line drive put a giant bruise on his left arm– his pitching arm.
Jermaine Dye singles; Rob Mackowiak pinch runs. Joe Crede singles, Mackowiak to second. Failed pickoff attempt to second base sends the ball to center field, Mackowiak to third, Crede to second. Tadahito Iguchi intentionally walks, bases loaded. A.J. Pierzynski batting: ball one. Then, Pierzynski is hit by the pitch, Mackowiak scores. Game over.
Pitching and moaning, indeed. This is not the way I like to see wins happen. Nevertheless, it is a win.
In 1998, Stephen King published The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. This would be the last book he would publish before his injury. The story follows a nine year-old girl, Trisha McFarland, as she wanders off the Appalachian Trail and into the dark woods. I cannot say as I blame her. The constant infighting between her mother and her older brother would drive me off the trail, too. But these are Stephen King dark woods, full of peril and terror. For solace, Trisha tunes her Walkman to the Boston Red Sox game and follows the gritty performance of her hero, the closer, Tom Gordon.
In 2004, in the chronicle of the Red Sox season, Faithful, Stuart O’Nan poses King the question: now that Gordon is pitching for the Yankees does that girl still love him? It is a good question. King, so far, has left it unanswered.
Spring is on its way. And spring means one important thing: baseball season. I have decided to set aside reading books I should have read in high school; I have had my fill of books about murder. I want something fun. I want baseball. Bill Veeck was a Chicago native and worked for many years in professional baseball in this town. Both sides of the town. He’s responsible for the ivy at Wrigley Field, the exploding scoreboard at Old Comiskey and Harry Carry’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” seventh-inning stretch.
Bill Veeck defines what it means to be a character. This autobiography, written in 1961 is an uncompromising look at professional baseball. According to the jacket, it promises to be, “… an uproarious book packed with baseball history and some of the most entertaining stories in all of sports literature.” Just in time for spring.
I have not written about baseball in a while. And there has been a lot to write about; I suspect many of the topics have already been covered by more insightful authors. Moreover, I doubt that most of my loyal audience is drawn in by my peculiar insight into sport. No, my thoughts comprise an alternate form of gnostic turpitude.
What I wish to present is a stylized conversation about baseball fandom I have been holding with some friends of mine. Two voices, niqui and I, are Chicago White Sox fans. The third, InleRah, is a New York Yankees fan. InleRah is first cousin to Yankees’ phenom, Derek Jeter.
We begin in early August. The White Sox host the Yankees in Chicago. niqui and I attend the game—even having our picture taken by the White Sox marketing machine. It is an exciting game. Scott Podsednik makes the first White Sox out of the game trying to stretch a double into a triple. Joe Crede drives in two runs with a single and a solo homer in the fourth. Paul Konerko ties it up with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth against Mariano Rivera. There are a number of other gaffes, goofs and guffaws, but the Sox manage to find a way to win in the bottom of the eleventh. For a moment it seems a lot like last year. I come home to find a simple message from InleRah waiting for me: Damned Sox!
And that sparks the conversation. The next night it is my turn to mutter about the damned Yankees. InleRah describes that second game: It had us all muttering, believe me. Taking a near perfect game into the seventh with a seven-run lead only to have your closer almost but not quite blow it in the ninth, for a second day in a row. That he even had to be in there is grumbly enough. Sigh. Baseball. It will drive you crazy.
For me discouragement comes in the bases loaded, no outs, heart of the order bottom of the seventh. No runs. Nothing. Not to get any runs out of that situation with the height of the offense at the plate—that is tough. That the loss dropped the White Sox to third in the division felt like salt in fresh wounds.
For completeness I should state that the White Sox go on to win the third game of the series 5-4—helped out by two Yankees errors. Minnesota’s loss to the Blue Jays means that the White Sox were back in front of the Tiger hunt.
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Most fans know that gamblers and ballplayers conspired to “fix” the 1919 World Series— but “eight men out” does not begin to adequately describe the Black Sox. Gene Carney explores what else happened in the nearly year-long cover-up: How Charles Comiskey, Ban Johnson and Kenesaw Mountain Landis tried to bury the incident, control the damage and how they failed; and how “Shoeless” Joe Jackson attempted to clear his name.
The Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper chronicles the astounding 2005 season— interlaced with a lifetime of thoughts, memories and anecdotes about what it means to be a fan of the White Sox.
Read more as a follow-up to Game of Shadows—a primer, actually. This selection of essays by Bob Costas is a few years old. Originally written in 2000, he clearly and eloquently discusses a number of the difficulties with professional baseball in the 90s. My opinion of Costas continues to turn around.
I’ve just finished reading Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams’ book Game of Shadows. The book chronicles the BALCO illegal drug trade and subsequent federal investigations in sport—preeminently Olympic track and field and professional baseball. It pays particular attention to Barry Bonds, detailing compelling evidence that Bonds has used illegal drugs for years. The authors are not alone in describing this behavior as cheating.
Steroids, doping, juicing—these elements are not particularly new to the world of sports. It has been going on for years, decades—the entire lifetime of some endeavors like body-building. “The Chemical Era” of baseball consumes the 90s. Bob Costas wrote just last month:
Only segregation represents a greater blot on the game’s history and integrity. The Black Sox scandal of 1919 involved one team, one year. Pete Rose—one guy. The steroid era, still ongoing, likely involved every team, and more players than we can count. Baseball can’t have it both ways: It can’t celebrate its history and revere its records, and then turn a blind eye when its history and its record book are poisoned.
Former baseball commissioner Fay Vincent has stated “everything in the 1990s is tainted now.” He goes on to dishearteningly agree that the most hallowed records in baseball—755 and 61—are a little less hallowed now.
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With homerun number 715* no longer speculation but fact, I decided to read this remarkable work of investigative journalism. San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams broke this story— a story that continues to break my heart with every swing of his bat.