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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Red-headed Stepchild
by Hal Vickery

By the time you read this, the season will be over, the Sox will have won a minimum of ninety games, and the players will be booking flights home rather than preparing for their first post-season game. It has been a tough season to be a Sox fan. Expectations back in April on opening night were high. Maybe the torrential rain that fell that night was an omen.

One of the more amusing aspects of the baseball dynamic in Chicago was how Cubs fans just naturally assumed that after Boston finally broke their World Championship drought in 2004 and the Sox broke theirs in 2005, it was inevitable that the Cubs would break theirs in 2006. Sox fans, still basking in the glow of the four-game sweep of the Astros the previous October, just smiled condescendingly as Cubs fans informed them, “This is our year.”

The smiles masked what most Sox fans were thinking: “Yeah, right. You’ll win when pigs fly.”

The Chicago media, not knowing what to make of having the wrong team (in their eyes) win it all, jumped on the “our year” bandwagon. It was fun in retrospect hearing WSCR’s Terry Boers going on and on in April about why his prediction of a Cubs pennant was gong to come true despite the fact that neither Mark Prior nor Kerry Wood had yet to throw a pitch, except perhaps with a towel instead of a baseball. It turned out that the Cubs were so fragile that an injury to Derrek Lee was enough to put them into a permanent tailspin.

With all hope of the Cubs doing anything other than crash and burn gone, the media had to find another way to attack the Sox. That came when Sox manager Ozzie Guillen decided to call one of their own a derogatory name. They didn’t exactly come to the “writer’s” defense, but they did take the opportunity to use a statement by Kenny Williams that unless Ozzie started to think before he spoke, there would be a conversation neither of them wanted to mean that Ozzie’s firing was imminent.

Ozzie was now a loose cannon in their eyes, at least for publication, and that gave them several weeks’ worth of stories to write.

The Cubs tailspin gave the mediots a chance to ignore the Sox, who were in a tough battle first with Detroit and then with both the Tigers and the Twins. After all, the Sox being in a pennant race wasn’t news. Maybe it was last year but it wasn’t anymore. Of course that overlooked the fact that the media tended to either ignore the Sox or write with anticipation about their tremendous collapse that didn’t quite turn out the way the writers and sportsblabbers had in mind.

No, the big story was the Cubs annual collapse. This was Dusty Baker’s final contract year after all. The big story in Chicago sports, apparently because a Sox repeat seemed inevitable until a few weeks ago, was the soap opera on the North Side. “Will Dusty be fired?” stories eventually morphed into “When will Dusty be fired?” stories.

Then came late September. The Sox were about to be eliminated. Suddenly there was interest again. The Red Eye, a rag for the intellectually challenged published by the Tribune Co. for its core demographic, published an article commented on here last week comparing the Sox “collapse” this year worse than the Lovable Loser Legends collapse in 1969.

Not to be outdone, the rival Sun-Times put out a story that a major league scout had stated that A.J. Pierzynski’s relationships with Jon Garland and Don Cooper were strained, the dispute with Cooper leading to some kind of altercation back in June. As it turned out, the altercation was an argument back in June about how Piezynski was setting up behind the plate. Garland had no idea what his disagreement with the Sox catcher was supposed to be.

The latter of the September stories wasn’t commented on in this column, but the former was, and it brought an unprecedented four emails in response. It is really interesting what elicits comment, and apparently one of the things that most divides Sox fans, based on email responses to these columns, is the treatment of the Sox by the media, and in particular, how Sox fans should respond to it.

Readers of the WSI message boards are aware of the “flubsession” of a number of Sox fans. In some cases the posts about the media’s love affair with the North Sider Losers has led to bannings of the members posting about it. Of course these were daily postings, whereas here we only comment on media bias when it is so blatant that it can’t be ignored.

Thus last week’s column about Jimmy Greenfield that brought so much response (relatively speaking). I found it interesting that the split was even between those approving of the column and those who put me in the same category as the flubsessed message board fans.

We’ll go first with those who liked the column, starting with JN who writes:

Hi Hal,

I am writing in response to your “Yeah, it hurts” article. I want to thank you for writing it. When I first read Jimmy’s article last week, I was furious and almost e-mailed him with many of the points that you make but I thought what was the point? I mean first he writes for the Red Eye a paper the Tribune can’t even give away and second, the only reason I saw it was that it was on the Tribune’s website for free. However, I thought how desperate fans of those clowns on the other side of town must be that they think that the second half collapse of the Sox is any way something they can lord over our heads. It makes you want to ask Jimmy how the Cubs playoff chances are going. I know that everyone seems to think the Tribune will sell the Cubs but that would be the dumbest thing they can do since clearly they have a team that does not have to produce to garner fans, check out HBO if you need further proof of this. I bet the Tribune unloads all of the salaries they can on that team and replace them with a young team a la the Royals. I bet the chances of the Cubs succeeding with my second idea would be better than carrying around many of the high priced ponies they have. Not that many of their fans would notice.

Then there was RC who wrote:

Hal,

Thank you for putting into words what I could not say myself. I just hope that Greenfield reads it and realizes how idiotic his original article was.

I’ll reserve comment until we hear from those who thought I was a blithering idiot to even mention Greenfield’s ravings. First there was MB (and I don’t mean Mark Buehrle) who wrote the following:

Once again, what do you expect? They got you, hook, line and sinker. Move on Hal. You can't change people and life is too short to waste time on irrelevant points that that the media creates. Please don't tell me you’re the type of person who also gets flustered when Mike North compares his 16 inch softball team to professional baseball. Ignore them. That's one of the reasons the Sox won last year. Fans didn't necessarily show up all the time. They put pressure on the front office to do what they had to do in order to bring a winner to the south side. Conversely, fans on the north side continue to show up and the front office knows it. Why should they change? The White Sox got a taste of winning, more importantly, the GM. He will make sure we get back there, don't worry. We have won-they don't matter anymore.

The final post on the subject came from FC, who had this to say:

Hal,

You've got to learn to ignore the idiots in the media. Why did you even read a story with that title? Ignore them, don't read them, change the station. Life is too short to let them get you upset.

We’ve got a WS Champ in our lifetimes. Slip the DVD in and watch it again. If you’re not smiling, you must have fallen asleep.

The first two emails understand the point while the latter two completely miss it. The point is that the media, and it isn’t just the outlets owned by the Tribune Co., look upon the Sox as the red-headed stepchild of Chicago sports. They have dismissed the Sox as irrelevant, reaching the false conclusion that has been espoused on numerous occasions that the ratio of Cubs to Sox fans in the Chicago area is about 70-30 at best and more likely closer to 75-25.

Many of them are transplants from other cities who moved to the North Side or northwest suburbs. Many of them have fallen into the false, and subtly racist notion that the South Side is a crime-ridden area with nothing but “bad neighborhoods.” One only needs to recall the article that appeared last October in the Tribune about the poverty-stricken housing projects where one could smell the fumes of marijuana in the shadow of U.S. Cellular Field to see how the media perpetuate that myth.

There was a time when the Sox were fairly represented in the papers by columnists such as Bill Gleason, Bill Griffin, and John Carmichael. As they left the scene, they were replaced by out-of-towners who gravitated towards the Cubs, quite likely because of their exposure on the WGN superstation and partly because of where they decided to live.

The papers would love to tell you that they divide coverage right down the middle, but saying it’s so doesn’t make it so. This is particularly true in the case of the Tribune which has an innate conflict of interest since its parent company also happens to own the Cubs.

So when the bias becomes particularly blatant, I simply like to point it out. It has been a recurring theme of this column. It really doesn’t particularly bother me that there is such bias. My comments on media coverage of the Sox make up a small minority of the columns here. I try to reserve comment until the bias goes over the top, as it did with the “collapse” article.

I’d like to conclude with a response to FC. I’d love to watch my World Series video. The problem is my son borrowed it and hasn’t returned it yet. If he does, it may be my primary viewing this month.

______________________________________________________________________

Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

More features from Hal Vickery here!

Have a Thought about
Red-headed Stepchild?

You Can Put it on the Board -- Yes!



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