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WSI News - Season Features

August, 2000.  Even as the Sox closing on a division title, anxiety is high amongst Chicago's fans. 

Ghosts of '69

by Jeff Zimmer

The ghosts have been getting louder. They’ve been threatening to spoil what has been a great season on the South Side. The Sox have been pounding the ball and much of the American League for most of the year. Yet Chicago can’t quite let it all hang out, embrace the team and completely enjoy the moment. Chicago fears the ghosts of 1969.

I was 12 years old that fateful year. On July 20th, men first walked on the moon. On August 14th, the Cubs opened a 9.5 game lead. The entire city seemed to have Cub Fever. Anything was possible. A month later. My friends Macko and Paz and I learned it wasn’t.

I guess once you get your heart broken, it’s hard to give as completely of yourself ever again. The city seems the same way. It’s more than a northside/southside, Cubs/Sox issue. This goes to the very soul of the city.

The Cubs let us down again in 1970 and again in 1971. Trice scorned, I slowly found myself (sacrilege for a northsider) becoming a Sox fan. While the Cubs were trading off beloved regulars like Holtzman, Williams, Jenkins, Kessinger and Beckert, the Sox had all the hot baseball attractions: Harry, Wilber, Richie “Call me Dick”, Bill Veeck, night baseball and a more adult attitude toward baseball (the loathsome “Holy Cow” mascot aside).

The Sox had some great pennant chases: ’72 when an injury to Bill Melton probably cost them the division; ’77 when Zisk, Soderholm and Gamble became the South Side Hit Men; and the ’83 Sox of Fisk, Luzinski and yes, Baines that won the division by a whopping 20 games, then suddenly forgot to how to hit in the playoffs. None of these had the same impact as that Cub team of ‘69. Nor did the Cub disappointments in ’84 and ’89. Cub fans almost seemed to expect that grounder to go through Durham’s legs. (Having moved to California in the ‘80’s, it’s easier to cheer for both Chicago teams)

So who can blame the city if it seems even more leery to giving away its heart? It remembers far too well another team that seemed to mature after seasons of losing, built up a huge lead, only to wind up 8 games out when the dust cleared. It left the city stunned. One would’ve hoped Michael Jordan had exorcised the ghosts of losing. But no, this is baseball.

The two teams couldn’t be more different. The Sox bludgeon their enemies to death. They’ve already outhomered the “Cub Power” team of 1969. The Cubs had a pitching staff anchored by Jenkins, Hands, and Holtzman, any of which would be the staff ace on the south side right now. Durocher’s staff had 58 complete games. The Sox have 5. The boys of the year 2000 steal bases, hit and run and lead the league in errors. The Cubs stole all of 30 bases in 1969, but had a gold glove infield. The infielders all went to the All-Star game that year, including catcher Randy Hundley.

Finally, the Sox are managed by the quiet, Gandhi-like Jerry Manuel. This is his first dip into the managerial pool. The Cubs had fan favorite Leo the Lip, who had managed the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, and had played alongside Babe Ruth. He also wore out his regulars and drove his players to the point of mutiny.

In 1969, if you had told Macko, Paz or myself that 31 years later we’d still be waiting to see a Chicago team in the World Series, we’d have laughed in your face. But that was before. With every game Cleveland cuts off the once 11 ½ game lead, the ghosts get louder. Will the Sox be able to avoid the Cubs’ fate? If so, then perhaps this team will finally get a nickname: the Ghostbusters.

Editor's Note:  Jeff Zimmer is a Chicagoan forced to live in LA due to professional reasons. He has written for "Talk Soup", and "Not Necessarily the News" among other shows and has a special, "The Television Show with John Henson" airing Saturday night, September 2nd on ABC-TV. Check out his website at  Go Sox! 


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