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WSI News - Sox Fans Sound Off!

 

Your Chance to Sound Off about the Sox!  Learn more here!

Rich Lindberg & the few but proud Sox Fans

by Phil Allard

“Someday this country will awaken from its delusional love affair with the Cubs. The media-driven hype surrounding Wrigley Field is fueled by Hollywood, the Chicago Tribune, and the drunken frat boys who populate the cozy Ivy-laced stadium because it is a social event. Not a baseball game.” 

So says big Clyde, a White Sox fan who lives in downtown Chicago, in an apartment off Michigan Avenue.   

If you listen to the vocal minority in the Windy City, there are a group of brave insurgent rebels—small in number, large in spirit—who are out to save their city and the country from what they perceive to be a great evil, namely the Cubs. 

I wanted to find out more about what fuels these proud few—these rabid White Sox fans who stay steadfastly loyal to their team, so I sought out White Sox and Chicago historian Richard Lindberg. Mr. Lindberg has written numerous books about the White Sox and the city of Chicago, including The Armchair Companion to Chicago Sports; The White Sox Encyclopedia; Stealing First in a Two-Team Town: The White Sox From Comiskey to Reinsdorf; Who's On Third? The Chicago White Sox Story; Stuck on the Sox; and The Macmillan White Sox Encyclopedia.  

To find out more about Richard Lindberg, visit his website at http://www.richardlindberg.net

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Phil Allard: Richard, I’m exploring the media bias against the White Sox in Chicago. Who is better to talk to you than you?  A White Sox historian with four books on the team.  

RICHARD LINDBERG: As a White Sox fan, it’s something I’ve lived through all my life. I grew up in Cub neighborhoods. So I’ve experienced it firsthand. My experience is as a fan and as a Chicagoan. I’ve worn different hats for the White Sox and have been a sort of unofficial team historian. I work for the White Sox as labor of love. In the mid 1980s, I worked with the guys in the front office on the press guide.  

Phil Allard: I read that you went to the library and copied box scores from microfiche files of every White Sox game from 1900-1966. That’s mind-boggling dedication.   

RICHARD LINDBERG: Most of the information before 1967 was missing and there was absolutely nothing before 1950. Previous ownership packed it up and took it with them. In 1981, the flotsam and jetsam of six decades were in two small file cabinets. In the 1960s and 1970s, history wasn’t as important as it is now. Now teams can market history, especially in this memorabilia age.  

Phil Allard: How did Chicago become a Cubs’ town?  

RICHARD LINDBERG: The White Sox were the dominant team in Chicago during two phases of their existence. From 1901 to 1920 and from 1951 to 1967.  The Cubs didn’t even publish a Yearbook through some of the years in that second era. But in 1967, the White Sox really hit a wall. First there was the rise of the Cubs and the popularity of many of their players. The demographics of the area around Comiskey Park were changing and there were real fears on the part of the fan base. It’s reflected in the declining attendance. When you consider that the year’s attendance by 1970 was only 495,000, things had changed very quickly.  In 1968 and 1969 the Sox were playing some road games in Milwaukee when Veeck was scouting out potential franchise relocation.  

Phil Allard: How close did the White Sox get to moving? 

RICHARD LINDBERG: There have been four times since 1969 when the White Sox were on the verge of leaving. They were bound for Seattle in 1975. They were bound for Denver in 1979-80 when Veeck was making secret negotiations with Marvin Davis. And in 1988 when the new stadium issue was at the forefront, they were bound for Florida. White Sox have been on the bubble four times in 25 years. Few teams have suffered that fate.  

Phil Allard: All the while the fan base disintegrated.  

RICHARD LINDBERG: The disintegration of the fan base is a long and painful story. The first erosion of the fanbase began after the Black Sox scandal. Before 1920, the White Sox were the dominant team in Chicago. Beginning in 1920, generations of White Sox fans were lost. Then the Cubs became good and the White Sox weren’t. It’s that simple. Also, fans began to prefer the high octane offense that a place like Wrigley field could generate. The White Sox couldn’t provide that in their pitcher-friendly ballpark.

After World War II, Sox games were played mostly at night; as a result there wasn’t much TV exposure.  WGN filled up their daytime programming with Cubs games day after day. The kids would watch BOZO the clown and then the Cubs came on at 1:15pm. WGN provided a natural outlet for the Cubs and 2/3s of the Cubs schedule was on that station. Night games for the Sox were not covered much. Night games were not covered unless it was a pennant race; or there might be a few from Cleveland or New York. So the White Sox exposure was extremely limited.  

Add to that the changing demographics of the South Side. There was, of course, a great migration of blacks up from the South. The Irish near the ballpark moved out. The Black fans patronized the ballpark really only during the Jackie Robinson era, and then the novelty wore off. It became too hard for people from the suburbs to travel to Comiskey. That affected the night attendance. It took too long to get there and by then the ballpark was even crumbling. It wasn’t maintained properly and it never had the charm of Wrigley.  

Most of all it was TV publicity that hurt. By 1966 the White Sox got frustrated with WGN and they moved to a UHF channel. But to see the game you had to buy a cable antenna. You had to hook it up and the signal was weak with lots of snow.  

Phil Allard: You really had to work harder to be a White Sox fan. 

RICHARD LINDBERG: Oh Yes. And this coincided with the Cubs getting better in the late 1960s and they had the colorful Jack Brickhouse broadcasting for them. The White Sox had a former horse race announcer who was not very good. This all conspired to bury the Sox, along with their terrible play. The team was on the verge of bankruptcy and they struggled over the next decade. What this current owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, has done is come in and restore financial stability.  

Phil Allard: Reinsdorf is viewed with suspect by most White Sox fans and baseball fans in general.  

RICHARD LINDBERG: Sox fans truly detest him, but they should give him credit for one thing. They no longer have to worry about this team being on the bubble financially. They are not moving away.  

The bar used to be a million fans. Now it’s two million, but they haven’t drawn two million since 1993. They are on course for two million this year, but the Cubs will draw three million and most teams with this record would draw 2.5. So it’s still kind of pitiful.  

Phil Allard: There must be a certain camaraderie involved with being a White Sox fan, Persecution being passed on from father to son. 

RICHARD LINDBERG: They have a real chip on their shoulder, like any minority group that feels persecuted. Up until the late 1960s, we had four newspapers in this town and the coverage was fairly even. Then you could pick out the writers who were partial to the Sox. John Carmichael is in the baseball Hall of Fame. Warren Brown wrote the first history of the team in 1951. John Justin Smith had his “Voice from the Grandstand” column. After 1968 a new generation of writers replaced these guys. Then Rick Tally from the Tribune made no secret of his partisanship to the Cubs. Rather than jousting with Sox fans, he completely ignored them and didn’t even write about them. He devoted every thing to the Cubs. Then one by one new writers came in who followed suit. Then of course in 1984 the Cubs stole Harry Carry from the White Sox. The whole community around Wrigley became gentrified. These new writers were not born and raised in Chicago; they were recruited from the sunbelt. They don’t know much about the history or the passions of the fans from each team and they compare the two ballparks and decide that Wrigley is the place to be. So they shill for the Cubs.  

A Chicago Tribune writer told me it makes economic sense to favor the Cubs. Marketing tells them that 2/3 of the readers are Cubs fans. Even in 1970, before the Tribune bought the Cubs, Veeck would measure column inches and he found it disproportionate in favor of the Cubs. That was one of the reasons he decided he was going to sell the team to Marvin Davis who was going to move the team to Denver but the deal fell through.  

Phil Allard: I assume that if the White Sox won the World Series the headline in the Tribune the next day might be “Prior Says He’ll be Ready for Spring Training.”  

RICHARD LINDBERG: You’ve got that right.  I remember in ‘93 when Jordan announced his first retirement when the Sox were in the playoffs and Jordan completely dominated the headlines. The Sox got no press. You know, the Sun Times has this guy Jay Mariotti. He is the Howard Stern of baseball writers. He has a column and he has made Reinsdorf his whipping boy. It’s a personal vendetta. Reinsdorf tried to get him fired and of course it didn’t work and Mariotti increased his diatribe against Reinsdorf two notches. Everything he writes about the Sox comes up negative. A recent article was “Don’t Buy what Ozzie is selling.” Columnists will always find a subtle dig. If a player complains about playing time it’s brought to the forefront. I compare the White Sox coverage from the Sun Times and the Tribune  with how other teams in the Central are covered by their home town papers and I see the positive level of enthusiasm in the single team cities.  

Phil Allard: You read the Minnesota papers and see how they treat the Twins and see all these wonderful stories and why can’t Chicago papers treat the White Sox that way.  

RICHARD LINDBERG: I’ll give you an example. The Sun Times have a feature they call the Sammy Sosa watch. Sammy was the biggest thing tin town last ten years. When Mark Prior was on the disabled list the Tribune was updating his medical condition every day. So Frank Thomas goes down for the entire season last July and Sox fans wrote heated letters to the Tribune asking why there wasn’t a Frank Thomas watch. That’s just the way it is. If they get into the playoffs you can bet there will be some Cub news that pushed them off the pages. My tone is angry but if I look at this as an objective observer, this bias is what I see. 

Phil Allard: How about the relationship between the fans of both teams. 

RICHARD LINDBERG: There is strong hatred between fan bases. White Sox fans detest Cub Fans. There was a bar on the south side that put up a banner that said “Go Marlins” when the Cubs were in the playoffs in ‘03. Most Sox fans say that if the Cubs were in the  World Series, they would root hard for whoever the Cubs were playing. 

Phil Allard: Even if it were the Yankees 

RICHARD LINDBERG: Absolutely, when Florida played a game in Comiskey because of one of the hurricanes, 5,000 curious fans Sox fans came and rooted for the Marlins because they were trying to nudge the Cubs out of the playoffs. Cubs fans will say that Sox fans care more about what the Cubs are doing than about their own team. And sometimes that’s true. White Sox fans will not blindly support their team. They hate the owner and don’t like the park. But they are more pure baseball fans.

What Wrigley is about is a group of people aged 20-40, white suburbanites. They buy the $200 Kerry Wood jersey and go into Wrigley and start beer sloshing. It’s the world’s largest beer garden. If you break down the numbers of the three million, 1.6 million are legit Cubs fans. The other 1.4 are busloads of people coming in from Iowa, Indiana and College kids getting hammered with their hats on backward. They think the whole town is a Cub town.  

Phil Allard: Are you guys going to get to the series this year?  

RICHARD LINDBERG: I will be happy just to get there. We are not greedy. Every playoff since ‘83 the Sox have been abysmal. Their hitting goes cold.  

Phil Allard: What is most painful near miss? 

RICHARD LINDBERG: The ‘64 and ‘67 seasons when I was a boy. In ‘67 they were in first place from the beginning of the season until August. From August 1 on there was a four-way dogfight between Boston, Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit, and you know they were celebrating in Boston and it was a horrible end to a great season. In ‘64 they lost out to the Yankees by one game. They had won eight in a row at the end of the season and we were waiting on the Yanks-Indians game. But the last game the Yanks beat Cleveland.  

In ’83, My Who’s on Third book came out in paperback and the Sox could have gone to the World Series but Tito Landrum hit a three-run homer off Burns and there went that pennant. In ‘93 against Toronto, well, Toronto was just a well-balanced ballclub. In 2000 against Seattle, we had a chance but we were so worried about playing Cleveland that Seattle mowed us down. But ‘64 and ‘67 were the worse. Even though they are having a good season now, people like me afraid that some horrible injury will happen to Mark Buehrle. A nine or ten game lead is not safe.  

Phil Allard: Am I right in saying that White Sox fans don’t talk about curse the way Cubs fans do?  

RICHARD LINDBERG: The Curse of the Billy Goat is absurd. One of the oldest generation of writers, Condon, started writing about this one day. It was forgotten in ‘50s and ‘60s. It became a marketing tool. It got a life of its won. The real curse is the White Sox. After 1920, the team went in the toilet after the first two decades. They were the corner stone franchise. American League was headquartered in Chicago. After 1920 the Sox fell out. From 1921 through 1959, there was only one season, 1940, when they were in a race. They lost a whole generation of fans.  

Phil Allard: Richard, I thank you and leave you with the words of Bill Veeck:  

"The White Sox had long ago tested the loyalty of their rooters; the weak and faint of heart had fallen by the wayside and only the strong, the dedicated and the masochistic remained.
If there is any justice in this world, to be a White Sox fan freed a man from any other form of penance.

 -Bill Veeck from Veeck, As in Wreck

 

Phil Allard is a staff writer for NYYFANS.COM and a baseball columnist for sportsfanmagazine.com. You can reach him at hardrain@optonline.net.


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