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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Kansas City Blues

Soxual Prime-Time!

by
Guy Bacci

Your physical prime may be in your mid-20s, and your earnings prime may be in your mid-40s, and your sexual prime—well, Viagra has messed up that whole deal—but your White Sox prime is right now. Simply put, these are the greatest years of your Soxified life. You’ve got a World Series ring in your back pocket and a darn good chance for a few more. Not only did your team absolutely dominate the post-season last year, but they came right back the next season and proved themselves repeat contenders. And if there was a shadow of a doubt that these are the best days of your life as a Sox fan, it was wiped away by the utter humiliation the Southsiders smacked on the lowly Cubbies in the first round of the Crosstown Classic this weekend.

No matter how many people complain about interleague play, the Chicago Civil War consistently lives up to the hype. The house is always packed, the atmosphere is always electric, and most importantly, the underdog always puts up an impressive fight. There was 1999, when the slumping Sox swept the surging Cubs, sending the Northsiders into a season-long funk. And the next year, when a lousy Cubs team managed a split against the eventual AL Central champs. Ditto in 2005. Or 2003, when the Sox won four of six against a dominating Cubs’ pitching staff.

But now that a World Series trophy actually resides in Chicago, the Crosstown Classic has lost a little luster. The atmosphere at The Cell this weekend was still electric, but one-sided. The stands were smothered in silver and black, noticeably lacking Cubbie blue. The first two games of the series were one-sided as well, with the Pale Hose romping the Cubs by a total of 13-1, demonstrating just how low the Cubs have sunk, and just how high the Sox are flying.

Bafflingly, Wrigley Field continues to be perpetually sold out. But make no mistake, Cub Nation is a frustrated bunch. The championship on the other side of town has smacked many a happy-go-lucky bleacher bum across the face. Boos reign down from the Wrigley rafters on a regular basis. The pressure is on, and the Cubs are responding miserably. Whether it’s Mike Piazza dropping a three-run, ninth-inning homer into the ridiculous basket at Wrigley, or Dusty Baker spouting one of his typically self-pitying press-conference quotes (“All I can say is if I'm not doing a good enough job when things are going bad, you have to give me the same props when things are going good.”), or Cubs management wasting their time chastising a Tribune writer (yes, it’s true, Andy McPhail thought a Trib beat writer was being too hard on the Cubbies—aw, poor babies!), the Cubs are suffering one of their most embarrassing periods as a franchise.

Meanwhile, the Sox are at their ultimate peak. They pushed all the right buttons in the off-season to improve upon their championship club. Jose Contreras is an early Cy Young candidate and Jim Thome is an early MVP candidate, and somewhere Frank Thomas is limping. They have a colorful manager and a stellar coaching staff that just got extensions. They have a bulldog of a GM and a rising payroll.

So it’s no surprise that after just two hits on Friday and zero runs on Saturday, the Cubs would boil over. The now infamous Saturday brawl—the first significant one in Crosstown Classic history—was a result of the Cubs knowing how bad they are, and a little dash of AJ Pierzynski doing what he does best. AJ wants to get under the opponents’ skin just enough to drive them over the edge, and Cubs’ catcher Michael Barrett took the bait. After a minor collision at home plate on a sac-fly, Barrett sucker-punched Pierzynski as the two stood up. Benches cleared, and Brian Anderson and John Mabry tangled, getting themselves tossed along with the two catchers. Minutes later, Tadahito Iguchi poured salt all over the wound with a grand-slam, sending The Cell into a glorious frenzy.

That’s the kind of moment you get when you’re in your prime, when you’re so much better than your rivals that you actually feel sorry for them. Sox fans have greater aspirations than beating the Cubs, but they’ve been buried under the North Side shadow for so long, there’s a sense of gratification in knowing that—for once—their team is hipper, cooler, and much, much better.

Most importantly, these are the moments that have the potential to convert the younger generation of fans. There’s gotta be a kid or two on the North Side who’s tired of the cruel joke he’s been watching all his life and wants a piece of the fiesta on the other side of town. Come on over, young man. You’ll never go back.

There’s a lot more fun to be had this summer. Detroit is making a race of it, and that only benefits the Sox. A running mate will keep the Sox from becoming complacent, as they may have done last year when they tail-spun into a sudden battle with Cleveland. Success is ultimately in the hands of the pitching staff. Despite the improved offense, the Sox entered Friday’s game two games behind last year’s pace. In 2005, the Sox started 28-12; they’ve started this season 26-14. They’ve hit 16 more homers, are batting 27 points higher, and scoring 1.1 runs more per game, but the team ERA is a full run higher. If you need a reminder that baseball is all about pitching, those numbers present a compelling case.

But it’s clear that the Sox continue to thrive on the big moment. They shined on the October stage, and they ramped it up in front of the big crowds this weekend. When they’re clicking on all cylinders, they are quite simply one of the best teams in club history.

As for the Cubs, they still have another Crosstown series to prove they have some life left in them. That’s about all the July series will mean to either team. No longer are the interleague games Chicago’s World Series.

At least not for one team.


Guy Bacci is from the north suburbs of Chicago, where he couldn't avoid growing up as a pampered and snotty Cubs fan. Luckily, he saw the light in 1985 and never looked back. He loved the hard-working, old-school tactics of Carlton Fisk, who would become his all-time favorite player. His most memorable moment was going to a Sox double-header with his grandfather, who insisted on staying all nine hours (including a long rain delay). Guy is a journalism grad from Northwestern, currently residing in Seattle, where he works as a computer programmer and freelance writer. He can be reached at guybacci@yahoo.com.

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