Call me crazy, but it’s a Sox town
JOE COWLEY firstname.lastname@example.org February 10, 2011 11:18PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
It was a nice little run for the North Side.
There was drama, Sammy Sosa’s hop and then flop, a sold-out ballpark/museum on a daily basis, a fall guy named Bartman and even a few wins and division titles thrown in along the way.
But it’s over.
It’s a Cubs town no more.
Beginning next week and playing out all summer long, the only relevant baseball team in New Gotham is at 35th and Shields. Yes, for the first time in decades, this town belongs to the White Sox.
Stop right here — I already know what you’re thinking. I’m insane. And not just a little bit, but Heath Ledger’s Joker insane.
Your first argument will be the attendance at Wrigley compared to The Cell. So let’s start there.
Showing up to games year after year, no matter what the product on the field gives you back, is a learned behavior — sort of like rats in a maze searching for cheese. The rat learns the maze, learns where the cheese is placed and eventually goes to it without thought, even when the cheese is taken away. The rat doesn’t know anything else.
But the cheese trick is now going on 103 years old, and that maze crumbles whenever a high wind hits the North Side.
Even rats can only be kicked around for so long before they’ve had enough.
Cubbie fans have had enough.
That was evident with all the empty seats at Wrigley Field the final two months of the 2010 season. And these were not fans refusing to buy tickets, but fans who paid for the tickets and simply couldn’t stomach going.
It was evident with the booing at the Cubs Convention when general manager Jim Hendry and team president Crane Kenney were introduced.
Cubbie living legend Ryne Sandberg has turned his back on an organization that turned its back on him, and manager Mike Quade went from appearing on the side of a milk carton to interim manager to now full-time skipper almost overnight. Don Baylor, Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella and now Quade. This is about where you cue up the “One of these things is not like the other . . . ’’ music.
Now take the nine-mile ride south on the Red Line.
The Sox slowly have been gaining national attention after their 2005 World Series run, thanks in large part to a say-anything manager in Ozzie Guillen and a no-nonsense GM in Ken Williams.
When Major League Baseball wanted to do another “Real World’’ version of a team last year, the Sox were choice No. 1 to be ‘‘The Club.’’ Why? Because nationally the Sox are the most interesting soap opera going in sports.
Then, when it seemed like the roller-coaster ride was ending in the aftermath of the Guillen-Williams feud, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf not only gave the nod to pick up the club option and make sure Guillen was locked up through 2012, but he went on a winter spending spree never seen before on the South Side.
The Sox aren’t only dangerous off the field, but on it.
The chance that Chicago finally sees a Red Line World Series has reached almost mythical proportions, somewhere between seeing a Sasquatch and riding a unicorn. But what if the baseball gods smile down on both sides of town and say, “2011 is the year’’? A lot would have to go right for both teams.
Hendry was actually sneaky good this offseason, renting Carlos Pena for a year in hopes that the first baseman would rebound from hitting well below his weight (.196 last year) and then acquiring pitcher Matt Garza to give him a top of the rotation that features Garza, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.
In the past, Hendry would use the checkbook as a Band-Aid, and the result was painting himself into a corner with bad contracts. Forced to use creativity to change the roster, Jimbo actually delivered this winter.
That doesn’t mean he’s still not dead man walking as Cubs GM, but he at least gave himself a temporary pardon.
The problem with the Cubs is too many what-ifs: If Kosuke Fukudome can put a full season together. If Starlin Castro can avoid a sophomore slump. If Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano can play as if they’re interested. If Zambrano can start hugging Gatorade coolers rather than slaying them.
It doesn’t help the Cubs that the National League Central isn’t the punch line it was a few seasons ago, with Cincinnati young and good, St. Louis looking to rebound and Milwaukee adding ace Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to its starting rotation.
It’s hard to get excited about a team that showed such little life in 2010. In the past, the Cubs were a story even when they were bad. Now, they are bordering on irrelevant, even in the city they once owned.
After years of dominance by the American League, the tide continued to turn this offseason. According to Vegas, Boston is the early favorite to represent the AL in the World Series, but after that, throw a dart at a board.
That’s where the Sox come in.
After crying broke and talking youth movement at the GM meetings in November, Williams surprised everyone by re-signing Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski, as well as adding free agents Adam Dunn, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman to make the Sox a legitimate threat to winning the division for a third time in the last seven years.
Dunn gives the Sox as powerful a middle of the order as there is in the Central, while the starting staff — when healthy — has no holes one through five. It’s the “when healthy’’ that’s the key, however.
Jake Peavy’s return from season-ending surgery to repair a torn right lat muscle is the only story line that matters heading into camp. A healthy Peavy means a dominant staff — and a nasty bullpen.
The contingency plan to hold down Peavy’s spot until he’s ready is lefty rookie Chris Sale. Sale, however, could become one of the more dominant closers in the AL if given that spot. That’s why all eyes will be on Peavy and what the exact timetable for a return will be.
Even better news for the Sox: Despite added revenue from the new Target Field opening last year, Minnesota seemed to sleepwalk through the winter, hoping the “Twins Way’’ again will be enough to win a division.
It might be, but with a depleted bullpen, a new-look infield and questions lurking about the concussion suffered by slugger Justin Morneau, it’s hard to make Minnesota the favorite. If anything, Detroit might be a bigger threat than Minnesota.
Best bet is there will be playoff baseball in Chicago in October, but only for one team — the Sox. It’s now their town, so it might as well be their time.