McGrath: Neither side of town’s baseball team generated much fan interest
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media October 6, 2012 4:36PM
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 02: Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs makes an error against the Houston Astros in the second inning on October 2, 2012 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Updated: November 8, 2012 11:54AM
What does it say about the state of the White Sox when one of the most epic collapses in Chicago baseball history is greeted with yawns, shrugs and I-told-you-so shakes of the head?
Cubs fans are still in a snit about 2004, to say nothing of 1969.
Then again, when a team is in first place for 117 games and draws fewer fans than it did for a dumb, distracting and divisive sideshow the previous season, it’s safe to say that passion has gone missing.
And it might be difficult to track down. The bitter aftertaste of September is going to spoil the flavor of the five heady months that preceded it.
Moreover, payroll concerns engendered by a low turnstile count mean nothing is certain for the Sox in 2013, including the statuses of general manager Ken Williams and the bickering broadcasters.
It only could be worse if the Sox were the Cubs.
Trust us, team president Theo Epstein says, for we have a vision, a plan and a track record.
So did Andy MacPhail, who was brought in to stop the team’s run of futility from reaching the century mark.
MacPhail’s hiring seemed like an inspired move at the time it was made; he had succeeded grandly on a bare-bones budget in Minnesota. But he didn’t generate any of the rock star/savior/savant adulation Cubs fans have lavished on Epstein. And greater expectations mean greater disappointment when they’re not fulfilled.
Yes, it’s going to take awhile, though Epstein appeared to defy that reality when the Red Sox wiped away 86 years of frustration and won it all in 2004, his second season as their general manager. They did it again in 2007, as though to prove the boy genius had the hang of this winning thing.
But if Epstein gets credit for all the good things that happened on his watch in Boston, he bears a share of the responsibility for the train wreck that occurred after he left. The trade that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers repudiated three of Epstein’s boldest moves and revealed the Red Sox’ intent to start over with a cleansed clubhouse.
So a dollop of skepticism is a reasonable response to the front office’s request for trust. Cubs fans have been subsisting on hope for more than a century, but Epstein’s first Cubs team was completely devoid of it.
It wasn’t just the 101 losses; it was the careless errors (hello, Starlin Castro) and inattentive play (yes, you, Brett Jackson) that remained on display in loss
No. 101. But in his postseason post-mortem, Epstein spoke of ‘‘unity, professionalism, effort . . . more of a winning atmosphere than you typically see around losing clubs.’’
Not sure we were watching the same team, boss. And those power arms you’re shrewdly stockpiling in Class A had better get here quickly, or next season is going to be worse.
Epstein also cited the ‘‘Wrigley Field experience’’ as justification for the third-highest ticket prices in baseball, while the business side was floating a plan to add another layer of premium seats and jack those prices even higher. Please.
The quaint old ballyard is such an irreplaceable shrine that the owners can’t wait to get in there and gut it. As soon as they get the money, they’ll transform Wrigley into their vision of what a ballpark should be: a Fenway-like cash cow.
So I’m in my seat at Game 161
on Tuesday night — my $45 ‘‘value’’ seat, not some $3 StubHub knockoff — with my daughter, who has been an unwavering Cubs fan every day of her life, withstanding the temptations of a California upbringing.
Alfonso Soriano was on first base with one out in the fourth inning of a 2-0 game when Castro smoked one into the gap in right-center field. He was thinking triple as he tore out of the batter’s box, but he had to slam on the brakes and retreat as he rounded second because Soriano had just reached third, looking like a cross between Fred Sanford and Jim Thome as he chugged in.
Soriano was among the most dynamic offensive players in baseball when the Cubs signed him six years ago. He was the best player on their team this season on one leg, but they’d love to trade him for more of those power arms to stockpile beyond the horizon.
My daughter sighed as Luis Valbuena and Welington Castillo struck out, bringing a fruitless end to a promising inning.
‘‘I just don’t care anymore,’’ she said glumly.
Apathy has spread beyond the South Side.