Let's Play Two

The Dodgers and the Mets were in game five of the division championships and it occurred to me that the winner would be facing the Cubs in the NLCS. As a long time White Sox fan I'd spent the better part of the last three decades hating the Cubs. Normally I'd just assume I'd be pulling for whoever they ended up playing.

However, now I've been on the west coast for so long I've truly become a San Francisco Giants fan. To be a Giants fan means having a deep contempt for the Dodgers. So the idea of a potential Cubs and Dodgers NLCS made me face my true baseball fan soul.

What I discovered is that Tony Bennett has won out over Frank Sinatra and my roots are now truly more on the west coast than the midwest, where I grew up. The true measure of this was revealed to me when I realized in a showdown between the Dodgers and the Cubs I'd have to pull for the Cubs. Mind you I might not have been pulling very hard for them, but anything is better than the Dodgers getting to the World Series.

I guess we’re defined equally by not only the team we root for, but by the team we decide to see as evil incarnate.

There are several things that have made the Giants number one in my heart over the White Sox. Without a doubt winning three World Series in six years didn't hurt, but the fact that the White Sox, as they play in the American League, have a DH and the Giants don't has really changed the way I like to watch baseball played. The game is just better without the DH.

The Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees are rich teams in big markets. The (L.A.) Dodgers and Yankees have thrown their money at the game always feeling that anything less than a World Series Championship is failure. The Cubs, on the other hand, have been satisfied to just take the money from their fans and delivered mediocrity knowing they would still pack their quaint ballpark just by coming close to the playoffs every few years. Success at Wrigley Field has been measured by accountants not championships. It’s hard to like a team that has treated its long suffering fans so callously. Just think if they win the World Series this year they can ride that gravy train for another century. If is often joked about the Cubs that any team can have a bad century. But in fact the Cubs have had a tremendous century, they just haven’t won any championships. The lovable losers have been taking it to the bank for a long time now.

It was this attitude that eventually drove my loyalties from Wrigley Field to Comiskey Park and there they’ll stay in Chicago. I was drawn to the White Sox as, like me, they had to win to succeed. I felt closer to a team that had to produce results than one who was living on a type of inheritance and was milking it for all it was worth. It took a lot to drive me away from the team of my youth and the first place I ever saw a major league baseball game, but the Cubs did it.

My mother loves the Cubs and so if they do win I will be very happy for her and the other Cub fans so desperately praying for their beloved Cubbies to finally break the fabled curse. The same goes for the players who will be the real champions if they can pull it off. However, the ownership of this fabled franchise should not be let off the hook. They could have pulled this off much sooner with the resources at their command. The reason the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908 is not due to the players or fans, but due to the callous economic interests of the various owners over the years.

I was lucky to visit Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. It was an amazing experience for someone who loves baseball and nothing moved me more than the plaque honoring Ernie Banks. Behind me in my office sits a framed scorecard my dad kept when he took me to a game in Wrigley Field on August 24th, 1962, the day after my ninth birthday. Warren Spahn pitched for the Milwaukee Braves and Hank Aaron hit a home run. A young player named Lou Brock was playing center field for the Cubs. Billy Williams was in right and Santo was on third. The Cubs lost. On the front of that scorecard are the autographs of Don Landrum, Ken Hubbs and the incomparable Ernie Banks all scored for me by my dad.

So for my mom, dad, Ernie and that beautiful game in 1962 I will root for the Cubs to make it this time in spite of the suits who have run the franchise so cynically for the last century. Terrible owners have given Chicago the Black Sox and a hundred years of frustration for generations of faithful Cub fans. It’s time to think about the game, not them.

“Let’s play two,” said Ernie, the most beautiful quote in baseball. For the next two weeks, I’ll be a Cubs fan.

How I Came to Love the White Sox, Hate the Cubs and what that has to do with wine

I love the White Sox. I hate the Cubs. A strange situation as I grew up a Cubs fan and my mom still loves them, watching every game she can. My dad loved the Cubs and they were my introduction to the Majors. There’s nothing quite as heartwarming to me as the memories of my parents taking me to Wrigley Field as a child. As I write this, just behind me is a framed scorecard of a game they took me to on August 24th, 1962, a day after my 9th birthday. Warren Spahn pitched for the then Milwaukee Braves. Hank Aaron hit a home run in the 4th. Lou Brock was playing centerfield for the Cubs (they made the brilliant trade to the Cardinals in 1964), Billy Williams was in left, Santo was at third, Atlman was at first giving Ernie Banks a day off.  The Cubs lost ten to one. On the other side of the scorecard  are the autographs of Ernie Banks, Don Landrum and Ken Hubbs, who was at second that day. I’m sure few remember Ken Hubbs. He was star to me, but he was killed in a plane crash in 1964 after only three seasons that included becoming the first rookie to win a Gold Glove and National League Rookie of the Year. Hot dogs were 30 cents, PBR 35 cents, cigarettes 35 cents and cigars went for 10 cents, 15 cents or 25 cents depending on how much of a connoisseur you were. 

 It is my most valued possession and someday will be passed to my son Colin. For some, expensive watches become heirlooms, but I can’t think of anything more valuable than this old scorecard and the detailed penciled history of that single game that my dad passed on to his son, grandson and certainly great grandchildren after that. On the day he died he had a Manhattan, watched the Cubs, then died in his sleep that night. He would of thought it a good last day.

As you can see baseball means a lot to me. So how could I desert the team of my childhood and my father? It happened slowly and took many seasons. Things started to unraveling in 1984 when the Cubs choked in the playoffs, winning the first two in a best out of five against San Diego then going on to lose three straight to be eliminated. On top of this I had started hanging out with some White Sox fans and went to many games on the South Side with them. Also, as is common in Illinois, it was not that my family was without White Sox sympathizers as my grandfather Chester was a Sox fan as is my Uncle Gene.

Over the years I went to both ball parks, gradually gravitating to Comiskey over Wrigley.  By the early 90’s I rarely went to Wrigley, but I did not actively root against the Cubs. How could I? Then in 1997 it happened, inter-league play was introduced. I actually thought the games would be fun with good sports all around, after all, at the end of the day a Chicago team would be the winner. I could not have been more wrong. I did not anticipate the wrath of the Cubs fans, who, I’m happy to say lost that first series just as they did the 1906 World Series against the Sox, which was the last time they’d played each other in games that counted.  

It was only this experience that opened my eyes to why I had abandoned the Cubs and adopted the White Sox. The White Sox have to win to draw fans: to succeed. They were just like me. On the other hand were the Cubs who consistently packed tourists into their Field of Dreams stadium (I admit I love Wrigley) who cared little if the home team won or lost. The remainder of the seats at Wrigley are filled by beer-fueled bankers/lawyers/accountants/traders with little tattoos hidden under their pinstripes and loosened ties to brand them as the rebels they imagine themselves. It’s hard to take seriously a team that has a stadium packed with people who barely know the score, but never miss getting in their last round of beers. Oblivion makes people accept the idea that any team can have a bad century.

The White Sox have to win. The Cubs can wallow in mediocrity and still rake in the dough. Like I said, the Sox are just like me and they’re just like you. Now we get to the part where it has to do with wine.

There are a lot of Chicago Cubs in the wine business. Wineries that haven’t hit a home run in years, but still live on past glories and fans that just don’t pay attention to the actual score. They have famous names and play in beautiful ball parks, but most are well on their way to having a losing century, just like the Cubs. Some people must feel that bland is beautiful. 

You’ll always get more for your money buying wine from winemakers who have to win, who are driven to win. Winemakers and ball teams do not get to the World Series by trying to play it safe. No guts, no glory.  

Many of the biggest names in wine offer more fame than personality. What’s in the bottle should be more important than what’s on the outside. Wrigley Field is a great package with a famous name, but the quality of what’s inside leaves a lot to be desired. Just because sales are good doesn’t mean the product deserves it.

Rooting for the White Sox of the wine world will get you not only better wines: you also get to watch better baseball in the process.

Go Sox!