[Ed. - In case you hadn't noticed, Myles Phelps has been contributing with some regularity around here, and that figures to continue. So, he's now a legit "contributor" to the site, and he'll be publishing pieces under his own name from time to time. Welcome to Myles, and enjoy.]
I remember “the incident” so clearly.
It was 1998, in the midst of the McGwire vs. Sosa home run race. I was still a kid and my family had gotten tickets to go see the White Sox play in Wrigley on a hot June Saturday. I didn’t know a lot about the game as a whole. But I knew I liked the Cubs. The reason I “knew” was because my great-grandpa, grandma, and parents told me so. So as far as I was concerned, there were no “other options.” It was the Chicago Cubs and everyone else. For me, other teams didn’t even exist.
Except the White Sox.
The name itself made me cringe as I was growing up. I knew nothing about their organization other than the fact that they were Chicago’s “other team.” But, through my pre, pre-teen eyes, I saw their horribly ugly colors and assumed that all of them smelled bad and worshiped Satan prior to gametime.
Coming into Wrigley on that day in June was actually pretty special. We had arrived extra early to walk around when my grandma spotted Ron Santo from far-off walking into the WGN trailer. He stopped after hearing her yell, “RON!!! OH MY! RON!!!!!” He laughed and willingly signed our tickets and gave my grandma a big hug – something she still talks about. It was a great omen to what I considered a huge game and huge series based on no criteria whatsoever.
It was clearly already a special day. But again, I understood little about the game. I knew 2 things: (1) Sammy and McGwire had been going back and forth in the home run race; and (2) Kerry Wood’s rookie season was off to an amazing start having just struck out 20 batters a month before. Beyond that, I had no knowledge of anything else in the baseball world. All I could comprehend was that our family bled blue and the Cubs were the better team. Who could argue with that?
Seeing people wear White Sox hats around Wrigley literally scared me. I just didn’t know what they might be capable of. I remember passing by people in Frank Thomas jerseys and walking just a little bit closer to my dad. I didn’t know what type of evil and awful people would do such a horrible thing as root for “the other team.” I was excited to beat them. We had to prove we were better.
As we watched the game, the 7th inning rolled around, and my dad took my buddy Stewart and me to the bathroom. For those that have been to a Wrigley bathroom in the 7th inning of a ballgame, you know that (1) it’s packed, (2) people are drunk as hell, and (3) it smells like someone dumped out 30 bags of peanuts, poured beer on them, and then peed.
That’s when “the incident” happened.
As the cattle herd of people are walking inch by inch towards the glorious exit, we heard a loyal Cubs fan yell out an intelligent baseball thought: “Hey, White Sox suck!”
In response, a bearded White Sox fan dressed in all black and wearing sun glasses yelled with a southern accent, “Ya’ll seen Sosa today? He sucks, too!”
Both were valid points at the time I suppose. Sosa wasn’t having a good day as I recall and, in my opinion, the White Sox did in fact suck.
Others didn’t share my careful analysis.
“Boos” rained down from every direct. Which, if you think about it, is confusing. Who was booing whom? There looked to be an equal amount of Cubs and Sox fans present in that bathroom. How do you solve that dispute? Is it whoever boos loudest wins? Are the sides supposed to take turns booing until they amicably agree that one side booed better? I’m still unsure.
But that’s when the pushing and shoving began.
My dad grabbed Stewart and me and said, “Time to go.” Of course, I wanted to stay and watch but I never found out how it ended. Probably very boring. But maybe someone was stabbed. I’ll never really know.
As we walked back to our seats, I was confused. Why did that Cubs fan yell that? We’re supposed to be the “classy” team, right? That’s what this series was all about … proving that. Right?
That was the day I learned we weren’t necessarily any better. There really was no such thing as “the classy team.” Every team has their good fans and bad fans – the Cubs included. That’s sports in general.
As I grew up and learned more about the game, I realized that, truthfully, the Crosstown Series doesn’t matter. It’s simply a necessary evil. The fans of the White Sox aren’t Satan worshiping folks. Sure some are idiots. But so are some Cubs fans (see the guy that dumped a full beer on Shane Victorino’s head 3 years ago)
It’s a good way for each club to sell tickets, no matter what place each team is in. And guess what? They’ve been selling out for years (at Wrigley anyway [Ed. - Though maybe not this year.]). But I hate it. I hate it because it pits Chicago against itself. It brings out the worst in fans. Nothing is truly gained from winning except for being able to tell your next door neighbor or roommate that his/her team got beat. Then you go back to eating your chicken pot pie and telling yourself that you really should hit the gym (What? No, this didn’t happen to me! Fine, yes it did).
This isn’t a rivalry. Sure you get a win. But a true rivalry is one where the standings are impacted greatly. The Cardinals, the Brewers, the Reds. These are the Cubs rivals. [Ed. - The Pirates just collectively shoved their hands in their pockets and kicked dirt.] The games played against these teams matter. They impact the standings immensely. They set-up postseason play. They mean something.
The series between the Cubs and the Sox is a fun one, no doubt. But let’s not get caught up in it. Take it for what it is this year: an interleague series between two sub-par teams. Remember that we’re all in Chicago. We share this city and probably always will. This is baseball. If you love the game, pay attention. You can learn something, even from the other team.
I’ll never like the Sox. But I’ll always love baseball. That’s where I’ve made the distinction. Let’s just not get carried away.