Windy City World Series? Holy cow!
CHICAGO -- Ron Santo came to Chicago as an awestruck 20-year-old rookie in 1960, so he's been part of this city's rich baseball scene -- for better, for worse, for a lot of just plain in-between -- for nearly 50 years. Not once in all the time that he played with the Cubs, or that year that he went down to the South Side to play for the White Sox, or in the many seasons since that he's broadcast Cubs' games to a loyal and adoring audience, has he seen his adopted hometown quite like this.
The Cubs have the best record in the National League and lead the NL Central by three games. Across town, the powerful White Sox, against just about everybody's expectations, are leading the American League Central. The summer portends an almost unheard of, almost unbelievable fall convergence of historic significance, a sighting rarer then Halley's Comet. Millions of fans in this baseball-batty city are starting to consider the unthinkable.
A matchup of Chicago's two teams in October? Cubs-White Sox, for everything? A Second City World Series?
"I would worry about somebody getting hurt," says Santo, 68, with a slight but not altogether convincing chuckle that shows he isn't entirely joking. "It would be something, believe me. I couldn't imagine."
These are heady times in the Windy City, a place not used to being center stage when it comes to baseball. Yes, the Sox won the World Series in 2005, an out-of-nowhere accomplishment but one which was, much to the Sox's ongoing annoyance, too quickly forgotten.
Mostly, Chicago has been recognized for its baseball ineptness, a rap that falls squarely on the broad shoulders of the historically stumblebum Cubs, a team that hasn't won a World Series since 1908 or reached a Fall Classic since 1945. Theirs is a history of billy goat curses and drowning sorrows in Wrigleyville taverns, of long winless seasons and September collapses.
Yet this year's Cubs are genuinely different, and that has the entire city -- even the South Side, where the Sox faithful fight off all comers -- champing in anticipation. No fan in a baseball-right mind would want to overlook the final seven weeks of a season, or project a postseason that ends with two Chicago teams in the World Series.
But let's get serious. Fans in this city are not in their right minds right now. They've thought about it. They've dreamed about it. They can see it.
"Oh my god. That would be am-aaa-zing," says Nick Swisher, the White Sox outfielder. "This town would turn upside down. I couldn't even begin to fathom this city if that would happen. I couldn't. I couldn't even tell you how unbelievably rocking this city would be if that's what it came down to."
"You know what it would be like? You know what it would be like? Like Varsity Blues. That movie? Where the town shuts down? That's exactly what it would be. Every bar, every sports bar, every pub would be absolutely packed. You couldn't move."
Swisher is in his first year with the Sox, but he has embraced the city, the restaurants, the bars, the relative grittiness of the South Side. His dad, Steve, played for the Cubs back in the mid-1970s. After less than a year in the city -- and with only a slight taste for its famously hard winters -- Nick, 27, now says he'd like to finish his career here.
"There would be 100,000 people outside the stadium," Swisher says, sinking into his vision. "Ha! Man, that gives me goose bumps."
What makes all the dreaming so fascinating is that it's so close and so possible. The Cubs have what could be their best team in decades, better than the one that frittered away the 2003 NL Championship Series, better than the one that rallied to win the NL Central last season. They have a strong, deep pitching staff featuring a bullpen stocked with closer-type arms. They play good defense. They've scored more runs than anyone in the NL. And, even if they relinquish their Central-division lead -- that's not looking imminent, by any stretch -- the Cubs have a better-than-good chance at making the playoffs as a wild card.
The White Sox aren't the near-cinch that the Cubs are, but they are a veteran team that bangs the ball with the best of them -- no team in either league has hit more home runs -- and is nearly invincible at U.S. Cellular Field, their home park. They've been swapping first place in the AL Central with the Twins for more than a week now in a race that might not be decided until late September.
How rare is this Chicago summer, and how odd could this October turn out to be? The Cubs and the Sox haven't each been in first place this late in the season since 2003. They've been in the playoffs together in the same year only once. That was 1906, when the "Hitless Wonder" White Sox beat the 116-win Cubs, 4-2, in the World Series.