Think of it: There are experts who say (if you condense their many thoughts and select the ones you like) that the Cubs and the White Sox will meet this October in a subway series. Then there is reality. Deep down, Chicagoans know—history has proved—that their baseball dreams are just bubbles. New York can have its Bronx- Queens classics with the Yankees and the Mets. But the odds against the Cubs going 95 years without a World Series crown are huge. And the odds against the Cubs and the Sox giving one city 180 years of combined futility are, according to Elias Sports Bureau, 10,000 to 1. Which is to say, statistically implausible. Yet true.
"Maybe there's somebody up there not looking after us," says former star White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce.
What all that losing has done is unite the teams' fans in an unacknowledged bond of self-contempt. The hope is there—Chicago is a hardworking, extreme-weather town that handles even February with optimism—but not the deep-seated belief that either team will amount to anything. The Cubs had the metal removed from their spines in the storied collapse of 1969—up by 9� games in August, they finished eight behind the Mets. The Sox had a giddy pennant drive in 1959 and then were slapped aside by the Dodgers in the World Series. That, of course, was 44 years ago, the last time either Chicago team would play for it all.
But the Sox also had 1983, when they won their division by 20 games and were promptly thrashed by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Championship Series. Worst bummer of all, though, was 1994, the strike year. The Sox had their best team in decades—led by guitar-playing pitcher Jack McDowell and young slugger Frank Thomas, they were 21 games over .500 when baseball shut down—only to see it neutered by the strike, with management's biggest nut-cutter being the Sox' chairman, Jerry Reinsdorf.
"Oh, poor Chicago," says Pierce, who played on that '59 team, never dreaming it would be a pinnacle that would erode like a spring ice chunk in Lake Michigan. "That's a long time ago. You think about a big city like this, and you think there's something wrong. The Cubs in 1984—you couldn't believe that could happen."
Oh, right. The '84 Cubs of Ryne Sandberg and Rick Sutcliffe fame were up two-zip on the San Diego Padres in the five-game National League Championship Series, then lost three straight. And let's not forget 1998, when the Cubs and their fans celebrated wildly after the club won a wild-card playoff game against the Giants. The reward? A 3-0 divisional spankfest on the Atlanta Braves' knee.
Bill Peterson, the Chicago-born star of the TV show CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, is a Chicago sports fan of such intensity that he once left the film set of Manhunter in Atlanta and took a commercial flight to Washington, D.C., for a few hours just so he could watch the Bears play on TV. He is a Cubs fan and is on the April cover of Men's Journal, sitting at a bar with other rabid Cubs nuts.
"It's all about Fergie Jenkins and Ernie and Ron Santo," Peterson says. "A tie to your childhood." And, of course, dislocation makes the tie grow stronger. "I sit here in Los Angeles," says Peterson, "and it's just a wasteland. In Chicago you have elements to contend with. Here it's 76 degrees, it's perfect And you know what? It sucks."
That's a Chicago sentiment. That's where the empathy for the '69 Cubs comes from. Hey, folks, we know how scrawny Don Kessinger suffered in that September heat. Hey, I once lost my car in a snowdrift. Kessinger was nearly a skeleton by Labor Day.
Peterson says he would root for the White Sox if there were no Cubs, and at any rate, "I don't root against them." But the Sox have what he describes as "bad dynamics." Many Cubs fans agree. "Man, they used to have exciting guys like Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox. Now, Frank Thomas, Mark Buehrle, Bartolo Colon? Like I could care? There are heroes on the North Side. Thomas is a mope. Snap out of it! Plus, I hate the park."