U.S. Cellular Field is the new name of the park that will host this year's All-Star Game, but it may be years before anyone refers to the place as anything other than Comiskey, or New Comiskey, which came into vogue after the original ballpark was demolished, in 1991. The newly renamed park—fans will appreciate the improvements we're making with the signage money, says Reinsdorf—is not exactly sterile, but it has roughly the charm of a clean utensil drawer.
Wrigley, on the other hand, is a quaint little relic from the days when elevators and parking lots weren't on ballpark architects' radar. Wrigley is so nestled into its yuppified neighborhood that its outside wall at one point is only 7� feet from the gutter of Addison Street. "A lot of the Sox fans' problems with the Cubs is jealousy," admits former White Sox home run champ Bill Melton, himself a diehard Sox man. Melton means the Wrigley attendance—which is huge regardless of the Cubs' performance. (The past five seasons were among the Cubs' six best attendance years ever at Wrigley, despite the team's having finished a combined 107� games out of first place over that span.) He also means the festive atmosphere in a ballyard surrounded by dozens of bars, restaurants and million-dollar condos. "But Wrigley is a dump," Melton says. "I'd love to hit there. But it's a dump."
A dump can be beautiful and rare in its way, which is why the city of Chicago is trying to designate Wrigley a historic landmark. Naturally, Cubs ownership, the Tribune Company, doesn't want such a distinction. You can't build more skyboxes in a landmark or add giant bleachers to it. That's another thing: Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley is a born-and-raised South Side Sox fan, like his dad, former mayor Richard J. (Boss) Daley, and you always wonder if Junior wouldn't like to stick it to the Cubs somehow.
But the North Side Cubs have a unique quality that seems to be tamper-proof. Let's let Bill Jauss, the veteran Tribune sports-writer and a North Sider through and through—and, of course, the son of a Cubs fan—explain. "I have interviewed literally hundreds of Cubs fans around the park, made it a point to talk to them after excruciating losses," says Jauss. "I ask them, 'Did you have fun?' And about 90 percent say yes. I ask them why. Well, we saw the girls fall out of their halter tops. The beer was cold. The breeze was off the lake. What's better on a summer afternoon ?
"The answers imply that the Cubs are not in the baseball business but the entertainment business. And the biggest entertainer in the troupe is Sosa. You can see it in the kids' faces. [ Former White Sox manager] Jeff Torborg told me last year that when he sees Sammy run out before the first pitch—with his right hand up and his finger pointed to the sky, his head down, sprinting as fast as he possibly can, circling in front of the rightfield bleachers in a counterclockwise fashion toward centerfield and back—he gets goose bumps.
" Santo wore his emotions on his sleeve. Hank Sauer before him. The fans loved Rod Beck. The Cubs don't have to win to entertain. And the '69 Cubs epitomized that. When else has a loser been so glorified? Sox fans are more discriminating. They think they know more baseball than Cubs fans. They think they're all Tony La Russas. In the meantime the Cubs fans are having more fun."
That wasn't always the case, because the sly and effervescent charlatan Bill Veeck once ran the White Sox, bringing in midgets and spaceships and all manner of nonsense to amuse folks and deflect awareness that he had almost no money to invest in players. Veeck was once an executive with the Cubs, too—it was he who planted the first ivy at Wrigley—but his heart was on the South Side, where he could work with the common man who would happily come to his baseball sideshow. "Listen to me carefully now," Veeck wrote in The Hustler's Handbook, "because if you are a hustler, you are going to start out with a bad team. A bad ball club is generally the available one, the cheaper one, and the one you can best bring your talents to bear upon."
" Hoyt Wilhelm one time was pitching [for the Orioles] at Comiskey, and he was attacked by furious clouds of gnats," recalls Jauss. "He just smiled. He suspected Bill Veeck."
One of Veeck's friends, 81-year-old Chicago sportswriting legend Bill Gleason, retired these past two years, points out that there are other divisions in Sox-Cubs fandom besides geography or even economic class. "It's religious," the Irish Catholic South Sider says. "The Cubs started with Protestants on the West Side. Comiskey came in with the newer American League club, and the Irish Catholics were down here on the South Side. My grandfather, who came from Tipperary, was a Sox fan, and my father, who was born in Joliet, came up on the Inter-urban to old White Sox Park at 39th and Wentworth. I'm a Sox fan. I have two brothers who are Sox fans and one sister who is. Another sister became a heretic, a Cubs fan. My father said, 'I'd rather she left the church.'
"In 1959 Mayor Daley and his pals set off the air-raid sirens after the Sox clinched the pennant, and it scared a lot of little old ladies on the South Side—they thought we were being attacked by the Russkies." Gleason pauses to reflect. He sighs. "It was so typical of the Sox, to get all excited and do the wrong thing. I'm convinced the White Sox are cursed. The Black Sox scandal is proof of that. Ray Schalk was the catcher on that team, and if you ever used the words Black Sox or scandal in his presence, you would hear a stream of curse words. He referred to it only as '1919.' But it destroyed the Sox. They lost eight players. Schalk told me, "There never would have been any f———Yankees if it weren't for 1919!' "