Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chicago's Sox Finally White Again

"Well ole south side of Chicago, is the baddest part of town...."- Jim Croce, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown", 1972

On the face of it it should be another baseball fairytale to follow 2004's Boston Red Sox, whose success in winning the World Series broke "the Curse of the Bambino", which romantically referred to their not having won baseball's premier honour since 1918- the year before they traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees.

The Chicago White Sox stunning 4-0 sweep of the Houston Astros, which culminated last night, brought them their first World Series since 1917, leaving their city rivals the Cubs, whose last title came in 1908, as the sole standard bearers for chronic ineptitude. The Cubs possess their own quixotic legend, that of the "curse of the billy goat", which derives from an incident where a tavern keeper named Sam Sianis was ejected from a 1945 World Series contest for using his second ticket to gain admission for his mangy, tethered billy goat. Sianis, in broken English reportedly proclaimed "never agin will World Series be played in Wrigley Field [the Cubs famous, ivy-festooned home ground]". The Cubs' and Red Sox's status as notorious losers and the pithy stories attached to them came to be used almost as a marketing tool for their respective clubs' management, as they became baseball's most loved teams.

The White Sox, however, never occupied such a warm and cosy place in America's cultural psyche, due to the fact that their supposed hex was the result of an altogether less savoury incident. The 1919 White Sox were the best team in baseball as they prepared to face the Cincinnati Reds in that year's World Series, but, driven by dreadful pay and treatment by owner Charles Comiskey, several of the players conspired to 'throw' the series. The scandal was uncovered the following year, the players banned and arrested, and the 1919 team would come to be known as the 'Black' Sox, in testament to the dastardliness of their conduct.

The Black Sox scandal is one of the defining crises of modern American history, commonly held to signify the loss of the young nation's innocence. This is popularly illustrated by the famous, and probably apocryphal, incident where a young boy shouted "say it ain't so Joe" to the Sox most famous player, 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson as he left the courthouse following the accused players' hearing.

The Chicago White Sox have lived under a cloud since, and are overshadowed even in their own city. The south side of the city, where the Sox reside, is traditionally the more blue-collar, and indeed deprived district in comparison with the more salubrious Wrigleyville, where the Cubs are based. The Cubs, due to their status as lovable losers, tend to be people's second team. Wrigley Field is almost a national monument and the surrounding neighbourhood is filled with sports bars and restaurants that buzz continously around game time. Tickets for the Cubs are infinitely more prized than for the Sox and a trip to Wrigley is a quintessential part of the Chicago experience.

The Sox often struggle to attract crowds and their stadium, the rather less charmingly named U.S. Cellular Field (formerly Comiskey Park) is not a part of the Windy City tourist trail.

Its unlikely that the White Sox will ever redeem from their name the taint of 1919, but as their fans celebrate their comprehensive success today, they surely would not swap it for all the whimsical charm in the world.


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