With the Cubs coming to town to play the Astros this weekend, and with the Chicago Blackhawks 2 games away from winning their first title in 50 seasons, my thoughts have turned back to the summers of 40 years ago, and to a question that still makes my blood boil. Why do Cub fans hate the White Sox?
I know, I know—you say “who cares, they’re both losers”. But to a middle-aged man, who once was a boy who loved and played baseball, who grew-up following baseball teams in the Midwest, and who has endured at least two decades of watching the Cubs become the team that people across the country have come to love, the question still burns. For those of you who may still have that boy or girl inside of you, you’ll understand why the question matters—so here goes.
Where I grew-up, and when I grew-up, there were only two teams that mattered to most fans: the Cubs and the Cardinals. It was the era of the National League’s dominance of the All-Star Game, and, from 1967 through 1972, it was an era when one or both teams were very competitive. However, regardless of which team was on top of the standings, the only games that people cared about all summer were the games between the Cubs and Cardinals. Alternating caravans would be scheduled to shuttle friends and families from all over Central Illinois to either Busch Stadium or Wrigley Field for those series, and the anticipation and the good-natured arguments would fill the air.
But, I was a White Sox fan.
I still am a White Sox fan (though I long ago adopted the Astros as my favorite National League team, which made those last weeks of October, 2005, a very conflicting, though thoroughly memorable, time for me).
I never hated the Cubs (how could you hate Ernie Banks, Ron Santo or Billie Williams?). However, my friends who were Cub fans despised the White Sox (and the American League—I was often alone rooting for the American League in those years on the night of the All-Star Game or during the World Series).
So, why do Cub fans hate the White Sox, and why has America come to love the Cubs and ignore the White Sox? Was it a continued generational anger over the White Sox beating the Cubs in their only World Series meeting—in 1906!?! Was it due to some residual feeling of betrayal because 8 members of the White Sox of 1919 threw the World Series? Was it because people believed that the Cubs were a better franchise that has endured a phenomenal stretch of bad luck?
Let’s start with the last question. To do that, I want to give you some comparisons to think about.
In the 110 seasons (including the present one) since the inauguration of the American League, and with it, the Modern Era of Major League Baseball, here’s how the two franchises have performed:
- The White Sox have had 63 seasons in which they finished .500 or better, the Cubs have had only 53 such seasons (less than half);
- In the 60 seasons since the start of the Korean War, the White Sox have had 38 winning seasons (and had a remarkable stretch of 18-straight winning seasons spanning most of the 1950s and 1960s), the Cubs have had only 20 winning season during the same period;
- The White Sox have won 3 World Championships, the Cubs only 2;
- In the “Decade of the Pitcher”—the 1960s—the White Sox had the best, combined pitching staff in baseball for six years in a row (from 1963-1968) during which time they had team ERAs of less than 3.00 every year (no other team has ever accomplished that feat); and
- The Cubs have finished in last place 15 times in 110 years, the White Sox only 7.
Even during the franchise’s “wilderness” years from 1921 (after the Black Sox scandal stripped the team of 8 of its star players) to the Korean War (approximately 30 seasons), the White Sox had 9 seasons in which they finished .500 or better—comparable to the Cubs’ performance over the last 60 years. So, it shouldn’t be the comparable performance of the franchises that explains the differing attitudes toward each team, because arguably the White Sox franchise has performed better, year-in and year-out, than the Cubs. The reason must be something else.
After crunching these numbers and pouring over the history over the last few nights, here’s what I think it is—a combination of our parents’/grandparents’ memories, the demographics of Chicago, the New York Yankees, TV, and (alas) mediocrity.
For the first 20 seasons of the Modern Era, which is known as the “dead-ball era”, both teams dominated their respective leagues: the Cubs had 14 winning seasons, 5 pennants and two championships; while the White Sox had 16 winning seasons, 3 pennants, and two championships. Then, fortunes changed for both teams when two things happened at about the same time: the Black Sox scandal broke; and the “live-ball era” started. From 1921 through 1950, the Cubs had 19 winning seasons (with a stretch of 17 out of 18 winning seasons—and four pennants—from 1922 through 1939); while the White Sox had only 9 winning seasons. Those years are now considered the “Golden Age” of the “live-ball era”, and it was the era when our parents or grandparents were growing-up and formed their team allegiances—and in Chicago, and throughout the Midwest, they followed the Cubs while the Sox hibernated (though the Sox produced four Hall of Famers during that era: Ray Schalk and Red Faber, who both survived the Black Sox scandal; Ted Lyons; and Luke Appling). As with political allegiance, we usually inherit the team allegiance of our parents (usually our father’s allegiance).
Being the team from the South Side of Chicago didn’t help the Sox. Before World War I, the South Side was where the action was in Chicago, and where most of the city’s elite lived—even Federal Judge, and later Baseball Commissioner, Kennesaw Mountain Landis called the South Side home. After World War I, with prohibition, crime, the migration of African-Americans from the South, and the migration of the city’s elite to the North Shore communities along Lake Michigan, the South Side changed—at first slowly, and then, dramatically after World War II. As the neighborhoods around Comiskey Park changed, and the suburbs grew, it became easier—and safer—to attend games at Wrigley Field.
As for competition, the Cubs only faced the Yankees during 4 World Series between 1929 and 1938, while the White Sox had to play them all the time, every summer. When all but the most rabid baseball fans look back on the era from 1921 to 1964, only one team comes to mind: the New York Yankees. That team has even eclipsed the memory of some great teams in the American League, including the 1927-32 Philadelphia Athletics; the 1934-1940 Detroit Tigers; the 1938-1950 Red Sox; and the 1948-1959 Cleveland Indians. So, is it any wonder that, when the White Sox awoke in 1951 and started their amazing 18-year stretch of winning seasons (with possibly the best pitching, year-in and year-out, that any franchise has ever had), no one noticed—even in Chicago, where the that stretch coincided with the span of Ernie Banks’ career? Even when the White Sox won the American League in 1959, it was seen as an aberration in the middle of a Yankee era, not as a deserved accomplishment of a very good team.
When the games began to be broadcast on local TV by WGN, a generation of kids were able to watch an afternoon game, sandwiched between playing outside in the morning and evening. Because, more often than not, that afternoon game was a Cubs game (because the Cubs only played day games at Wrigley Field, while the White Sox often played at night), a generation of kids in the Midwest grew-up following the Cubs—and that continued when WGN went national on cable TV. Watch WGN now, and the ratio of Cub games to White Sox games shown on that station is still about 3 to 1.
Finally, when the Cubs were good, they were very good. Let’s give the Cubs some credit, they have had more 100 -win seasons than the White Sox (5 to 1), and have won more pennants (10 to 6), and made more playoff appearances (16 to 9). Statistically, the best White Sox teams since the Black Sox scandal lost in the playoffs to Baltimore in 1983, and lost a chance to make the playoffs due to the strike of 1994. When second and third place finishes become what a franchise is known for, it is easy to eventually ignore such a team.
But hate it? I think all of these factors explain why America, and even Chicagoans, can be forgiven for ignoring the White Sox all these years—but it doesn’t explain why Cub fans hate the White Sox.
Alas, I think the answer to that question may just be the difference in their comparable performances over the years. Maybe, deep-down, a Cub fan knows (and envies) that, year-in and year-out, White Sox fans usually are still watching their team with hope on Labor Day, while Cubs fans usually are getting ready for “next year” by August—and my guess is that they hate that feeling.
Here’s to another summer, to baseball, and to what will probably be another Labor Day still filled with hope for a pennant in Chicago–for White Sox fans!