Since I arrived in Chicago almost 10 years ago, I've been told many times that Chicago is a "football town." But make no mistake about it, nothing makes this town go like baseball. There's nothing like baseball at Wrigley Field on a summer afternoon, as the Cubs turn the stadium and the surrounding neighborhoods into a rollicking festival.
And U.S. Cellular Field has quickly become one of the best family-friendly deals in town. I took my 7-year-old and 5-year-old to their first big-league game this summer and my daughter is still talking about how she "beat that White Sox player in a race!" (The "Race Scott Podsednik" game in skills area out in left field). But the not-so-friendly rivalry between the two sides of town reached a fever pitch this post-season. And not in a good way.
I guess I knew we were heading in this direction all the way back in July. The All-Star Game squads were announced on Sunday, July 6th and the White Sox happened to be home at U.S. Cellular Field while the Cubs were on the road. That night on Sports Sunday, we led with the Cubs' team-record seven All-Star selections and their game against the Cardinals and followed it with the White Sox selections and their game against the A's. Because the White Sox were home, we were able to hear from Joe Crede and Carlos Quentin on their selections and get reaction from their teammates. Unfortunately, we didn't get any help from our St. Louis affiliate and therefore didn't have reaction from the Cubs that night.
I received two emails that night from viewers complaining about our coverage. One was from a White Sox fan complaining about us leading with the Cubs. The other was from a Cubs fan complaining about us covering the Sox "more." That's about right.
The emails (and we got many this year) typically take on the same stance... we're either "obviously Cubs fans" or "biased towards the White Sox." We get enough from either side of town to make me think we're probably walking the line as close to perfectly as we can... and my advice to each viewers is always the same: You'll enjoy the season a heck of a lot more if you stop worrying so much about coverage... stop sitting in front of the TV with a stopwatch and timing how long each highlight and soundbite lasts... and just enjoy the ride. The last time the Cubs and Sox both made the post-season in the same year, Teddy Roosevelt was President, yet I received more viewers complaints about our "team bias" than ever before. What is going on here?
The venom between both sides of town has gone from entertaining to downright petty. How else do you explain Cubs fans actively cheering against the White Sox yesterday, most of them readily admitting they couldn't handle the Southsiders getting to the League Championship Series after their promising season had flamed out in L.A.? Or how Sox fans would actually bring "L" flags into Game 4 of the ALDS at U.S. Cellular Field? Is the relationship between the two fan bases really so bad that some Sox fans would choose to revel in the Cubs collapse than cheer their own team's potential success?
Outside the obvious frustration I feel when responding to fans who honestly believe we're slanting our coverage, this competition never used to really bother me. But now it's getting old, with co-workers yelling at each other and family members not speaking for days.
Instead of bringing out the best in this city, a dual playoff appearance brought out the worst. In 2005, many Cubs fans told me they were cheering for the White Sox to win the World Series. "Good for the city," many of them told me... and it was good to hear. But there was no such evidence of such crosstown unity this year. I've often told people that if the Sox and Cubs ever clashed in the World Series the city would burn to the ground.
I thought I was kidding.