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White Sox Are Hot, So Why Are Fans In Chicago So Blasé?

Old 06-15-05, 11:52 PM
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White Sox Are Hot, So Why Are Fans In Chicago So Blasé?

From Wednesday's WSJ (front page, nevertheless)


Filling U.S. Cellular Field Is
Hard in a Winning Year;
Second Fiddle to Wrigley

By ERIK AHLBERG
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
June 15, 2005; Page A1

CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox have the best record in baseball, and their best chance in years of ending an 88-year drought of World Series championships. But here in one of America's great sports towns, hardly anyone seems to care.

The team has tried almost everything to lure fans, including half-price tickets on Mondays, $1 hot dogs, and roving bands of cheerleaders who give free tickets to anyone who happens to be wearing a White Sox hat or jersey. Still, the Sox are averaging only 23,000 fans a game -- a tad more than half the capacity of their South Side home, U.S. Cellular Field. When the Sox recently faced another first-place team, the Los Angeles Angels, only about 20,000 showed up, despite delightful weather and a 2-for-1 ticket special.

"I've always said that the PR department should just hand out tickets to the upper deck -- they'd at least get the money for parking," Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle says. Despite his 7-1 won-loss record, the 6-foot-2-inch lefthander says he rarely gets recognized around town.

Brothers Kevin and Don Smith were among only four groups of tailgaters in a half-empty parking lot outside the ballpark before a recent game. "I can call friends on the day of a game, cook some burgers, have a couple of beers and then sit in an excellent seat," said Kevin Smith, 42 years old, wearing a crumpled Sox cap while tending a grill sizzling with blackened chicken wings.

"I love baseball, and I love the Sox. It kills me that they don't get the attention they deserve," said Bill Roach, 50, of St. Charles, Ill. As he spoke, he was exiting a Sox win over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on the city's north side -- and Wrigley, with a seating capacity of 39,538, was packed as usual.

At the heart of the Sox's troubled wooing of Chicago lies a conundrum worthy of Yogi Berra: They haven't been good enough to win, and they haven't been bad enough to tap into baseball's romance with hapless losers.

The White Sox won their last World Series in 1917. Even before the Boston Red Sox exorcised their 86-year curse last year, the White Sox had the American League's longest drought. In the National League, the Cubs haven't won a series since 1908.

Sox outfielder "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and seven of his teammates were banned from baseball for allegedly taking payoffs to deliberately lose the 1919 World Series. The team didn't win another American League pennant until 1959. When they did, the late Mayor Richard J. Daley ordered the fire commissioner to sound the city's civil-defense siren system, sending thousands into the streets. "Sox fans thought, 'Geez, we've finally won the pennant and now the Russians are invading,' " says Don Smith, 56, one of the brothers at the recent Sox game. (The Sox lost the '59 Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 4 games to 2.)

While most seasons the Sox bumped along in the middle of the pack, the Cubs endeared themselves to fans by staging some of the most dramatic collapses in baseball history. Folks here still talk about 1969, when the Cubs lost 18 of their last 26 games to lose the Eastern Division title to the New York Mets. Then, in 2003, the team was just five outs from the World Series when the Cubs came unglued after a fan's ill-timed grab at a foul ball.

Cubs fans had such colorful stars as Ernie Banks and Sammy Sosa to entertain them, just as long-suffering Red Sox fans could revel in the larger-than-life exploits of Ted Williams and Roger Clemens. Sox stars Luis Aparicio, Luke Appling and Nellie Fox didn't inspire that same sort of devotion.

Tony Zackavec, 31, a Sox fan from Joliet, Ill., says Sox supporters typically are hard-to-please, working-class Chicagoans. "Ninety-nine percent of White Sox fans are blue-collar," he says, and they refuse to shell out money for a mediocre product.

But, as of yesterday afternoon, the Sox led the American League's Central Division by five games. They've built their 42-21 record on strong pitching, speedy base-running and late-inning comebacks. Mirroring the South Side's rough-and-tumble image, the team consists mostly of scrappy, low-priced, no-name players.

Some blame attendance problems on owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who threatened to move the team to Florida in the 1980s and was a leading hard-liner in the 1994 baseball strike, which began when the Sox happened to be in first place in their division.

Some fans say Tribune Co., which owns the Cubs and two of Chicago's biggest media outlets -- the Chicago Tribune and WGN-TV -- slights the Sox in its coverage. Mike North, a local sports-radio host, says the Sox get the most ink when there's a crime near their ballpark. Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath says, "We try to be as fair and balanced as we can."

Many people fault Comiskey Park, which one local columnist has described as having the feel of West Berlin during the Cold War. The park, which replaced the old Comiskey in 1991 and was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003, is bordered by a rust-stained concrete wall, train tracks and an interstate highway. Some of Chicago's toughest housing projects loom beyond the outfield fence. There are only a few bars within walking distance.

Monte Nelson, a 42-year-old construction worker who lives just three blocks from the field, prefers bellying up to the bar at his favorite neighborhood tavern, First Base, where he says the beer is colder and there's free parking for his motorcycle. "You can see it better sitting right here," Mr. Nelson says while peering at a TV screen through a haze of cigarette smoke.

The Cell, as the team's ballpark is often called here, was one of the last efficient but unappealing fields built before stadiums in Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and San Francisco showed how to design a park that's equal parts ballfield and tourist attraction. In response to fan complaints, the White Sox have spent $80 million over the past five years to make their stadium cozier, adding shapely awnings, tearing off the uppermost rows and, for opening day next year, switching seats from blue to forest green.

There are advantages to attending a Sox game. Bathroom lines are short and foul balls are easier to nab. But many Chicagoans prefer the cozy confines of historic Wrigley Field, with its ivy-covered outfield walls, hand-operated scoreboard and neighborhood teeming with saloons. Despite a mediocre performance most of the year, the second-place Cubs have played to 98% capacity, and nearly had a sellout April 23 when they lost to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates in near-freezing temperatures with 25-mile-an-hour winds blasting off Lake Michigan.

"Even if we win the World Series this year, Wrigley will still sell out next year," Sox first baseman Paul Konerko says. "But I can't guarantee we'd be sold out here."

Sox marketing executive Brooks Boyer says the team doesn't worry about "the 800-pound gorilla to the north," only the "frustrating" misperceptions that continue to dog the Sox. Fans are slowly coming back and attendance this year is the best in a decade. "It's not scary to be on the South Side," he insists. Ozzie Guillen, the three-time All Star shortstop for the Sox who became manager last season, says, "If we continue to win, they'll start to show up."

They've won back one fan. Current mayor Richard M. Daley, son of the siren sounder, boycotted the team for two years after the 1994 strike. Now he has season tickets behind the White Sox dugout and occasionally uses his news conferences to comment on Mr. Guillen's managerial moves. White Sox General Manager Ken Williams says the team appreciates the mayor's support. "We just need him to bring ten or fifteen thousand of his friends."

Write to Erik Ahlberg at [email protected]
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Old 06-16-05, 12:49 AM
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serious question
do the white sox actually have fans.. or are the people that go to the games, just the cubs fans that couldnt get tickets at wrigley

i see and have met cubs fans all over.. but cant say i have seen or met many white sox fans in my life..

they continue to play this well, and the bandwagon will grow.. but the question is, will it grow *in* chicago enough to get more people in the stadium..

Is the stadium in a bad part of town?
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Old 06-16-05, 01:00 AM
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Serious answer -- the Sox do have fans. They are blue collar fans, and I think they may not be as well traveled as the (white collar) Cubs are.

Long running joke in Chicago is that the Cubs are a businessman's team -- who else but a businessman could get off of work to catch a 1:20 game? Remember the Cubs were the last team to get lights. They got them on 8/8/88.

The stadium is in a terrible part of town -- article mentions that it's near some of the roughest projects in the city. Not so sure about that ... but it's not somewhere you want to hang out late in the evening.
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Old 06-16-05, 01:20 AM
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The scandal doesn't help. Maybe people are still stinging about that?

The Big Hurt almost turned the fans away after turning out to be a 'bad influence' to the team?

I'm sure White Sox merch is a decent seller tho as it's related to thug wear.
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Old 06-16-05, 01:23 AM
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yadda yadda yadda, hear it enough from local outlets.

The White Sox simply aren't full of baseball lore and myth, nor have they been during their own 88-year world title drought. The pale hose have been big in Chicago before. These are only recent developments with the strike, the new ballpark, the White Flag trade. And as such the north side team's popularity rose, the neighborhood cleaned up, and Wrigley became an icon. There are, simply, more Cubs fans in the Chicagoland area (and neighboring states (and nationally)) than White Sox fans.

The Cubs have a media company pushing what sells, be it winning or losing. And when the Cubs lose, Tribco finds a way to sell the team, either through Harry Caray, Sosa, the ballpark, or curses. Now that they're winning, the fans' attitudes are slowly turning away from the lovable losers.

Though the case can be made the Cubs haven't been cursed, they've just been bad. Boston has had to be good, and have been good, and when they've fucked it up, it's been big time. The 2003 playoffs are the anomaly of a franchise that rarely ever contended in the postseason, much less fail on the main stage.

But the Tribune newspaper and overall local coverage has been fair to the Sox, giving headlines when headlines were merited and dedicating comparable column inches. Mike North is just a pessimistic and uninformed blowhard. On the national level, no one pays much attention because they go with what sells.

Like over the weekend, the Cubs are coming off a poor homestand (winning 3 of 7 I think) and the national announcers are declaring the team ready for the World Series. Hell even king douchebag Joe Morgan still buys into the Sosa mystique. If the Cubs and Red Sox had both made it to the World Series in 2003, we would have been sold the biggest baseball story in history. Much, much bigger than Cubs/White Sox.

Most of my Cub fan friends are actual, critical fans of the team, so I don't deal much with the ignorant Wrigley-goer. And White Sox fans have been critical and demonstrative with their criticism. So now we get a winning team. I'm enjoying the ride. But I won't be really happy until they win it all.

And even then I might not believe it.
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Old 06-16-05, 01:29 AM
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Originally Posted by twikoff
serious question
Is the stadium in a bad part of town?
Not for typical sports venue accessibility. You get in, get out by train or car or bus. The neighborhood doesn't come with the park, like Wrigley.

There was talk before the new Comiskey was built of moving the team to the west suburbs. That would have brought in many more fans.
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Old 06-16-05, 01:34 AM
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Same recycled trash that the media here(mostly the Tribune, I wonder why ) keeps repeating every year.

Some of Chicago's toughest housing projects loom beyond the outfield fence. There are only a few bars within walking distance.
Except those projects have been getting torn down the past couple years and replaced with new town homes. Only one building was left last I can remember and it wasn't being used.

Wrigley is a tourist attraction which is why you'll never hear the Cubs ask for a new stadium
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Old 06-16-05, 08:06 AM
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Nationally, the Cubs will always be more popular...thank WGN for that. I knew most of the players before even moving here from watching the WGN games on cable.

Locally, you have the Trib and WGN pushing the team. The curse, lovable losers. The players are known a lot more. Sosa (till this year), Wood, Prior, Maddux, Ramirez, Alou (till this year), Nomar...these are names that are know all over. The Sox have El Duq., Thomas and ? They are team of no names. Nothing wrong with that but it is what it is. ESPN does not push the Sox (White that is) so people are not familiar with them.

Blue collar, stated in the article and other posts. Sox fans are a totally different breed than the Cubs fans. Also, many Sox fans bolted after the last stike. As for the park, at least personally, is not a fun place to see a game. I just do not like going there and hard to compete with Wrigley which is a tourist spot with lots of bars and restaurants around.

That said, if the Sox keep playing like this after the break they will start to see a change, although probably only minor.
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Old 06-16-05, 09:13 AM
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There is a reason why the ChiSox tried to move several times before New Comiskey was built. New Comiskey didn't really help matters.
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Old 06-16-05, 09:50 AM
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Originally Posted by sundog
And even then I might not believe it.
I'll believe it when I collect my money from Vegas if the White Sox win it all.

The casual fan stays away because of misconceptions about the ballpark, and there are many harder-core fans that still stay away since the strike.

I think it will take 2 consecutive years of taking the division back from the Twins in order to fill the seats.

devilshalo, the Big Hurt has had a warm reception from the fans since he's come back from his injury(ies). His legs have broken down, but his home run cut sure hasn't.

Last edited by rabbit77; 06-16-05 at 09:52 AM.
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Old 06-16-05, 10:11 AM
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Originally Posted by sundog
The Cubs have a media company pushing what sells, be it winning or losing. And when the Cubs lose, Tribco finds a way to sell the team, either through Harry Caray, Sosa, the ballpark, or curses. Now that they're winning, the fans' attitudes are slowly turning away from the lovable losers.
Are you saying that fans have been turning away since they've been winning?!?
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Old 06-16-05, 10:42 AM
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I read it as their attitudes have changed from the "aw shucks, cubs lost be we still love them" to real pressure to win brought on by their recent success, and their marketing strategies have changed to reflect this.

In my opinion, the Cub don't really spend their money on marketing, since their fan base is always there. Here in Chicago you see a lot more aggressive ad campaign coming from the South Side since they still need to actively recruit a fan base.

Last edited by rabbit77; 06-16-05 at 10:45 AM.
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Old 06-16-05, 12:09 PM
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It's probably because everyone knows the Twins will just pass them in August like they do every year. Good first halves followed by second-half collapses are nothing new to Sox fans.
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Old 06-16-05, 12:19 PM
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I hope the neighborhood around Comiskey is finally turning around, because when I went and toured the IIT campus in '95 that was one of the main reasons why I turned down my scholarship offer. The campus and the buildings were cool as shit, but the surrounding neighborhood sucked. Speaking of IIT, I hear they have a sweet new student center/El station.

When I'm up north, I tend to like the White Sox fans more than I do the Cubs fans. Go figure.

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Old 06-16-05, 12:41 PM
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IIT just built some new dorm halls around the campus. By 2007 that whole area is supposed to look completly different. A new El station and more new homes and businesses.

The way they've redone the park has been nice and the attendance should go up with kids getting out of school since most of the sox promotions are aimed at families.
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Old 06-20-05, 03:56 AM
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I've been a diehard W-Sox fan for 2 decades. I never understood the favortism that Chicago media gives the Cubs. With such a magical year this year, I thought that the Sox would finally get the respect they deserve but they are still playing second fiddle to the Cubs. The White Sox will always be my team Win or Lose.
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Old 06-20-05, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by mgbfan
It's probably because everyone knows the Twins will just pass them in August like they do every year. Good first halves followed by second-half collapses are nothing new to Sox fans.
I don't know about that this year... The sox aren't one-dimensional like they have been in the recent past. They haven't had starting pitching this good and a bullpen in place that isn't busy taking illegal drugs like the Twins are.
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Old 06-20-05, 12:06 PM
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Twins should me worried more about the Indians right now then the White Sox. They're only 1 game ahead of Cleveland right now
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Old 06-20-05, 12:18 PM
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Why would anyone be worried about a 3rd place team? There aren't any points for second.

Maybe the Sox will change this year. Who knows? But history has shown them as a team of fast starts and flaming collapses. Until they can prove otherwise, my money is on the Twins, who typically start slow and finish strong.
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Old 06-20-05, 01:32 PM
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Originally Posted by MrX (aka danol?)
Twins should me worried more about the Indians right now then the White Sox.
Huh? Wha. . . ? Heh.

I get your meaning though. Sure the Indians are hot, but the Twins have been THE threat lately in the AL central for some years.

Also, Greg Couch's column in the Sunday Sun-Times charts some of the bad moves made over the franchise's existance.

http://www.suntimes.com/output/couch...pt-greg19.html
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Old 06-20-05, 03:25 PM
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[email protected] yeah white sox have fans. I"m a sox fan, and was even in my 5 years in Chicago, and before that going to college at purdue.. Lots of my friends were cubby fans, but it never clouded my judgement. I just like their brand of baseball better.

Some may say American league isn't as much about strategy, but I don't need to see a 8 and 9 hitter be two easy outs all up and down the lineup. This can't be argued. The stats prove that it's easier to pitch in the National league. To me, American league baseball is better, and the sox are american league.

Cubs are also more popular, because well everybody loves a loser. Who wouldn't want to say they were a fan when the team finally breaks through. Add the fact they have a ballpark built around a series of bars. I will argue to no end, that if the sox played in wrigley they would sellout every game, and the cubs would have comparable attendence to the sox at Comisky. People can try to point to the fact cubs draw well on the rode, but that's because they're on the road. If they were at home in Chicago, in Comisky they wouldn't pack in near the peeps. Plus you wouldn't get all the drunken depaul grads etc. coming to the games etc. Reason is simple wrigley.
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Old 06-20-05, 03:28 PM
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Originally Posted by SpaceBoy
Cubs are also more popular, because well everybody loves a loser.
Umm ... could you possibly explain to me how the Cubs are a bigger loser than the Sox? The Sox are a perfect example of a franchise that has been miserable for almost a century.

If people love a loser, the White Sox should be as lovable as any team in baseball.
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Old 06-20-05, 03:55 PM
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Originally Posted by mgbfan
Umm ... could you possibly explain to me how the Cubs are a bigger loser than the Sox? The Sox are a perfect example of a franchise that has been miserable for almost a century.

If people love a loser, the White Sox should be as lovable as any team in baseball.
What the [email protected] are you talking about? Unless I'm doing the math wrong, the white sox have won the series more recent. 1917 Vs 1908

So how the white sox bigger losers?

Plus, I'm throwing in the whole cubs love of a fake curse, and "woe is me" attitude they celebrate.

Who cares about playoffs, isn't it really about world series wins? I mean who cares if you came in 3rd, 4th etc.
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Old 06-20-05, 04:42 PM
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Originally Posted by SpaceBoy
What the [email protected] are you talking about? Unless I'm doing the math wrong, the white sox have won the series more recent. 1917 Vs 1908

god damn it's a sorry fucking situation for the whole city when Sox & Cubs fans have to resort to bickering about near-century-old WS victories

"Fuck you Cub fans! It's only been 88 years since we won our last World Series! SUCK IT!!!!!"




That being said, I'm a Cubs fan but don't hate the Sox. I'll bash them if I have to (loudmouth Sox fans slamming the Cubs ), but I wouldn't mind seeing them win a playoff game. I do however, make no mistake about it, HATE that fucktard pbp guy Ken Harrelson. I honestly would watch more Sox games if I didn't have to listen to that piece of shit. He is simply unlistenable.

It seems a lot of the Sox fans I know are more concerned with slamming the Cubs and their fans then they are with their own team.
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Old 06-20-05, 05:03 PM
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Originally Posted by SpaceBoy
What the [email protected] are you talking about? Unless I'm doing the math wrong, the white sox have won the series more recent. 1917 Vs 1908
Wow. How can you argue with logic this solid?

You're right. The reason people love the Cubs and not the White Sox was because of the White Sox oh-so-recent series win. Whatever was I thinking?
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