- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- Gone are the days when former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen would instigate a near riot between Cubs and Sox fans before the Crosstown Classic.
The major buzz that once was a part of this 16-year-old interleague rivalry has been replaced by a more businesslike approach in this season’s four-game home-and-home matchup.
“I don’t think it is quite what it used to be,” said White Sox setup man Matt Thornton, who has participated in every Crosstown Classic since 2006. “I still think it means a lot, but for whatever the reason it doesn’t have the same feel to it.”
Now that big personalities such as Guillen, A.J. Pierzynski, Carlos Zambrano and Lou Piniella are gone some of the energy has been sucked out of the series. Another reason for the decline in intensity is the fact both teams got off to bad starts this season.
“These games are a little different because we only play four straight games and then we are done with each other,” Thornton said. “We used to have a build-up from one series to the next. That is all gone now.”
The games have produced tremendous drama at times, including the fistfight between Pierzynski and Cubs catcher Michael Barrett and the dugout implosion by Zambrano, who drew a suspension for picking a fight with teammate Derrek Lee in 2009.
“Obviously some of the drama has been taken out of it,” Adam Dunn said. “It still has to be pretty special for White Sox fans and Cub fans. This is one of the biggest cities in the U.S. You don’t find Cub fans who are Sox fans. They are either one or the other, not both.”
“Back in the day there was more energy from some of the main guys,” Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol said. “No Zambrano, no Ozzie… it is just normal baseball now. The fans still bring a high energy into the games.”
Sox veteran Paul Konerko has played in this series since 1999. He has seen the ebb and flow of this matchup, in which his team has gone 49-41.
“I still say playing these games mid-week in May doesn’t seem right,” Konerko said. “Whatever scenario you come up with they have always seemed to be good games. I think both teams leave the series better. You seem to up your game a little bit and become better, usually.”
The players and managers all understand bragging rights are important in a city like Chicago.
“We know our fans want us to win these games,” said Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who has played in every series since 2007. “They have friends who cheer for the other team and I can’t imagine how they feel when they say, ‘Your team lost, they (stink).’ ”