Cubs, White Sox in a losing battle
In a mediocre year on both sides of Chicago, consider the BP Cup the booby prize
CHICAGO -- If there is one place where trouble might find you this weekend, it's downtown Chicago, where the NATO summit is attracting hordes of protestors and the possibility of violence and chaos.
Kerry Wood, the provincial saint of lost causes, unwittingly coined the catchphrase for this weekend's crosstown series when he snapped at a reporter after being asked about throwing his glove last week.
"Irrelevant, dude." Two words that describe Chicago baseball in 2012.
Hey, it's better than "It's a Way of Life" or "Baseball is better" or "Appreciate the Game." You know, the ones the Cubs and Sox actually use. Of course, the Cubs are paying Kerry Wood $3 million this season and that line has been his biggest positive contribution. So it didn't come cheap. That's Don Draper money.
I'm willing to bet after Thursday's New York Times bombshell story that "The Ricketts Plan" won't gain much traction as a catchphrase in Chicago. The untimely leak of Joe Ricketts' unfinished Super PAC-funded plan to defeat President Obama could be classified a "Cubbie Occurrence," the term Lou Piniella invented.
By the way, how ironic is it that the man who gave his kids $400-some million to buy a baseball team (with another $450 million or so in loans) runs a political action committee called the "Ending Spending Action Fund." First step toward that: Don't buy an $850 million baseball team.
It's certainly Joe Ricketts' business how he wants to spend his millions or which political candidate he wants to support. But since the Cubs' only tangible goal this year is trying to garner support for public funding for Wrigley Field's renovation from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's friend and co-chair of his re-election campaign, well, it's uncomfortable. The Chicago Tribune and Washington Post reported that Emanuel isn't pleased with the family.
I nearly forgot the other super-important goal for the Cubs: Winning the BP Crosstown Cup, of course. The White Sox, two-time winners of the chalice, aren't giving it up easily.
"We only have to win three games," White Sox vice president and chief marketing officer Brooks Boyer said. "They have to win four."
Ah, the dusty tiebreaker rules of the BP Cup. As old as the trophy itself, which is to say, three years old, and probably written on a Gibson's napkin. On Monday, I asked some Sox players where the trophy was.
"Doesn't that guy with the white gloves have it?" Paul Konerko asked.
Konerko, the salt-and-pepper veteran, admitted the series is the next-best thing to the playoffs, which is to say, it will be the most exciting series of the season for the Cubs, unless Theo Epstein offers bounties to defeat the Red Sox. For the White Sox, unless they dramatically upgrade the bullpen and tweak the bench, these six games could be their highlight too.
Not that Soriano is jazzed about it.
"There's a lot of energy, but at the end of the day, it's another game," he said.
Way to sell it, Sori.
To be fair, despite my jibes and fans' low expectations, neither team is abysmal. Sports Illustrated predicted 95 losses for the White Sox and some wondered if this would be the worst Cubs team in years.
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Those predictions seem unlikely to come true. Both teams are reliably mediocre, with honest potential to be watchable come September. They could be relevant, dude. But right now, both teams are just good enough to keep fans interested, not enough to make them actually care.
"We haven't clicked all the way yet," Konerko said the other day. "We've kind of hung in there and won some games, but nothing sustained yet."
Such is life in Chicago. If we had good baseball and nice weather on the regular, everyone would want to live here. In reality, there's never been a better time to be a casual baseball fan in the city.
No, I didn't eat a bad bison dog. It's true. Fans can afford to go to any game and sit pretty much wherever they want, depending on their budget. The secondary market is flooded on the North Side and the Sox cut prices dramatically across the park. If you have $20 and a CTA card, you're set.
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But if you actually care about baseball, well, you might have to sit through a rebuilding year or two or three. It's tough, but it's true.
The Cubs, at least, have a plan under new general manager Theo Epstein. It might not work, but it's easy to sell hope and change. And the team is occasionally fun to watch despite being 15-23 and in the NL Central basement.
The White Sox, with fans who know the joy of winning a World Series, are in limbo with solid veterans, no depth, and no prospects to dream about. At 18-21, the Sox are 4 1/2 games behind Cleveland, and have a losing record at home, where they're drawing peanuts.
Each team is in different stages of mediocrity. The Sox have to win now to be relevant, but are already overtaxed financially with low crowds and a still-high payroll. The Cubs have room to grow, but no interest, seemingly, in adding payroll to the present team.
But starting Friday, there's only thing to play for, and it's a corporate-sponsored trophy that no one wants. Dude, that's just irrelevant.