Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's way too early to think 'City Series'

Major League Baseball’s scheduling practices occasionally result in some quirks – such as the way the White Sox and Cubs schedules match up this week.

New York is coming to Chicago to play our city’s team. That statement is true, regardless of whether one is talking about the American or National leagues.

THE YANKEES ARE in town through Thursday to play a three-game series against the White Sox – a series that always results in larger-than-usual crowds since the ball club that personifies New York swagger has come to town.

Meanwhile, the Mets came on Monday and will be here through Wednesday to smack the Cubs around (although, somehow, the Cubs managed to fluke their way to a victory Monday night).

This kind of scheduling is unusual because the powers that be who put together 162-game seasons for each of the 30 major league teams usually try to have it so that the cities with two ball clubs (New York and Los Angeles, in addition to Chicago) have one team playing at home while the other is in another city.

A 'shot' of the crowd at the South Side Grounds attending Game 6 of the 1906 World Series - the day that the White Sox got the ultimate one-upmanship on the Cubs. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

To have them both playing on the same day in Chicago is an event that usually happens maybe once or twice per season. But to have them both at home simultaneously to play series against the mighty ball clubs from Gotham? That is probably something we’ll never see again.

One could literally on Tuesday and Wednesday root against the hated New Yorkers (even though some Manhattan snobs would argue that, as the ball club from Queens, the Mets really don’t count) twice in one day – traveling from the North Side day game to the South Side for the superior matchup.

JUST ONE THING – don’t behave like that Cubs fan fool a few years ago who got liquored up during the day at Wrigley Field, then came south and acted like a buffoon by charging the umpire while watching the evening Sox game.

The New York-Chicago baseball doubleheader got me to thinking, though, about the possibility of having two contending ball clubs in Chicago.

Such a concept is not unheard of in New York. I’m sure there are some baseball fans in that city who fully expect the World Series this year to be a New York Yankees victory over the Mets – the first “’subway series” since 2000 and one of more than a dozen that have been played during the century that the American and National league champions have deigned to play each other at the end of the season.

But as of now, Chicago is the city with ball clubs at the top of the standings in their respective divisions.

DON’T GET ME wrong. I realize it is ridiculously early to be thinking about 2008 being the year of the “el series” (or would we call it the Red Line series, in honor of the Chicago Transit Authority line that connects the two stadiums?). Personally, I don’t pay serious attention to baseball standings until Memorial Day.

By then, the fact that both Chicago ball clubs were once on top of their divisions could be a long-forgotten memory.

But one has to admit the White Sox are going a long way toward showing the world of baseball geeks that 2007 (with its 72 victories) was an aberration. The White Sox of the 2000s (the current decade) are a team with consistent winning records and two (thus far) first place finishes.

My mind is starting to run amok at the thought of a third first-place finish in this decade (which would have to be either this year or next). But with John Danks showing that he has the potential to be the worthy starting pitcher that White Sox officials always expected (and that general manager Ken Williams wasn’t stupid for acquiring him a few years ago) and Jim Thome showing he can still hit (even at the advanced – by baseball standards – age of 37), this is going to be a very interesting year on the South Side.

FOR AWHILE, THE White Sox had the best record in the American League. Now, they’re just the best in their division, against four other ball clubs all of which have losing records. I don’t expect that situation to continue for the remainder of the season.

But I could see 2008 becoming a season-long Chicago-Cleveland brawl to win their respective division, then meeting up against the division winners of the east and west and a wild card team.

Who knows, it could very well be the Yankees that the White Sox meet up with in the playoffs – which would literally have baseball commentators looking back on this early April series (the only time the two teams will meet in Chicago, they will play a three-game series in New York Sept. 15-17) for some sort of clue as to which team will prevail to win the American League pennant.

Of course, the Sox could also fizzle out in June and turn this into a fairly forgettable year, much as I expect the Cubs to do at some point in mid-season. It’s probably fair to say that both ball clubs have just enough weaknesses to prevent them from being considered legitimate contenders (and I don’t want to hear about how the Cubs play in a weak division – ‘contenders by default’ is just lame).

SO ALTHOUGH I might want to dream of the 2008 World Series giving us an encore to the 1906 version, my serious thoughts about baseball these days focus on three questions – if anybody can answer them for me, I want to know:

--What is up with White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle? He doesn’t appear to be throwing the ball all that bad, but seems to have some of the lousiest luck when it comes to getting run support or just losing it at the most inopportune moments. I only hope this isn’t like his past lousy-luck slumps of 2003 and 2006 when he managed to go for a couple of months at a time without a victory.

--Why does anybody think it is cute that those goofs who make a living selling unauthorized t-shirts and other junk around Wrigley Field are taking to selling shirts that purportedly feed off the aura provided by Japanese star ballplayer Kosuke Fukudome? But their idea of a “tribute” is to mock the “Holy Cow” saying of late broadcaster Harry Caray with Japanese-type characters and a baseball with slants for eyes. I’d like to think Cubs fans have too much sense to actually wear something like that. But then again, I’d like to think people are too intelligent to root for something as historically pathetic as the Chicago Cubs – I’d be wrong.

--Why did the Toronto Blue Jays really release aging former White Sox star Frank Thomas? The man can still swing a bat, and his past two seasons have shown him to get off to slow starts in April, only to get better and turn into a virtual hitting machine when the weather warms up. Does Toronto merely want to get out of having to give Thomas a hefty raise for 2009 if he were to get a minimum number of at-bats? If it really is the case, then we know for sure why the Blue Jays are the perpetual runner-up in the east division behind New York and the Boston Red Sox. I don’t expect the White Sox to make a bid for Thomas (there’s no room on the team for him), but I do expect him to wind up somewhere this year as an impact player.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Chicago baseball’s best pitcher of this decade ( is off to a slow start this season.

I don’t mean to rub it in, but I don’t recall anything even remotely close to this being sold (,CST-SPT-gordo18.article) in Chicago when Shingo Takatsu or Tadahito Iguchi played on the South Side.

One-time White Sox star (and eventual Hall of Fame member) Frank Thomas is looking (,1,6288243.column) for work these days.

It is still kind of early in the year to be seriously talking about ( an “el Series” (Sox vs. Cubs in the World Series). Besides, would it really be fair to put Cubs fans through the trauma of having a sequel to the only other time ( the two teams met in the World Series?

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