Thursday, December 17, 2015

Who matters more? Does it really matter? It's baseball in Chicago

I’m sure some baseball fans are making half-wit jokes these days about how the only place the Chicago White Sox matter is in Havana – where the Major League Baseball delegation that is touring Cuba this week bears a strong Sout’ Side flavor.

The pride of Havana in Chicago? Or...
Four major league ballplayers with Cuban ethnic origins will be in and around Havana through Friday, including star Sox slugger Jose Abreu and former shortstop Alexi Ramirez – who may well wind up begging for his roster spot back by the time spring training comes around.

IT WON’T BE the White Sox going to Cuba to play some spring-training games (the Tampa Bay Rays were chosen from a bowl a few weeks ago). But the Cubano fanaticos de beisbol will get to see the elite of the White Sox portrayed as part of the game’s elite.

And for what it’s worth, Abreu got to see his son for the first time in more than two years – it was one of the drawbacks of fleeing his country that he had to abandon his family.

Although from news accounts, it seems the two occasionally have talked on the phone. And when Abreu’s son was brought to the hotel where Jose was staying, the cap he had perched on his head bore the Old English-style Sox logo that would make the boy welcome in just about any South Side establishment.

Of course, much of the public attention to baseball in the past couple of weeks involved trades made by the Chicago Cubs that supposedly reinforce their championship dreams.

INCLUDING THE FACT that some St. Louis Cardinals ballplayers chose to leave that team so they could play for the Cubs. Which led me to stumble across a parody story recently that said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny left St. Louis to become a third-base coach for the Cubs.

... the pride of Chicago in Havana?
Those Cubs fans who think the whole world revolves around their preferred ball club are sky-high.

Although all I can remember is the winter following the 1977 season when New York Yankees pitcher Mike Torrez left the team for a big-money contract with the rival Boston Red Sox.

Everybody was convinced this was the gesture that ensured the Yankees’ downfall. The Red Sox ascension to their rightful place as champions. All would be right with the world.

Only in fantasy is Matheny becoming a Cub
IN REALITY, WHAT happened in 1978 was that memorable tie between the two and that one-game tie-breaking playoff. In which Torrez wound up being the losing pitcher who gave up that immortal home run to one-time White Sox shortstop Bucky Dent.

A scenario I could see befalling the Cubs as much more likely than a championship.

Is this the Cubs fate?
Besides, I couldn’t help but notice the Crain’s Chicago Business report that found a Nielsen Scarborough study finding the most popular Chicago sports teams to be the Bears and the Blackhawks – with the two baseball clubs bringing up the rear.

That’s what a Stanley Cup will do for a team’s popularity, compared to promises to flirt with championship status that ultimately fell short for both the Cubs and White Sox.

AND BEFORE ANYONE of the Cubbiedom status goes on much, I couldn’t help but notice both baseball teams experienced slight upticks in their popularity. Even the White Sox, who were one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2015.

Even with Jose Abreu, whose performance in ’15 may have been the best on the team but didn’t match up with the 2014 statistics that made him the American League’s Rookie of the Year.

Perhaps an Abreu 2016 resurgence (along with performances closer to what was expected this year by several White Sox players and the acquisition this week to play third base of Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds) could be what brings South Side baseball back up to anticipated levels.

What will happen come the next Chicago city World Series?
And who knows, if paired up with another Cubs team that doesn’t embarrass itself, perhaps we could get that dream season of an all-Chicago World Series – one that would let us put the South Side/North Side debate to rest for all-time with a White Sox victory.


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