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Attention Mustn't Be Paid

I received some nice feedback and response to the season's first White Sox Report. It was encouraging to know that other people aside from my immediate family read the report. Apparently I am not the only Sox aficionado with time on my hands.

One such e-mail came from an old friend who has been following the South Siders even longer than I. He asked, "Do the Sox get a fair shake from the media?" and why are the "White Sox continually a second-class citizen in their home town?" I couldn't suppress a long, anxiety-reducing sigh. However, he redeemed himself with the tag, "Is that even important?"

Not in the least. There are any number of life situations where we might feel resentful or victimized. The other night, I recorded the Phoenix-Bulls' game only to have the recording end abruptly and unceremoniously with Kyle Korver's second free throw hanging on the rim in a two-point game with 13 seconds to play. Talk about hardship.

When I was a kid, the Sox were the talk of the town, and the Cubs were a perennial second-division team. The Cubs were unlovable losers and short on talent. The closest one got to a Cubs vs. Sox argument was whether you'd rather have Banks or Aparicio on your ballclub. Sane people acknowledged who had the better team.

In those days, the mark of popularity and success was drawing a million fans. Please keep in mind that they used to count attendance and not ticket sales. At the risk of getting too far afield, how annoying is it to go to the ball game, see 20,000 people in the seats, and then the scoreboard tells you that the attendance is closer to 30,000? I couldn't care less about all the season-ticket holders who went to the movies or had dinner at Uncle Al's. Let's count the fannies in the seats.

That being said, the Sox used to draw a million fans almost every year. In fact, in the 15 seasons from 1951 to 1966, the Sox missed a million just once. And the Cubs in the same period? Exactly the mirror of the Sox: season attendance topped a million one time!

Keep in mind that Wrigley Field was just one of the vintage ball parks in those days. It wasn't unique, notwithstanding the ivy. There were a number of quaint, lovely ballparks, but unless the team was competitive, there were thousands of quaint, lovely, empty seats.

Comiskey Park was different. It was cavernous, imposing, and bold. The double-decked stands encompassing the entire structure - save for dead center field - expressed size and strength. Sprinkle in the stench from the stockyards rising on the south wind, and you had a sensory experience unparalleled in the history of Chicago. Now add a talented ballclub which took on the venerable Yankees every summer, and you can understand why Sox fans took a back seat to no one.

We all know about the April 1983 f-bomb-laden tirade from Cubs manager Lee Elia, whose team had just fallen to 5-14 to start the season. The rage was real, his facts slightly inaccurate. "Eighty-five percent of the fuckin' world's working. The other 15 come out here," he - how shall I say? - observed.

In point of fact, slightly less than 10 percent (still an unacceptable number) of Americans were out of work that spring, but you get the picture. Despite Elia's displeasure, the Cubs were on their way. They had good players and a poor record that season. However, they still drew 1.4 million in 1983; they won the division the next year and night baseball at Wrigley was only five years away. Today the decrepit confines at Clark and Addison are a bigger draw than the team on the field, and I'm convinced that up to a third of the park is filled with tourists on any given July afternoon.

Possibly the pendulum is swinging back the other way. Apparently there were maybe 20,000 fans at Wrigley for last Monday game against Arizona, a five-year low. The Sox haven't drawn well in April for years, but the opening series against Tampa Bay brought out decent and enthusiastic crowds.

And the team had a strong first week. Sure, new closer Matt Thornton and the defense blew Friday's game, but the Sox "stole" one in Kansas City by beating super-closer Joakim Soria (115 saves in 124 opportunities the last three years) in the ninth inning on Wednesday. Over the course of a season, things tend to even out, so I can't get too upset about Friday.

The bullpen so far has taken a shellacking, and poor Will Ohman absorbed the brunt of the fans' scorn when he was booed during introductions at the home opener. Nevertheless, others such as Jesse Crain and Sergio, have looked sharp, and it is much too early to panic. Last I looked, no one was asking for Scott Linebrink's return to The Cell.

Bullpens look much better with solid starting pitching - see Messrs. Humber and Floyd on the weekend - and robust hitting like the Sox' league-leading .307 team average.

So I'm not too concerned whether the Cubs outdraw the Sox or whether the South Siders receive the respect they deserve. We're just a week into this campaign, and so far it's been grand.


Comments welcome.

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