Crosstown Cup isn't the real prize
Cubs, Sox each desperately in need of shot of adrenaline city series often delivers
Because the Chicago Cubs, and by proxy, the White Sox, had the greatest bauble of them all on display at Wrigley Field on Sunday -- the BP Crosstown Cup.
(Pause for awe.)
(Pause again for reverence.)
(Once more, like you mean it, you heathens.)
Sadly, the Cubs were only borrowing The Cup. The White Sox won it in the inaugural year of forced, awkward corporate sponsorship last season. For some reason, I think they forgot to put it next to the 2005 World Series trophy in the lobby.
Of course, neither team cares about some lame trophy, and neither does any fan. Personally, I don't think many fans really care about any civic tug of war when both teams are under .500. This isn't college football.
I asked Cubs manager Mike Quade if he'd give a "Knute Rockne" speech to the team about bringing The Cup to Wrigley for the next year.
"I think I Knute Rockne'd twice this year and the results weren't too great," he said. "These guys won't need any added incentive to go across town."
The Cubs are coming into this series on a familiar down note, befitting their torpid start. They lost the rubber match of their series against the Yankees on Sunday night in desultory fashion, 10-4.
"We played a good series outside of an inning-and-a-half against the Yankees here," Jeff Baker said after the deflating loss. "Every series is big for us. We know what's at stake. It doesn't matter who we're playing, whether it's the White Sox or the Tokyo Giants."
Meanwhile, the Sox beat up on Arizona in the desert, and have a chance to do something Monday the Cubs haven't done all season, win three in a row.
Quade, that eternal optimist, said he's fine with the Cubs never piling up a true winning streak.
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"The three in a row thing, I'll take two out of three all year and never win three in a row," Quade said. "And I'll be really happy about it."
Um, good luck on that one. The Cubs haven't even won back-to-back series this season. I heard Sunday's seventh-inning stretch singer Billy Corgan is retroactively changing the name of the Smashing Pumpkins' album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" to "The 2011 Cubs."
Last year's initial matchup between the two teams looked every bit as farcical in terms of importance as this year's does, especially when the Chicago Blackhawks showed up at Wrigley Field with the Stanley Cup.
But that series at Wrigley helped kickstart the White Sox's 25-5 summer run, which of course culminated in nothing special in the end. But it still assured the team a winning record, and likely helped convince Kenny Williams and Co. not to blow up the team but rather to invest more money in it. Again, that hasn't worked out so far, but we can agree that a nice summer run would help both teams, and this series could be the jump-off point.
A packed, enthusiastic crowd doesn't hurt either. The Cubs just set a three-game series attendance record against the Yankees, selling 126,283 tickets, and there's no question that kind of energy helps a team, especially when it's bipartisan. Both fanbases will fill the Cell this week and Wrigley over the July 4 weekend.
"That's one thing," Quade said. "You try and downplay things, keep things on an even keel, most managers do, but you can't get away from it if you're being honest. The ballpark's been great [this weekend]. This has been an exciting series and the White Sox series I always get a kick out of, and always will. It's great stuff, one of the things that make this sport great. Whatever your rivalries are, and we've got a quite few in the Midwest, those are great pick-me-ups during the season to keep a team going."
Of course, everyone is waiting for some drama to unfold off the field as well. Cubs-Sox has provided some memorable moments in recent years, most notably the A.J. Pierzynski -Michael Barrett fight and ensuing bench-clearing brawl in 2006. Personally, I'm hoping for a Tony Campana-Brent Lillibridge donnybrook.
The Cubs visiting dugout at the Cell has been the proving ground the past two seasons. In 2009, Milton Bradley got tossed by Lou Piniella, and last year, Carlos Zambrano's impromptu dugout tirade got him suspended. "We Stinks" Zambrano starts the opener Monday, and while all eyes are on him, my pick to implode is Tuesday's starter, Matt Garza, a ticking time bomb of the first order.
While the Cubs get the majority of hype and scorn in a city that skews North Side, the White Sox desperately need to win this series. The Sox are seemingly forever digging themselves out of a hole, and now find themselves 5½ back of Cleveland, and trailing second-place Detroit by 4½. They're getting Jake Peavy back on Wednesday, which is good news, if he can stay healthy for more than a few weeks at a time.
The Sox have gotten off easy in the media thus far, because, outside of their diehard fans, no one really pays attention to them unless Ozzie Guillen pops off about something. But this series will put a magnifying glass on Peavy, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, as well as the way the Sox's philosophy on building a winner changes like the wind off Lake Michigan.
While the Cubs need to win to sell 40,000 tickets a game, rather than a measly 35,000, the White Sox need to win to bolster their meager average of 22,745, which is worse than Arizona's, San Diego's and Houston's averages.
U.S. Cellular Field is typically a powder keg of emotions and agendas, and if the Sox keep slumping, I'll be waiting for Williams to blurt out, "If Ozzie wants to go to the Marlins, let him!" Williams and Guillen haven't publicly squabbled all season, but you never know when an explosion is going to happen.
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But at least the Sox have a track record to back them up, not to mention the unflinching loyalty of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and his board. The Cubs, with their ownership group still on training wheels, could be in flux for years to come. Sorry, I'm not taking Tom Ricketts' vote of confidence for general manager Jim Hendry and Quade at anything more than a stay of execution for this season.
It's a shame this is looking like a third straight fall with no local baseball team in the postseason. That's not an ominous figure usually in this town, but given that both teams have payrolls more than $100 million and ticket prices in the upper echelon of the sport, it should be unacceptable to the front offices and, more importantly, the owners. As the South Side's No. 1 fan, President Obama, preached in his 2008 campaign, it's time for change.
So forget the trophy and the idle nonsense about city bragging rights, this series could be very important to both teams. The spotlight is on, let's see who performs.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.