By Jim Caple
Page 2

The crucial difference between fans of the Red Sox and Cubs and those of the White Sox and Astros is that the latter had the decency to keep their suffering to themselves.

The White Sox have gone longer than the Red Sox went without a world championship, but did Stephen King write about their angst? Did Jimmy Fallon make a movie about their pain? Did their fans whine about some ridiculous curse? No. In fact, if you so much as bring up any nonsense about a curse, the White Sox will set you straight.

"We didn't have a curse to deal with," White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said. "We just had failure to deal with."

Houston Astros
AP
The Astros have never been to a World Series -- it has to taste sweet.

The Cubs haven't been to a World Series since 1945 and haven't won one since 1908, but really, how much worse was that than what Houston fans endured? Until this week, the Astros had never been to the World Series in their 44-season history, or longer than most of their fans have been alive. They suffered five flatlining postseason losses so painful they would make even Ernie Banks say, "I don't want to play today." But did Houston fans burden the rest of the world by constantly bitching about their pain? Did they blame any of their losses on a fan loyally rooting for them along the left-field line? Of course not. They considered themselves fortunate if people simply acknowledged their existence.

The Astros and the White Sox. These are two sets of fans who have suffered even more than viewers who sat through the entire Red Sox makeover episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

You want pain? Before this week, the White Sox were primarily known for three things: Throwing the 1919 World Series, Disco Demolition Night and the father-son tandem who beat up the Royals' first base coach. The most famous player in their history was permanently banned from baseball. They've played in one World Series in the past 86 years. They threatened to move to Tampa Bay. And they not only wore those god-awful pajama tops, they wore shorts one day in 1976. Talk about winning ugly.

You want misery? The Astros gave the game AstroTurf, indoor baseball and those infamous rainbow jerseys that would one day serve as the basis for the Department of Homeland Security's color code. The nation's terror threat level is at Jose Cruz home jersey. Even when they moved out of the Astrodome, they moved into a stadium named for Enron with a plaza named for Halliburton. Nolan Ryan left them as a free agent. J.R. Richard suffered a stroke and ended up on the streets. Don Wilson committed suicide.

Worst of all, the team appeared in "The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training," inspiring perhaps the single most ridiculous scene in a baseball film that does not include Fallon. The one at the Astrodome where Tanner Boyle pulls a Lou Piniella act on the field and Bob Watson and the fans chant, "Let them play! Let them play!"

Which is at least one good thing the White Sox had going for them. They inspired two of the best baseball movies ever made, "Eight Men Out" and "Field of Dreams." In fact, with Chicago's recent success, "Field of Dreams" is about due for a sequel:

FIELD OF DREAMS 2: The Bad News Black Sox in Breaking Training

[The film opens with a panoramic shot of the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa, where we find the Chicago Black Sox players a little worse for wear after spending the past 16 years stuck in the same drab ballfield since the end of the first movie. SHOELESS JOE JACKSON has just crossed home plate after hitting another home run into the cornfield off pitcher LEFTY WILLIAMS. BUCK WEAVER is at third base, CHICK GANDIL is at first, and SWEDE RISBERG is at shortstop.]

LEFTY: What's that make it?

SHOELESS JOE: 93,447 to 84,096. Give or take a coupla runs.

BUCK: C'mon, guys! Don't give up now. We're still in it!

SWEDE: God, is this game ever gonna end?

Chicago White Sox
AP
The White Sox and their fans are probably still in disbelief.

CHICK: At least Mountain Landis only banned us from baseball. He didn't condemn us to spend all eternity in Bumf---, Iowa.

SWEDE: Tell me about it. Cripes, what I wouldn't give for a Hooters in this town.

CHICK: In town? I'd settle for somewhere in the entire state.

SWEDE: We should have killed Costner when we had the chance …

[We cut ahead five innings to find SHOELESS back up and the other players still grumbling. They watch another home run sail into the cornfield.]

CHICK: What gets me is they made two movies about us but there isn't one decent-looking broad in either of them. I mean, Amy Madigan? Give me a break.

SWEDE: If we were gonna be in a movie about the White Sox, why couldn't it have been that one where Cameron Diaz is the Sox owner's daughter? Whaddaya call it, "My Best Friend's Wedding"?

LEFTY: Oh geez, yeah. Crap, if Comiskey's daughter looked like Cameron Diaz, I know I never would have agreed to throw the World Series.

SWEDE: If Cameron Diaz was Comiskey's daughter, I would have worn a lobster bib and sung that "Say a Little Prayer" number with that Rupert Everett guy.

LEFTY: Hell, if I had a chance with Cameron Diaz, I'd have slept with Rupert Everett.

[We cut ahead four more innings. SHOELESS JOE has just homered again, and the players are still grumbling.]

BUCK: And if John Cusack was going to play me, how come it couldn't have been the one where he sleeps with Kate Beckinsale?

HAPPY FELSCH: You're complaining about not getting any? What about me? Charlie Sheen played me. And I still didn't so much as get a handshake.

SHOELESS JOE [Crossing home plate.]: Quit your bellyaching. At least you guys have a decent complexion.

[We cut ahead six more innings. SHOELESS JOE is back at the plate, and the players are still grumbling.]

CHICK: Did you hear the White Sox won the pennant?

HAPPY: Yeah, can you believe it? After all these years, Chicago is back in the World Series. Maybe if they win it, we might finally be forgiven.

SWEDE: You really think so?

BUCK: It's possible. Maybe everyone gets so excited about the White Sox returning the world championship to Chicago that they decide to let bygones be bygones and let Joe in the Hall of Fame and clear the rest of our names! Why not? Stranger things have happened!

[There is suddenly a rustling in the cornfield. Someone is out there! Could this be an emissary from the commissioner's office? A representative from the Hall of Fame? Is this the long-awaited moment? Could this be the day the Black Sox are rescued from baseball purgatory? As we see the eager anticipation on the Sox faces, it certainly appears that way …

[And then we see their faces fall as the BAD NEWS BEARS step out of the cornfield.]

TANNER BOYLE: Hey, any of you spazzes think you're man enough to play us?

JAMES EARL JONES [From the bleachers]: Let them play! Let them play!

CHICK [Shaking his head]: This isn't heaven. This is hell.

[Fade to black …]

Thankfully, those terrible days are finally over. After years of quiet anguish and misery, these two teams and their fans finally will enjoy their just rewards on baseball's ultimate stage. After being ignored and overshadowed for decades, they are finally in the well-deserved world spotlight. After the Black Sox, Disco Demolition, Wilbur Wood in shorts, the Tampa threat, the destruction of old Comiskey, MJ in the minors, the White Towel trade, and William Ligue and his son, after the glare of the Astrodome roof, the rainbow jerseys, the 1980, '86 and '94 playoffs, and Albert Pujols -- after all that -- the Astros and the White Sox are finally in the World Series.

So let the Sox emerge from the cornfields. Send the Astros onto the field and let them play. They've both earned this coming week as much as any teams ever have.

The sad part, of course, is one of them is going to lose.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.




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