Second Best In Second City?

MESA, Ariz.–Last July 26, the first-place White Sox were playing in Kansas City in a night game, while the Cubs’ evening home game against the Giants did not get started for close to three hours because of a rain delay.

For a two-hour period, the television coverage of the Cubs’ rain delay–which consisted mostly of interviews and canned features–doubled the local ratings of the White Sox game.

For a long time, Chicago has been a Cubs town and the White Sox were considered second-class citizens.

“I think when you are over there, there a jealousy factor,” said former White Sox righthander Bobby Howry, who is now a member of the Cubs. “In 2000, we were leading our division for most of the season. And even when you were doing well, you were drawing maybe 15,000 fans. Then you look across town and the Cubs weren’t winning, yet they were selling out. That’s all people talked about.”

That same White Sox team that was outdrawn 2-to-1 by the rain delay in July kept on rolling and stunned the baseball world by winning the World Series, breaking a 88-year baseball championship drought in the Windy City.

Will that mean the Sox will overtake the Cubs in popularity in 2006?

That remains to be seen, but it’s doubtful.

“It was nice that they won it–they have some good guys over there,” said Howry, who pitched on the South Side from 1998-2002. “It was good for the city regardless of which side it’s from.

“But you know, I think you will get some more interest (for the Sox) but honestly, even though they won the World Series they are going to draw some more fans but it’s still a Cubs town. Regardless. I really believe that. This city . . . look around. It’s just not going to change. They (White Sox) may get a few more fans and some respect, it’s still a Cubs town.”

Blue Blooded

The Cubs have drawn more than 3 million fans in the past two years. White Sox officials doubt that they will draw that many this season, but should be able to draw a respectable 2.7 or 2.8 million.

Will the Cubs slip below 3 million this year? That’s not likely.

On Feb. 24–the first day Cubs individual tickets went on sale–a franchise first-day record of close to 600,000 tickets were sold and 20 games were immediately sold out. That left roughly 300,000 tickets for 61 games that were left after the first day.

True, the Cubs will enjoy another bonanza box office season. But that will come with a fan base with a lot less patience than it used to have.

Cubs fans had already turned nasty and booed their players heavily in 2004 and 2005 when the team failed to make it to the playoffs after being five outs away from a World Series bid in 2003.

The fact that the White Sox won it all in 2005 made some Cubs fans grumpier.

The Cubs Convention, a winter gathering of Cubs players, fans, legends and management, has historically been a love fest. Even when the Cubs finished in last place, things were fairly positive.

Anxiety Attack

Undying optimism has been replaced with edgy criticism among some Cubs faithful. During a morning session in which manager Dusty Baker and general manager Jim Hendry met with fans, they received some warmth mixed in with some venom.

“The White Sox were World Champions and I was sick to my stomach,” one fan told the pair. “I could see (Sox GM) Kenny (Williams) and (manager) Ozzie (Guillen) sitting there smoking cigars with their feet up on the chair laughing at us, laughing at you guys and laughing at the North Side.”

A woman had been hanging onto a story in which Sox first baseman Paul Konerko said his team was no longer the second team in Chicago and begged Baker and Hendry to not let that happen again.

When the Cubs traded for leadoff man Juan Pierre, some assumed the Cubs were copying the White Sox, who had picked up speedy leadoff man Scott Podsednik the year before.

“There are certain absolutes of baseball,” Baker said. “Nobody’s trying to copy anybody.”

For the most part, Cubs players are willing to congratulate the White Sox for the 2005 season and move on to 2006.

But they know there will be a different dynamic in Wrigley Field when they play there this year.

“To say the pressure is on us is like taking it really, really lightly,” Cubs closer Ryan Dempster said. “With the Red Sox and the White Sox winning the last two World Series, I think the first time we strike out at home or lose, we’re definitely getting booed.

“So we just need to relax and let the 162 games play out. Let’s just try to do what they did on the South Side and keep that World Series title in Chicago.”