My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Last Thoughts on 35th Street

. . . at least until spring training and the whole cycle of joy and sorrow starts over again.

Winning the World Series is not my dream. It is my goal.
- Ozzie Guillen, a few long, impossible weeks ago.
The White Sox won the World Series. Strange to think about. The Red Sox and their legions of long-suffering fans made sense somehow, and made the world seem right, and good, and orderly. The Cubs? Someday. But the White Sox? This was the team that hadn't won since the 1919 squad threw the series to collect the gambling payoff. In spite of the name, their team color is black. Once they had to forfeit the second game of a double header when fans wouldn't leave the field following a publicity stunt which involved blowing up disco records. For years they've been playing to a half-empty house in a forlorn, cement monolith of a ballpark stuck between the railroad track, the Dan Ryan Expressway, and the Stateway Gardens, Wentworth Gardens, and Robert Taylor housing projects. Suspecting this was the source of their long-standing attendance problems, owner Jerry Reinsdorf tried to move the team to the suburbs in 1988. But after he bought up the land, the suburb of Addison wouldn't take them - residents voted down the stadium proposal, fearing that it would result in drunk people pissing on their well-manicured lawns. (Why is it so boring out there? They like it that way.)

But it wasn't just fear of the neighborhood that kept the crowds away. An Opening Day Ipsos Poll revealed that the cross-town Cubs have approximately five times as many fans as the Pale Hose. In fact, a good number of people at the Cell on any given game day, myself included, are Cubs fans who want to see a game and can't get tickets to perennially sold out Wrigley Field. A World Series title may shift those numbers a bit, but the Sox are still mightily unloved. A loser among losers. The geek the other geeks make fun of. In short, the ultimate underdog. So it does make the heart feel glad, and the burden of life a little easier, to see them win something.

And who did they beat? The Houston Astros. George Bush Sr.'s team. The whitest team in the league: did you know the Astros were the first team to play in the World Series without a single African American player since the 1953 Yankees? (The league was integrated when the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson in 1947, but the Evil Empire didn't integrate until 1955).

This isn't really the team's fault, it's a symptom of the broad decline of African American ball players over the past 20 years. Inner city kids of they kind who used to dream of playing professional baseball now prefer football and basketball. Brian, the pastor at our Unitarian Church and a diehard Red Sox fan, tells me that part of the problem is the expense of assembling all the equipment for a game of baseball - all you need for a game of football or basketball in the park is a ball. Whatever the reason, his attempts to lure neighborhood kids into forming a team have so far been unsuccessful.

A few generations ago baseball was huge in black communities. A middle aged black professional I work closely with was reminiscing last week about White Sox past. "I remember when they went to the Series in '59, I was in 5th grade. Of course, I was a Dodgers fan. We were all Dodgers fans then, because of Jackie Robinson."

Even before the Dodgers integrated, African American professional baseball was widely followed. Although the numerous attempts to form stable professional leagues were mostly financial failures, a number of teams persisted through the early decades of the 20th Century and managed to play some great baseball. In fact, the White Sox, during the 1950s, shared old Comisky Park with the Chicago American Giants, another great South Side team that was built on speed, pitching and defense. Before that the American Giants played at Shorling Park, which had been home of the White Sox from the 1880s until Comisky was built.

I suppose I had a point when I started writing this post. I can't for the life of me remember what it is now. My mind's getting bleary from daydreams, and lack of sleep, and the several drinks I had with dinner down at the bar. But what I've arrived at is this. Fifty years ago, even with Jim Crow and all the problems this country was facing, African Americans had their own leagues - they owned the teams, played the games, and packed the seats. Today, in many communities the cost of bats, gloves, face masks and helmets is considered prohibitive. Often we tell ourselves that things have been getting better in this country, but that all depends on where you stand.

When I think about Ozzie's statement about winning I think about the state of America, her cities, her progressives. I tried to say this yesterday, but looking back I didn't do such a good job so at the risk of being repetitive:

We do too much dreaming, as well as too much intellectualizing and perfectionist nitpicking. It's time we stopped dreaming, and set some goals, and worked together to achieve them. I hear that sometimes that's all it takes for a bunch of losers and misfits to win it all.

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