For Sox fans, breakthrough brings ecstasy
Chicago's victory in the World Series sweeps away 88 years of disappointments.
CHICAGO — Sometimes, sports has a certain symmetry.
The White Sox winning this year's World Series in a sweep, just as the Red Sox did last year, provides the bookend to the last time both teams won: Those were also back-to-back victories - in the days when Woodrow Wilson was president.
If this win didn't come with all the fanfare that emanated from Red Sox Nation last year, the Midwest home of the other hosiery-named team is still ecstatic. It's the first World Series victory for Chicago in 88 years. It's only the second World Series the town has been a part of since 1945. In fact, other than a few golden years in the 1980s and '90s for the Bears and Bulls, Chicago has had precious few sports championships.
For America's Second City - and especially for fans of the second baseball team in that city - Wednesday night was finally a chance to take the chip off their shoulder, redefine their self-image, and enjoy a rare thing in this town: victory.
"This city needed this so bad," said Chucky Ramirez, still disbelieving just minutes after the last out of the ninth inning. At the door of his uncle's Bridgeport bar, a few blocks from U.S. Cellular Field, he hugged friends and strangers even as he made sure too many didn't crowd the room. "We haven't had anything since the Bulls in '98. Now we got the world champions. We can build on that. The Cubs'll do something, the Bears gotta do something. The White Sox are No. 1 right now, in everyone's heart in this city, maybe in the world."
That might be exaggerating a bit. This World Series was on track to set a record low in ratings: The rest of the country never seemed to get behind the scruffy team with little star power and an ever-changing roster of heroes. Even in Chicago, enthusiasm among Cubs fans was muted, at best.
Still, the victory fills a notable absence in this haven of sports fans, and it lets Chicago be, at least for a little while, second to none.
"It's important for this city on a lot of different levels psychologically," says Dominic Pacyga, a professor of history at Columbia College in Chicago and a lifelong Sox fan. "It's really important for the South Side, which has been making a comeback on all kinds of different levels."
Chicago's Second City identity dates back to the 19th century, to the competition with New York over the 1893 World's Fair and the feeling that it was an unloved stepchild, says Professor Pacyga. He remembers the 1950s and '60s, when New York and Chicago - and occasionally Cleveland - always seemed to be fighting for the pennant.
"My body's not used to this," he joked, anxiously watching the game from his South Side home. "Usually I'm in hibernation right now."
On Chicago's North Side, the only World Series drought that really matters was unaffected by Wednesday's victory. Still, at the Cubby Bear, across from Wrigley Field, a decent crowd watched the game on high-definition TVs and mostly cheered their longtime rivals.
"It's so exciting! You take what you can get in Chicago," said Erica Niwa, with more enthusiasm for the team's success than her boyfriend next to her. "If the Red Sox and White Sox can do it, that means the Cubs can do it."
But Michael Clarke, a few tables away, said that while a championship is welcome, it won't really ease the city's championship complex. "I mean, it'd be nice if the Blackhawks won, too, but it wouldn't be the Bears," he said. "We like what we like in Chicago."
But on the South Side, the victory provides all the satisfaction fans could want. It's a catharsis of sorts - for the Sox' perpetual Other Team status; for the memories of all those embarrassing publicity stunts, including Disco Demolition Night and the exploding scoreboard; and for the shame of the 1919 Black Sox.
At Jimbo's Lounge - a grungy Sox bar that one Chicago website describes as "the anti-Cubby Bear" - the doormen only let in regulars, and fans who couldn't get in stood outside in the rain to catch the wave of excitement from the sardine-packed crowd. When Juan Uribe dove into the left-field stands to make the second-to-last out, the bar erupted. One out later, it exploded.
Revelers craving company poured into the streets, ignoring the rain and offering hugs and high-fives to everyone in sight. Brooms and banners waved.
"The only curse left is the little goat on the North Side," joked Michael Hammer, wearing an "AL Champions" hat and an ear-to-ear grin.
His friend, Tony Vazquez, felt so good he could even be magnanimous about them. All his life, he and his three brothers have been split down the middle between the Sox and the Cubs. It got so heated at family functions that they made a vow a few years back to avoid all baseball talk.
"I told my brother, if we win this World Series, I won't cheer against the Cubs any more," said Mr. Vazquez, delirious with joy. "There's enough happiness for everyone in this city now."