In America, it is a story as old as dirt. The North v. the South, the Union versus the Confederacy, abolitionists versus slave holders, industrialism versus agrarianism. In Chicago, it’s the northside Cubs and the southside White Sox acting as totems of geographical allegiance.
With the Chicago Cubs advancing to the World Series for the first time since 1945, this crosstown rivalry has reached a crescendo in recent days. Cubs fans are a bit stunned and feeling very, very celebratory, gearing up for their games of a lifetime, or as history proves, several lifetimes. Sox fans are either quietly supportive, trash talking, or increasingly angry as their own World Series victory (Hello, 2005!) seems to be entering the footnotes of Chicago history.
Full disclosure, I am not a baseball fan, or any kind of sports fan, actually. I do have some skin in this game, though, as I am a lifelong Chicagoan. I spent my first 22 years living in the south suburbs, moving to Chicago’s northside the first chance I got after college and have called a series of northside neighborhoods home for the past 25 years. I am fond of saying that you can take the girl out of the southside, but you can never take the southside out of the girl.
I credit my southside roots for my scrappy nature, never backing down from a debate, work ethic, and love of social justice and bargains (not necessarily in that order). My grandparents were all immigrants, like so many other southsiders, and worked as steel workers and domestics. I grew up in the land of landfills, where, when the wind was blowing just so, you could smell the stench of north side garbage being incinerated a few miles from our front door. More than a few southsiders have some pretty sizeable chips on their shoulder, and for good reason.
A lot of this is being played out in the news and social media right now. These are legitimate concerns, given that so many national media outlets seem intent on putting forth the impression that Chicago only has one beloved ball club and they are called the Cubs. Yesterday, on freaking ESPN no less, a graphic was used detailing Chicago’s ten national sports championships since 1965. There were six for the Bulls, three for the Blackhawks, and one for the Bears. Ummmm . . . yeah, no mention of the 2005 White Sox World Series winners. Come on, guys. That’s either nasty or lazy, but either way, it ain’t right.
You see, that kind of bias makes southsiders feel invisible, less than, unworthy. Kind of like a local basket of deplorables, which is how they are perceived by more than a few northsiders. That chip on the shoulder of many southsiders, while unfortunate and unattractive, was earned honestly.
It’s interesting to me that a national championship is leading to Chicago airing out its dirty laundry for all of Facebook to see. There is a great divide in Chicago that runs far deeper than what baseball team you root for. This northside/southside paradigm is real and deeply rooted. And, like our current presidential election, it is bringing out the ugly in a lot of folks.
One childhood friend described getting a series of texts from Cubs fans rubbing in their pennant win, knowing she is a Sox fan. Another childhood neighbor described flying the W flag at half staff, a mandate from his southside wife. More than a few Cubs fans have speculated to me that the reason Sox fans seem so obsessed with the Cubs is because the southside and Sox fans don’t even register or exist on the radar of your average northsider.
To me, it keeps coming back to that idea of being invisible and unrecognized. It never feels good, so why would baseball be any different? Even if every media outlet across this great land of ours neglects to mention that Chicago enjoyed a World Series title eleven years ago in the form of a Sox win, that can’t erase the reality of their championship win. The Chicago White Sox and their fans brought a title home. Cubs fans then, like Sox fans now, might not have celebrated along, though surely some did cross fan lines to celebrate their city.
I’m told that sports rivalries are fun and longstanding and not going anywhere. That’s cool. There’s no need for a kumbaya moment here, but a little empathy goes a long way. Wouldn’t it be grand if all you northside Cubs fans honored the team a few miles to your south, at least by recognizing their existence? And wouldn’t it be swell if southside Sox fans didn’t feel the need to taunt and denigrate a team that is on the cusp of making history?
Find the common denominator. It’s baseball, folks. And Chicago. It’s more, of course. It’s an entrenched history of the haves and the have nots. It’s a pattern of systemic devaluing of all things that happen to exist below Roosevelt Road. It’s industry and manufacturing, the ruins of abandoned steel mills and undeveloped land, housing projects and white flight juxtaposed against lakefront mansions and million dollar condos, widespread segregation, disparity in public education, and any lack of outrage when people of color are shot and shot and shot and shot.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if baseball could cross that divide rather than add to it? It’s possible, I think, but then again, I am fond of choosing hope. As the Cubs go into game one tonight, whether or not you’re a fan, think about what a W could mean for Chicago, not just for northsiders or Cubs fans. A win is a win for our city. Or, so says this naive non-baseball fan with southside roots and northside address.