Dear Zulk: Could you explain to non-Chicagoans the difference between a White Sox fan and a Cubs fan?

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May 12, 2004

Today is the day to walk only in lunges.


Ask Dear Zulk: Baseball Edition

Dear Zulk,

Could you explain to non-Chicagoans the difference between a White Sox fan and a Cubs fan? Is a child born into one following or the other? Why or why not? Discuss.

Absolutely. However, being a White Sox fan, I thought it might be a bit biased if I were to explain the difference. So I asked two totally separate biased people to do it for me. So please welcome my experts:

Annie Logue, Cubs fan, on Sox fans: "Dirk Wears White Sox"

White Sox fans suffer from severe cognitive dissonance. They like to think that they have the more authentic baseball team in Chicago, whatever that means, but they play in a new-ish modern dish. The supposedly yuppie poseur team, the Cubs, play in a beautiful historic stadium. And just mentioning this brings on a major vein event.

And here's the problem with the White Sox - they play on the South Side of Chicago. The South Side experienced one of the most profound demographic shifts in history in the 1960s, when it went from being almost entirely white to almost entirely black. Many of those who left felt betrayed and wanted nothing to do with their old haunts. Others were afraid to ever go anywhere south of Madison Street ever again - for that matter, once they decamped to the suburbs, they often decided that everything about Chicago was too scary for words. Even if they claimed to be White Sox fans after leaving Chatham for Elmhurst, they never actually went to any games. A third group decided that being a Sox fan was proof of Redneck Pride (e.g., William F. Ligue, Jr.); they went to the games, raised a ruckus, and scared off everyone else.

During all this, North Siders stayed put, and North Siders stayed loyal to their team. People walk to the stadium, see good baseball, go home. Being a Cubs fan is about the game, not about identity politics. And yes, being a Cubs fan is in part about the best stadium in the Major Leagues.

Baseball is an old game played over long seasons. The average team loses more than half of its games every summer. I grew up in Ohio and spent my formative years following the Cleveland Indians during their forty-year drought. This is not a sport about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It's about sitting in the sun and drinking a cold beer and listening for the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd. Wrigley captures that. The Cubs, despite their loser reputation, have never suffered anything like what the Tribe went through. But both the Cubs and the Indians teams developed lots of fans who come out for a ball game, no matter the outcome.

I'm still an Indians fan. Until interleague play brings the Tribe to Wrigley, I'll make the occasional trip to Comiskey to see them. I'll see the empty seats, order the Chardonnay, find easy close-in parking in a neo-suburban sea of concrete. Afterward, I'll mention it to my Sox fan friends, and they will sputter in rage. But no matter what they say, there are still too few of them to fill the stands.

Leonard Pierce, Sox fan, on Cubs fans:

Asking why someone loves any sports team is like asking why they love their mother. They just do, that's all, and nothing is going to change that. However, there's a number of reasons why being a fan of the Chicago White Sox satisfies the soul in a way that being a fan of the Chicago Cubs cannot. Here's a few of them.

1. CLASS. The Cubs -- at least since the Tribune media conglomerate bought them in 1981 -- deliberately cultivate a fan base of the upper class, the elite. Their fans are yuppies, businessmen, and people who can afford to skip out on work in the middle of the day. The Sox, on the other hand, have always been the team of Chicago's working class. They represent the tough and scrappy south side, not the tony north side; their fans are Polish, Irish, black and Latino, while Wrigley Field is a sea of white dressed in red and blue; Cubs fans work at the Board of Trade, while Sox fans work at Target. The reputation of the Sox as combative, hard-headed rough-housers was well earned. Chicago isn't a city of elites, of professionals and topsiders; Chicago is the City That Works, the city of broad shoulders. The White Sox, as the team that represents the people of the working class, are truly Chicago's team.

2. STYLE. The Cubs, quite frankly, are mainstream. They're the default setting. When someone hears you're from Chicago, they assume you're a Cubs fan, because everyone is a Cubs fan, right? Well, the majority isn't always right. The Cubs are the Billy Joel of baseball; the Sox are the Ramones. The south side team is punk while the north side is disco (remember Disco Demolition Night?). We're the alternative, we fans of the Chicago White Sox; we stand proudly alongside our black-clad, super-tuff team, representing the free, the proud, the freaks. We're the team the cool kids like.

3. SUCCESS. There's really not a lot for the Sox or the Cubs to brag about, but when you're facing as many decades of futility as Chicago baseball fans, you'll take whatever you can get. Although neither team has won, or even been to, a World Series in over 40 years, the Sox have been more recently (1959 for the Sox, 1942 for the Cubs), have won more recently (1917 for the Sox, 1908 for the Cubs), and, of course, the one time the teams met in the championships, the White Sox won. The Pale Hose also have a marginally better lifetime winning percentage than the Baby Bears, and have won more of their head-to-head meetings. When you're looking at a 80-year championship drought, there ain't much to brag about, but what bragging rights there are belong to the Sox.

4. ATTITUDE. Perhaps most importantly, the difference is one of attitude. Most Cubs fans don't seem to like baseball so much as they like the idea of baseball, and Wrigley's reputation as the cathedral of baseball, in addition to being a rather grotesque pile of media hype, has a lot more to do with its 'world's biggest beer garden' aspects than the inherent quality of the park (which, after all, is a bandbox). But beyond that, Cubs fans seem to think it's cute to lose. They even have a name for it: they're "lovable losers". They almost delight in their haplessness. Sox fans, on the other hand, hate losing. It consumes them. They know there's nothing lovable about losing. They don't invent stories about curses to explain their team's failures; they place the blame where it belongs, on the team and its management, and they demand something be done about it. Losing ain't cute. Sox fans go to a bar to drink and pick up girls; they go to a ballpark to watch baseball.


And those are the short answers. Does that answer your question? And we all like each other in the end, in the off-season. Sort of. Sometimes.