Why It Matters

Ever since that wonderful October evening two years ago, much of the Chicago baseball talk has echoed sentiments to the effect that the Crosstown rivalry has changed. Diminished. To some it’s not even there anymore.

The argument goes that since one team has won it all in our lifetime, the stakes are suddenly higher. The White Sox, they of the 2005 World Series, now have nothing to prove to anyone, let alone those perpetual losers at Clark & Addison. Conversely, the Cubs now have bigger fish to fry than just their annoying neighbors to the south.

The thing is, those people are missing the point entirely if they think this Cubs-Sox business has anything to do with baseball. Quite the opposite.

In truth, as anyone from here will tell you, absolutely everything in Chicago is about something of mine being better than your version of it. My neighborhood is nicer than yours. My favorite burrito place is tastier than yours. I know a guy who knows a guy that can take care of the things your guy can’t. The Lou Mal’s by me uses fresher ingredients than the one by you. And on and on it goes.

(Note to non-Chicagoans: Yes, this is a stupid way of thinking. We know this. We accept this.)

We’re conditioned from birth to defend what’s ours to the death, no matter how badly those things might fail us. The old neighborhood’s gone straight to hell? Hey shut up, that’s my neighborhood you’re talking about. Got food poisoning from that sleazy hot dog stand? Ah, that doesn’t matter, it’s still the best in town and I can’t wait to go back.

Tell a Chicagoan their team sucks and you might get an explanation or analysis, but first you’d better be ready to hear a reflexive “What, and your team’s so much better?” And Heaven help you if your team actually is better.

This is why, for six bizarre days a year, the Sox and the Cubs matter to everyone in this town: my team might be awful, but they beat your team and that makes them the best. Half the city then, for once, is forced to shut up. The Cubs could win it all this year, but if the Sox take the season series then we in the black and silver can somehow con ourselves into thinking we still backed the superior franchise.

Irrefutable, idiotic logic as only a city like this one could foster.

In the meantime, the decades upon decades of Windy City class warfare hasn’t gone away. Subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle racism hasn’t gone away. Geographic territoriality hasn’t gone away. Citywide stereotyping hasn’t gone away.

All we have left then is baseball, at once our great divider and, if only briefly, our great unifier.