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Thursday, June 2, 2005 09:00 pm

capital voices 6-2-05

It’s that time of year again — time for local media to spend away its space rehashing the Cubs-versus-Cards argument. The dispute rages: Better team? Better fans? Better ballpark? Better peanut vendor? Better parking? Better neighborhood? Better scoreboard? As interesting, one supposes, as the always topical “What’s smarter, pig or dog?”

Let us now settle the debate once and for all by talking about . . . the White Sox. 

Sox fans. We ask not for equal time in community media, no more than we’d ask for equal Jerry Springer time. It doesn’t matter to us what local sports say, and it doesn’t matter whether you read on — unless you’re man enough — ’cause we’re looking for a fourth Sox.

6 a.m. Bob & Ray’s Café. Kilgore Carpp, Always Gainsay, and are I talking baseball. We’re interrupted. A Cards fan butts in.

“Maybe could be a Sox-Cards series?” he grunts. “I think them there Sox is a good chance a makin’ it this year.”

We say nothing. He has the question-mark eyeballs scaring all Cardinal fans. He struggles to link a few more cropped words together. We intensify our silence. He leaves. It’s kinder to believe that the Cardinals don’t exist. St. Louis, we suspect, is a large farm somewhere in Not Chicago.

Sign of the time. The signs announcing the population as you enter Springfield read 115,500, according to the last official fabrication. Were politics to hide away long enough to let an honest count take place, the sign would announce 100,003 folks: 50,000 Democrats, 50,000 Republicans, and three minds shining strong and independent.

Reshuffle the 100,003, and it deals into two ordinary piles of 50,000 Cub fans, 50,000 Card fans, and one stack of three mighty Sox fans.

No political party-to-team affiliation is dictated yet! As we speak, Democrats are still allowed to follow either the Cubs or the Cards and so, too, Republicans, if they are properly registered.

Body politic doesn’t dictate Card or Cub — what psychologists call herd mentality causes the common heaps. Bandwagon folk. Endless egregious copies. They phone ahead to see what everyone is wearing to the ballpark or political rally, lest they stand different.

A Sox fan, on the other hand, can wear a tuxedo in a crowd of sweatshirts, or a sweatshirt in crowd of tuxedos, and not only feel comfortable but also know that everyone else is poorly dressed.

Sox fans don’t fit Springfield, they fit Chicago: Sandburg’s “of big shoulders” Chicago. If they ride a bandwagon, it’s to test the transport they built.

But every very once-in-an-ethereal while, in a flickering spasm of freelance thought, a Cubs or Cards fan forgets his Springfield geography and asks what he can do to become a Soxman! And we sometimes entertain his petition because we need a fourth — for poker, for golf, for bar-tab payment.

Tainted history. In 1960 I attended half of the Cubs home games because I was passing by anyway on the way home from school and you could get in free after the top of the fifth. Average attendance that year — in the time before bland yuppies discovered that it was cute to say “Wait ’til next year” — was 362. Not exactly everyday bathers, those 362 were at least true to tradition.

In those days, Cubs fans were the result of inbreeding within the dying residue of Old World ruling classes. Sox fans were hands-on working folk.

As with all struggles, the lineup for sides is not so well defined today. Today the Sox-versus-Cubs difference expresses itself not so much in bloodline as in life philosophy. A Sox fan thinks and does what’s right and comfortable, no matter what others think; a Cub person will suffer any discomfort to dance to the puppeteer’s tune, “What will others think?”

Bill Veeck, who chiseled an ashtray into his wooden leg for the convenience and comfort of his nickel cigar, was not just a Sox man; he owned the team.

Rod Blagojevich is a Cubs and/or Cards fan, depending on the poll of the of the moment.

Debate over?

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