Battling For The Bottom In Chicago Baseball

Sep 21, 2013
Originally published on September 21, 2013 12:46 pm

The Cubs and the White Socks are both in last place in their divisions. How can one major city have two teams in a race to the bottom? Host Scott Simon asks former Weekend Edition Saturday sports commentator Ron Rapoport, editor of a new anthology, From Black Sox to Three Peats: A Century of Chicago's Best Sportswriting.

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You know, there are just a few American metro areas with a baseball team in each league. New York, the Bay Area, Southern California, they've all have at least one winning club. But in Chicago, both the Cubs and White Sox are in last place, each more than 25 games out of first place in their respective divisions. But, hey, did you see the Stanley Cup?

How can the city that dazzled the world with Michael Jordan and six championships - Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, and the Super Bowl Shuffle - have two baseball clubs who seem to be in a race to the bottom? Well, who better to ask than our old friend Ron Rapoport, our former sports voice here on WEEKEND EDITION, longtime sports columnist in Chicago.

Ron is editor of a new anthology: "Black Sox to Three Peats: A Century of Chicago's Best Sportswriting" from newspapers. He joins us from Chicago. Ron, so good to have you back.

RON RAPOPORT: Always a pleasure, Scott. How you been?

SIMON: I've been fine. So has losing baseball in Chicago just become kind of a local tradition like deep-dish pizza and slipping a fiver to your alderman?

RAPOPORT: Well, what's new about that, Scott, is nothing. I mean of course. What's different, though, is that reaction of the fans. The Cubs and the Sox are dead to these people. It's very interesting because it used to be that when the teams were going badly, there was a lot of yelling and moaning and screaming and carrying on. Now it's just sort of, hey, we've got other things to worry about. I'm kind of surprised at the change in attitude.

SIMON: We should note it's not because they don't spend money because the White Sox have the ninth largest payroll, usually in excess of $119 million, the Cubbies 14th at $104 million. This is more money than a lot of clubs who are winning.

RAPOPORT: Well, the Cubs it's really not a surprise. Their phenoms are phenominating. You know, Starlin Castro, their great shortstop, he's hitting .240. Jeff Samardzija, their top pitcher, he's eight and 12. They don't have a pitcher on the team with a winning record.

The Sox are a conundrum. They were in the race until, you know, until the last couple of weeks last year, and this year they just, they just haven't got a thing. There's just nothing there.

You know, Scott, it wasn't always this way in between the two teams. In the new anthology we're talking about, the earliest piece in it was written just as the 1906 World Series was about to begin.

SIMON: By Hugh Fullerton.

RAPOPORT: Hugh Fullerton...

SIMON: I read this piece over and over pretending it was 2013.


SIMON: This was the Cubs and Sox in a World Series.

RAPOPORT: It was only 107 years ago, Scott. You want to hear the headline?

SIMON: Yeah, please.

RAPOPORT: Sox join Cubs, pennant is won. Thousands of baseball fans frantic with joy over victories which bring both flags to Chicago. And Scott, spoiler alert, Cubs lose.


SIMON: You say in this anthology that in a sense modern sportswriting was invented in Chicago.

RAPOPORT: Well, Fullerton, again, our friend, says that back around the turn of the 20th century - Fullerton started writing in the 1890s - if you'd go to New York, the writers would treat the games as sort of solemn, very solemn occasions, and the writing about it would be pontifical, as if to show off their knowledge of the game. Not in Chicago. The papers were brawling, the city was gritty. It didn't take long for the rest of the country to catch up.

SIMON: I want to read you one of my favorite passages. Mike Royko in 1987, he's reviewing, I put that in quotes, a book written - I put that in quotes, too - by Keith Hernandez of the New York Mets. They'd just won the World Series, defeating of course the Cubs in the National League. Mike Royko wrote: This is a very solid book. The moment I opened the package and saw what it was about, I threw it against my office wall as hard as I could.


SIMON: Then I slammed it on the floor and jumped up and down on it. I beat on it with a chair for several minutes until I slumped onto my couch, emotionally and physically spent. Although slightly scuffed, the book was still intact.

RAPOPORT: That's the funniest sports column I ever read. It ends with him lighting the book on fire, sitting back and watching the fire burn and then pretending it's Shea Stadium.

SIMON: Our old friend Ron Rapoport, who's edited a new book: "Black Sox to Three Peats: A Century of Chicago's Best Sportswriting." Wonderful to talk to you again, Ron.

RAPOPORT: Always a pleasure, Scott. Don't be a stranger now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.