Friday, October 28, 2005

Psssst. White Sox Win.

PSAYINGS.5S.1-8. Here's a mystery:

The Chicago White Sox's first world championship in 88 years was also the lowest-rated World Series ever.

Chicago's four-game sweep of the Houston Astros averaged an 11.1 national rating with a 19 share on Fox. That's down about 7 percent from the previous low, an 11.9 with a 20 share for the 2002 World Series between the Anaheim Angels and the San Francisco Giants...

This year was a drop of almost 30 percent from last year's series, in which the Boston Red Sox swept the St. Louis Cardinals for their first title in 86 years. That had a 15.8 rating with a 25 share.

The team's world championship drought was longer than that of the Red Sox, who rode a public relations tidal wave last year celebrating the end of the fabled "Curse of the Bambino." That was a good show, and the Red Sox did perform valiantly in battling back from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees in the League Championship Series. But why would the ratings meter plummet to zero for Sox of another color?

If you want to talk curses, Boston's fancied sin of trading away Babe Ruth is a molehill in comparison to the tragic mountain of atonement the White Sox have had to survive and surmount. Their curse is no whimsical trick of hindsight, but a dark reality: their name carries the blackest stain on the history of baseball, throwing a World Series for money. After the disgrace of 1919, it took them 40 years to return to the World Series and another 46 after that to return for a second time. That's a bleak record indeed. Shouldn't this near century in the valley of the shadow have mustered some traction in the national television audience?

It's possible to find excuses for the lack of interest. Most obviously the Red Sox legend isn't wholly a creation of imaginative Boston sportswriters. The Bambino aside, the team's record of 4-3 losses in the World Series has no rival in baseball. The team has blown up in clutch situations with a regularity that even a Phillies fan like myself can only regard with awe. But why this should have somehow transformed the Red Sox into beloved martyrs rather than dismissible goats on the national stage is hard to fathom. Couldn't the Irish sportswriters of Chicago mount even a one-year challenge to the Irish sportswriters of Boston and charm us into believing that 'Sox' equals 'charisma,' regardless of geography?

Another factor: In contrast to the glamor of the long Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Major League Baseball is understandably less interested in reminding fans of the game's most terrible moment. They'd like to forget it altogether, so hyping it is unthinkable. But shouldn't the fans repond to the subversive thrill of digging the unacceptable plotline out of the dustbin and making it their own?

Finally, the White Sox bear the additional burden of being second in the hearts of Chicagoans to the even more infamously incompetent Cubs. Much has been written about why this is, and oddly the Black Sox scandal doesn't seem to be as overtly important as one might think, but why it's so isn't as important as the fact that it's so. Here, for example, is an excerpt from Chicagoan Andrew Greeley's column on the White Sox victory:

Why the difference between Cubs fans and Sox fans? As a working hypothesis I attribute the difference to the fact that the South Side Irish feel culturally inferior, perhaps because of the endless ridicule they must endure from the patently cultural superior West Side Irish and the North Side Irish (such as these latter might be). Or perhaps it is fading memory of the smell from the Stock Yards.

In fact, the sense of inferiority among the South Side Irish is understandable because they have much to feel inferior about (Sorry, Mr. Mayor!).

Of course, Father Greeley affects a tongue-in-cheek style here, though he harps on and repeats his main points a few too many times; in truth, he means what he says. (It's not the first time this over-praised cleric has shown his mean streak.) If Chicagoans can't embrace the White Sox without wrinkling their noses in distaste, how could the wider baseball audience?

And maybe that's emblematic of the difference between a fairy-tale curse and a real curse. Perhaps the 1919 Black Sox are a sin that can't be expiated by a World Series victory, or two, or ten. Maybe they're destined to roam the stage of major league baseball as a perpetual phantom, the invisible team that can never incarnate vividly enough to displace the eight dead men who nearly killed the game for everyone.

2005 WhiteBlack Sox

Well, I know everyone has more important things to think about today. So go on about your business. Forget the White Sox. That seems to be the lesson here.

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