09/23/2008 12:25 PM ET
Windy City waiting for a Red Line Series
Chicago could be biggest winner of Cubs-Sox Fall Classic
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
-- An all-Chicago World Series would be a dream come true for fans on both the North and South sides of Chicago, but might it also be the key to making the city's Olympic dream come true?
"Like I said two months ago, if both teams go to the World Series, the Olympics will go to Chicago," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, referring to the city's status as a finalist for the 2016 Summer Games. "They're going to find out what the city is, what's it really all about, and it's going to have international attention.
"I think it's going to be fun for everyone, a lot of entertainment."
Even if an all-Chicago World Series does not result in a winning Olympic bid, Guillen is right that it would be fun for everyone, especially those who have a rooting interest in the heated crosstown rivalry.
The Cubs and White Sox last met in the postseason in 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt was president, which astonishingly also marks the last time both teams qualified for the playoffs during the same season. So from 1906 until now, a Cubs-White Sox World Series has never even been a possibility.
One step toward the first Red Line World Series -- so named for the red line of Chicago's famous elevated subway, which runs from the Sox/35th Street stop north to the Addison Street stop in Wrigleyville -- already has been taken, with the Cubs locking up the National League Central with a victory over the Cardinals on Saturday.
With the White Sox opening a three-game set at the Metrodome on Tuesday night, against a Twins squad sitting 2 1/2 games behind them in the American League Central, they could take a second step with a series sweep or at least set up a second clincher, this time on the South Side of Chicago, this weekend against Cleveland.
Since 1980, the White Sox clearly have fielded the consistently better teams, year in and year out. Yet during this 28-year-stretch, including this year, the Cubs have made six playoff appearances and the White Sox have made four.
Of course, the bar was raised in 2003, when the Cubs came within five outs of reaching their first World Series since 1945. That bar then reached the ultimate heights in 2005, when the White Sox captured Chicago's first baseball title since 1917.
Close to 2.5 million fans showed up downtown to welcome home their conquering heroes after their sweep of the Astros. Some of those White Sox faithful had to be thinking two things: "Now I can die happy," followed closely by "Now we have clear-cut bragging rights over Cubs fans."
Clear-cut, that is, unless one of the two teams were to win a championship during a Red Line World Series. It's possible that this intense rivalry could move to a new level in 2008.
"It would be hard to even imagine," White Sox reliever Scott Linebrink said of the potential World Series matchup. "I remember watching the Yankees and Mets [in 2000], and that seemed like craziness. I wouldn't know what to expect. I just know what I saw when we played in Interleague. It was a charged-up atmosphere. It was fun to be part of it."
"This would be the absolute coolest thing that ever happened in sports in this city," added David Kaplan, a talk-show host on WGN Radio, the Cubs' flagship station, and Comcast SportsNet, which broadcasts Cubs and White Sox games. "The '85 Bears was the neatest thing I ever saw, but this would top that, because it would encompass everybody on both sides of town. I know there would be Cubs fans absolutely terrified of losing to the White Sox, and vice versa."
At the heart of this rivalry lies the respective fan bases, two groups perceived to represent vastly different demographics.
Wrigley Field is thought to be filled by Yuppies -- Cubs fans who simply go to enjoy the ballpark experience and get their face on television, and who wouldn't be able to tell Ryan Theriot from Ryne Sandberg. Win or lose, Cubs fans go for the libations and the surrounding atmosphere, or so the story goes.
A blue-collar sort of group fills U.S. Cellular. Hard-nosed and gritty, they demand excellence from their team and won't show up unless the White Sox are successful.
One common bond forged between these two is a strong dislike of the other side. A popular T-shirt seen during the past couple of decades on the South Side sports the motto, "I root for two teams: The White Sox and whoever plays the Cubs."
Yet this bitterness does not stand out as abject hatred. Back at the end of June, during the second of two Interleague series between Chicago's teams, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf talked about a significant number of fans who root for both.
Reinsdorf mentioned taking the White Sox to a Bulls game after the 2005 championship and receiving a rousing ovation from the crowd. Not all of those fans in attendance were White Sox supporters.
Don't believe for a second, though, that a World Series matchup between the Cubs and White Sox would play out as a rational "may the best man win" sort of competition. Not where baseball is concerned in this city.
"I've asked a lot of White Sox fans, if given the choice of both teams in the playoffs or neither team being in the playoffs, what would you pick?" said Reinsdorf, speaking on the subject back in late June. "The answer is usually 'neither,' because 'I can't take the chance the Cubs might win.' And these [answers] are from some fairly intelligent people."
"We don't hate them, by any means," said Theriot, the Cubs' top-of-the-order sparkplug and starting shortstop. "It'd be really great if we won. If we lost it, it wouldn't be great; it'd be terrible. But just to have that chance, to have that chance just to get there and have that opportunity to do something great ..."
Until the introduction of Interleague Play in 1997, these intra-city battles only were steeped in the hypothetical.
Sure, there were charitable exhibition games that produced strange commercials involving less-charismatic managers than Lou Piniella and Guillen promoting the event. There even was a White Sox Minor Leaguer named Michael Jordan (yes, the same Bulls legend, the one with six NBA titles) getting two hits during a game played at Wrigley Field in 1994.
But once Interleague Play began, the Cubs-White Sox series immediately took on the intensity of such storied rivalries as Yankees-Red Sox and Cubs-Cardinals. Just one essential ingredient was missing.
"Having a rivalry that really never sees the two participants playing for the ultimate prize is something lost in translation until they meet in the Word Series," said White Sox announcer Steve Stone, who holds the rare distinction of having pitched and broadcast for both Chicago baseball organizations.
"For instance, this year nothing was decided," said Stone, referring to the club's split of six games, each winning all three at home. "Three games in each balllpark, and what did it mean? Treading water for both, no bragging rights for either. It didn't help the Cubs or White Sox, or hinder them."
What these 66 Interleague games have done, with each team winning 33, is create cult heroes who probably wouldn't have been heard of before and won't be heard of again. Brant Brown, Derrick White (Cubs) and Mike Caruso (White Sox) won't get to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame unless they make the drive to Cooperstown, yet they all launched game-winning home runs in the series.
You can bet that any fan standing outside U.S. Cellular on 35th and Shields can describe the exact location of Caruso's long ball off Rick Aguilera at Wrigley Field. The same holds true for fans sitting at Harry Caray's just outside Wrigley when it comes to Brown's walk-off shot against Tony Castillo.
There also are special series moments that live in infamy, ranging from Aramis Ramirez's walk-off homer against Linebrink this season at Wrigley to Michael Barrett's sucker-punch of A.J. Pierzynski behind home plate at U.S. Cellular in 2006, setting off a bench-clearing brawl. Now a storyline appears to be setting up that only Hollywood could have concocted.
The Cubs, trying to end their 100-year World Series title drought, face the White Sox -- spoken of, at times, as Chicago's baseball stepchild -- who could win their second title in four years and break the Cubs fans hearts, as well.
And the winner of this battle?
Certainly, it's the city of Chicago, just as it was 102 years ago, when the White Sox won the championship in six games.
"New York already has had its World Series," Stone said. "With that precedent set, and the city is still up and functioning, I would expect nothing less from Chicago."
"If the two matched up," White Sox television announcer Darrin Jackson, who played for both teams, added with a wry smile, "it would be one of the best [World Series] since 1905. I think it would be a lot of fun."
(Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.)