Monday, June 2, 2008

The old horsehide

The Chicago Cubs entered the month of June with the best record in the big leagues. The last time they had the majors' best record as late as June 1st was in 1908, also the last year they won the World Series. Sure, correlation does not imply causation, and it's only June, but there are worse things than having the best record in baseball.

The Cubs are hot, sweeping their entire homestand this week; the seven straight wins improved their record at Wrigley Field to 26-8. They came from behind in all three games this weekend against the Colorado Rockies, most dramatically on Friday when they fell behind 8-0 and 9-1 before grinding out an unlikely 10-9 victory.

They're getting timely hitting from all over their lineup, even the slow-starting Jim Edmonds, who doubled, tripled and drew a bases-loaded walk yesterday. The Cubs continue to score runs in bunches and lead the big leagues in runs scored.

Not to be overlooked amid the Cubs hype is the success of the Chicago White Sox, also in first place despite losing three straight to the surprising Tampa Bay Rays, who own baseball's second-best record. It's rare for the Cubs and Sox to be in first place at the same time, or for that matter at all.

Chicago is already dreaming of a Windy City World Series. The only time this has occurred was 1906; the Sox won it.

The White Sox play in what was expected to be baseball's toughest division, but with the Tigers off to a disappointing start, the division isn't looking so fearsome. Maybe all the good teams are canceling each other out. With Tampa beating everyone and the Red Sox boasting an excellent rotation (and a recent 7-0 homestand of their own), it's the AL East that looks like the place not to be.

Speaking of the cradle of the American League, any right-thinking baseball fan has to love the fact that the Yankees' .500 record has them in fourth place, but it's still early. Over a 162-game schedule, their de facto all-star team usually wins enough games to get them into the playoffs, but if their nemeses in Tampa Bay can keep it up, there are no guarantees.

A lot of people would love to see the Yankees collapse in the last few weeks of September to blow a huge division lead like the Mets did last year. Why are the Yankees the team everyone loves to hate? Let me count the ways.

It's not just that they win a lot of games and a lot of titles. It's George Steinbrenner's long history of buying championships by overpaying free agents, widening the competitive imbalance between large- and small-city teams. It's his and many Yankee fans' spoiled view of their team's prospects, deeming anything short of a World Series title not only a disappointment but a cause for crisis. It's the disproportionate attention the Yankees get from national networks like ESPN and Fox, where their every game score and minor news story are breathlessly reported. It's all offensive and distasteful.

The Yankees' indifferent start and the small-budget Rays' charge to first place, plus the no-hitter that 24-year-old cancer survivor Jon Lester recently threw for their archrival Red Sox, make for good theater. Throw in the first-place Cubs and White Sox and it's a good time to be a baseball fan in Chicago.

In other sports news, my doubles partner Tim Esbrook and I played beautifully yesterday, cruising to a straight-sets win in the opening week of the men's Chicago citywide "B" league. With a last-minute cancellation and no sub available, our Waveland team had to forfeit a court but still won the match 3 courts to 2. Unlike the Cubs we only drew 20,000 spectators, but if we keep playing well, word will surely spread.


Anonymous said...

You sound like a bitter Cubs fan. Yankees are awesome, you are not. If there is such "competitive imbalance", why have teams like Florida, Arizona and St. Louis all won championships this decade?

Ben said...

If there weren't, why would the Yankees have won three rings in four years or whatever it was, not to mention taking a lead into the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 against the Diamondbacks and getting upset by Beckett's Marlins in other recent World Series? Not to mention other well-funded teams like the Red Sox becoming superpowers themselves.

No team can win it every year. Just because the Cardinals of the world (with a respectable payroll of their own, BTW) occasionally pull off an upset doesn't make it fair that the Yankees pay many of their individual players more per year than the Tampa Bays and Kansas Citys pay their entire rosters.

How would you like to be stuck in, e.g., Pittsburgh, where the Pirates could only win the World Series if every other team's plane crashed?

You, my friend, sound like a number of Yankee fans I have known. They live by the Golden Rule: our gold, we rule.

Anonymous said...

That's right, and the Cubs are a poor, small market team. Wah wah wah.

Ben said...

Ah, the old "tu quoque" argument, as fallacious as it was in ancient Roman times.

If the best you can do is to argue that the Cubs are almost as rich as the Yankees, then you've pretty much conceded the point.