Goshen News, Goshen, IN

July 14, 2013

FROM THE SIDELINES: Summer of discontent for Chicago baseball

By STU SWARTZ
THE GOSHEN NEWS

GOSHEN — Two years into retirement and it has been another enjoyable summer.

Not so pleasant has been the play of Chicago’s baseball teams, both headed for 90-loss seasons.

That hasn’t happened since 1986 when the White Sox were 72-90 and Cubs 70-90, both finishing fifth in their respective divisions.

Tony LaRussa was fired that summer as Sox manager and replaced by Jim Fregosi. Harold Baines, Carlton Fisk and Ozzie Guillen were top players with Joe Cowley, Floyd Bannister and Rich Dodson leaders on the mound.

The Cubs of 27 years ago, managed by Jim Frey and Gene Michael, had sluggers like Ryne Sandberg, Ron Cey and Leon Durham. But, the winningest pitchers were Lee Smith and Scott Sanderson with nine apiece.

Not since 1948 have both the Cubs and White Sox been last-place teams.

The North Siders were 64-90 that year under the managing of Charlie Grimm while the South Siders were 51-101 under Ted Lyons.

Andy Pafko, Bill Nicholson, Johnny Schmitz and Russ Meyer were among Cubs 65 years ago while the Sox featured Luke Appling, Pat Seerey, Joe Haynes and Bill Wight.

Both Chicago teams are eerily similar in 2013 — good starting pitching, inconsistent bullpens, mediocre defenses and downright abysmal hitting with runners in scoring position.

The White Sox were at the .500 mark in mid-May, but three straight losses to the Cubs sent them into a tailspin they haven’t recovered from.

The Cubs actually have a winning record outside the N.L. Central, but can’t compete with division powers St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

The Sox still lead the regular season interleague “City Series,” 49-45, and have outscored their crosstown rivals, 435-425.

But after the Sox won 16 of 24 from 2009-12, the Cubs won four straight this summer for their first series sweep since 1998.

The White Sox have won the season series nine times, the Cubs four and they have broken even four times.

A disturbing trend this season has been all the empty seats at both Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field.

While the Cubs have enjoyed amazing attendance numbers over the last three decades, it is not true that they have always filled Wrigley Field.

The Cubs drew under one millions fans each season from 1952-68 while the Sox were topping a million 16 times in 17 years. Of course, it helped that the Sox enjoyed 17 straight winning seasons from 1951-67.

As late as 1982, the Cubs were averaging just 15,500 spectators per game.

The surge seemed to start in 1984 when Sandberg became the Cubs star player and the team won a division title. Harry Caray in the booth was a big hit and a few years later Sammy Sosa began hitting a lot of home runs.

In 2006, Chicago baseball attendance topped the six million mark with the Cubs drawing 3,123,215 and the White Sox 2,957, 414.

The Sox were attendance leaders in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but it has been a Cubs domination ever since.

But with today’s youth seemingly not too interested in the national pastime, could baseball be headed for an attendance crisis?

Happy  belated birthday to my fellow Third of July Club members.

We were organized by the late Jim “Tack” Naile in the early 1970s and certainly miss those early-morning breakfasts on July 3.

This White Sox fan even figured out that our favorite team has posted a 23-37 record on July 3s dating back to 1949.

Pitching shutout wins for the Sox on July 3 were Jim Wilson against Detroit in 1956, Tommy John against Kansas City in 1971 and John Danks against Kansas City in 2009.

Luke Appling was 4-for-4 on my actual birthdate of July 3, 1949 with the Sox winning 8-4 at Detroit.

Eddie Robinson homered twice in a 12-3 rout of the St. Louis Browns in 1952; Tom Seaver earned the win and Ron Reed a save in a 9-5 win over Detroit in 1984; Steve Lyons was 4-for-4 in a 14-9 conquest of Cleveland in 1987; Kevin Youkilis, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski homered in a 19-2 blitz of Texas in 2012.

Here’s hoping for a safe and successful Elkhart County 4-H Fair and that everyone enjoys the remaining days of a summer which is flying by.

Hard to believe — just 26 days until Goshen students report to school.