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Crosstown series: Overhyped

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Starting Friday, the Uncivil War begins again.

The White Sox will play the Cubs six times over a 10-day period with bragging rights in Chicago on the line.

Whenever crosstown series time approaches, there are a few things you can always count on. Namely, you can expect hyperbole and gross overstatements in the papers and on the talk shows, and you can expect hundreds of arrests as inebriated fans trade punches in an attempt to determine who is the better third baseman: Joe Crede or Aramis Ramirez.

The crosstown series also leads to regurgitation of the biggest myth in the history of Chicago sports: This notion that the winner of the Sox-Cubs series has somehow built "momentum" for a second-half pennant drive that will ultimately result in a playoff spot.

This theory is incorrect. I did the research, and in 11 years, there are only two seasons where the crosstown series winner has actually had a decent second half. Most years, the series has been totally irrelevant, other than the bragging rights around the water cooler.

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it. I'll break it down for you, year by year:

1997: Back when interleague play first began, the Chicago teams only played three games per year. In the first regular-season meeting between the Sox and Cubs, the Sox took two out of three from a miserable last-place Cubs team. The Sox went on to trade half their pitching staff at the July deadline and finish with 80 wins. Momentum gained? Nope.

1998: This is one of the two years where you might say winning the crosstown series helped. The Cubs swept a mediocre White Sox team and went on to capture the NL Wild Card by winning a one-game playoff against the San Francisco Giants. Still, the wins over the Sox did not help the Cubs in the playoffs, as they were promptly dismissed by the Atlanta Braves.

1999: The Sox went 4-2 against a miserable last-place Cubs team. Alas, the Sox were pretty sorry themselves, finishing 75-86. Guess beating the Cubs didn't help much that year.

2000: The Cubs fielded yet another miserable last-place team. The Sox won 95 games and went to the playoffs. Yet the crosstown series was a 3-3 split. The White Sox certainly did not derive any "momentum" from that, getting swept out of the postseason by Seattle.

2001: Both Chicago teams had OK years. The Cubs won 88 games; the Sox won 83. The South Siders took the crosstown series 4-2, but they obviously never gained enough "momentum" to make a serious bid for the playoffs.

2002: This summer, an 81-win Sox team split six games with their 95-loss neighbors to the North. Who cares? Momentum? Pffttt.

2003: This was the year the Cubs almost made the World Series. They made it all the way to the NLCS. They were five outs away from winning that, and they collapsed. And, oh, the 86-win White Sox took four of six in the crosstown series. The Cubs winning a postseason series this particular year obviously had nothing to do with "gaining momentum" against the Sox.

2004: The Cubs had an 89-win season, and they took the crosstown series 4-2 against an 83-win Sox club. Unfortunately for the Cubs, their "momentum" fizzled when they choked away a wild-card lead in the final 10 days of the regular season.

2005: The Sox won 99 games. The Cubs finished below .500. Still, the crosstown series finished 3-3. The Sox dropped two out of three at home to the Cubs in June, yet they somehow managed to regain their "momentum" in time to win Chicago's first World Series title in 88 years.

2006: The Sox backed up their championship season with a 90-win year. The Cubs fielded the worst team in the National League. The Sox went 4-2 in the crosstown series, but they sure as heck didn't build any "momentum." A September collapse cost the South Siders a playoff spot.

2007: The Sox fielded their sorriest team in nearly two decades, and the Cubs capitalized, taking five of six crosstown games. You might say the Cubs got some "momentum" from that. They finished 85-77 in a weak division and made the playoffs. But beating a hopeless Sox team in June didn't seem to help them as they got erased from the playoffs by Arizona.

There you have it. There have only been two seasons where the crosstown winner put together a second-half drive to the playoffs. Even in those cases, it's rather dubious to say that victories in June over a team from the other league were that big of a factor.

The Sox and Cubs have played 60 times. The result? 30 wins for the Sox and 30 wins for the Cubs. If your team wins, it doesn't mean you're a team of destiny. It doesn't necessarily mean you'll even make the playoffs. If your team loses, it ain't the end of the world either. Two weeks from now, there will still be three months worth of baseball left one way or the other. Both Chicago teams will likely still be in first place when all this is done.

It's just six games in June, folks, and that's all it is. Don't get too caught up in the hype.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jason Bauman published on June 15, 2008 10:48 PM.

Long way down was the previous entry in this blog.

Losing to crappy NL teams - never a good idea is the next entry in this blog.

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