If sports teaches life lessons, then my White Sox taught me to be cautious in my expectations, to wait for the last out to be recorded. And to hate the Yankees.
As a kid in the 1960s, I'd listen late on summer nights to Sox games on the radio. It would be dark. My brother and I would be in our bedroom, lights out, the transistor on. Whether it happened 28 times or twice, I couldn't really tell you, but the scarring came versus the Yankees. The light-hitting, great-pitching Sox of the mid-'60s would be up a run?#34;in exceptional circumstances up two?#34;in, say, the seventh inning. That was enough for gloom to set in. Because I knew that some how, some way, the Sox were doomed. The Yankees were sure to win. And then they did.
Might not seem like much of a crimp in a kid's life, but in that era of 10 teams in the American League, no divisions and no wild card team, you either won the pennant or you didn't.
And, as has become plain in recent days in the repeated "Sox haven't won in 46 years" refrain, the Sox didn't. Mainly they came in second to the Yanks. Usually, second by a game, maybe two. So those last-inning August losses meant something. Failure is what they meant. Good not great.
In a pathetic way, baseball got easier after that when the Sox went into a middling sort of decline. We were competitive but not too competitive. We'd win our share but never enough to make September matter. We'd have amazing rookies who'd have great years, but then they'd go and do some fool thing like blow the tip of their thumb off! You can do many things in life, I suppose, without the top of a thumb. Grip a baseball bat is not one of them. Whatever did happen to Carlos May?
Baseball became the rhythm of summer in the 1970s. Low, steady tempo. Life was just better when there was a game on. They didn't mean much beyond companionship. In the car listening to the Sox, even to Vince and Lou when the Sox had a night game; dialing slowly up and down the AM dial when on the road trying to pick up a game from some far off city. Or, at home, working the antennas trying to gather in a fuzzy UHF signal when the Sox decamped to Channel 32; listening to dreadful announcers like Jack Drees and J.C. Martin.
Four times now, since the inauguration of the playoffs, the Sox have surged into the postseason. Three times they had their heads handed to them in humiliatingly short order by, chronologically, the Orioles, Blue Jays and Mariners. Non-competitive and not fun, each collapse reinforced the Sox disorder of my youth. In the end, and the end was swift, we lost.
Now comes 2005. Not only have we won two series, but we left the Red Sox and Angels ashen.
When next we meet, the World Series will be half over. My only prediction is that I will not tremble in my darkened living room waiting for inevitable loss. These Sox may win, they may lose, but they will compete fiercely and surprise us at odd moments.
Fifty years in, it is going to be a great week to be a White Sox fan.