By Ken Trainor
It's been a nice summer. The Cubs and Sox suck.
At first glance, those two sentences seem to clash, but they're connected. The latter is cause, the former effect.
Not the whole cause, but significant. When one or both of our baseball teams are in contention, I get tense. Last year, the Sox were in first place most of the season — even though they kept losing. The Detroit Tigers tried their hardest to hand them the division but simply couldn't lose enough games to keep up (i.e. down). Finally, with about 10 days left in the season, they passed the inert Southsiders and claimed the division. It was not enjoyable.
As far back as I can remember, I've been a Chicago baseball … well, "fan" is not the right word. There are no Chicago baseball fans (except, possibly, Ernie Banks). We are all Cubs and/or Sox co-dependents.
In my opinion, only three kinds of seasons are enjoyable:
1) when one of our teams goes all the way and wins the World Series (which has happened once in the last 96 years)
2) when one or both teams significantly exceed expectations (even if they come up short), and
3) when both teams suck (though the reason it's enjoyable has little to do with baseball).
The worst seasons are when both teams play well below expectations or they flirt with us, alternately raising hopes, then dashing them (e.g. the White Sox last year).
Though most of us may not like it when our teams suck, at least we can relax. No surprises. No roller-coaster ride ending in heartbreak. You can watch the games without tying your stomach in a knot. There is much to commend a season where both teams are out of the running by June.
Even the broadcasters relax (except maybe Hawk Harrelson). On a whim a couple of weeks back, I turned on a Cubs game on a Sunday afternoon. All Cubs games are meaningless these days, just as they were throughout my youth. Before the first player came to bat, the umpire bent down and brushed home plate, prompting play-by-play man Len Kasper to wonder "if they'll ever develop a self-cleaning home plate."
The answer soon descended from the ethereal Internet into his headset: Bill Veeck (who else?) tried a built-in air puffer at some point. Didn't catch on. It was probably destroyed by the first slide at the plate.
By the fifth inning, Len, watching the pitcher accept a sign from his catcher, wondered how the up-and-down "nod" developed and how "No" ended up going side to side (except, I think, in Pakistan).
Some might call that banter inane, but it's a relief not being in a pennant race. The pastime became pastoral again, allowing the mind to pleasantly wander. I would enjoy being an announcer for a team playing meaningless games in August.
As bad baseball seasons go, this has been a particularly good one. The Blackhawks brought the city a major sports championship, which took until late June to wrap up. They did it by finishing the regular season with the best record in hockey, coming back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat a hated rival (the Detroit Red Wings), besting the defending Stanley Cup champs (the L.A. Kings), then overcoming another hated rival, the Boston Bruins, who broke the hearts of local hockey fans four decades earlier in the Stanley Cup finals (some of us have long memories). The Hawks won the final game by scoring two goals in 17 seconds in the last minute of play.
Such things just don't happen in Chicago.
But they did this year, so Chicagoans probably didn't much notice how bad the baseball teams were until July, and then the weather improved — cooler and sunnier than average, no hundred-year floods like the last few Julys and Augusts. The decline of the Cubs and Sox has been, at most, an afterthought. One less thing to obsess about.
The combination of no angst over either baseball team, unusually temperate summer weather, plus a major sports championship to celebrate seems to have blissed out the entire Chicago metropolitan area — or, at any rate, me.
I'm not saying I want them to suck every year, but the Cubs and Sox made a real contribution to my contentment quotient this summer.
Honestly, I'm grateful.