COMMENTARY | The last game the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs played that was worth more than 0.6 percent of the regular season was in 1906. It was played at a place called South Side Park. 19,249 people were there, and they're all dead.
The Wright brothers were still trying to convince the government of airplane practicality.
The Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line, which connects the two current Chicago ballparks and is often referenced when the two teams play--the Red Line Series--was six years old and didn't venture south of the Loop.
The pitchers of record were named Doc and Mordecai, and one of them had three fingers.
When the Sox host the Cubs tomorrow, the teams will be renewing something. Interleague play. Not a rivalry.
It could be the least-watched game between the two since interleague play started in 1997. Why? For one, baseball enthusiasm isn't exactly at an all-time high in Chicago. But more importantly, there's a rivalry to watch. The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings drop the puck for Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals an hour after the baseball game begins.
The fact that players from both teams get to sleep in their own beds is a matter of convenience, not distinguished athletic competition.
Geographically fabricated sports rivalries are for people who know little about sports and need a reason to watch, and Major League Baseball was smart enough to begin taking full advantage of that in 1997. That's exactly what the Sox-Cubs series is--a mess of forced enthusiasm on often-mediocre baseball teams and beaten-to-death insults about Sox fans being poor and Cubs fans being drunk coming from Cubs fans who are likely poor and Sox fans who are likely drunk.
Rivals are teams that play important games against each other, not teams that fill out similar tax forms. If they fill out similar tax forms, all the better, but athletic relevance is not an unessential part of the formula.
The only shared memory anyone has from the last 15 years of Cubs-Sox interleague play is more of a criminal act than an act of baseball--former Cubs catcher Michael Barrett popping former Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the jaw. No one remembers if Pierzynski scored. No one remembers who won.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are rivals because everyone remembers who won when Curt Schilling bled all over himself, not because blood was drawn.
The Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche were rivals because they were the two best teams in the NHL's Western Conference for a prolonged stretch of time, not because Patrick Roy once pretended like he beat the sense out of Chris Osgood in that sweet goalie fight.
There has to be an important athletic element for teams to be rivals. There has to be something happening in the game to make Cubs play-by-play announcer Len Kasper stop talking about American Idol and Sox play-by-play announcer Ken Harrelson start putting it on the board, yes.
These teams don't play in the same division. They don't play in the same league. They never play in the heat of a late-September playoff push. A win is worth the same as any other regular-season win, but a Sox loss does nothing to help the Cubs. A Cubs loss does nothing to help the Sox. And because of that, these games are actually worth less than any game each team plays against any of the teams in their respective leagues.
That doesn't mean they shouldn't play or people shouldn't pay attention. It makes perfect sense for these teams to play--from a business standpoint and an entertainment standpoint. Whenever a league can pack a stadium or arena with a large number of fans from both teams, a different environment is created. It's unique. But that's it. A unique day at U.S. Cellular Field. Not illustrious, heightened athletic opposition.
So enjoy it all you want. Call each other what you want--anything but rivals.
Kevin Chroust has covered baseball and various other sports since graduating from Colorado State in 2005. He has been following Chicago baseball since age six when Mark Grace hit .647 in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. His travel writing will appear in The Best American Travel Writing 2013. You can follow Kevin on Twitter @kevinchroust.
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