By Mauricio Rubio
In Chicago there is an arbitrary choice to be made as you grow into maturity. Most of the time the choice is made for you, as it is usually dictated by family, geography, or your personal circle of friends. Here, in this city, you find your sports identity by the teams you root for. There are of course, the obvious stereotypes that no one can escape. Bears fans are all meatballs, as noted by the SNL skit that gained popularity so many years ago. Blackhawk fans are super protective of their sport and claim superiority over all. Bulls fans are black or just Jordan fans. And then there is the complexity that comes with baseball.
You see, it’s not just laundry that you root for when it comes to baseball. Woven into the fabric of Chicago baseball fandom are certain beliefs, ideologies, and two very distinct cultures that divide the chasm between north and south. To be a White Sox fan is to live a completely different existence than a Cub fan. Both fandoms do similar things, both are prone to the same idiocy, to the same level of fanaticism, to the same level of baseball enjoyment, but both do it in completely different ways.
I’ve walked both lines; I’ve seen both fandoms ride the emotional rollercoaster that is a baseball season. I’ve seen the ugliness, the beauty, the simplicity, of being a Chicago baseball fan, and beneath the complexity is a simple love of game that I argue extends deeper than any fandom in baseball. I know the east coasters like to claim superiority in this regard as well, but I will respectfully maintain that the Chicago baseball fan is more ardent, more invested in their team’s success on average, than any other team.
I was born at Mt. Sinai hospital kitty corner to Douglas Park on the city’s southwest side. For me, the choice of baseball fandom was made for me. I was born into a White Sox family. My mother’s side of the family moved into the city in mid-1960, first into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, and then into La Villita, both eventually became the strongholds of Mexican American culture. Being from the South Side means that you are a White Sox fan, no questions asked. I really couldn’t name you any Cubs fans from my blocks on 25th and Drake, and then when we moved to Cicero in the early ‘90s I knew of only 3 Cubs fans in the entire town.
For my family, on both maternal and paternal branches, baseball is our unifying bond. My father’s family could (and sometimes did) field a baseball team on their own. My father played ball, all his brothers played ball, all my cousins at some point played ball, and it was what they did, what we did, together. I was very different from my cousins. For starters I was born here; they were born on the family ranch in Mexico. To them, I was an American; I would never be Mexican enough to truly fit in with them. Baseball is all we have in common, and it’s really all we needed to have in common.
My mother has 4 brothers and one sister. All four, at one point or another, played ball. This is largely due to my grandfather, and it is indeed the root of my baseball tree.
When my grandfather made a permanent home on Chicago’s lower west side, he made a choice that our family, for the most part, honors to this day. He became a White Sox fan. My grandfather took me on a lot of rides around the city. He was a carpenter until they told him he couldn’t be one anymore and it was time to retire. In his retirement he took up a lot of home improvement tasks, which required a lot of running around to different mom and pop hardware stores around the city. The deal I had with him over the summer was this: I would help him run around in his hot ass steam mobile of a car, he would drive me to baseball practice. It was a fair deal all things considered, I learned a bit about home improvement, I got to see more of my neighborhood, and I spent time with my gramps. I learned a lot in those car rides. He used to quiz me on Mexican culture and baseball. He would tell me about the time Wilbur Wood started both ends of a double-header, he had Moose Skowron stories, he knew everything about every neighborhood we walked into, and he loved Brown’s Chicken.
By far, those car rides were my favorite part of summer.
This used to be Moose’s bar, “They Call Me Moose.” My grandfather always accentuated the o’s, making it sound like the Youk chant.
I grew up in White Sox culture, I wanted to play for the White Sox in my little league, and I have pictures of Frank, Black Jack, Tim Raines, and other White Sox players from the early 90’s. I actually had an 80’s Ozzie Guillen figurine, my family owns a few of the Old Comiskey seats. Hell, I played in the same South Cicero little league as his kid, I met the man before I understood what it was to actually meet him. I have a surprising amount of White Sox street cred thanks to those early years, and it’s because of my family.
White Sox fandom is passed down from generation to generation. My grandfather passed it down to his kids, and my uncles are passing it on to their kids. My cousin Luca isn’t even a real toddler yet, but he’s being groomed to become a White Sox fan. Oh, and he lives 700 miles away from the South Side Mecca, he’s being raised in Washington DC.
My other cousins Maya and Nael were born to perhaps the biggest Sox fan in the family. There’s even a rumor that he planned Maya’s birth to coincide with a brief relocation to Chicago for work purposes. Maya was born in Chicago and is being groomed for White Sox fandom. She hates the Twins and she isn’t even 10 yet. They live in Houston, and the fandom is still being instilled in both Nael and Maya.
That is the framework for my youth as a White Sox fan. I had no real choice but to become a White Sox fan. And I was an ardent supporter. Trust me; I didn’t go forth unwillingly into the black and gray. I dropped my first f bomb in 1993 when the Blue Jays defeated the White Sox in 1993. I do love those early 90’s White Sox teams; they were fun to a young kid. Frank Thomas is still my favorite baseball player of all time, Alex Fernandez, Ron Karkovice, Bobby Thigpen; all those guys will live forever in my baseball heart. Speaking of Karko…
Sounds of Comiskey
I’m told that my first baseball game was at Wrigley, but my early childhood baseball memories were formed at Comiskey II. I’ve been to Comiskey I, but those memories aren’t there. What I do recall from my early formative years as a baseball fan all tie into Frank Thomas, Nancy Faust, Ron Karkovice, and Gene Honda.
Now, if you don’t know who Gene Honda is, read this, watch this and come back to me.
The Chicago White Sox had a pretty good team in 1992; they finished the year at 86-76, third in the west, and had the pieces to put something real together over the coming years.
I was 6, and extremely unaware of it all. I knew the entire starting lineup though, and most of the pitchers because of one man, Gene Honda.
Honda has a voice made for PA announcing. It’s deep, hard, and (perhaps I’m just projecting this), extremely South Side. My uncles and I would play wiffle in our backyard, and the Gene Honda voice was so ingrained in me, I recited the 1992 White Sox batting order by heart as I was up to the plate (as an aside, my Uncle Ruben would always throw at my face when I was facing him in wiffle. It was mortal combat with that cat, but I do partly credit him with giving me the quick twitch muscles I developed). Ron Karkovice is my favorite Gene Honda name of all time. Frank Thomas was another great Honda name, but the way Karkovice rolled through the stadium, with punctuations on both K’s, was hypnotic. It’s forever engrained into my baseball brain. It’s not leaving either. I’ve tried to imitate it at various points, but it’s nowhere near the same. Honda had IT. It’s gotten to the point where I would pay good money just to have Gene Honda record my voicemail message. He still does work on the South Side, Konerko is becoming another Honda favorite of mine. The voice has smoothed some over time, but it still carries in that ball park. He’s become a central part of that culture, he is a part of south side fandom.
That goes for Nancy Faust too. For me, I can’t declare it a real Sox game unless the pitcher is forced to exit in the middle of the inning to the tune of Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye (if it doesn’t start at 1:44, skip it to that point), played on the organ. HR’s, early exits, batting music sometimes, funky moments in-game, it was all punctuated by Nancy Faust (I have to admit, even as a Cubs fan, I haven’t seen much in sports that is more gripping than hearing 40K cheer along with an organ in a playoff game. Hearing the slow “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, gooooodbye,” is just chilling). For 41 years, ending in 2010, she was a big part of those parks, Comiskey I and Comiskey II.
Good Guys Wear Black
As for the actual teams I grew up rooting for, it was a blast to be a White Sox fan in that era. Baseball cards were still around (I had a Thomas 1991 Upper Deck card that I loved to death), the teams at that point were building towards something, and the new park for all its faults, was fun to go to with my family. That 1993 team is still one of my favorite teams of all time. I remember the scoreboard animation they had for “The Big Hurt,” a muscular slugger charging his bat with lightning and unleashing holy hell on a baseball, with his nickname flashing in the background. The screaming baseball is one of those things 8-year-old Moe never forgot.
There are a lot of memories of that early ‘90s Sox run that I won’t forget. Tim Raines gunned a sucker out at home plate in 1991 and blew out his finger gun before holstering it. I don’t really remember anything about that play but his bravado (as an asshole high school player I pulled the same shit 12 years later, finga gunz and all). I recall the Wilson Alvarez no-hitter in 1991, I remember Joe Carter catching the last out in 1993 and the heartbreak that came with that.
I definitely remember 1994, when everything about my baseball world and my family life changed.