By Mauricio Rubio
“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, ‘cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder Children get older. I’m getting older too” -Stevie Nicks
This is part II of IV in a mini-series about growing up Chicago, baseball style. Pt. I can be found here.
There are some great Chicago sports myths out there. MJ would’ve won 8 if he never retired, easy. Bear weather. Ruth called his shot to spite the Cubs. Ozzie ball. My favorite of all time is the eventual crowning of the 1994 Chicago White Sox as World Series champions. Nothing would’ve stood in their way en route to title #3 as they would’ve eventually done battle with the Montreal Expos.
There’s a lot of would’ves in that previous paragraph. Very few things are certain in a baseball season. The White Sox were 1 game up on a young Indians team at the time of the strike, and who knows what happens in the playoffs. What I do know of that season is that the 1994 team is one of my favorite teams in baseball history. That lineup was disgusting and Frank Thomas was living up to his moniker, “The Big Hurt.” The man was mashing at a historic level. He was carrying a 1.217 OPS through 113 games, with 38 HRs, 109 BBs and only 61 Ks. During the first phase of his career, he was on track to perhaps becoming one of the best hitters in baseball history. He was walking with Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Hornsby, Greenberg, Foxx, and a host of other legends, both living and dead. As a young baseball fan he was the bond that connected the current with the past.
That team was perfect for a little kid. You had the fast guys like Raines who ran everywhere, you had the mashers like Thomas for the HR insta-gratification, you had the good pitching in Fernandez, McDowell, and Alvarez, you had a little dash of everything with them. All the previous White Sox teams seemed to be building to this moment, to this season, all of it pointed to 1994 as the moment that the White Sox would shine.
I bought in, and I do think they win that division in retrospect, but it would have been a great pennant chase down the stretch (remember when Thome was a 3B? Jeez). Tony Gwynn was hitting .390 and chasing Teddy Ballgame. Matt Williams was on pace to surpass Ruth and Maris as the single season HR king (Ed. note: the original San Francisco Giant to chase that record, minus the ‘roids) .
The Expos were kicking ass. Randy Johnson was just starting his enlightenment. And then it was gone on August 12, 1994. All of it, all that baseball, all that love and family ties, all that had been built up in my baseball heart, was shattered as Bud Selig announced that there would be no World Series played that year.
There are a few traditions that I still honor from the early days of my baseball fan youth: I don’t drink at Chicago home games. I watch the All-Star game, and I always watch at least one World Series game with my pops. As a family, we would watch the World Series together, and if I was lucky, my grandfather would be there too. All I heard that season was how the White Sox might make it to the playoffs. which meant I would get to see my hometown heroes play in a World Series game with the paternal figures in my life. That was going to be heaven right there.
I first read about the strike in Sports Illustrated for Kids (Yes, I did have a subscription until I was in 6th grade. Then it was plain ole SI for me), and I didn’t think anything of it. There’s no way they would cancel the season.
Well, the commish said no mas, and I said “Fuck you, baseball,” for a while. I flirted with coming back in 1997, but it definitely wasn’t as a White Sox fan. A funny thing happened after the strike: the White Sox got worse, gone were the hopes of a World Series title, and I was bitter about it. I didn’t turn to the Cubs immediately either. If anything, I was just an observer of baseball at that point. I wasn’t all in with it, but the Cal Ripken streak did help a lot.
My friend Sebastian lived on my block in Cicero. His family was full of Cubs fans. Around April of 1998 he started telling me about this kid the Cubs had that was a Texan with a power arm like Nolan Ryan. Now, my favorite pitchers during the Sox years were Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Black Jack McDowell. Two of those guys have a lot in common, and anytime the good name of Nolan Ryan is invoked, I’m intrigued in the message. I figured I’d watch his next game and see what was up.
I got to stay home on a Wednesday to watch a Cubs game. I forget the excuse I had, I think it was a weak cough.
The date of that game was May 6, 1998.
Pt. III will be out next week