An urban legend that must die
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is quoted in the Chicago Tribune today asserting that Chicago is a Cubs town -- but only because the Tribune owns the Cubs.
"How can you compete with ... Tribune?" Daley whined. "I mean, give me a break. They own the Cubs, they own WGN Radio (and) TV and CLTV. Come on. You think you are going to get any publicity for the White Sox? You can't. Let's be realistic."
Give me a break, Mr. Mayor.
I can recall those days around 1958 and '59 -- my formative years as a baseball fan -- when the Sox were the kings of baseball in Chicago. My dad would take us to Cubs game and there were so few fans that the upper deck wasn't even open. We would sit far apart from each other so that each kid could slam down the wooden grandstand seats, one on the left side, one on the right side, in unison, imploring the woeful Cubs to rally from a 10-2 or 8-0 deficit. Slamming down two seats at a time doubled the noise level at Wrigley Field but seldom motivated the Cubs. You can't imagine how bad those teams were.
But here are some attendance figures that will prove my point:
1958 Cubs attendance: 12,726 (average) 979,904 (season total)
1958 Sox attendance: 10,290 (average) 797,451 (season total)
1959 Cubs attendance: 11,074 (average) 858,255 (season total)
1959 Sox attendance: 18,245 (average) 1,423,144 (season total)
1960 Cubs attendance: 10,382 (average) 809,770 (season total)
1960 Sox attendance: 21,357 (average) 1,644,460 (season total)
1961 Cubs attendance: 8,629 (average) 673,057 (season total)
1961 Sox attendance: 14,062 (average) 1,146,019 (season total)
1962 Cubs attendance: 7,528 (average) 609,802 (season total)
1962 Sox attendance: 13,970 (average) 1,131,562 (season total)
1963 Cubs attendance: 12,093 (average) 979,551 (season total)
1963 Sox attendance: 14,307 (average) 1,158,848 (season total)
1964 Cubs attendance: 9,280 (average) 751,647 (season total)
1964 Sox attendance: 15,433 (average) 1,250,053 (season total)
1965 Cubs attendance: 7,821 (average) 641,361 (season total)
1965 Sox attendance: 13,957 (average) 1,120,519 (season total)
1966 Cubs attendance: 7,851 (average) 635,891 (season total)
1966 Sox attendance: 12,148 (average) 990,016 (season total)
1967 Cubs attendance: 12,065 (average) 977,226 (season total)
1967 Sox attendance: 12,168 (average) 985,634 (season total)
1968 Cubs attendance: 12,803 (average) 1,043,409 (season total)
1968 Sox attendance: 9,923 (average) 803,775 (season total)
1969 Cubs attendance: 20,552 (average) 1,674,993 (season total)
1969 Sox attendance: 7,278 (average) 589,546 (season total)
OK, so Chicago was a "Sox town" from 1959 through 1968, the period when the Sox were a very competitive club and the Cubs stank.
But from 1968 on -- long before the Tribune bought the Cubs (in 1981) -- the Cubs finally began to put out a better product and they consistently beat the White Sox at the box office, if not in the standings.
In the last 35 years, the Sox have outdrawn the Cubs only eight times -- 1974, 1977, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 (there goes the Cubs-Tribune conspiracy theory), 1991 and 1992.
In actuality, over the years Chicago has almost always been a Cubs town. The Sox didn't draw a million fans until 1951. The Cubs first did it in 1927. There are many reasons for the Cubs popularity, one of them the fact that the Cubs had many good teams in the 1920s and 30s and the Sox didn't. Another reason, sadly, is race. The Cubs played on the white North Side. The Sox played on the black South Side, and even let Negro League teams play in their stadium. Black fans rarely came to Cubs games until Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.
But there was a period, mostly in the 1960s when I was a forlorn Cubs fan, when the Sox were No. 1 in Chicago. That ended because the Cubs finally improved, not because the Tribune Company bought the team.