In the late 1980s, when White Sox ownership threatened to leave Chicago for Florida if the city didn't build them a new stadium, I said I would be happy to see them go. Besides being against corporate welfare (why should taxpayers fund baseball owners' profits?), as a Cubs fan, it didn't matter to me if the White Sox decamped for the orange groves and retirement homes of St. Pete.
Season-ticket partner Old Style told me I was nuts. He's from Cleveland and understands how great it is to have two teams in one city. "Major League Baseball every damn day," he'd say. "Hell, sometimes we didn't have that in Cleveland even when the Tribe was at home!"
Well, the politicians caved, and so Chicago is the only city that has had two major league teams since the founding of the American League in 1901. One or the other is in town pretty much every day of the season -- as they are this week, when they play their home-and-home Crosstown Classic series.
But sometimes, the schedule gods act in mysterious ways and both the Cubs and White Sox host home games that are not head-to-head matchups. That was the case the week of Independence Day, so I did three games in a row: Cubs on Tuesday afternoon, White Sox on Tuesday night, then Cubs again Wednesday afternoon. A bit of baseball gluttony before the famine of the All-Star break.
First pitch at 1:20 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, last out at 4:16 p.m. Wednesday. In just four minutes shy of 27 hours, I saw 27 full innings of baseball (9 hours, 11 minutes of total game time). I covered roughly 50 miles on my bike to, from and between the games. Food and drink consumed at the ballparks: three hot dogs, seven beers and a circus elephant's morning ration of peanuts.
Money spent ... I'd rather not go there.
The home team lost every game by a cumulative score of 23-8 (both the Cubs and the White Sox gave up nine runs on Tuesday). Along with 103,342 other fans, I saw 963 pitches, 59 hits (14 doubles and 11 homers), 21 walks, 46 strikeouts, seven stolen bases, four errors, two wild pitches, one passed ball and one hit batsman.
But anyone could read most of that in a box score.
What's coolest about a Red Line (or Bike Lane) doubleheader is feeling the differences between the venues and their settings in the city.
If the two ballparks were family members, Wrigley Field is your favorite uncle, the guy who tells epic stories at family barbecues. He might be a little rough around the edges, a bit shabby even, but who cares? The old guy has personality.
U.S. Cellular Field is your boring second cousin from a soulless car-centric suburban subdivision, a shiny happy person whom even the Dalai Lama would make a lame excuse to get away from.
That's kind of a shame, since the White Sox could have built the first of the great 1990s-era retro ballparks: Their architects submitted the design that later became Camden Yards. But ownership wanted no obstructed views, so the upper deck soars into the stratosphere above the skyboxes, with its front row farther from home plate than the last row of Old Comiskey's upper deck. They actually had to take out several rows of seats and add a miniature roof to minimize the feeling of vertigo that kept fans away. Team ownership also insisted on home plate being at the northwest corner of the park (so it would still be at the historic intersection of 35th Street and Shields Avenue), so the upper deck patrons don't even get a Chicago skyline view as they gaze south and east over the Dan Ryan Expressway.
Even worse, the whole place just sits in a sea of parking lots. U.S. Cellular is designed to make sure you spend every dollar you have inside the park rather than in the neighborhood around it. There are a couple of bars a few blocks north in Armour Square and almost a mile west on Halsted Street. White Sox fans do tailgate -- but there's nothing like the pregame or postgame energy you feel around Wrigley.
There is little joy in Comiskeyville.
On Tuesday, after the Cubs lost, I biked down, and I recommend that method over the Red Line (though that El ride takes only 30 minutes, with Addison Street and 35th Street stops just steps from each park). If you want to forget a forgettable Cubs ballgame, take the Lakefront Path; the spectacular skyline, the immensity of Lake Michigan and volleyball players cavorting in the sand will divert one's mind from John Lackey misplacing the strike zone.
And biking lets you resist White Sox management's designs on your wallet. One thing that the Comiskey area has over the North Side is lots of good hot dog stands. Real estate is too expensive for such marginal businesses in most of the Wrigleyville area. But post-industrial Bridgeport is still viable for hot dog stands, and I always get a dog (or two) before going into the Cell. The best spot -- literally a hole-in-the-wall -- is Johnny O's, at the corner of 35th and Morgan streets. Their mother-in-law sandwich (a tamale on a hot dog bun with all the fixings) is world class.
Back to the Cell: It isn't as bad as some critics say. The statues of ballplayers (and Charles Comiskey) in the outfield are well executed (the grim Carlton Fisk looks like he would snarl at you to "Run it out!" like he did to "Neon" Deion Sanders back in 1990). Some design touches are smart: The women's bathroom signs feature the old All-American Girls Professional Baseball League silhouette of a skirted player; and the food and drink selections are quantum leaps above those at Wrigley, what with tacos, churros and bacon-on-a-stick, as well as a wide variety of local microbrews.
But the purpose of a ballpark isn't food, it's baseball, and the Cell is not an ideal place to watch a game. Its symmetry is dull, and fans on the upper deck are excluded from the pleasures of the lower-deck concourse.
But you can always get a ticket at the Cell. I met up with my friend The Curmudgeon and his party of six 45 minutes before first pitch. We got seven seats together, almost a whole row to ourselves.
Don't even think about trying that at Wrigley.
That's the real difference between the two parks: Wrigley is always full-to-bursting; the Cell is usually half-empty (except for Opening Day, Cubs interleague games and the occasional Sunday promotion when Chris Sale pitches). The sociological reasons for this are beyond the scope of this column, but I have written about it for SABR. Even in the lean years of 2010-14, the Cubs outdrew the White Sox.
Of those 103,342 fans I sat with over those three games, only 20,772 were at the Cell. The team doesn't even bother to announce attendance during the game.
This disparity leads defensive White Sox fans to argue that Cubs fans aren't really baseball fans, we're just there for the beer and the flirting and the spectacle -- and stupid Cubs fans even go when our team is bad! As though loyalty is a character flaw.
Sox fans claim that Sox fans are serious baseball fans, there for the pure game Itself.
This is an ironic thing to argue, given that former White Sox owner Bill Veeck Jr. installed a shower in center field and the famous "exploding scoreboard" that sets off fireworks for every Sox homer and victory. And what does the kiss cam have to do with baseball, exactly?
Fans intently keep score or just drink and chat with their pals at both parks.
In any case, baseball is entertainment, not Easter mass at the Vatican; we go to the game -- at Wrigley or the Cell -- for fun, not solemn worship.
And if you really want to have fun, go to three games in two days, and ride your bike all over Chicago on the way.