I preface this entire story by stating the quotation marks around the word 'officially' are a bit misleading. I’ve been a White Sox fan for as long as I can remember. This is a little strange considering I have never lived in Chicago, the Midwest, or anywhere outside the state of Maryland for that matter. My fandom originated from my dad. Born on the North Side of Chicago, he lived in a house divided: his father and brother were Cubs fans, he and his mother were Sox fans.
My mom, on the other hand, was a more casual baseball fan and I doubt really cared too much one way or another on the outcomes of games. Her mother hated all things sports and her father was a Giants fan growing up in Manhattan. Living in suburban Maryland for most of her life, she was an Orioles fan by default.
Onto my story: Growing up in the 80s in a suburb of Annapolis MD, I was unsurprisingly surrounded by O’s fans. I was two and a half (going on three) when the White Sox met the Orioles in the 1983 ALCS. Of course the Orioles eventually went on to win the World Series; however, I imagine that was probably the last thing on the mind of this kid.*
*This kid, who by then, would have told you he was now almost three. I know I just stole the Joe Posnanski-asterisk-side-note style, but I’m not a writer and I'm not about to create my own story interruption technique. Anyway, the real point of this story highjacking was to mention two pretty cool relics from my past: Shortly after the season at a baseball card show, my dad purchased two baseballs signed by each 1983 team.
Following the 1983 season, both teams sank into sub-mediocrity. Impressive as it was, they managed to amass near identical winning percentages for the remainder of the 80s (.463 for the Orioles and .462 for the ChiSox). The Orioles arguably had the bigger star power (Ripken and Murray vs. Baines and Kittle). Over the next few year, I’d venture a guess that my fan allegiance changed from year to year based on which parental figure I liked more or maybe more so which city we were in. I can vividly remember leaving games wearing either an O’s hat or the tri colored SOX cap.
Over the years, the four of us (let’s add a little brother to mix) packed into a 1983 Toyota Supra to make the trip up 695 to park in a school parking lot or one of the Waverly homes’ backyard across from Memorial Stadium to see Sox-O’s games. As kids we were also lucky enough to make the annual trek to the South Side of Chicago in a teal Plymouth Reliant* to Old Comiskey for a weekend series.
*My brother and I still joke about how we loved the roomier Reliant wagon. Unlike in the Supra, we at least had a standing chance to escape our dad’s surprisingly awesome reach between the seat and door when we were being bastards in the back seat.
Here we are now, April 29, 1988. We made the trip to Comiskey for a night game, and to be completely honest it was a mostly unmemorable one (the trip not the game obviously). I’d like to think there was some cool story behind the trip: maybe a stop at Notre Dame to see where my mom and dad met, or a visit to Fort Wayne to say hi to my grandpa, or spending some time in the Museum Campus area on Lake Shore Drive. Either way, that stuff wasn’t really important for the purposes of this story.
For all the times I said I didn’t know which cap/apparel was donning, I can without a doubt say this was a White Sox day. The O’s began their season 0-21. A truly amazing display of ineptitude. I had to go to B-R to actually look at the lineup just fully understand how absolutely terrible this team was.
By this time, I was already pretty heavily involved in coach-pitch, baseball cards, Panini Sticker Books, and even APBA baseball*, so I had a pretty decent working knowledge of the game and some of the more incidental players. I’d already had favorites on each team by this time: Harold Baines and Larry Sheets. Don’t ask me why I picked Sheets (I just looked at his B-R page and saw why… dude hit 31 HRs the year prior in his age 27 season. Larry’s career apparently bottomed out and he eventually surfaced again in 1993 with a twenty plate appearance cup of coffee for the Mariners. According to Wikipedia, he even spent some time playing in Japan).
*While potentially unimaginable, I started playing APBA baseball with my dad when I was about seven. We played entire seasons in a matter of weeks. How many nine year olds knew who Enos Slaughter was? Or had to contemplate whether or not to be bench Ernie Banks because he was mired in 2 for 38 slump? I guess not totally unimaginable but this is the guy (my dad) who put me in his fantasy football league at twelve after watching me do mock drafts off of my Tecmo Super Bowl rosters.
Our seats were along the first base side in those horrible obstructed view seats at Old Comiskey. Memorial Stadium and Comiskey were pretty similar in that both kind of sucked for kids (and probably grownups alike). Promising rookie Jack McDowell pitched for the Sox and Mark Williamson got the nod for the O’s.*
*I had to take a look at Williamson’s career because I now kind of find that odd that he would have started since I remember him primarily as a reliever (He made 15 starts in his entire career, this was his fourth).
I’m not going to get into the details of the game as a lot of me retelling a baseball game between two horrible teams really shouldn’t have any more than a brief nod on Baseball Tonight (much less over a thousand words). Below, I’ve included the abridged recollection:
- Middle 1st Inning: O’s up 2-0 after an Eddie Murray homer. Dad disheartened and convincing us the O’s will win.
- Top 7: The O’s have officially blown this one open after a Kenny Williams error. The family has already contemplated leaving at this point. Per B-R’s Win Probability Added, the O’s raised their chances to 99% after the error. . I’m sure there was some fight between my folks.
- End of Game: The complete disheartened atmosphere in a mostly empty stadium. A flash of a game, which probably felt like an eternity for the White Sox fans who thought they it had in the bag. A kind-of bad team playing a miserable team, with their team’s future ace on the hill, playing a replacement level pitcher for a team that is on pace to lose every game. My dad was crushed. The family weekend was undoubtedly ruined. The strongest man in the world was reduced to a depression because a team in a game he loves beat another team that neither he nor over 99% of the people in the stadium had any control over.* And this was the exact moment where I knew I was a White Sox fan. I felt the same way.
*Cliché, I know, but it’s really true and unfortunately that’s one of the few qualities I inherited.
So it came to be. I was a White Sox fan. I’ll always like the Orioles, but I’ll never be into them as much as a real O’s fan. By contrast though, I probably will never be as disinterested in the team as a majority of O’s fans are by mid-May. Since April 21, 1988, I’ve been to over 40 O’s-Sox games with some of my more memorable experiences noted below.
- I got to meet Harold Baines following games both as a member of the Sox and the O’s.
- A field attendant at Memorial let me run the bases after a weekday night game at Memorial Stadium.
- I sat on the third base line during Wilson Alvarez’s no hitter (I remember the O’s fan going absolutely nuts when the official scorekeeper put an E2 up on the board for Karkovice’s throw to first on a swinging bunt by Ripken – I also seem to remember Ripken beating the on target throw cleanly and it should have been a hit).
- I was behind homeplate at New Comiskey (my first time there) when an aging shadow of himself Carlton Fisk refused to bat in the pouring rain because it was raining too hard. Sox fans who braved the elements actually booed their former hero.
- I was in my favorite seats at Camden (leftfield bleachers in the corner, front row, next to the bullpen) when Mike Sirotka shut down a decent O’s lineup. That game also featured an added bonus of Jeff Abbott belting two homers off Mike Mussina.
- I was in centerfield for an early April game when perennial DFA candidate Adam Eaton came out and dominated the Sox (9Ks????) looking like the guy John Daniels thought he was.
I live within walking distance to Camden Yards now, so I make it a point to go to about a dozen games a year – and always at least one of the games when the Sox come into town. Surprisingly, for as bad as the O’s have been for the last decade, I’d imagine they hold a ten game advantage when I show up. Regardless of how far out of the standings Chicago may be when they invariably lose, I’m still completely bummed for the foreseeable future (thanks Dad).
OK back to lurking and reading more interesting content.