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OPINION: The White Sox Rebuild Should Excite Cubs Fans

The White Sox are a team wholly invested in turning their rebuild into a window of contention starting in 2020. Cubs fans should appreciate the ride.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

As far as baseball goes, Chicago has been a tale of two cities this winter. For the Chicago Cubs, low-risk signings while endlessly entertaining ways to dip under the Luxury Tax have made for a slow, painful offseason. The White Sox, on the other hand, have been one of baseball’s most active franchises, ensuring the Hot Stove is an appropriate name and not the misnomer it had been the past few winters.

Even with both teams heading in seemingly opposite directions, this winter has neither signaled success in 2020 for the Sox nor guaranteed failure for the Cubs. The offseason has maintained that trajectory might be real, however, and while some folks want to play a game of sibling rivalry, that’s never quite been my cup of tea. Sox fans relishing in the completion of their rebuild as their counterparts marinate in bitterness is understandable, even if the rivalry hatred often feels like a one-way street.

To a degree, it makes sense to me that Sox fans might rib Cubs fans every chance they get. Sox fans have dealt with relative anonymity during periods of bad baseball while the Cubs were branded as “lovable losers.” Media attention has always skewed north, and claiming fandom to the Cubs hasn’t necessarily required a litmus test. So for Cubs fans that devote themselves to this team, hatred from Sox fans feels desperate, annoying, or both.

Despite our respective histories, I’m willing to go on record and say that I reject the fabricated animosity that has long taken hold among the city’s baseball fans. In fact, I’ll proffer an olive branch: Cubs fans should unabashedly appreciate what a competitive Sox team means for baseball in the city.

This Rivalry Should Express the Best of Chicago

Although I’m a life-long, passionate Cubs fan, I’ve lived in Chicago for seven-plus years, and as such I’ve been told I don’t understand the rivalry dynamic in full. I’m fine with that, even if it is awkward to me when folks express emphatically the Cubs and Sox are considered a historic rivalry. Geography a rivalry does not make, especially when we play each other a mere six times a season and reside on opposite sides of the MLB coin. The success/failure of one team has nothing to do with the other.

Yes, those six games a year matter, and battling for city supremacy is at once thrilling and entertaining. There’s a passion that exists because the rarity of those games each season build up untold drama, creating an atmosphere few regular-season games can organically create.

I get that the North Side versus South Side dynamic exists, with contrasting histories and styles of fandom. These differences, coupled with the immediate geography, certainly coalesce, although my argument remains: our differences shouldn’t foment bitterness and hostility toward one another.

As Cubs fans, the rise of the Sox should be appreciated. A team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2012 and hasn’t seen the postseason since 2008 has capped off its rebuild with a robust offseason indicating a willingness to go for it. The feeling Sox fans have right now must be like what we felt when the Cubs inked Jon Lester: it feels good, damn it, and Cubs fans harboring disdain toward the Sox after they signed Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel is a waste of energy and, frankly, shameful.

It’s a Good Thing when Both Teams are Contenders

Anecdotally I’ve heard terrific stories about how great 2008 was, with both teams reaching the playoffs in the same season for the first time in over a century. From a Lyft driver reminiscing about how his wife berated him for ‘being a fan of both teams’ that season, to an owner of a White Sox bar on the North Side laugh as he recalled the only inning of the Cubs series on his TV’s that postseason was when the Dodgers swept the Cubs, the 2008 season offered baseball fans in Chicago something special. Sure, it feels good to poke at each other; it feels better still when we’re both good and this city is swimming in baseball obsession.

Thankfully, 2020 might offer Chicago something similar to 2008.

Rick Hahn rebuilt the Sox in his way, but in a manner impossibly similar to that of Theo Epstein. Stripping the major league roster of any and every asset, the Sox built an elite farm system while the major league product suffered mightily. Still, the fanbase could collectively hold out hope as the rebuild marched on, and 2019 appears to be for the South Side what 2014 was for the Cubbies.

Consider that the Sox finished last season with virtually the same record (72-89) as the Cubs did in 2014 (73-89). That each team at that stage featured a solid nucleus of homegrown talent developed via the draft or from savvy trades. And that Rick Renteria is somehow at the center of it all.

Tim Anderson exudes a vibe and confidence similar to that of Javier Baez. Jose Abreu and Anthony Rizzo share so much more than the same position. And the fanfare of Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert feels eerily similar to that of Kris Bryant.

These are realities that should be enjoyed, not dismissed.

Hell, the infamous cross-town trade connects us further still. Jimenez and Dylan Cease presume to be key figures for the Sox for years to come, while the Cubs need a miracle World Series this year — fueled by a rejuvenated Jose Quintana — in order for the trade to feel justified. The trade represents elation and taunting material for Sox fans while Cubs fans feel embittered. Talking points like this are invaluable and hopefully spur continued rapport between the fanbases as 2020 unfolds.

Sadly, 2016 birthed unfettered entitlement for many Cubs fans, who abandoned years of hope and emotional investment with hard expectations the Cubs must be World Series contenders moving forward. Sox fans after 2005, conversely, were obscured back into mediocrity by baseball media despite an influx in attendance and a 90-win ’06 season, hardly a consolation for missing the playoffs.

The Cubs and White Sox share a convoluted relationship, fueled by fan tensions and maintained by an inexplicable converse of culture and history. Perhaps my viewpoint is in the minority, but we should enjoy the rivalry not out of hatred, but out of a shared love for the city of Chicago.

Here’s to hoping the Sox window of contention begins in earnest this year. And maybe, just maybe, our paths can cross in a not-so-distant October.


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