Cons: Did he have to mention the Cubs? (I suppose he did...)
The Bottom Line: Go White Sox!
There are two things which most professional sports teams are not: Popular and chosen by their fans. Sure its easy for a sports fan in Smallville to devote himself to the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens or Los Angeles Lakers because everyone knows and respects them. Yet, for every one of the aforementioned, there are three or four teams known only to fans in the host cities. Could you imagine slogging your way through life rooting for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Memphis Grizzlies, or my own designated team for life, the Buffalo Sabres? (If anyone tells me they want to be a Sabres fan, the first thing I do is question their sanity. After that, I remind them that Toronto and its Maple Leafs is an hour and a half away by car.) These little teams arent chosen so much as they are inherited.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper knows well the pain of devoting your heart and soul to such a team. As a lifelong soul slave of the Chicago White Sox, he probably has it worse than most. White Sox fans have had to deal with lousy teams, an 88-year futility streak, a scandal that almost killed baseball, and worst of all, being second banana to a second-rate baseball team which shares the same city but is much better known and loved nationally. They have one of the quirkiest histories in major league baseball. While Cubs fans have first-half-century dominance and second-half heartbreaks to wear on their sleeves and Yankees fans brag about 26 titles, White Sox lore includes elephants at Comiskey Park, shorts, exploding disco records, and infield Astroturf.
Somewhere along the line, Roeper decided it would be fun to write a book reminiscing about growing up White Sox. Sox and the City bears a passing stylistic resemblance to Fever Pitch, Nick Hornbys excellent book about his lifelong devotion to Arsenal FC. In Sox and the City, Roeper mixes bits and pieces of information with personal autobiographical stories about the Chicago White Sox. He also spends a bit of time writing about the Sox unexpected wire-to-wire championship run of 2005. In these sections, he concentrates mainly on the big moments and stretches the first chapter, for instance, is about the scare the Cleveland Indians put into the Sox with a spirited last-minute charge. The book is laid out to flash between the 2005 stories and the autobiographical stories. Occasionally theres a close-up box moment in which Roeper zooms in on a specific detail, like Sammy Sosas trade to the Cubs or the legend of Harry Caray or Disco Demolition Night, which Roeper was at.
From the very beginning, its clear that Roeper is, first and foremost, a fan. He chooses his words in a manner which allows us to feel his pain, worry, cynicism, and eventual joy. He often throws out statistics to color stories a bit and to tell us just how good the Sox were doing at the time. Lest you think Roeper is just another stat monkey, Roeper also notes where he got the statistics from. The majority of Sox and the City involves Roeper going through all the motions as a fan, be it as a wide-eyed six-year-old watching Mickey Mantle, a college student at Disco Demolition Night, or a Sun-Times reporter watching his team in the World Series for the first time. (Roeper was born six days after the White Sox lost the 1959 World Series.) At times he delves into an odd combination of fact and opinion which is especially noticeable in his chapters about the Cubs and Sox culture.
Ah yes, the Cubbies. Just as Red Sox fans cant talk about their team without obsessing over the Yankees, White Sox fans are forever keeping one eye trained on the NL Central standings to make sure the lovable losers on the North Side are still losing. Like any good White Sox fan, Roeper scorns those who wear the Cub logo on their sleeves. He devotes an entire chapter to the differences and myths comparing the Cubs and White Sox, heaps hate on the Cubs, tells us what he doesnt like about their fans, and makes clear the fact that the White Sox have a far better bad karma story. He also heaps a surprising amount of scorn on the Boston Red Sox for their ability to convince their fans that they (the fans) are the most noble and suffering fans in all of sports despite the Celtics and Patriots championships (and also the five Stanley Cups owned by the Bruins, which Roeper doesnt note). As for the Yankees? Roeper writes about them as if theyre just there.
Roeper writes with a great combination of cynicism, humor, and bemusement. Even at times when he falls into sentimentality, it isnt bothersome because his style is so easygoing. This is a man who is proud of his team in spite of everything but isnt afraid to give an objective eye toward them or the Cubs. (He noted in a recent column that Ernie Banks, whose statue is currently under construction at Wrigley Field, should have had his likeness engraved in stone a long time ago.) He talks about the good and the bad of being a White Sox fan and while he doesnt skimp on the little details like Luke Applings ability to hit foul balls or the awful red uniforms, he doesnt dwell on them either. Roeper comes off as more of a fan than Stephen King or Stewart ONan did in Faithful.
Sox and the City is simpler than Im probably making look. But theres a whole lot of heart crammed into such a small, easy-to-read book. Even with everything thats in it, Sox and the City is still about just one thing a man and his religious-like devotion to a team that, after 88 years, brought its fans to the promised land. Sox and the City, however, really is for more people than just dyed-in-the-wool White Sox fans. As the flap advertises, its for anyone who has devoted his life to a sports team, no matter how unjustified or futile that team is. Its for fans of the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Mariners, Buffalo Sabres, or anyone who loves a team no one has ever heard of.
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