Nine Men In
Published on Friday, October 28, 2005 by the New York Times
Nine Men In
by Studs Terkel
 

CHICAGO -- Even with the Chicago White Sox's remarkable World Series sweep of the Houston Astros, ending the Black Sox curse of 1919, we cannot say that a chapter of infamy is over. This is because the players of that infamous team of 86 years ago remain on the outside. I'm only sorry that they (and Bill Veeck, the team's eccentric former owner) aren't alive to see it.

If there had been real justice after the scandal of 1919, Charlie Comiskey, the Sox owner, would have been the one kicked out of the game. That year, the star pitcher Eddie Ciccote had been promised a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games; as he neared the mark Comiskey had him benched for the remainder of the season rather than open his wallet.

But there was nothing the players could do. Most weren't very worldly - Shoeless Joe Jackson couldn't sign his own name - and they couldn't change teams. They were serfs of the owners.

The sportscaster Red Barber once said that the three most important men in the history of the game were Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller, the players' union boss who negotiated the Major League free-agency system. In that sense, Miller is the real difference between 1919 and now.

That's why I was also happy that the St. Louis Cardinals didn't make the Series this year. In 1971, Joe Torre of the Cards was the league's most valuable player. But he was also very involved with Miller and the players' association, which made him unpopular with the fans. So when he came to bat on opening day in 1972, he was booed by his hometown crowd - the reigning M.V.P.!

Of course, the big question is whether this championship will help the White Sox become more than afterthoughts in Chicago compared with the Cubs. Actually, I think all Chicago is thrilled about this. The Sox-Cubs rivalry is mostly press hype. There used to be a real difference when the South Side was stockyards and steel mills, but not any more.

Besides, many Cubs fans today are from the suburbs, brought in by buses. It's like going to an air show or "Cats" - something tourists do. After the game, you ask them: "Who did the Cubs play? What was the score?" They shake their heads. It's not about baseball, it's about having been to a place to be.

Still, while everybody loves a winner, the Cubs are a phenomenon, and eventually they'll be the only thing anybody here talks about again. And it's true that compared with the Cubs, with their hallowed Wrigley Field, the White Sox have always played in a dump. The old Comiskey Park was terrible, and the new one, U.S. Cellular Field, isn't much better. The only thing good about it is the toilets - the cleanest I've ever seen in a public place. Still, that's not quite enough; next year I'm going to stick with watching on TV.

Studs Terkel is the author, most recently, of "And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey."

© 2005 The New York Times

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