You didn't have to live anywhere near New England to be completely immersed in the suffering of Red Sox supporters. This is part of baseball. But then last October, there was The Comeback against The Evil Empire and then the sweep of the Cardinals. Eighty-six years of disappointment, dismay, demoralization and general October despair ended with the final out of the 2004 World Series.
But look: Last October, White Sox fans were already at 87 years and counting. The White Sox last won a World Series in 1917. The White Sox last won a postseason series in 1917. But it is actually much worse than even that.
The second to the last time that the White Sox were in the World Series, they threw it. They conspired, they tanked, they took money from gamblers and they dumped the Fall Classic. These were the Black Sox, and they created a scandal that makes the current steroid controversy look about as important as an overdue book at the public library.
But do White Sox fans get anything resembling their share of comfort, consolation and understanding for this? They do not. Do they get scores of books written about them? No. Do they have cable TV shows with solid production values done about them? No. Do they have a "curse," made up to explain away everything that did or did not happen? No. Do they get poets and songwriters and playwrights and screenwriters and every goofball in the literary and/or entertainment industry writing odes to their suffering? Come on. Nothing like this ever occurs.
The White Sox fans can't even get a decent share of public recognition for almost nine decades of hard times in their very own community. And we all know where the giant shadow originates. We don't have to get into the local bitterness that is somewhere between the Hatfields vs. the McCoys and class warfare. If you are a White Sox fan, you believe that the nature of existence is defined by the fact that the North Side baseball team is owned by a newspaper company, a communications conglomerate. Enough said.
But if you are a Midwesterner, you believe that the necessary suffering can be done without showy public displays. All right, apart from going out to the ballpark and booing whichever guy kicked away the latest game. You don't need to do a doctoral dissertation on a baseball persecution complex if you are a White Sox fan. This is something you carry with you. This is the load you shoulder, practically from birth. It is like winter in the upper Midwest. Put on an extra layer, grab a shovel and live with it.
I don't say that it is the White Sox turn to win. Neither baseball, nor life is that simple. Equity, and possibly the law of averages, might demand a series of White Sox victories this October, but you cannot count on that sort of thing. Better to stake the hopes on what Cleveland reliever Bob Howry said Sunday after the White Sox had swept his club out of playoff contention: "With the pitching that they've got, they can go all the way."
But it is high time to extend due recognition to a group of baseball fans who have not only suffered long, but have suffered long in relative silence. Not only has the thrill of ultimate victory eluded White Sox fans for 88 years, but they haven't even gotten a decent amount of publicity for being perpetually on the outside looking in.
The Red Sox defeated the expectations of history last October. Good for them. It will be fascinating to see whether that triumph was a one-time phenomenon or a page turning in the history of humankind.
But on the other side of the argument, the South Side Chicago franchise and its loyal followers deserve something resembling a fair shake. Yes, the White Sox play in a major market. But they are still a consummate underdog operation. They are the underdogs locally, they are the underdogs nationally, and they are probably the underdogs out there in the most distant reaches of our galaxy.
Maybe it is somehow fitting that, one year after the Red Sox finally triumphed, they would face a team that has its own drought of Saharan proportions. The Red Sox have had all the drama and the poetry and the philosophy. All the White Sox have had is 88 years of disappointment, instead of 86. You don't need to be Albert Einstein to figure out which is worse.