Sajak: South Side joy in October

Sajak: South Side joy in October

Every kid who grew up in Chicago during the '50s and '60s knew what to expect at 10:30 in the morning each Tuesday: a test of the city's air raid sirens. Even though I knew it was coming, that weekly wail tightened my stomach muscles every time. However, on the night of Sept. 22, 1959, it was a welcome sound, because it celebrated the clinching of the American League pennant by the Chicago White Sox for the first time in 40 years (though I'm not sure the sound was welcomed by non-baseball fans who were reportedly ducking for cover and checking their wills for any last-minute corrections). Those sirens have since remained silent, happily, because the Cold War is over and, unhappily, because the Sox haven't duplicated that feat.

I was a bit of an oddball in that I was (and am) a Cubs and White Sox fan. I never really figured out why most people loved one team and hated the other. After all, they both represented Chicago, and they were in different leagues, so one team's fortunes didn't affect the other's. Neither team won anything very often, though the Sox did finish second to the hated Yankees a couple of times leading up to their '59 breakthrough. In that era, well before Interleague action, the two Chicago teams played a meaningless midseason exhibition game each year for charity and, believe it or not, it was one of the biggest events of the season. There was actually one game where they roped off part of the Comiskey Park outfield to allow for the overflow of fans. Chicagoans loved their baseball, even an exhibition game in July played between two teams who were, more often than not, already creeping close to pennant elimination.

But it was different in 1959. The White Sox had Nellie Fox at second base. He was the MVP that year, as was the Cubs' Ernie Banks in the National League. Guys like Lollar, Aparicio, Landis, Rivera, Pierce, Wynn, Shaw and Staley made these "Go-Go" Sox a joy to watch as they scratched out a string of one-run victories to help erase the memories of the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919. Big Klu, Ted Kluszewski, provided the only real power.

Their World Series opponents, the Los Angeles Dodgers, seemed to us White Sox fans to be unworthy of being on the same field. They played on the West Coast long after we were in bed, and we saw them as merely a nuisance on our way to the championship. In those days, all Series games were played in the afternoon, and Chicago schools were quick to move radios and black & white TVs into most classrooms. When the Sox murdered LA, 11-0, in Game 1 in Chicago, we even managed to feel some pity for those recently-transplanted pretenders from the National League.

Alas, things went downhill from there, as the Sox lost the Series in six games, and they haven't been back since. However, a record was set in that World Series and, though they say records are made to be broken, this one never will be. Since the Dodgers were playing in the Coliseum at the time (and could fit over 92,000 for baseball), and the White Sox played in 48,000-seat Comiskey, the overall attendance mark of over 420,000 will never be broken, even though they played just six games. A seven-game Series would have to average over 60,000 per game, and no two current stadiums have that capacity. That is no solace for Sox fans, of course, but it is at least something they can never take away from us.

So, for those few glorious days in October 1959, Chicago baseball fans knew what it was like to watch one of their teams play in a World Series. It's a sensation we haven't had since. Now, 46 years later, thanks to a contested name change, another Los Angeles team is the last obstacle to a return to glory. Heck, it might even be time to dust off the air raid sirens.

Pat Sajak, longtime host of "Wheel of Fortune," is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.