Harrelson: Crosstown rivalry changes expectations

Success on either side of Chicago forces rivals to make improvements

Harrelson: Crosstown rivalry changes expectations

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was a time in Chicago baseball history when division titles were celebrated as if they were akin to winning the World Series.

Division titles didn't come very often for the White Sox and Cubs in the 1980s and '90s -- four first-place finishes and five playoff appearances. Then the perspective changed.

An uptick started in 2003, when the Cubs came within five outs of reaching the World Series. Expectations jumped another notch when the White Sox swept the Astros in '05 for the World Series crown, serving as the benchmark for all future Chicago baseball squads.

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So having the Cubs enter the 2016 campaign as one of the World Series favorites is not exactly a bad thing for the South Siders, at least according to venerable White Sox play-by-play announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson. Competition is a good thing in a true two-team town, even if those teams play in opposite Central divisions and meet up just four times this season from July 25-28.

"I'm happy for them. You know why? Because it makes us have to do more," said Harrelson during a recent interview. "This is a definite two-team town. And I say that complimentary, I love it.

"This sports city was just moseying along in the late '70s, early '80s. All of the sudden in '83, we won it, so that caused the Cubs to spend some money and do some things, and they won their division in '84. Now, the Bears have been sitting on their [rears] for a long time, and that caused them to go out and make some changes, and they won everything in '85.

"It's great for the city," Harrelson said. "It makes everybody you're in competition with have to work harder and be better. The Cubs having the year they had last year is going to make us be better."

The Cubs went with a full rebuild on the path to contention, losing at least 87 games from 2010-14, while assembling high Draft picks and premium young talent. Their young talent pushed them to 97 victories in '15 before they lost to the Mets in the National League Championship Series. The White Sox have been revamping while trying to compete since 2013, feeling they are ready to contend after three straight down years.

Harrelson predicted an all-Chicago World Series last Spring Training. This time around, he's looking for the teams to push each other.

"That's what two-team towns like this are like," Harrelson said. "Go back and check the [NFL's] Giants and the Jets out and see what their records are when one team does well and the other has been struggling a little bit. That's the way it is.

"Of course, you consider Boston and New York a two-team town when you're talking the Red Sox and the Yankees. And every time the Yankees did something, Boston had to do something. They feed off each other. We're going to feed off what the Cubs team did. They're going to be good for a long time. We have to get better to be there."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.