This city of big deficits, political sideshow to all the world, has fallen in love--woes, warts and all--with an unlikely team of strong-armed castoffs, also-rans and clubhouse cutups managed by a part-time lawyer.
The Chicago White Sox last night clinched a piece of an American dream: a baseball title, the championship of the American League's Western Division.
To most of the known world, this is probably not such a singular achievement. To Windy City residents, we are talking about the sun, the moon and the stars. After all, the last time any Chicago baseball team won a championship was 1959; the Sox were the team then, too. That's a 24-year drought that no local brew could slake.
"It sure tastes good, don't it?" said Herman Offett, a laundryman who was standing cheerfully in a long, Comiskey Park ticket line on the weekend. "We've been waiting so long for a winner! I got tickets for the play-offs. And if they go to the Series, I'm going, too."
And then this man of insight said what is on the minds of much of the city: "Thing about this team is they got a winning attitude. A team like this, all the guys are having fun, so the fans are, too."
This in a city that has just lost its bond rating as a great financial investment, where the mayor and the City Council fight about everything important and where the teachers have vowed to strike if they don't get more pay. So even with all these problems, the Sox have shown that Chicagoans have a capacity for insight. Every fan is a philosopher nowadays.
No one dared think this way on July 19, when the Southsiders climbed into first place in the Western Division. They did it the way they've done things all season--without much finesse. They beat hapless Cleveland while the front-running Texas Rangers were dropping a double-header in Milwaukee.
You couldn't detect any pennant fever in this town then. The real spectacle, the familiar one, the headline-making one, was the annual collapse of the Cubs, darlings of the Northsiders.
Then somebody important made a mistake. Doug Rader, manager of the Rangers, said of the Sox: "They win ugly."
Here was a slur to fire the residents Back o' the Yards and in Till Hill, Bridgeport, Cicero and dozens of other enclaves where what is ugly is found in the eye of the beholder, and he better keep his mouth shut. The Sox have been a crusade ever since.
Attendance has zoomed; the Sox will go over the 2 million mark this weekend, bettering the old record by more than 300,000. The White Sox have always been a working-class team and in recent decades a black team.
But now the separation between Cub fans and Sox fans is a thing of the past, at least for this season. At Comiskey Park these days, Northsiders and Southsiders, white and black, mingle patiently in lines that stretch to 35th Street.
One weekend day, a fan in the Sox ticket line was wearing a Cubs baseball cap.
"It's no mistake," said John Malloy, 26, a concessionaire at Soldiers Field, home of the football Bears. "I really am a Cubs fan. But we haven't had a winner in this town since the Bears in '63. You could say I'm coming out here for the city. Everyone in this town is talking about the Sox. Even at the bar I go to in the North Side, which is a Cub bar, everybody is talking about the Sox. They haven't got any megabuck players. They're actually a bunch of no-names."
But Manager Tony LaRussa Jr. who practices law in Florida in the off season has his team flying. Their lead over Kansas City yesterday was 16 games. And they may end doing better than the all-time lead of 20 games piled up by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969.
The betting here is that dreaded Baltimore will face these ugly winners in the division play-offs that will determine the American League pennant winner. No team deserves such a fate.
But for now, the T-shirts at the park and in the Loop and just about anywhere else in Chicago these days proclaim "Winning Ugly is the Miracle on 35th Street!" Summer hasn't ended yet for Chicago.