Yep, at one time this annual event seemed to stir up quite a bit of passion in the hearts of fans on both sides of the Chicago baseball spectrum. Not so much anymore, I think. Call it what you will, but there just isn’t that intense feeling when the two teams gather to battle it out for those so-called “bragging rights.” Ever since inter-league play began, there is not that uniqueness about the American League vs. the National League. At one time, I felt there was.
In fact, until my ball card-collecting days in the ‘60s kicked in full force, I knew very little about the National League, other than the faces and names and uniforms that were pictured on the cards I’d quickly unwrap and brush the sweet smelling powder from the pink chewing gum that was part of those glorious packages. And chomping on the wonderful stuff, I’d skim and scan through each of the cards of that day’s purchase and feel let down if there was no White Sox player in the bunch. What was worse, I’d certainly feel cheated if there were more National League players than American Leaguers.
But I owe my baseball card “habit” a big round of thanks and appreciation for introducing me to the various players and the uniforms they wore in distant baseball outposts such as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee, National League teams that I cared nothing about—until World Series time every fall. After all, they played in cities that were a million miles away from where I was in Huntington, Indiana, where my baseball capital was Chicago, home of the White Sox, a mere hundred and some odd miles away. Yeah, I knew there was a team named the Cubs, but I never heard much about them, other than they always lost!
It was through those cards I collected over a stretch of many summers of my youth that I learned there was another team in Chicago—in the National League. I knew of Don Cardwell, Ernie Banks, Ken Hubbs, and a few others who had a cute little bear cub logo on their uniform shirt and a big red “C” on a blue hat. Usually there would be a wall covered with green vines in the background, and I thought this was different. It would be years before I would learn that this was all part of the so-called “shrine” known as Wrigley Field—a place where the Cubs played and usually lost! But that was in the National League, so I didn’t know—or care—anything about all of that!
The Cubs, however, figured in one of my memories from the ’60s in what was then known as the Boys’ Benefit Game, an annual event that didn’t count in any league standings but seemed to matter to fans of both teams. And it was all for a good cause (we were all led to believe!) and the games usually drew lots of fans. One, in particular, was in 1964.
It was June 25, and an overflow crowd of over 52,000 crowded into Comiskey Park to watch the Sox pound the Cubs, 11–1. What stands out besides the score, however, is the fact that fans were allowed on the outfield grass and outfield warning track, behind ropes, since there wasn’t any room left in the park. I don’t believe there has been another time since then when fans were allowed to do this. If memory serves correct, the Sox’ barrage featured back-to-back-to-back homers, causing the exploding scoreboard to explode non-stop for an extended period of time!
Maybe it’s because I’m older and jaded and familiarity has diminished much of the “Us-against-them” mentality, but there just doesn’t seem to be that edgy-ness in the series. Unlike those early Boys’ Benefit Games, the games now count in the season standings, so a Sox win is important for that fact alone.
Recently, they climbed back to the .500 mark, and it would be to their benefit to win the remaining games with the Cubs this week to improve even further. Thinking like that, I guess there is some urgency to these games after all. Plus, when all is said and done, beating the Cubs is never a bad thing!
See you at the ballpark…