Week Four Summary: Chicago Sports Culture

On Thursday, we wrapped up week 4 of Home Field Advantage with a great interview with George Castle, a long-time sports writer for the Times of Northwest Indiana and author who just released his 10th book on baseball called, “When The Game Changed: An Oral History of Baseball’s True Golden Age: 1969-79.” George also hosts a radio show, called “Diamond Gems,” and is extremely knowledgeable in the intricacies of the Chicago sports culture, and we are very thankful to him for sharing his time and knowledge with us this week! George helped fill us in on the vibes in Chicago regarding the 5 professional teams that represent the city. Here are a few highlights from the interview:

In regards to Chicago’s biggest “Lovable Losers,” the Cubs, Castle says that it’s hard to be a Cubs fan not only because of the World Series drought that dates back to 1908, but also because going to games is almost unreasonably expensive, especially given the low quality squads the franchise has fielded recently. However, with a number of key acquisitions in the off-season, and the retention of interim coach Mike Quade into the 2011 season, the Cubs program is looking to build off a strong latter half of the 2010 season with a young squad and a relatively solid rotation, highlighted by new Cub Matt Garza and returners Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. However, given the strong competition being built within the other NL Central programs, including the Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, and more, Castle asserts that Cubs fans are still “bitter and cynical” and do not have many expectations for the upcoming season. Much of this stems from the longtime playoff disappointments, coming most recently in 2007 and 2008, but it all seems to be wrapped up into 102 years of pent up frustrations that don’t seem to be ceasing any time soon.

The cross-town rival of the Cubs, the White Sox, have been having more success recently, winning the 2005 World Series, and having much a brighter outlook for the upcoming season. With the re-signing of Paul Konerko, and the acquisition of former Nats ace Adam Dunn, the Sox still have lingering uncertainties regarding the personnel to fill the all-important role of closer, but are feeling confident, particularly given the lackluster off-season the Twins have had, as far as acquisitions go. With the White Sox fan faithful, the program looks to ride high into the 2011 season, barring any unforeseen injuries that have plagued the clubhouse for the past few years. The road to success for the White Sox is looking to be much easier to navigate than for their National League counterparts, but only time will tell, as the season begins in just a few weeks.

An aspect of the Chicago sports culture that makes it so different than the other 4 cities we have covered so far on HFA is that the Windy City has a very storied championship culture, but also has experienced recent successes, as their Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and the Bulls and Bears have worked their way back to prominence recently as well. The Blackhawks, fresh off an off-season salary cap-induced personnel purge, have been heavily impacted by the losses of key pieces of their successful 2009-10 squad. The team has to do a tremendous amount of tightening up on defense and their back line in order to return to championship form, as the season is dwindling.

For the Bears, however, things are definitely looking up, as they are coming off of a productive playoff run in 2010-11. Before being blatantly embarrassed by the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC finals, the Bears, led by quarterback Jay Cutler, were still not a very well-liked team in Chicago, according to Castle. There has been a large amount of negative publicity regarding head coach Lovie Smith, and given his recent contract extension until 2013, fans have been openly questionable of Smith’s extended presence in Chicago. Another part of the Bears’ personnel who fans are not particularly fond of is the playmaker himself, Jay Cutler. As Castle asserted in the interview, Cutler “does not seem to think that good PR is part of his job.” He is relatively quiet and closed off in interviews, and has not seemed to give himself to the fans and overall culture in Chicago, as franchise players customarily do. Without fans feeling like they have a vested interest in the coach and QB at the helm of their program, it makes sense that there are “not a lot of good vibes” regarding the Chicago football franchise at this time.

Another big team that is attracting a lot of chatter in Chicago right now is the historically successful Chicago Bulls, the team formerly pioneered by Michael Jordan in the 1990’s, and notorious for being some of the best teams in the history of basketball during this era. After a short hiatus from playoff glory, the modern day Bulls, led by stars Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Joaquim Noah, are asserting their presence atop the Eastern Conference with some big wins over the Heat and Magic most recently. They have recently surpassed their 2009-10 record of 41 wins, and still have a good chunk of the season left. Additionally, they have managed to compile a fantastic record without having both pieces of the frontcourt, Noah and Boozer, healthy at the same time. Castle asserts that this has a big part to do with the outstanding play of Derrick Rose, who he calls “by far the Bulls’ greatest player since Jordan.” Given the heavy competition from the Celtics, Heat, Magic, and new-look Knicks, the drive for supremacy in the East is not going to be an easy one, but this Bulls squad has shown through their drive and key wins that they are “not intimidated” by the opponents they are up against, Castle states. With the playoffs in the near future, this Chicago team is attracting a tremendous amount of buzz in the media and fan base alike, which is bringing the fans back to the electric environment of Jordan’s Bulls. And given the excitement that is being demonstrated, there is nothing like some good old nostalgia to bring back a twinkle to the eyes in the Windy City.

Given that this is the largest market we have covered thus far on HFA, the five franchises are at very different points, and are generating very distinct vibes within the Chicago sports world. That said, it is impossible and almost unfair to attempt to categorize the culture under one label. However, George Castle efficiently summarized what it means to be a fan in Chicago by asking “is that all there is?” He asserts that Chicago is an incredibly passionate sports town with tremendous resources that are the building blocks for success, but often times cannot seem to pull everything together and make the championships happen. This is mainly because of mismanagement of the franchises, with owners spending money unwisely and under-utilizing key players and opportunities along the way, according to Castle. Given the tremendous satisfaction for fans due to the 90’s Bulls squads, Castle states that the Chicago fan “hasn’t been championship starved, but there’s a lot still left on the table.”
We would like to again thank George Castle for his time on Thursday. Check out his work on his “Diamond Gems” radio show at
rantsports.com/mlb/diamond-gems/
or nwi.com/sports .

See you next week for Bay Area action!

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About Home Field Advantage
We are two senior Sports Communication majors at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. We have launched this blog as part of our senior year capping project, with the goal of creating a comparative analysis and multimedia approach to the differing sports cultures in America.

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