'Rivalry' suffers from no Cubs, Sox identity

CHICAGO -- While the rebuilding of rosters on both sides of town was a necessity, a major impact of the dueling construction zones has been on the crosstown rivalry.

It wasn't that long ago when all of Chicago stood still -- albeit with clenched fists -- when the Cubs and White Sox would meet. On those six days in the summer when the teams got after each other, out-of-towners had their run of any restaurant without a television and tourists could actually pick a cab with their exact specifications instead of just taking the first one that arrived.

It wasn't that long ago when the rivalry was at its peak. Cubs vs. White Sox was about pride, self-esteem, dignity and the ability to ride the train with your favorite team's cap perched atop your head, knowing that if anybody said something, the scores of the most recent crosstown games were right at your fingertips.

But with the Cubs overhauling the house from the basement up, and the White Sox in the midst of their own transition to youth, Sox pride and Cubs pride is fought best on social media these days. The first two games at Wrigley Field this week weren't even sold out and the same could happen at U.S. Cellular Field on Wednesday and Thursday nights.

Last year, the Cubs won all four games (down from six games in 2012), but without either team headed toward playoff berths the only effect was that South Siders probably avoided a few North Side backyard barbecues late in the summer.

Now that the White Sox have a 2-0 lead in this season's series, it isn't like the fans in the black hats can legitimately claim any kind of dominance.

It's hard to know who you just beat when your opponent doesn't have an identity. Even worse, it's hard to talk trash when you aren't yet sure of the identity of your own club.

This "rivalry" is about as far from 2008 as it gets. That year, both teams entered the series in first place, with the Cubs sweeping at Wrigley Field and the White Sox pulling off their own sweep at home.

And it's nowhere near 2006 when the White Sox's A.J. Pierzynski and Cubs' Michael Barrett tangled at home plate, with Barrett slugging Pierzynski in the jaw/neck area. It's a moment that the retiring Paul Konerko has always remembered fondly, but more with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.

In fact, when the Cubs recognized Konerko's pending retirement on Tuesday night and gave him a No. 14 from the famed scoreboard, the joke in the press box was that he probably would have preferred a framed photo of the Pierzynski-Barrett fight instead. If both players could have signed it, even better.

So far, Konerko has seemed unaffected emotionally about his last season in the major leagues, but his final series at Wrigley Field this week had him a bit melancholy.

"Definitely this place holds a little more weight than going to Seattle or Texas or a place that I enjoy going to, love the stadium, love the city, but there's no doubt because this is in Chicago," Konerko said. "There's been a lot of games between these two teams."

For Konerko there will be only two more. He won't take part in the series' return to its glory days, whenever it finally happens.

But from the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer regime on the North Side, to the Rick Hahn-Kenny Williams regime on the South Side, both front offices are working on a better brand of baseball that will, in turn, make traffic stop again when these teams meet.

"I hope we get to the point where these games matter 11 times a year instead of just four," Hahn said, adding the seven games of the World Series to the total. "I think it's nice for the fans; it's always a little heightened level of intensity over your normal regular-season game. But the two we played last week with Detroit, the three we've got coming up with Kansas City are more relevant to our year than these four games are against the Cubs.

"But like I said, I think it would be a wonderful thing for the city. I don't know if my stomach could handle it, but it would be a wonderful thing for this city and baseball in this town if these games could matter 11 times a year instead of just four."