Chicago has been for decades and remains the most segregated city in the United States. It has been made so not only because of decades of racial discrimination but also by the division of the city along class lines. In fact after the Haymarket Riots of the late nineteenth century the city's upper classes, fearing a future Jacobin uprising, arranged for the United States military to position the Great Lakes Naval Base between the affluent north side and the teeming masses of Lithuanians, Croats, Serbians, black, Latino's and others who labored in the stockyards and the meat-packing houses. It is a classic Dickensian “Tale of Two Cities”, the affluent north and the working class south.
Chicago, as baseball historians will tell you, was early the national capitol of our national passtime. Early in the last decade not only did the league offices of the newly formed American League headquarter itself in Chicago, but the two major league teams briefly dominated each of their leagues. The “hitless wonders” on the South side famously defeated the north-side Cubs on the 1906 World Series. But sport and industry was the only thing the north side had in common with the much despised “south-siders”. That they had these things in common does not mean that they shared the same experience. North siders ran the industries and the accounting houses, South siders manned the machinery and became, famously, the “hog butchers of the world”. The same was true of the beloved national passtime as it related to each community. On the north side, where until recently baseball was famously played only during daylight, the Cubs draw from an upper middle class, professional business clientel. One can, even today, watch a Cubs game on WGN on any given summer afternoon and find very few blacks, latinos or other minorities in what is a surprisingly homogenous white uppper-middle class crowd. Through thick and thin, for over a century now, these loyal suburbanites have, as the nation is currently with the Wall Street bailout, been rewarding incompetence and mediocrity as the Cubs now enter their second century of futility.
It has been otherwise on the South Side. There the Chicago White Sox, rocked to the bone by the “Black Sox Scandal” of 1919, and by drawing from a much poorer part of Chicago has been the home of not only weekly fireworks displays, alien space landings, a “disco demolition” and other promotional “gimmics” to fill the parks Comiskey, but old Comiskey Park also hosted the old Negro League All-Star Games, prize fights and, famously, the Beatles. It is a bit ironic, and offends the sensibilities that even during those years where the White Sox win League and World Championships the yearly attendance regularly falls short of the Cubs, regardless of what the Cubs put on the field.
This dynamic has produced some interesting results. Fireworks and concerts come to mind, but also mid-game promotions are used to draw crowds. Sportscaster Harry Carray, when broadcasting for the White Sox introduced his famous “Take Me out To the Ball Game” saranade during the seventh-inning stretch. Likewise organist Nancy Faust introduced in the late 1970's a staple of her own.
It might have been during the hey-day of the “South-Side Hit Men”, Zisk, Baines, Spencer, et.al, who set a league record for home runs, lighting up the “Monster” in center field. The “Monster” was that exploding scoreboard introduced to Comiskey by Bill Veeck in 1960. With it's upper deck entirely enclosing the field, the reverberations from the exploding fireworks could not only be heard but felt through the entire ball yard. Moreover if the wind was blowing off the lake, the debris from the fireworks display would rain down on the opposing pitcher, as the crowd celebrated. During one such occasion as the Sox hitter was rounding the bases, and the opposing team's manager was walking slowly out to the mound to retrieve his battered pitcher, Nancy struck up the chorus from the old Steam hit, a chorus that has become an anthem for home teams and underdogs everywhere.
“na na na na, na na na na
hey hey-ey, goodbye”
I can vividly remember Jack Morris, ace of the Detroit Tiger pitching staff during a game at old Comiskey. It was during the fourth of July weekend 1984, with Detroit and Chicago facing off again for the first time since Morris had no-hit the Sox at Comiskey Park in early April. It had been cold then, and the Sox' bats were frozen. Morris walked off the field, no-hitter in hand, and the Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 or so games on their way to a World Championship. But it was now July, it was hot and humid, and the Sox bats had come alive. In the previous game, catcher Carleton Fisk had cleared the roof in left field, a feat accomplished only a dozen or so times during the 80 year history of the yard. This night the Sox would send two balls into Armour park, shots that cleared the roof in left field. First Greg “the Bull” Luzinski, would send one over the roof into the night, then Ron Kittle would repeat the feat. As the scoreboard exploded and the debris was raining down, Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson made the long slow walk out to the mound to take his star pitcher out of the game. Giving the ball to Sparky, Jack started his long trek to the dugout. Foust, as had by now become customary, led the raucus crowd in yet another rendition of
“na na na na, na na na na
hey hey-ey goodbye”.
Jack Morris, looking up in disgust, gave the crowd the finger.
Ken Burns has made much of the psychic connection between sport generally, and baseball specifically, to American culture. We don't remember that until the 1930's we had no national anthem. That the “Star-Spangled Banner” is our national anthem is that it became popular nationally because it was used at the beginning of each baseball game, and the practice—incidentally, began at Old Comiskey Park, Chicago.
Likewise, but with differing results, the famous cat-call that has become the “na na na, hey-ey, goodbye” refrain also began at Old Comiskey Park, Chicago, although by now it has made it's way into nearly all sports venues. I bring this up because what gathered on the Washington Mall yesterday was a cross-section of Americana, a reflection of the country itself, and this, it became apparent, included some South-Siders.
As a life-long Chicago White Sox Fan, I take particular pleasure in seeing photos of the President with a White Sox ball cap perched upon his head. I also took particular pleasure in the crowd singing that signature refrain as the image of George W. Bush was broadcast on the Jumbotrons on the National Mall. As Michelle Obama was being introduced the public adress system was drowned out by the crowd who, seeing the image of 'Ol Two-Cows up on the screen began the catcall of Sox fans everywhere:
Later, as Marine One, carrying now the former President from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base for his last trip aboard Air Force One to Texas circled one last time the White House and the Capitol Mall, the crowd once again raised it's voice in the full-throated cat-call:
Joe Scarborough, on his “Morning Joe” program on MSNBC said this morning that what the crowd did constituted a “classless” and “despicable” act. I disagree. It was a delicious moment, one for the ages, to be savored as fine wine. The crowd could, after all, have stormed the Bastille and brought out the guillotine. It chose levity instead.
And so departed the worst President in the last century, perhaps the worst ever. What remains is for us to pick up the pieces.