The knee-jerk reaction for any fan is to not just ignore a divisional rival in the playoffs, but often to curse them. That word, rival, is an odd one, since I don’t think the Red Sox view the Blue Jays the same way they do the Yankees, or the Cardinals the Reds like they do the Cubs. In the AL Central, it’s a bit more muddled, since there has rarely been any one dominant team, but there are certain localized animosities.
I’d prefer none of them are successful, but I don’t particularly have a specific hate ray aimed anywhere like they do in Boston or LA or Philly (that last one goes everywhere). Here we stand though, with the Chicago White Sox as the sole representative of the division in October. Objectively a good team, they nevertheless face stiff competition in the playoffs. Despite any personal feelings, any recent grumpiness, it seems like it’s a moral imperative for any Guardians fan to cheer on the White Sox, at least in the very short term.
This isn’t some kind of weird SEC fan type of thing like we see in college football. The idea that Vanderbilt or Kentucky get anything out of the actual good teams doing well in bowl games is a silly thing, a way to collect on some kind of reflected glory. Sure, they got dumped on by Alabama and Georgia, but at least they’re not in the Big 12!
No, this is more about respect. Yes, the Central is the only division in baseball that didn’t have a 100-loss team. That sounds like a good thing, right? That’s the mark of absolute dreck. That said, the second-place team is the only one with a losing record in any division. Heck, the second-place teams out west won 90 and 106 games.
For whatever reason — location, lack of press, the aforementioned lack of any real marquee teams — the Al Central has been the whipping boy of Major League Baseball for quite some time. The Twins really exemplified that by handing the Yankees series wins whenever they had the chance, but even when they won a title, they fell into a pit immediately after. Where were the 2016 Royals, or the 2006 White Sox? Unlike their fellow champions in Houston or LA or Boston, they just fell apart. Even when a Central team maintained some kind of strong run, like Detroit or Cleveland did last decade, they played bridesmaid to coronations of bluebloods and curse-breakers. You talk to anyone who doesn’t care about Cleveland baseball, or Detroit or Kansas City or Minnesota or Southside Chicago for that matter, and they just think all these teams stink.
Which is fair. Again, there’s no real legendary team here. Every other division has either someone carrying the flag of historic greatness — or in the Astros’ case are just cheaters who have McKinsey’d their way to the top. None of this is present in the Central. It’s all old teams with old-school-style owners that just seem to exist to be the extras in another team’s story, or else a piece of trivia for baseball historians. The youngest team is the Royals, and they’ve got a solid history and have been around for going on 60 years. So we look to the White Sox, a very talented team with players up and down the lineup and across the rotation that are truly a joy to see play the game, to bring respect.
After all, what are our choices otherwise? The Red Sox? No. The Rays? I guess if you like the utter commodification of the game, the Uber-ization of baseball, they’re your guys. The Astros can eat trash. In the NL at this point we’re left with the Giants or Dodgers, again two of the great pillars of baseball, and then the Brewers and the Braves. Out of any of those teams, the only real redeemable team is the Brewers, and if we got a Milwaukee/Chicago World Series I can’t even be mad. That’s a lot of talent everywhere on the field, two evenly matched teams, and a pair of cities that have created some of the greatest cuisines in American culture.
None of this is to say that I want the White Sox to win the title. This is very much a short-term thing. They need to beat the Astros because, again, that is a sewage pit of a franchise at this point, unredeemable until they clean house and get a priest to exorcise the field. After that, it gets muddy, because it would be at least neat to see the Rays win a title if only because of how much it would piss off the Yankees and their fans.
Right now though, for the good of the division, for honor and respect of what I see as five teams that I feel some kind of love toward even as I hate all of them (even the G-men sometimes, yes), the White Sox are where we need to hang our hat. They’re too fun with Robert and Jimenez and Anderson, or Lynn and Cease and that whole dirty old bullpen, and their weird old manager and owner who wants to use the goddamn Bulls as a piggy bank to pay for his baseball dreams, to not care about. They may be doing things I wish Cleveland is doing, but at least they’re doing it because up and down the franchise, they care about baseball.
That, if nothing else, is why they deserve a deep run. For the next couple weeks, until they get bounced, I’ll be wearing that ‘72 Sox hat I got somewhere.