CHICAGO — Priorities never have been in order here, here in a city known for wind and dirty pool. So it's no great shock to learn that city officials put together one of their largest security forces ever, just for a baseball game.
It happened last Monday night, the night of Civil War II. The Cubbies vs. The Sox; North Side vs. South Side; Cub punks vs. Sox drunks; live and in color at Comiskey Park. Diamond Vision will never be the same.
Naturally, the police in this city panicked, since it was a night game, since the Sox blue-collar fans had been drinking since 4:30 p.m., since Cubbie fans would've liked nothing more than to tear up Comiskey, since baseball tends to be serious here. About a block away from the ballpark, riot forces (they sat on big horses) were ready for action.
"If there were a World Series here, they'd turn over all the buses and cars on the street," said LaMarr Hoyt, a former Sox pitcher who likes sane, sunny San Diego now. "It'd be a regular riot, and I don't think it'd be good for baseball if they had a World Series here. It would really be a knock-down, drag-out fight. But then, it might be great. I don't know."
Strangely, there were no incidents Monday night, maybe because the riot forces on big horses scared the crowd. Everyone had seen them.
The White Sox won the exhibition, 7-3, and, for the record, most starting players had left the game by the fourth inning. Cubbie fans left quietly, saying things like: "We'll get you next year at Wrigley." And their thoughts turned instead to more important things, like getting back at the Padres, who last October had defeated the Cubs, 3 games to 2, in the National League playoffs.
And in that sense, next year already was here.
On a cold March day, a day that made spring seem an eternity away, bleacher seats went on sale for this weekend's Cub-Padre series. Never, ever before in more than 40 years had bleacher seats been sold in advance, for it used to be a Chicago novelty to see people lined up outside Wrigley on the day of a game, some in sleeping bags, just to buy those first-come, first-served outfield tickets.
And it just goes to show you about tradition. It ends. First, they'll sell bleacher seats in advance. Then, they'll install lights.
Anyway, this weekend's Padre-Cub series was sold out in one day, in a matter of hours.
"The fans let you know when a big series is coming up because they need tickets," Cub pitcher Rick Sutcliffe said. "Yes, this is a big series. It's as big as it can be in May . . ."
The Padres can wait.
Naturally, they do not look forward to the taunts, to the torment that will come from the bleacher bums. But they do understand it is part of this silly game, and, thus, it is livable.
Tony Gwynn might have it the worst, though, for three reasons: because he's good, because he kills the Cubs and because he plays right field, a beer's breath away from the bums.
Last year, they yelled, "Hey, Tony!" and threw a smoke bomb at him.
"As hot as he was (at the plate), I would've shot him," teammate Bobby Brown said.
Brown's had his moments with the fans, too, mainly because he goes out looking for it. Sometimes, he'll toss practice balls to the crowd, but will then fake a throw to the stands, saying: "Face job."
"See, I want to get them on my side, and see what kind of mood they're in," Brown said Thursday, wearing his "Help Feed My Family. . . . Vote for the DH" T-shirt.
Gwynn, thinking back, laughs about the bleacher bums but also knows they are ruthless, bigoted animals. Tony Gwynn is black. They shouted this: "Tony! I got a stereo up here, so why don't you come up and steal it like you people normally do!"
Gwynn turned around at that one, committing a large mistake, for once you turn around, they turn it on.
That very same day, pitchers Eric Show, Mark Thurmond and Dave Dravecky, white men, had been running in the outfield before the game, and since their affiliation with the John Birch Society had been made public, another scream came: "Hey, Show, Dravecky, Thurmond! You Commies!"
Another, in unison: "Fee Fi Fo Fum, Tony Gwynn is a bleeping bum."
More: Although this didn't happen against the Padres, bleacher bums actually threw back every batting-practice home run hit by a New York Met last season. Yuuuch. Who would want a ball hit by a Met? This way, they'd also get to throw the balls at the Met players shagging flies in the outfield.
More: They turn on each other, too. The people in right field chant: "Left field (stinks). . . Left field (stinks)."
Left field, always the underdog, counters: "Right field (stinks). . . right field (stinks)."
Said Gwynn: "Hopefully, they've forgotten about the playoffs, but they haven't, I'm sure. I'll get verbal abuse for three days. I hope they don't throw anything. . . . I mean, they get radical out there, but you just hope they don't get drunk. . . . Chicago is wild, I'll tell you. It's great to go there because someone will say one of those lines, and I'll laugh for 5, 10 minutes."