For years now, the Southside Chicago White Sox have played second fiddle to the Northside Cubs. In good years and bad, the Cubs have always packed in the crowds with the lure of historic Wrigley Field and its reputation as a lively bar that spills out onto an even larger party scene. The White Sox’s U.S. Cellular Field (aka “the Cell,” and formerly known as Comiskey Park) lacks the aura of Wrigley, and attendance perennially runs a distant second to the Cubs.

This year is the same — even though the White Sox have fielded the best team in baseball so far this season. The Sox sit atop the American League’s central division with a nine-and-a-half game lead and a major league-leading 49 wins.

And, naturally, as the play of the White Sox receives more attention from the out-of-town media, so does the lame attendance at Sox games. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story, asking in its headline, “White Sox Are Hot, So Why Are Fans In Chicago So Blas?”

Today Phil Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News takes his swing. He writes, “The Red Sox are sold out for every game this year after winning their first world championship in 86 years and the Cubs are averaging nearly 40,000 per game even though they haven’t even been to the World Series since 1945. The White Sox, meanwhile, are attracting less than 25,000 for each date at U.S. Cellular Field.”

Hagen is engaging in what might be termed reverse hype. Things aren’t quite that bad. The 25,000 number which Hagen cites is only the average attendance, not the biggest crowd the team has drawn to date. The White Sox often pull in more than 25,000 people and, according to the Associated Press, the White Sox have averaged nearly 31,000 in attendance over the last five games at the Cell.

During that same five-game period, the White Sox’s vice president of communications quipped on his blog, “Funny how when we attract big crowds for each of the last four games, no one talks about attendance issues.” He noted that the pace of the team’s 2005 attendance “is the franchise’s best since 1994.”

Of course, it’s going to take a lot more than a five-game stand at 31,000 per day for the White Sox to prove they can draw crowds that match their exceptional record.

In fact, the moral of this story is — given how hard it is to get the media to budge from a favorite narrative, even if it’s dated — that the Sox could start filling the house and they’d still face an uphill battle to get the new reality reported.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.