The NHL is fine, but Chicago’s a baseball town

Chicago sports team logos -- Wrigley Field

On Wednesday, May 28, thousands of Chicagoans will crowd their neighborhood taverns, living rooms and other gathering spaces to see if the Chicago Blackhawks can beat the hated Detroit Red Wings to keep their season alive and continue on their quest for the Stanley Cup. And, in other sports news, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox will play an interleague baseball game at Wrigley Field.

It’s almost a given that most of the television screens in and around Wrigley Field will be tuned to the Blackhawks game. And that might lead some people — hockey fans, especially — to conclude that Chicago is more of a hockey town than it is a baseball town. It’s the wrong conclusion to make, but I can understand why some people would make it.

I wrote a piece for ChicagoSideSports back in April, extolling Chicago’s standing as the best baseball city in America. I did this because Chicago Bears fans see the support for their team as evidence that Chicago is a football town. Chicago Bulls fans see the love that gets showered on their team as proof that they live in a basketball town. And Blackhawk fans are doubtlessly convinced that Chicago is a hockey town, above all else.

But I respectfully ask each of those fans — and everyone else who follows sports — the following question: Would Chicago ever support two NFL teams at once? It did for a while, when the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals traded off playing their home games at Wrigley Field. But ever since the Cardinals left for St. Louis after the 1959 season, the Bears have had a lock on Chicago’s attention when it comes to professional football.

The Bulls haven’t had an NBA rival in Chicago since they joined the league in the 1960s, just as the Blackhawks have never had a local NHL competitor. The reality is the Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears all have a monopoly on their respective sports, and that’s why they command the attention they do.

But consider the nature of Chicago’s baseball teams. The abiding division of  baseball loyalties between two hostile factions is a fact of life, just like the ivy on the outfield walls at Wrigley. Chicago feeds on this rivalry between North Side and South Side, and neither side would ever want to change that. That’s why Chicago is a baseball town, whether fans of the other sports realize that or not.

Game seven at the United Center promises to be quite an event. No regular season baseball game — even of the interleague variety — could compete with the win-or-go-home stakes of an elimination playoff game. But until there’s a game that pits the Blackhawks against another big league hockey team from Chicago, I’ll never be able to think of this as a hockey town.

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