The last home games of the baseball season are always bittersweet, but this year there was a divide between the north and south sides. The White Sox' last home game Wednesday was more bitter, because of the Sox' higher hopes for this season (which nonetheless found the team finishing below .500) and the fresh departure of Ozzie Guillen for Miami. "You Can't Always Get What You Want," the organist played as the grounds crew readied the field after a morning of rain, but sometimes you don't even get what you need.
The game was the Sox' season in miniature, but for the absence of any new embarrassments for Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, both riding the bench after Dunn had achieved a new team record with his 177th strikeout of the season the night before. The Sox could have tied the Cleveland Indians for second place, even at a humble 80 wins against 82 losses, but the normally reliable Chris Sale blew the save in the ninth inning, walking in two runs to make the final 3-2.
Pitching coach and interim manager Don Cooper showed he could handle the media if he were ever given the job on a more permanent basis. "You always want to end on something more positive," he said. "It wasn't a fun year." Without mentioning them by name, he all but called out Dunn and Rios to work harder in the off-season to avoid additional failure. "You have two choices as a player," he said. "One, to come back fighting and ready to go. Or two, crawl into a ball and let them beat the hell out of you again." That's the conundrum facing the Sox in a nutshell.
By contrast, the Cubs' finale at Wrigley Field last week was far more sweet. The weather was lovely, for one thing, and for another the indomitable Mike Quade remained optimistic, suggesting he was confident he'd return as manager, even as he admitted, "No one escapes blame." The Cubs went ahead when the Milwaukee Brewers' Nyjer Morgan lost a ball in the sun and wind near the center-field fence in the fifth and won going away, with Matt Garza pitching a complete game. "It is what it is," the ever-surly Garza told reporters afterward, summing up both his performance and the season. Then he went off to lift weights. In the locker room Aramis Ramirez prepared to say good-bye, suggesting that he'd see what he'd be offered on the free-agent market and that he didn't expect the Cubs to attempt to match it. The rest of team packed up for the final games on the road that would see them finish 71-91, in fifth place in a six-team division.
The Cubs sold 30, 965 tickets for their finale, to push their season attendance above three million. The Sox drew 20,524 to finish just over two million. Nothing new there.
My last image of the season, the vision I'll preserve through the winter, came at Wrigley. The grandstand was empty of fans. The cleaning crews had yet to get started. (What was the rush?) Only a few scribes could be seen working away in the press box. The Cubs' Reed Johnson, however, stood near home plate, watching his toddler son run the bases from third to home and back again. The home-plate area had already been covered with a tarp, but the kid would come stumping in, lie down on the tarp, and then splay out his arms and legs. He did that again and again, the way little kids do, as Johnson just stood and watched, and they were still doing that as I turned and went down the stairs to leave the park and begin the long walk home.
And so one generation leads into another, one year into the next, and baseball endures, no matter how badly it's played in Chicago.