First, a confession: I prefer the Sox, but if the Cubs are having a decent year, I'll root for them too.
I know it's heresy to say so around here, but I'm mostly a fan of good local baseball, no matter whether the uniform is black and the ballpark comfortable or the uniform is blue and the ballpark a testament to the mediocre crowd-management capabilities of our forefathers.
In any event, it doesn't look like there'll be much of an issue this year. The White Sox are playing respectable, scrappy baseball (although less so of late) on the city's South Side. Up north, the Cubs continue to show up for games, at least.
Agnosticism such as mine, of course, is not the regional norm. Pick a team, then live (and die) with them, seems to be the credo. Your blood should run one color or the other, and the easiest time to be cordial to a fan of the other side is when you are both cheering for the Bears.
But it is one thing to know or to live the Cubs-Sox rivalry. It is another to devote an entire museum exhibition to it. The Elmhurst Historical Museum has done so, with a keen eye for telling detail, in the new "Sox vs. Cubs: The Chicago Civil Wars."
It's a three-room homage to a two-team town, to what it means to have had a pair of professional franchises fighting for people's loyalty for more than a century.
Cubs songs and Sox songs find their place here. Harry Caray, announcer for both teams, is prominent. So are replicas of the scoreboards, Wrigley Field's so much more stately. Bats and other tchotchkes given away at the gate decorate many surfaces. Kids can set lineups using magnetized baseball cards.
Even the souvenir shop seems to ask you to proclaim your loyalty. Whose vintage pennant will you buy, which book of team lore? Only the official exhibition souvenir splits the difference, "Sox vs. Cubs" printed on the barrel of a $5 mini baseball bat.
The exhibition does not pick sides, either, although curator Lance Tawzer has cleverly split the rooms whenever possible, Sox stuff on the left, Cubs on the right. It's not a ranking or a political choice, just a reminder of the segregation that exists.
One of his centerpieces is cerebral. It's a data-rich, full-wall chart comparing the teams through their histories. We see all the team logos, all of the uniforms, including ones from the era when the White Sox dressed like a softball team. We see the early team names, including the perhaps surprising one that the Cubs first used: the White Stockings.
Below the uniforms, above the names, the attendance graph details peaks and valleys: the Sox attendance triumphs over the Cubs, sparked by the fine teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s; the Cubs surge in recent decades, when Wrigley Field became a tourist attraction and a Cubs game a social event, followed by the team's recent decline as the lovable loser charm seems to be wearing off.
But another centerpiece is more visceral. Also taking up a full wall, it's a photograph of Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski and Cubs catcher Michael Barrett in the midst of starting a brawl during a May 2006 interleague game between the two teams. Photographer David Banks snapped it just as Barrett's fist was connecting with Pierzynski's jaw. Fans that day went to the ballpark, and a hockey game broke out.
The contrast between the show's two big displays is a reminder that you can talk about statistics and stories all you want, in the way that baseball devotees love to do, but what it really comes down to is who is winning, who is imposing their will on other players, other teams.
There is much more in the gallery's 1,000 square feet, packed like Wrigley bleachers on a sunny August day. Team heroes line the top of the walls, from Tinker to Evers to Chance (and from later eras too). Visitors can use an iPad to select their Sox and Cubs modern-era all-star teams; Tawzer will tabulate the votes and publish them online.
Dueling "fan caves" borrow memorabilia from two Elmhurst die-hards — their bobbleheads, signed bats, stadium seats and all. The "Sox vs. Cubs" exhibit is up through September, most of the baseball season, which means that, in letting their treasures go when passions run highest, the two gentlemen have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Elsewhere, a wall placard pits Wrigley vs. "The Cell," the Sox's U.S. Cellular Field home park, while another talks about the North Side-South Side discrepancy. Elmhurst, interestingly, is one of the few areas north of the Chicago River's meeting point with Lake Michigan where there are enough Sox fans to put the loyalty ratio at about 50-50, according to a chart Tawzer has included.
Another interesting thing about Elmhurst, about 16 miles west of the Loop: It's got a town-supported history museum that puts on shows like this one. Typically, such places are repositories of dusty village records and yellowing old photographs, visited by local elementary schoolers whose teachers lack the funds or the ambition to pull off a field trip to one of the downtown museums.
But the Elmhurst Historical Museum, under Tawzer, keeps making compelling exhibits of wide interest. Among the recent shows at the free museum were ones on Chicago's candy-making history and on poet Carl Sandburg.
And now there's the baseball show, finding in this notion of rivalry a first-rate excuse to talk about Chicago hardball history and to bring the playing field into the gallery.
In video snippets that visitors can call up, fans of both teams, including celebrities like radio host Bob Sirott, speak about their passions, about, say, the perception of the Cubs as only the second-most important attraction, after Wrigley Field itself; or about the Sox as the favorite among city workers and South Siders, even as they are slighted by the city's media.
And while I said earlier that the exhibition does not choose sides, there is this. One of the first things a visitor sees is a placard telling the story of the 1906 World Series. The Cubs that year were, and still are, the winningest team in National League history, yet lost baseball's championship to the White Sox.
Maybe this wall poster's place of prominence is just a function of chronology. Or maybe it's a subtle way to twist the knife, sort of like the decision to put the Sox first in the name of the exhibition. When it comes to Chicago's baseball rivalry, there is no thought too petty to be given full consideration.
'Cubs vs. Sox'
When: Friday through Sept.28
Where: Elmhurst Historical Museum, 120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst
Tickets: Free; 630-833-1457 or elmhursthistory.org