It’s not what it used to be, but Crosstown Showdown still offered food for thought

Written By BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media Posted: 05/11/2014, 02:38am
Array Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu shows his glove to first base umpire Marvin Hudson, after catching a fly ball off the bat of Chicago Cubs' Darwin Barney in the seats, during the second inning of an interleague baseball game Wednesday, May 7, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Game 1 was played in weather befitting the Blackhawks’ Winter Classic game a few year back — on the same premises.

Game 2 went against a TV monster: Game 3 of the Hawks’ second-round playoff series against the Minnesota Wild.

Games 3 and 4 drew substantially more fans to U.S. Cellular Field than the White Sox’ disheartening norm this season.

So let’s not read much into announced crowds of 28,715 per evening and the Crosstown Showdown between the Cubs and Sox failing to sell out even once for the second consecutive season. Major League Baseball’s scheduling software all but guaranteed reduced interest by consigning the games to four weeknights in early May, against a backdrop of Hawks playoffs, iffy weather and (drumroll, please) the NFL draft.

The Cubs were a fifth-place team and the Sox were in third as the series began, which didn’t exactly stoke interest. The standings were of little consequence in the early days of interleague play, when Cubs-Sox was a novelty and we covered it as we might a World Series (as though we had any expertise in that area pre-2005).

I remember assigning a ‘‘Mike Caruso, the Prairie Years’’ piece after the long-forgotten Sox shortstop beat the Cubs with a late-inning home run in 1999. A few years later, Sammy Sosa took umbrage with a writer for picking Magglio Ordonez as the right fielder on his all-city team. He aired out Rick Morrissey, a columnist who had had nothing to do with selecting Phil Rogers’ team. But that was His Samminess.

No word about whether each member of the Sox will get to spend a day with the coveted, if no longer sponsored, Crosstown Cup, which they returned to the South Side by winning three of the four games. If the series lacked buzz, it did offer some instructive moments. Among them:

† The increasingly persistent trade rumors surrounding Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija make increasingly less sense. Pitchers with his durability, stuff and competitive zeal don’t fall out of trees.

At 29 and without much wear on his tires, Samardzija should be at the center of the Cubs’ rebuild, not a pawn to be offered around in quest of more ‘‘prospects.’’ It will take a boatload of good ones to exceed Samardzija’s value as an emerging front-of-the-rotation starter. How many teams can or will offer what Samardzija is worth?

† Not to say the acclaim for Sox first baseman Jose Abreu isn’t warranted, but it has overshadowed a strong start by Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who is under daily scrutiny as the face of his team’s unsteady rebuild.

Rizzo had 23 homers and 80 RBI last season — decent numbers for a 24-year-old, as then-manager Dale Sveum frequently noted. But his numbers against left-handed pitching (.189) and with runners in scoring position (.191) lacked middle-of-the-order credibility.

Rizzo was notably better in both categories before the Sox cooled him off in the first three games of the series (2-for-12 without an RBI or an extra-base hit). But Rizzo’s two-run homer and two other hits brought a somnolent lineup to life for a 12-run, 15-hit outpouring in Game 4. The Cubs need loud noises from Rizzo’s bat. There isn’t a bopper to be found among the spare parts and fourth outfielders that make up the rest of the roster.

Mike Olt? Maybe. But when Chris Coghlan is your designated hitter . . .

† Gordon Beckham — who knew? That was the tone of the questioning after his 4-for-5 night in Game 2, and Beckham understandably was miffed. Injuries aside, he still considers himself a good ballplayer.

Some of us probably overvalued Beckham when he came up and sprayed line drives all over American League ballparks as a 22-year-old rookie in 2009. The game isn’t as easy as he made it look while hitting .270 with 43 extra-base hits and 63 RBI in 378 at-bats.

While he has failed to duplicate those offensive numbers, Beckham has emerged as a first-rate fielder, to the point that he’s an asset for anybody if he hits .270 with OK pop.

The presence of two second-base prospects in the organization spurs talk that Beckham, 27, is expendable. There would be no shortage of takers if the Sox decided to move him.

They shouldn’t.

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