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Dan Shaughnessy

Plenty of flavor in long-awaited Wrigley taste

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / June 10, 2005
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The Chicago Cubs are our baseball cousins, sharing diamond chromosomes with Boston's Olde Towne Team. They are the relatives we love, but almost never see. We haven't connected with them in 87 years and last time we went to visit, they didn't even let us in their house.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, when the Cubs hosted the Red Sox in 1918 -- the only time these teams have met other than spring training -- the Cubs opted to play the games in Comiskey Park on the South Side of Chicago. More seating is often cited as the reason for the switch, but the Cubs also feared Sox pitcher/outfielder Babe Ruth and figured the Bambino would have a tougher time hitting one out of Chicago's spacious American League Park.

Turns out they were right. Ruth didn't hit any homers (1 for 5 with a two-run triple in the Series) when the Red Sox beat the Cubs in the 1918 World Series in six games. He settled for a 1-0 victory in Game 1 and a 3-2 win in Game 4. Fourteen years later, he finally got to Wrigley in a World Series with the Yankees and he liked the joint so much he stepped out of the batter's box and pointed to where he was going to hit a home run off Charlie Root in Game 3. Then he hit it to the spot. At least that's the folklore and there are no ''SportsCenter" highlights to confirm the moment. What is known is that Babe said, ''I'd pay half my salary if I could bat in this dump all the time."

Carl Mays picked up the Game 6 clincher at Fenway Sept. 11. The Series was played in early September because of World War I and a carrier pigeon delivered the final results from Fenway's rooftop to soldiers at Fort Devens in Ayer.

The teams have not faced one another in a game of consequence since that day.

Until now.

At Wrigley Field.

For the first time.

Originally known as Weeghman Park, Wrigley was built for the Federal League Chicago Whales in 1914. The Cubs moved in two years later and played their first game April 20, 1916, beating the Cincinnati Reds, 7-6, in 11 innings. The cozy field at the Corner of Clark and Addison was known as Cubs Park for 12 years, then became Wrigley. The ivy on the outfield walls was planted in 1937 and the first night games were played in 1988.

Interleague play has become tedious (gotta love the renewal of that traditional rivalry between the Florida Marlins and Seattle Mariners), but the presence of the Red Sox at Wrigley is nothing short of an irresistible sports event.

The whole world is watching! (For youngsters, that's what demonstrators chanted when they were tear-gassed in Grant Park during the chaos of Chicago's 1968 Democratic National Convention.)

Cubs-Red Sox at Wrigley is an impossible ticket and must-see TV because it's a collision of the past and present. It's a meeting of the teams who've tormented devout fandoms longer than any other. And it comes at a time when the Red Sox have just unloaded the weight while Cub fans take their turn and wonder, ''How long?"

The Cubs and Red Sox have influenced one another's fortunes through the unfortunate decades. The Red Sox acquired Bill Buckner from the Cubs. Boston Hall of Shamers Don Zimmer, Calvin Schiraldi, and Grady Little worked for the Cubs after unraveling with the Sox. And then there's the ballad of poor Nomar Garciaparra, who played hard, but hated the Boston baseball experience with the fury of 10,000 suns. There are many who believe that trading Nomar to the Cubs triggered Boston's magic ride through October 2004.

Connect the dots. Both teams are owned by media moguls: The Cubs are owned by the Tribune Company (which owns the Chicago Tribune), and the New York Times Company (loving parent of Daddy Globe) has 17 percent of the Red Sox. The Cubs have their very own (Billy Goat) curse. Look for ''Our Curse Is Worse" T-shirts in and around Wrigley this weekend.

Boston and Chicago shared some special players and sports moments. Bobby Orr went to Chicago after he played for the Bruins. Bob Cousy played in Boston only because the team that drafted him, the Chicago Stags, folded. Doug Flutie played for the Bears and Patriots. Carl Yastrzemski won the Triple Crown and the MVP after Chicago (White Sox) manager Eddie Stanky called him ''an All-Star from the neck down." The Bears edged the Patriots in the 1986 Super Bowl. Michael Jordan's coming-out party was his 63-point playoff game in the Boston Garden.

Now this.

Looking back, the absence of the Cubs in the 2004 World Series was perhaps the only unsatisfying aspect of Boston's Curse-busting run. Before Boston won the trophy, a Red Sox-Cubs World Series was suspected to be a harbinger of the Apocalypse. It would be the end of the world because neither team could possibly win.

And, of course, it almost happened in the incredible autumn of 2003, when the Cubs and Sox were both five outs away from clinching a spot in the World Series. Then Bartman happened and Grady left Pedro on the mound and the respective ''woe is us" legions had new sorrow to be drowned in the same old beer.

Today they finally meet. Red Sox-Cubs. At Wrigley. Interleague play's greatest gift to baseball.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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