Adam Eaton: Blue Collar Hero?

Originally posted at The Catbird Seat on April 15, 2014.

White Sox centerfielder Adam Eaton is a blue-collar player playing in the blue-collar collar part of town. Just ask him.

“[W]e play on the South Side,” said Eaton shortly after the start of the season. “Those are blue-collar people, it’s our job to give them a show and give them 110 percent.” Because working-class people demand unattainable proportions of effort!

The week before, Eaton called the Sox “A hard-nosed team on the blue-collar side of town.” And as far back as SoxFest the former Diamondback was telling the media, “I want to be the blue-collar player.”

Eaton is not alone; he’s just the latest manifestation of White Sox blue-collar hero with an affinity for the local proletariat.

For example, Jake Peavy said last season “I love, love our fan base. I love the blue-collar attitude…because that’s who I am, that’s the way I was raised.”

Sometimes the media gets in on the act, like when Bruce Levine wrote last year that Paul Konerko “has always been ‘The Man’ of the blue-collar White Sox fan base.”

My question for the purveyors of White Sox blue-collar enthusiasm: Who have you been hanging out with? Because I define blue-collar like they do in the dictionary:

BC_IMG

There used to be lots of these kinds of people in the neighborhoods around the ballpark. Look at this 1923 panoramic photo of the White Sox original home ground at Pershing and Wentworth. By this time the field was called Schorling Park and it was home to Rube Foster’s American Giants of the Negro National League. A while back I marked the buildings that I could make out in the background of the field based on old fire maps; most of them were factories and cheap housing for workers from a bygone industrial age:

SchorlingPark_1923_Pan_labeled

In the second half of the twentieth century Chicago began to shed its industrial base — much of it on the South Side — and with it blue-collar jobs. The closing of the Union Stock Yards in 1971 and the steel factories in the early 1980s was emblematic of the decline of manufacturing in Chicago. The change was reflective of a larger crisis in blue-collar work regionally and nationally:

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GRAPH FROM RICHARD FLORIDA, “THE MIDWEST’S MANUFACTURING CONUNDRUM,” THE ATLANTIC, MAY 11, 2012.

These days 7.5 percent of working Chicagoans have jobs in manufacturing, according to 2011 US Census data. In the zip codes below the Chicago River on the city’s South Side, manufacturing work makes up 8.5 percent of all jobs—higher than the city average but still below the statewide average of 11 percent. And considering the rate of manufacturing jobs is 18 percent in our neighboring states of Wisconsin and Indiana, it’s a real stretch to call south side baseball fans comparatively blue-collar.

There is a higher percentage of blue-collar jobs in a few of the zip codes around the ballpark: in areas of Bridgeport and in the old river wards, where the number of residents working manufacturing jobs is between 11 and 17 percent.

But a closer look reveals another reality in our postindustrial city: a lot of remaining blue-collar jobs are crummy ones. In these zip codes along the river, about 60 percent of “goods-producing” workers earn less than $40,000 a year. The percentage is roughly the same for goods-producing workers across the South Side.

These are not the people the White Sox marketing team has been targeting for ticket sales, as the cost of Sox games has increased rapidly over the last few decades, much faster than the cost of other goods and services. And it’s questionable if these blue-collar South Siders are even part of the television fan base, considering that baseball polls much higher among suburbanites and households earning at least six figures.

So the people Adam Eaton is out there “giving a show” to almost certainly are not blue-collar. Still, if players want to believe that White Sox enthusiasts are gritty factory toughs and that motivates them to play well then, as a fan, I’m all for it. After all, from breaking balls that drop off the shelf to undying playoff hopes, baseball is a game of illusions.

It makes sense though that a line between perception and reality should be drawn by those charged with informing the public when it comes to demography and economy, or class and society. Because illusions in these areas have real-world political implications. And the Chicago media ought to be more mindful of this.

Mindful so that as fans, we might continue to kid ourselves about our heroes in White Sox pinstripes, but stop short of kidding ourselves about ourselves.

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Despite Solid Effort, Sox Barely Lost Money in 2013 (According to Forbes)

Originally posted at The Catbird Seat on March 29, 2014.

The annual Forbes MLB team valuations came out this week, and for the first time since Jose Canseco’s bulging trapezii were mercilessly fatiguing the seams of a White Sox uniform back in 2001, the business publication has estimated an operating loss for owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Co.; the club was $2.7 million in the red in 2013 they say.

The Forbes valuations are a yearly team-by-team estimated market value and financial snapshot report. After last year (or ‘fiscal’ as they like to say in the accounting biz), Forbes ranks the White Sox as the 14th most valuable franchise in baseball, falling from 11th last year and after being as high as 10th in previous seasons.

In the past I’ve used Forbes valuations to argue (although guardedly) for the sound and ever-improving financial health of Chicago sports franchises. I’ll continue to do that. Here’s why: Continue reading

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Sox Take a Step Closer to Playing in Shopping Mall

Originally posted on The Catbird Seat on 3/25/14.

Come opening day, there will be a shiny new drinking establishment near Section 112 on the U.S. Cellular Field concourse. It’s called “Xfinity Zone,” which is not trademark infringement because the White Sox partnered with Comcast Corp.’s digital media brand to make this 2,200-square-foot, 12 flat-screen, social media wall, full menu, craft beer and cocktail dream a reality.

Actually, as we all know, no baseball-affiliated enterprise is really real until the circulation of the press release including the obligatory home run pun from a company executive/sports-enthusiast.

…’Comcast is looking forward to hitting it out of the park with our new Xfinity Zone at U.S. Cellular Field,’ said David Williams, Comcast’s regional vice president of marketing and sales and a White Sox fan.

And there we have it.

White Sox Marketing VP Brooks Boyer calls Xfinity Zone “one of the most unique and exciting additions we have made to the ballpark to date.”

It’s unique in one respect at least. Crain’s Danny Ecker reports the bar was “built by the Sox and Comcast without any financing from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority.”
Continue reading

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Baseball Instant Replay Rant!

White Sox and Cubs pitchers and catchers reported to camp in Arizona this week. Other players will follow soon. It will be warm there. We will be jealous.

And we’ll be excited initially because it’s baseball. But later we’ll be aggravated when we realize that almost as bad as no baseball is the prolonged agony of fake baseball.

In the end, spring training is like six weeks of drunken foreplay: we’re looking forward to where things are leading, but it’s hard not to pass out during the run-up.

So let’s talk about something besides things like who is showing up to camp in the best shape of his career.

Like here’s something that happened this offseason that kind of flew under the radar: as part of America’s quest to suck the humanity out of everything, baseball is going to instant replay!
Continue reading

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Unconventional Visitors: Union Turns Up at Cubs Convention!

If you attended the Cubs Convention at the Sheraton hotel last weekend you might have encountered a labor union activist and not even noticed.

You may have been handed a stylish drink coaster for the light beer you were nursing in between giant swills of the Cubbie kool-aid.

You may have noticed the baseball graphic on the front of the cardboard coaster that read: “Celebrating 123 Years.”

Intrigued you may have flipped it over, beverage in hand so as to prevent a drink ring on the hotel furniture, and read what was inscribed on the back: “For 123 years hotel workers in Chicago have had union contracts.  Sheraton Hotel workers have great wages and benefits.  Wrigley Field Concession Workers have the same Union, and when the new Wrigley hotel opens, the workers should have Sheraton quality jobs.”

“Great wages and benefits,” you might have thought to yourself, your mood elevated with thoughts of sunny, day-baseball games in mid-January.  “Yeah, those hotel workers should have quality jobs.”

At least that’s what Unite Here! Local 1 hoped you would think, as staff members fanned out over three floors of the Sheraton hotel to mingle with fans last weekend.  They were there to build awareness and support for good jobs for Chicago’s labor force. Continue reading