Despite having the best record in the majors, the Chicago White Sox are overshadowed by the crosstown Cubs.

CHICAGO – The Chicago White Sox are the best team in the majors, with no idea what second place is like this year. They’re a likable, entertaining bunch, and their manager is one of the most colorful in the game.

Anywhere else, they’d be the toast of the town, adored by casual fans and diehards alike. But the White Sox are the second team in the Second City, consistently underappreciated while their neighbors on the North Side are showered with love no matter how dismal their record.

“It’s always been that way,” said Bill Hyde, 68, a lifelong White Sox fan.

In Chicago, South Siders root for the White Sox, North Siders for the Cubs and that’s all there is to it. Allegiances are handed down from generation to generation, and they aren’t switched or shared, even when crosstown moves, marriages or politics are involved. Richard Daley may be mayor of all of Chicago, but his loyalties are on the South Side. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich remains a committed North Sider.

With more than 7 million people in the Chicago area, though, there should be more than enough fans to go around for both teams. Yet here the White Sox are, with a seven-game winning streak and a 49-22 record, and they’re still trailing the Cubs in attendance. The White Sox had drawn 885,906 through last Tuesday’s game, an average of 24,609 per home game. The Cubs, who began the day just three games above .500 and 8 games behind St. Louis, have already drawn 1,354,376, an average of 37,622 per game.

“The Cubs, they draw regardless of what type of team they put on the field,” said White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who qualifies as an expert after spending his entire career on the South Side.

“It’s always more of an event over there to see a ballgame. Over here, it’s about winning. When we win here, we draw very, very well. When we don’t play well over here, we don’t draw well. That’s just the way it’s been.”

Attendance has picked up lately. The team averaged almost 31,000 fans over the last five games, and they’re sure to get another bump with this weekend’s visit from the Cubs. But on a warm, sun-splashed afternoon, only 24,544 turned out for Wednesday’s 5-1 victory over Kansas City. While that’s the largest crowd the White Sox have drawn on a Wednesday this year, it’s still well below the 39,000-plus who were at Wrigley a week ago.

“It’s a shame, because they’re in first place,” said Lisa Lopiccolo, a longtime White Sox fan who goes to about a half-dozen games a year. “I don’t understand, because they pack them in at Wrigley.”

The reasons are varied, but lore and location can be blamed for most of the White Sox’s attention deficits.

The White Sox have gone almost as long as the Cubs without a World Series title – 1917 to 1908 – but the Cubs were so inept for so many years that fans couldn’t help but root for them. They weren’t just losers, they were lovable losers, and the curse of the billy goat only adds to their folksy charm.

Bill Veeck tried all kinds of gimmicks to sell the White Sox – remember those uniforms with the shorts? – but their history isn’t quite so endearing. There was the Black Sox Scandal, when Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other players were suspended for throwing the 1919 World Series, and a near riot on the ill-fated Disco Demolition Night.

“Our fans, much like us, we’re tired of second place. We’ve got to prove to them they’re coming out to a see a winner,” general manager Kenny Williams said. “That’s something to aspire to.”

AP-ES-06-22-05 1732EDT

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