CHICAGO — The last time they met on baseball's grandest stage, it was preceded by earthquakes registering at least 7.8 on the Richter scale in San Francisco, Ecuador and Chile. There were major riots in Atlanta, Paris and Stockholm. Mount Vesuvius erupted and a 200-foot wide stream of lava flattened nearby villages and nearly incinerated Naples again.
So with a month left in the regular season and both teams atop their respective divisions heading into Labor Day, ask yourself this: Do we really want to tempt fate with another Cubs vs. White Sox World Series?
Just the possibility of a sequel — 102 years after the White Sox prevailed in the original — has driven a wedge between politicians in this traditionally straight-ticket Democratic town. Chicagoans are casting suspicious glances at their unaffiliated neighbors. The uneasy detente that stretched across the city only last spring is fraying fast.
Cub fans can't imagine anything more painful than waiting 100 years for a World Series title only to have their crosstown rivals snatch it away again.
"I've only been here a couple of years," Cubs manager Lou Piniella sighed, "but I understand you've got to choose sides. Either north or south."
Mellowed by winning a World Series title in 2005 that broke an 88-year old drought of their own, Sox fans began the season in a charitable-enough mood.
The previous October, Mayor Richard M. Daley had kicked off a postseason rally for the Cubs in a downtown plaza named after his father by wishing them luck against the Diamondbacks in the upcoming playoffs and then — oh, the heresy of it — he donned a Cubs cap for the cameras to show he was serious.
But if Daley, the city's most famous Sox fan at the time, a man with South Side bona fides tracing back beyond the turn of the last century, said it was every Chicagoan's civic duty to root for every Chicago team, well, who was going to argue with him?
Besides, the Sox were coming off a fourth-place finish in 2007 and staring at a tough American League Central race — supposedly made tougher by Detroit's offseason acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. The NL Central, on the other hand, looked like easy pickings, and for one of the very few times in the last 100 years, the Cubs looked positively loaded.
But then a funny thing happened.
The Cubs bolted out of the starting gate exactly the way the experts had predicted. But Detroit stumbled badly and the Sox turned out to be anything but slouches. When they met on back-to-back weekends in June for the annual crosstown classic — the Cubs sweeping at home, then the Sox sweeping right back — more than just bragging rights were on the line. Both were struggling to stay atop their respective divisions.
Sox manager Ozzie Guillen got things started with a shot at one of his favorite targets, the aging shrine that is Wrigley Field.
"You go to take batting practice and the rats are bigger than pigs out there," he said, pointing to the batting cage beneath the right field bleachers. "You want to take a look? I think the rats are lifting weights.
"This is a museum," Guillen added, warming to the task. "People like to come to Wrigley Field. I don't say people don't like to come here. I said, 'Ozzie doesn't like to come here."'
When his comments were relayed to Piniella, the Cubs skipper just rolled his eyes.
"If you can believe everything Ozzie says then I guess you should be ... I haven't seen any rats around here to be honest with you," he said.
The only confirmed rat sighting, as it turned out, was in the stands at U.S. Cellular Field during the final interleague game, when an obnoxious fan was pounced on and then pounded by fans of both teams. Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf pretended not to be surprised by the rare show of bipartisanship.
"In the years when neither team was really going anyplace, this is all you had to talk about all year," he said. "Right now, most people are focused on winning the division and getting to the World Series."
Soon after, fans on both sides of town turned their attention back to their respective needs and their traditional AL and NL rivals. The Cubs made the first splash by adding Oakland ace Rich Hardin to an already deep starting staff to counter Milwaukee's pickup of CC Sabathia. Then the Sox took back the headlines at the trading deadline by grabbing Ken Griffey Jr. from Cincinnati to shore up their left-handed hitting.
Everyone was getting along swimmingly, more or less, until earlier this week, when an ESPN interviewer asked longtime South Sider Barack Obama which team he'd back in a Cubs vs. Sox World Series.
"Oh that's easy, White Sox," the Democratic presidential nominee began, and things would have been fine if he'd ended there, too.
But at some point, the same man who pledged to unite a nation couldn't resist dividing his adopted hometown. Pumping new life into an old stereotype that first gained traction when popular broadcaster Harry Caray took his act from the South Side to the North some 25 years ago, Obama said, "You go to Wrigley Field, you have a beer, beautiful people up there. People aren't watching the game. It's not serious.
"White Sox, that's baseball," he added, before giving his old neighborhood a shout-out. "South Side."
Sox general manager Kenny Williams was grateful for the support, but hardly surprised.
"I know him as a man that answers straight questions with straight answers," Williams said, "and he's been a Sox fan since before he was a senator. Like most fans, whenever I see him he wants to know if we have enough pitching.
"A couple months ago, when he asked that question, I told him pitching is like votes — you can never be comfortable you have enough."
If nothing else, the White Sox will have their answer before Obama does. They've gone back and forth with the pesky Twins and probably won't be able to get any separation until they meet in Minnesota for the Sox next-to-last regular-season series in late September.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have a cushion in the NL Central but will play 22 of their final 29 games against teams with a record of .500 or better, and 16 of the last 22 on the road.
"I've said there's a challenge out there," Piniella said.
And if his team doesn't rise to it and the White Sox do, the Cubs manager swears there will be no hard feelings.
"I actually root for the White Sox when we don't play them," he said. "I really do. I root for all the Chicago teams. I hope our fans do, too."
Just don't count on it, Lou.
Jim Litke writes for The Associated Press.