The problem with July is, well, it stinks. For sports, that is. We’d invite you to try to name a worse month on the U.S. sports calendar, but we already know you can’t. There’s baseball, plus a little of this, maybe some of that and, hang on, did we mention baseball? Google “worst month on the U.S. sports calendar,” and you’ll find July dismissed here and there as “the least exciting month,” “the most uneventful month by a country mile” and “your chance to take a break from sports and recharge.”
July stinks, is the point.
The day after baseball’s All-Star Game is often singled out as the very worst day for sports, and that’s because there’s more action in a sloths’ mosh pit. There’s certainly no baseball being played, though, let’s face it, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re a Cubs fan. But we’re still talking about a monthlong slog here, not a one-day blip.
When your old pal worked at national sports magazines in his pre-newspaper days, July would loom and the 1,000-yard stares would begin setting in.
“Think we’ll make it to football season?”
“I’m not writing about NASCAR, you do it.”
“I wonder if the nuclear plant is hiring.”
But here in Chicago, this July is kind of wild. It’s certainly very weird. Too disconcerting to be dead, too improbable to be ignored and too sonorous for the snooze alarm.
Our teams — most of them, anyway — are up to all sorts of strange business and busyness. Like the Cubs, for example, who seem not to understand how much they’re risking by not only losing night after ignominious night, but also by waving their money in fans’ faces instead of putting it into the product on the field. As a gaudy ballpark sportsbook gets shoehorned into gaudy Rickettsville, the filthy-rich Cubs are preparing to trade, as has become their custom, everybody who’s anybody, with Jed Hoyer in the role of glorified used-car salesman.
“Congrats on the All-Star honors, Willson Contreras and Ian Happ. Now what’s it going to take to put you fellas in a couple of shiny contenders?”
The spasmodic White Sox, meanwhile, stagger two steps backward, as they did in the first two games in Cleveland on their current, hugely important road trip, then they lurch two steps forward, as they did in the last two games against the Guardians. In the end, the Sox always seem to be right back where they started, often having done a bunch of foolish and sloppy things in getting there. They ebb and they flow, usually in the same week, and it’s both stultifying and fascinating. They are a .500 machine — and the longer that persists, the more inflamed Sox fans get. There’s a lot of anger here, and it’s perfectly understandable.
And the Blackhawks? They’re trading everybody, too. Quick, somebody stop Kyle Davidson before he tries to ship Contreras to Calgary. It was a gut punch when new general manager Davidson — who’s clearly intent on making his mark — moved terrific scorer Alex DeBrincat and also momentous, if less jarring, when he did likewise with 2019 first-round pick Kirby Dach. Letting Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome disappear into the mist is only going to make the Hawks worse in the short term, and then there are the giant shoes that have yet to drop: What the heck is happening with franchise greats Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, not to mention $76 million veteran Seth Jones? It’s dizzying to think about.
At least the Bears are moving on up. Wait, correction: moving on out. Aren’t they still bound for Arlington Heights? Just saying, it seems like an inevitability — unless, of course, they stay put on the lakefront in a stadium that eventually becomes the world’s largest set of Russian tea dolls. A 1920s-style coliseum with a spaceship on top of it and an ultramodern dome heaved on top of the spaceship? Wouldn’t a circus tent be cheaper and more apt? In summary: Bears fans don’t know if the team has a real quarterback, don’t know if it has a real coach, don’t know if it has a real general manager and don’t know where it’s going to play. Other than that, everything’s perfect.
These are supposed to be the dog days on the sports calendar. Steamy, slow, languid. But who can keep up?
Our college sports scene is bonkers, too, and nothing is even in season. Every time we turn around, Illinois’ basketball team has landed another prime-time player via the transfer portal or more traditional recruiting. The Illini could win a national championship soon, or this method of roster building — birds sit on rhinos’ backs longer than some Illini players stick around nowadays — could blow up in coach Brad Underwood’s face
Craziest of all is college football, which we’ll get into more if and when we begin to comprehend what the hell is going on. It seems to be along these lines: If you aren’t moving to the Southeastern Conference or the Big Ten, you aren’t surviving for long. And if you are in one of those leagues, it’s going to require more fundraising for football than ever to even have a chance to be competitive. What does this mean for Illinois and Northwestern? And for Notre Dame, still an independent?
It means the ground is shaking. Take a break? Recharge? Maybe next year.