Home International Column: Been there, done that. Comparing the losing streaks of the 2024...

Column: Been there, done that. Comparing the losing streaks of the 2024 White Sox and the 1997 Cubs.


It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

In this tale of two streaks, historic losing skids by the 2024 White Sox and 1997 Cubs would define their seasons and test the patience of their diehard fans.

So how did we get here? It’s a long story.

When the Sox beat the Washington Nationals on May 15 for their first back-to-back series wins since early August 2023, outfielder Tommy Pham warned fans not to get too giddy.

“We’ve got a tough schedule coming up, so it’s going to take a lot of good baseball played by us to beat some of these teams,” he said.

The Sox proceeded to lose 18 of their next 19 games heading into Friday against the Boston Red Sox, including a franchise-record 14th straight in Thursday’s 14-2 loss.

In my role as the Chicago Tribune’s senior Cubs losing streak expert, I can honestly say: “Been there. Done that.”

The 1997 Cubs famously began their season with a National League record 14-game losing streak, matching their crosstown rivals in ineptitude before Friday when the Sox tried to avoid setting Chicago’s baseball futility record.

Like the 2024 Sox, the 1997 Cubs discovered new ways to lose almost every day, turning what should have been just a bad stretch of baseball into a historic streak.

The current Sox have lost seven of their 14 games by one or two runs. The 1997 Cubs also lost seven of their 14 games by one or two runs. Baseball symmetry: catch it!

Both teams had some decent starting pitching performances and both featured struggling offenses and bullpens that blew late leads. The Sox took a lead into the 7th inning four times during a five-game stretch last week against the Milwaukee Brewers and Cubs — and they lost all four.

The 1997 Cubs hit a combined .179 with an OPS of .518 during their streak, scoring 36 runs. The 2024 Sox have been more productive, as hard as that is for observers to believe. Heading into Friday, the Sox have hit a combined .212 and scored 45 runs during their 14-game skid, with a .623 OPS.

It probably should be noted, however, that 12 of those 45 Sox runs (27%) came in consecutive 7-5 losses against the Cubs, where the Sox blew a 5-run lead Tuesday and a 4-run lead Wednesday. The Sox also set a season-high with 13 hits Wednesday against the Cubs.

To make matters more eerie, both teams had a Sosa in their lineup — the Cubs’ Sammy and the Sox’s Lenyn — and Steve Stone in their broadcast booths. Stone teams with John Schriffen on Sox telecasts now and worked alongside Harry Caray on the 1997 Cubs.

Unlike the Sox, the Cubs entered the 1997 season touting themselves as actual contenders. General manager Ed Lynch had signed a new reliever in Montreal Expos’ free agent Mel Rojas, who became the second highest-paid closer in the game with a four-year, $13.75 million deal. But Rojas struggled, and revealed early in the season he didn’t like pitching in cold weather after pitching in a dome for Montreal.

“Oh, now he tells us,” said thousands of face-palming Cubs fans.

One of the lowlights of the Sox’s current streak was manager Pedro Grifol’s pronouncement on May 26 that the players were “f—— flat” in a 4-1 loss to Baltimore Orioles and pitcher Kyle Bradish. Several Sox players, including rookie catcher Korey Lee, disagreed with their manager’s assessment, and boldly said so in the postgame clubhouse.

The Sox’s streak was only at five games at that point. Grifol doubled down on his criticism the next day, but then changed his tune. Before the streak reached 13 games at Wrigley Field, Grifol said: “These guys are busting their ass, man, they really are. And I’m proud of them for that.”

White Sox manager Pedro Grifol heads to the dugout after making his second pitching change of the the seventh inning against the Cubs at Wrigley Field on June 5, 2024. (John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune)

Cubs manager Jim Riggleman tried to project a calm exterior throughout the team’s 1997 losing streak, even as Jay Leno made jokes nightly about the team on “The Tonight Show.”

“I don’t like sarcasm,” Riggleman said.

When their slump hit seven games, the Cubs had led for only five of the 63 innings. Riggleman said he had to “conduct myself the way I ask our players to conduct themselves.”

How was that?

“Be a professional,” he said. “You’re not going to see me all excited if we win seven in a row, and I’m not going to get down if we lose seven in a row. I go upstairs and look in the mirror and try to figure out some things I could’ve done (differently).”

The streak went on, but Riggleman’s temperament remained the same as the Cubs reached 0-11 and set a National League record for worst start to a season.

“I know I’m getting a good effort,” he said. “They’re all down. I’m not going to kick people when they’re down. I’m down. I don’t want people to kick me when I’m down.”

But the next day the Cubs made three errors in a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies. Riggleman said loss No. 12 was the worst game he had seen, adding he and his players should be “ashamed” of themselves. An injured Mark Grace, who was moonlighting in the WGN-AM 720 radio booth, said he wouldn’t “bury” his teammates.

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