Finally, Illinois Can Guarantee A Baseball Champion

Proposing the Lincoln Cup: a yearly tournament to crown Illinois' baseball best.

Oh, August, you cruel month, you. It's another long month in Chicago watching both the local baseball teams circle the toilet bowl before September finishes the flushing experience. (You, too, White Sox fans. Losing more than you win makes you success-adjacent at best.)

Between the looming Kenny Williams-Ozzie Guillen pinch fight and Jim Hendry acting like each transaction costs a whole lot more than $9.95, we can settle back into another lazy late summer at the city's two largest beer gardens, fanning ourselves with Adam Dunn strikeouts.

Or we can take a lesson from soccer and fight back against the tyranny of the regular season. Soccer leagues, on the whole, don't have playoff berths, so their fans can check out early if the fighting's light that week. Instead, they have endless tournaments.

Just in the United States, we have the MLS Cup for the league title (with playoffs), the U.S. Open Cup, and now the CONCACAF Champions League for the U.S. Open Cup winner, MLS Cup finalists, and the team with the best remaining MLS record. Between all of this and friendly exhibitions, MLS teams can play up to 672 games apiece each year.

The Chicago Fire can only aspire to lousiness this season, but they will play a soccer team from Richmond, VA, at the end of the month for the right to battle in the U.S. Open Cup Final this fall. To give you a sense of the importance of this accomplishment, the Fire's opponent in the quarterfinals started the back half of their roster on the pitch and the bus driver at goalkeeper.

Still, the Fire are thisclose to being a champion this year. An honest-to-goodness champion. And, y'know, you can't take that away from them, even if you were so inclined. In which case, you're probably from Richmond, VA. Bastards.

Therefore, I formally propose the expansion of the Crosstown Cup to include all Illinois baseball teams in a yearly tournament to be called the Lincoln Cup. It will combine both MLB teams, both minor league affiliates, and members of the independent North American League and Frontier League in a callback to the barnstorming roots of baseball. There's even a Lincoln Cup already in existence that's older than the Stanley Cup. This is clearly destiny.

The tournament will be broken into three sections. First, the independent league teams will combat each other in a single bracket:

(pairings subject to change)
Gateway Grizzlies vs. McHenry County K-Nines
Normal CornBelters vs. Southern Illinois Miners
Windy City ThunderBolts vs. Joliet Slammers
Rockford RiverHawks vs. Lake County Fielders

They will play from eight to four and then from four to two. Those two teams will then take on the minor league teams in a single round:

[Independent league team] vs. Kane County Cougars
[Independent league team] vs. Peoria Chiefs

Emerging from this quarterfinal round will be two teams to battle the Major League Baseball squads:

[Quarterfinal winner] vs. Chicago Cubs
[Quarterfinal winner] vs. Chicago White Sox

These four teams will boil down to two and then a champion in the Lincoln Cup Finals. 

Every series will be a two-game home-and-away series with a total runs tiebreaker to encourage offense. If both teams score the same amount of runs for the series? Home run derby. Five players from each team, five swings each, and then keep moving down the roster as needed.

Every tournament will be guaranteed at least two visits from an MLB team to a smaller town. Imagine the Chicago Cubs playing the upset Normal CornBelters in The Corn Crib in the Lincoln Cup Finals.

Early round games can be played in crevices of the Frontier League schedule at the beginning of the season with the Lake County Fielders of the North American League coordinating time to play in-state as needed. Quarterfinal games can slip into the June time frame with the semifinals played the afternoon before and the afternoon following the All-Star Game. The Cubs and White Sox will just have to do without their All-Star.

The finals can be played in gaps in the MLB schedule as needed, even as a day-night doubleheader with an MLB game. If either MLB team is in the playoff chase (stop giggling), they can play scrubs off the 40-man roster. This becomes awkward if it's the Cubs and the Chiefs, but this detail can be resolved ahead of time. Otherwise, they can play for a championship that's within reach on a regular basis.

And that's the real beauty of this tournament, beyond the novelty and the historical callback and the promotion of baseball in the state and the goodwill: it guarantees a baseball champion in this state every year. We need to take matters into our own hands, Illinois. Let's make this happen.

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