Comiskey: The park and the owner


Jul 24, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; General view of the game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field. Tigers beat the White Sox 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox now leave the East Coast for a visit to middle America and a match-up with the Chicago White Sox.

U.S. Cellular Field, built in 1991, is the latest home of the Chicago White Sox. The park, like many of its contemporaries, mixes touches of the old with the new. There is the old time facade, arches and an exploding scoreboard. The dining is varied and some reflects Chicago, a city of diverse neighborhoods. The field is spacious and has unobstructed views. Sculptures of past White Sox performers adorn various areas including ones of Carlton Fisk and Luis Aparicio, who both saw service time with the Red Sox. U.S. Cellular Field has all the comforts and amenities one would expect of a modern ballpark. Now, for the old Comiskey Park.

Comiskey Park, the old South Side ball yard, was part of that baseball park building boom of the second decade of the 20th century. The park, like its middle America brethren in Detroit and Cleveland, was cavernous. The park I remember visiting on several occasions could probably seat 50,000. The field dimensions also took on the same size as the park. The playing field was certainly pitcher friendly and built for a team such as the famous Go-Go White Sox of 1959.

I love Chicago and still go there every few years, but at one time it was a regular and a required stop for business, and what baseball fan would pass up a game?

I remember listening to the legendary broadcaster, Harry Caray, sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the seventh inning stretch. Caray would never make the cut on any talent show. And then there was Andy the Clown. Now that is difficult to describe. In the age before mascots, Andy would pass for cheerleader and instigator.

For a few years, I would get to Comiskey Park when Bill Veeck owned the team. Veeck was both an innovator and establishment agitator. Veeck would make Charlie Finley appear to be baseball normalcy. With Veeck it was all about the experience. Veeck created a picnic area in left field and it was cheap, a great vantage point and fine place to meet up with fellow fans. And, who can forget the pinwheels on the exploding scoreboard? How irritating that was for this Red Sox fan when watching a game on TV as a White Sox player goes long. To me the highlight was a shower. Yep, a shower! Veeck installed a shower in the center field bleachers for fans to cool off.

Comiskey Park was the venue for the first All-Star Game. Fred Lynn, formerly of the Red Sox, hit the first All-Star grand slam in the 1983 game. Then there was Disco Demo Night. This was a good idea gone bad as the destruction of disco records ended up with a riot situation.

Minnie Minoso was a personal favorite of mine from the 1950s — the “Cuban Comet” who played the game with panache. In 1980, Veeck brought back Minoso for a two game appearance in Chicago as Veeck clearly had the same affection for Minnie as the Chicago fans and I did. I stayed over in Chicago and was able to catch the last game of the season with the dreadful Angels playing the equally dreadful White Sox, managed by a young Tony LaRussa. In the seventh inning, Minnie, now 54 years old, came to bat and grounded out. It sounded like a walk-off.

Charles Comiskey was a player, a manager and team owner – quite a triumvirate in baseball.

Comiskey, later known as “The Old Roman,” was a native of Chicago, born in 1859 who eventually became the owner of the new Chicago franchise in the upstart American League. Comiskey also built the original park that the locals will still refer to as Comiskey despite the naming rights attachment. Hey, to me it will always be Boston Garden.

As a player Comiskey had a slash line of .264/29/883 with several teams, including one season with his hometown Chicago Pirates in 1890, a team he also managed. Comiskey was a first baseman, who was reported to have an excellent glove and quickness. That quickness is evident with a career steals total of 419.

Comiskey the manager had a career record that was quite impressive, finishing with an 839-542 record with three clubs. At one point his St. Louis Browns ball club won four consecutive American Association titles with player-manager Comiskey at the helm.

Where Comiskey became famous, or infamous, was as the owner of the Chicago White Sox and that linkage to the famed Black Sox scandal that marred the 1919 World Series. Just how significant was Comiskey to that scandal?

Comiskey was far from a generous owner and developed his own pay scale. Since this was well before free agency and there were no competing leagues since the demise of the Federal League, it was a take it or leave it situation for the players. Pitcher Eddie Cicotte was even benched to avoid paying a bonus. In the film “Eight Men Out” Comiskey is pictured as an imperial tightwad whose fiscal parsimony becomes a key ingredient for the players accepting bribes.

To his credit, Comiskey accepted the eventual suspensions of the players implicated, thus putting the White Sox into a long and disheartening spiral into the second division for decades. There is also a certain commonality between the Red Sox and White Sox of that era – one team destroyed by ownership and one by scandal.

In 1939, eight years after his death, Comiskey was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee.