ALL STAR GAMES: 1933, 1950, 1983 LIGHTS: 1939
"BEEN THERE": I saw Comiskey Park a while driving past during a family vacation in 1969.
WORLD SERIES: 1917, 1918 (Cubs!), 1919, 1959 (1 W, 3 L) ARTIFICIAL TURF (infield only): 1969 - 1975
Comiskey Park was the exception to the rule of asymmetry in the classic stadium construction boom of the Early 20th Century, and one could argue that it really ought to be classified as the very first of the Modern stadiums. Although the field was perfectly symmetrical from left to right, the center field wall was distinguished by its long distance from home plate (variously stated as from 440 to 455 feet until 1949) and by its height (about 10 feet, except in center field). Only rarely did batted balls reach the center field bleachers. It also had unusually deep foul territory, but not as much as would be indicated by the "official" distances to the backstop. It was 98 feet from home plate to the backstop during the early days (1910-1926), and then 85 or 86 feet for most of the time until 1983. Based on a careful inspection of aerial photographs, however, I believe that it was actually 78 feet when it was supposedly 86 feet, and 67 feet when it was supposedly 78 feet during the last few years. Even though the box seats were farther than average from home plate, fans in the upper decks were relatively close to the action. One of the nice aesthetic touches was the series of open arches along the outside perimeter between the first and second decks.
Since Comiskey Park had greater seating capacity than Cubs Park (as Wrigley Field was then known), in 1918 the Cubs played their World Series games there rather than in their own ball park. The next year the White Sox reached the World Series, but lost to the underdog Cincinnati Reds. Many people suspected that the Sox had thrown the Series after getting paid off by gambling racketeers, and it was later confirmed, breaking the hearts of Chicago fans. The most famous of the "Black Sox" (as the guilty players became known) was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, an illiterate country boy whose degree of culpability remains fiercely debated. He was the ghostly subject of the classic baseball flick Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner: "Ease his pain!" Thus began the curse that lasted for the rest of the 20th Century, paralleling the same frustrating agony experienced by the Boston Red Sox.
CINEMA: Comiskey Park was featured in several scenes of the classic movie Pride of the Yankees (1942), and was purportedly where Lou Gehrig met his future wife Eleanor. Several scenes from the movie The Stratton Story (1949) were filmed in Comiskey Park. It starred Jimmy Stewart as White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton, who kept playing even after his leg was amputated. Also, Only The Lonely, starring John Candy and Ally Sheedy was filmed there following the 1990 season.
In 1927 the second deck was extended around the corners and almost all the way to center field, leaving just a small bleacher area there. (NOTE: The red lines around the distance boxes in the 1927 diagram above indicate doubt about the dimensions as reported in Lowry's Green Cathedrals. I am inclined to believe that the dimensions in the late 1920s were virtually identical to those in the late 1940s.) Thus, Comiskey Park resembled the Polo Grounds and Tiger Stadium in being almost entirely enclosed by double-deck grandstands. There was a lack of room behind left field because of an adjoining street, however, so the lower deck in left field was truncated, meaning that it had the same number of rows as the upper deck. The foul poles bent back a few feet between the front edge of the upper deck and the roof, which did not cover the first couple rows. Exit ramps extending from the upper deck on both sides wrapped around the center field bleachers, covering some of the seats in the corners. The flagpole was moved from the left field corner to dead center field, right in front of the wall, and home plate was moved back 27 feet. Prior to the 1934 season, home plate was moved forward by 14 feet (in hopes of generating more home runs from newly acquired slugger Al Simmons), and then it was moved back by 14 feet in 1936, to roughly the same position as before. Contrary to my earlier conjecture, I have found no evidence that additional rows of seats were added during this period. In 1939 light towers were installed on top of the roof, and for nearly a half century this was the only place in Chicago to see a night game. For the first two weeks of the 1949 season, there was an inner fence that reduced distances to the foul poles by 20 feet. After the White Sox removed that fence just before the Yankees came to town (while bringing the inner center field fence in even further), the American League issued a rule forbidding more than one outfield modification per season. A year later, the bullpens were moved from foul territory out to the area behind the fence in center field. The outfield dimensions then remained fairly constant for the next two decades.
For many years, Comiskey Park hosted the Negro Leagues' version of the All-Star game, pitting the Eastern teams agains the Western teams. There was usually a capacity crowd on hand for this event.
During the 1950s, the "Go-Go" White Sox started winning consistently, emphasizing defense, hustle, and "small ball." In 1959 maverick entrepreneur Bill Veeck (pronounced as in "wreck," as the title of his autobiography states) bought the White Sox, in partnership with former star Hank Greenberg, and proceeded to jazz up the franchise by adding novelties to the stadium. He turned the scoreboard behind the center field bleachers into a space-age entertainment spectacle, featuring a fireworks display whenever the White Sox hit a home run. He also had the whole stadium painted white and put a ground-level picnic area under the left field grandstand, replacing the brick wall out there with a screen fence. That same year, 1959, the White Sox finally won the American League pennant after a forty-year drought. Veeck fell seriously ill, however, and sold the team in 1961. At some time in the 1960s or 1970s, extra rows of box seats were added, shortening the distance behind home plate. In 1969 the infield grass was replaced by Astroturf (called "Sox Sod"), while the outfield remained pure and natural. Comiskey Park was the only baseball stadium with a combination of natural and artificial turf. Also in 1969, an inner fence was installed for a second time, reducing the distance to the foul poles by 20 feet; it was removed after the 1970 season. The name of the stadium was officially changed to "White Sox Park" in the early 1970s, but everyone kept calling it by the old name. After Bill Veeck reacquired the team in 1976, he put real grass back in the infield and moved the bullpens back to foul territory, raising the distance to center field to 440 feet once again. Just like the good old days! On July 12, 1979 he held a "disco demolition derby," but the ill-considered promotion sparked a riot that caused the White Sox to forfeit a game. Comiskey Park had strong credentials as a bastion of rock and roll, having hosted a Beatles concert on August 20, 1965.
In 1981, the aging Bill Veeck sold the White Sox for the last time, and the new owners had the bullpens put back in center field. They began major renovations on Comiskey Park. In 1982, "sky box" luxury suites were installed in the back half of the upper deck in the portion of the grandstand near the diamond, and "gold boxes" were added in the infield. In 1983, four extra rows of box seats were added, new dugouts were built, home plate was moved about ten feet forward, and the bullpens were moved back to centerfield. However, structural defects were uncovered at that time, raising doubts about whether Comiskey Park could be further renovated. After further minor adjustments in 1983 and 1986, the distances ended up at 409 feet to the corners on either side of center field, and 347 feet down the foul lines. (There is uncertainty as to whether or not the distances marked on either side of center field were to straightaway center.) The power alleys were marked as "375"for the last few years.
In the late 1980s the White Sox almost moved from Chicago to St. Petersburg, where a domed baseball only stadium was built to induce the Sox or some other lagging franchise to relocate there. (That stadium later became the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and is now known as Tropicana Field.) After a bitter dispute over public funding and architectural design, a big new stadium was built for the White Sox, right next door. Although a fine old structure, Comiskey Park really didn't have enough charm or distinctiveness to merit a costly preservation effort. It was demolished in 1991, and a parking lot was built on the land it once occupied. A pedestrian ramp connected to the stadium via two bridges coincides precisely with the layout of the Comiskey Park (I) grandstand, but alas it is only a recreation of the original structure.
The Chicago Cardinals (who later moved to St. Louis, and eventually to Phoenix) played football at Comiskey Park from 1922 until 1925 and again from 1929 until 1958. (In 1959 they played four home games in Soldier Field and two "home-away-from-home" games at Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota.) The Chicago Sting soccer team played in Comiskey Park (as well as Wrigley Field) in 1981.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006); Pastier (2007); Ritter (1992); Gershman (1993); Rosen (2001); Philip Bess, City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense About Cities and Baseball Parks (Knothole Press, 1989); Peter C. Bjarkman, The Baseball Scrapbook: The Players, and the Magic of America's National Pastime (JG Press, 2004); Holland's Comet (blog); flyingsock.com
FAN TIPS: Frederick Nachman