View Full Version : from 19 years ago (Bob Ryan on Chicago parks)

03-03-2004, 04:15 PM
The thread on ballparks made me remember a series that Bob Ryan wrote in the Boston Globe in 1985. I went to the library and retrieved them

Boston Globe
August 5, 1985
Author: Bob Ryan, Globe Staff
Article Text:

CHICAGO - In the eyes of some, Chicago is an extremely lucky municipality.

"Chicago," asserts Bill Veeck, "is very fortunate. This city has half the ballparks in the world."

Veeck's bias toward the Cubs' Wrigley Field and the White Sox' Comiskey Park is as forgiveable as it is comprehensible. He was the individual who planted the fabled ivy on the brick walls of Wrigley Field back in 1938. Moreover, he twice owned and operated the White Sox. As for his larger point, that aside from Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park the only other "real" ballparks extant are Tiger Stadium and Fenway Park, well, Veeck is not some voice crying in the desert. Many traditionalists agree with him.

But while Detroit and Boston fans are blessed to have their old ballparks, only Chicago baseball followers have two. A dedicated patron of the art virtually could spend 162 Chicago afternoons and/or evenings annually watching baseball in the proper setting. That is to say, baseball in real ballparks in real urban environments, baseball with grass and dirt and bleachers and imaginative concessions and assorted nuances absent from - ugh - domes and "multi-purpose stadiums." Talk about a touch of class - you can even get a shoeshine in either ballpark.

Most of all, a Chicago fan walks into history every day of his baseball life, whether on the South Side (Comiskey Park was opened for business in 1910) or the North Side (Wrigley Field was built in 1914).

Comiskey Park has never been accorded the same civic-landmark status as its younger counterpart several miles to the north, but be assured this is a proud, stately edifice that continues to make its own contribution to baseball lore. It doesn't have Wrigley's brick-and-ivy interior beauty, but it is striking in its own way. Veeck painted the stadium exterior white a decade ago, and inside the park is a soothing green-on-green decor (the way Tiger Stadium was, pre-renovation) from the grass to t he paint on the fences to the paint on the seats.

A recurring rap on Comiskey Park over the years has been location, and the feeling that attending games at Comiskey Park was dangerous reached its peak in the late '60s and early '70s. When the White Sox attendance plummeted to 495,355 in 1970, half the reason was attributable to the ball club (sixth place, 42 games out) and half to the supposed deterioration of the neighborhood surrounding Comiskey Park.

When Veeck assumed control of the White Sox for the second time, one of his first official acts (right after tearing out the artificial turf then covering the park's infield) was to apply white paint to the park exterior. "We were told Comiskey Park was in a bad neighborhood," Veeck explains, "but we found that it was in a good neighborhood. We wanted the park to look clean and bright to typify what the South Side really was, rather than what rumor would have it from people who had never even b een there."

Agrees Holtzman, "I've lived in Chicago all my life, and I can tell you that the neighborhood around Comiskey Park is better now than it was 30 or 40 years ago."

Those who patronize Comiskey discover a splendid baseball park. Built by the legendary Charles Comiskey, it was billed as "The Greatest Base Ball Park in the World," when it opened on July 1, 1910. Comiskey invested the then- astonishing sum of $500,000 on his dream ballpark (Wrigley was built for half the price four years later), which was constructed in four months, including a five-week strike. From the beginning it was a pitcher's park, with hefty measurements of 363-420-363. Surely the Old Roman would be surprised to learn that last year his park, which now measures 341-401-341, yielded more home runs than any stadium in the majors, including a record number of shots to the roof in left.

The combination of the enticing green background, the physical proximity of the stands and the natural surface combine to make Comiskey an especially attractive place to play.

"This is a ballpark," says Carlton Fisk. "You feel like playing here. You go into some of those other places, especially the indoor ones, and you say, 'What am I doing here?' "

Comiskey Park is one place where a fan has no worries about finding something to eat. Veeck and his long-time, right-hand man Rudy Schaefer went far beyond the hot dog/hamburger mentality, catering to Chicago's wide range of ethnic groups with their concessions. The current regime has therefore inherited the tradition, serving quality Mexican food (not just those awful pseudo-nachos so in vogue everywhere else), hot sausages, excellent corned beef and roast beef sandwiches, pizza and, of cours e, the standard hot dogs and hamburgers.

Veeck's other legacy to White Sox fans are rest rooms. In no other stadium in America is there such a proliferation of rest rooms, and that includes representative space for ladies rooms, which were often a forgotten item when older stadiums were constructed.

But Comiskey Park is 75 years old. Too many of the seats are behind poles, and it doesn't have the wherewithal to generate the kind of income Reinsdorf and Einhorn say they need to survive in these treacherous economic times. The White Sox have neither superstation revenue nor the type of seating arrangement to take full advantage of the park's 44,058-seat capacity. All older parks are expensive to maintain, and in the last five years the Reinsdorf-Einhorn duo has spent upwards of $15 million i n the sort of improvements and repairs a fan never notices.

They've got to. Like the Cubs, they have nowhere else to go - yet. But they are making goo-goo eyes at some property in suburban DuPage County (not that Reinsdorf and Einhorn would put up the money themselves), and they could certainly be tempted to play in a proposed domed stadium the city keeps talking about. Keep in mind, also, that Reinsdorf is the chief executive officer of the Balcor Company, a real estate investment firm. In Comiskey Park he happens to control a nice piece of real estate property, described by Veeck as "the largest contiguous piece of land with proximity to The Loop in all of Greater Chicago."

"Comiskey Park is not getting ready to fall down," says Reinsdorf. "But I would be very surprised if Comiskey Park, as we know it today, will exist in 25 years. We'll either need a new park or a Yankee Stadium-style renovation."

"We've done what we can," agrees Einhorn, "but we can't do it forever. This place is a dinosaur. We can't afford old ballparks. We can't afford cheap bleacher seats. We can't afford double-headers. You need artificial turf so you can get games in. In between the white lines, baseball hasn't changed very much. The big change is outside the lines, and people must understand and this place has no role in the game as it is today. We've done all kinds of things to hang on, but there are no mirrors left."

Change is imminent. The Tribune's battle to secure lights for its baseball team is one it does not intend to lose, and one most knowledgeable observers believe will win. Veeck, who understands the Chicago mores as well as anyone, believes that the lights will go up.

"All those threats of moving are just that - threats," says Veeck. "They're the instincts of a bully. The Tribune is not used to being thwarted, particularly by a neighborhood group and a few second-rate pols. They're not going to move. They hope to get their lights and they eventually will, because they're tenacious. But the White Sox are a different matter. Balcor is going to use that property as a key to a development. They're just trying to figure out who's going to put up the money. But when exactly will they move? That I can't tell you."

Reinsdorf certainly appears resigned to a move. "I love old ballparks," he insists. "But at what price do you keep them? Not long ago I had a 50th anniversary party for my parents. There were friends and relatives from all over the country. I realized how much older some of them looked than I had remembered, and I was struck by the sad thought that I would never be seeing some of them again. That's life. So I ask you: if people die, why can't buildings?"

Meanwhile, baseball life in Chicago does go on as it has for over 70 years. The Cubs play in sunshine and the White Sox play in the "Greatest Base Ball Park in the World." The el disgorges eager patrons at both locales, and neighborhood bars accommodate the thirst of baseball lovers whose fathers, uncles and grandfathers once cheered for the likes of Big Ed Walsh, Frank Chance, Ted Lyons, Hack Wilson, Luke Appling, Phil Cavaretta, Nellie Fox and Ernie Banks. And when they enter Wrigley and Comiskey with their own offspring they can point out the spot where Gabby Hartnett hit the "Homer in the Gloaming," or where Ted Kluszewski parked two in the first game of the '59 series.

Says Veeck, "If these parks go it will be a triumph for materialism. Never mind the product if you can make a buck."

Perhaps Chicago will get lucky and receive new baseball parks instead of oval anti-stadiums, a la Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Philadelphia, etc. Perhaps. But in no way could even the nicest new home - say, a Dodger Stadium - restore to Chicago baseball connoisseurs the special feel of Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, any more than a clean, efficient chain store can replace the charm of the neighborhood ice cream parlor that flourished when William Howard Taft was president.

So enjoy it all while you can, Chicago. The hourglass has already been turned over.

03-03-2004, 04:27 PM
Great article. Thanks for getting it. It's a shame I'm too young to remember anything about the park. All I have are a few ticket stubs and pictures.

03-03-2004, 04:34 PM
Originally posted by ChiWhiteSox1337
Great article. Thanks for getting it. It's a shame I'm too young to remember anything about the park. All I have are a few ticket stubs and pictures.

Too bad, The place was great. Even when it was allowed to crumble it still felt like home.

Baby Fisk
03-03-2004, 04:37 PM
Jeez, they should build a new retro stadium for the Sox! :D:

03-03-2004, 04:41 PM
I have the entire 3 part series on our Red Sox board.

Feel free to join in over there with a Chicago take since you have lived through replacing a park.

Future of Fenway ( and entire 3 part series by Bob Ryan from 1985) (http://forums.redsoxnation.net/index.php?showtopic=2297&st=0&#entry39071)

Boston had a second ballpark that history has forgotten

Braves Field Boston 1915-1952 (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/stadium/st_brave.shtml)

Baby Fisk
03-03-2004, 04:47 PM
Originally posted by fenway
Boston had a second ballpark that history has forgotten

Braves Field Boston 1915-1952 (http://www.baseball-almanac.com/stadium/st_brave.shtml)
Braves Field had a distinctive look because of that truncated roof. It makes the baseline seating look like it's spilling out the side of the stadium. Here's another link (http://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/past/BravesField.htm) to this and all other stadiums of the past.

03-03-2004, 04:55 PM
Originally posted by fenway
Boston had a second ballpark that history has forgotten
Braves Field Boston 1915-1952[/URL]

Isn't part of it still standing as Boston University's football field?

I think the best thing about Braves Field is how the Red Sox used to play their World Series games there because it sat more people.

Of all the old stadiums, League Park in Cleveland has never truly been put out of its misery. Portions of the park still stand in a rundown fashion and still have a baseball field, but as I understand it - the surrounding neighborhood is just the worst.

Baby Fisk
03-03-2004, 05:02 PM
Originally posted by KingXerxes
Isn't part of it still standing as Boston University's football field?

I think the best thing about Braves Field is how the Red Sox used to play their World Series games there because it sat more people.

Of all the old stadiums, League Park in Cleveland has never truly been put out of its misery. Portions of the park still stand in a rundown fashion and still have a baseball field, but as I understand it - the surrounding neighborhood is just the worst.

Correct - the converted college field is mentioned with a modern-day photo in this link (http://www.ballparksofbaseball.com/past/BravesField.htm) .

Cleveland, poor Cleveland. It's like a wasteland of derelict stadiums.

03-03-2004, 05:25 PM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by KingXerxes
Isn't part of it still standing as Boston University's football field?


Nickerson Field (aka Braves Field) Boston (http://www.bu.edu/athletics/facilities/nickerson.html)

Lip Man 1
03-03-2004, 05:40 PM
What's funny is the comment that the Sox don't have Superstation revenue money.

Well they could have had if they didn't end their agreement with WGN-TV in favor of the imbecilic SportsVision. Great timing...just as WGN was becomming a Superstation!

So typical White Sox.


03-04-2004, 06:24 AM
Thanks Fenway, fascinating article. And thanks for the link to the pics of Braves Stadium. I never knew what it had looked like and was always curious. Makes me long for going to afternoon games after my father took me early out of elementary school every once in awhile to race to Old Comiskey and watch a game :-)

03-04-2004, 08:05 AM
:whiner: :whiner: :whiner: :whiner: :whiner: :whiner: :whiner:

ode to veeck
03-04-2004, 09:32 AM
Well they could have had if they didn't end their agreement with WGN-TV in favor of the imbecilic SportsVision. Great timing...just as WGN was becomming a Superstation!

Lip, Wasn't it that the Allyns went to WFLD earlier, then JR/EE decided to try the even more boneheaded Sportsvision crap

Medford Bobby
03-04-2004, 11:48 AM
Funny how any body 20 and under already will have litttle or no memories of the old ball yard....yet it seems like yesterday going to chilly home Openers in the '70's....Does any body remember Opening Day 1977 when Veeck had the idea that Sox fan's should be part of the first pitch and gave everybody a Styrofoam ball and threw them on the field...can you imagine that today???I still have few of those balls in storage....ah the good old days...bring back the Baseball Palace of the World!!! :smile:

:reinsy "Are you kidding, boy I couldn't wait to tear down that crap hole park...geeeze!!"

Lip Man 1
03-04-2004, 11:57 AM

The White Sox were back on WGN-TV in 1981 after WSNS-TV 44 went to Spanish programming after the 1980 season. Harry Caray, Jimmy Piersall and the wretched Lou Brock did the games.

It was the first time the Sox were back on WGN-TV since the end of the 1967 season.

Instead of working to extend that agreement, Uncle Jerry and fast Eddie took the games back to Channel 32 and started SportsVision for the 1982 season. This was the same year WGN went national. That sure would have helped the Sox popularity in 83 don't you think?

Instead when the Cubs won in 84, the Sox were nowhere to be found and made folks across the country who didn't have
specific ties to a team, Cub fans.

Another major mistake that has grown exponentially over the years.


Medford Bobby
03-04-2004, 12:16 PM
And the big blessing was that the late 80's Sox were so bad that CH.32 wanted out of the Sox contract and WGN picked them up for the rest of country to see the team actually get better by 1990. Imagine if the Sox were good, they would have never been on WGN.....maybe much later...but who knows.......?

03-04-2004, 05:50 PM
Bob Ryan told me a few years ago that the afternoon he spent at Wrigley and then Millers Pub with Veeck in 1985 was perhaps his happiest memory as a sportswriter. Bill of course died 6 months later.

If my memory is intact I think it was Veeck that started SportsVision in the sense that he fed some games to what few cable outlets there were in 1980....JR and EE then worked out the deal with ONTV in 82 I think it was Cablevision and Dolan that Veeck hooked up

I still have that stupid converter.......

Lip Man 1
03-04-2004, 07:51 PM
"In 1980, Bill Veeck signed a deal with Charles Dolan of Cablevision, an East Coast company that was getting into the "new" cable TV market. The two year deal payed the Sox 6,000 dollars per game, WGN also got the rights to show 60 Sox road games a season. The total worth of the deal to the Sox was only 840,000 a year. Dolan was a very sharp operator who took Veeck to the cleaners. Veeck, like most old time owners, felt that television was nice to have, but the real way to make money in baseball was at the gate.

Einhorn overturned the deal and came up with the idea for SportsVision which became a reality in May 1982. The idea was to get Chicago sports fans to sign up for the service which would provide a steady diet of White Sox games (primarily home games) along with the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Sting (soccer). The "channel" would be provided by local and area cable services as a "premium"(highest priced) service. At the time of launching, it cost most fans fifty dollars just to get it installed (you had to have a special descrambler), not counting the monthly fee which varied from system to system.

The idea proved to be a major failure as the original target of 50,000 subscribers was never met. Even during the championship season of 1983 the subscriber base was far short of the original goal. The Sox claimed to have 30,000 subscribers but Bob Logan in his book, "Miracle On 35th Street," says the actual total was closer to 20,000."-- SportsVision The Legacy story here at WSI.


ode to veeck
03-04-2004, 08:39 PM
You're right Lip. I forgot about the brief respite on WGN in '81.

Wasn't it also there were lots more ONTV boxes sold (the premium movie service Sportsvision was sold on top of) than there were subscribers to Sportsvision. I'd be surprized if they really sold 20k sportsvision services.

When I was getting my engineering degree at UIC, the favorite senior EE project was sportsvision descrambler boxes. The first version of the scrambler was really dumb, as it was a DIP packaged chip on the PCB in the ONTV box and the easiest way to get sportsvision originally was to drill a hole right through the middle of the DIP, taking out the scrambling chip. Later versions were more intelligent, hence the senior projects

03-04-2004, 09:13 PM
this brings back a lot of the memories, and the ones that I forgot

03-05-2004, 07:33 PM
The Red Sox channel NESN turns 20 in 2 weeks, and I looked up some articles about it. This one may hit home...

March 21, 1984
Edition: N
Section: SPORTS


An only consolation is that one of the first big pay-cable promotions took place last year in Chicago. The White Sox hired Ken Harrelson - remember him? - and Don Drysdale and put most of their games on the pay service. The team had a tremendous season, finishing in the playoffs.

I went to Comiskey Park for those playoff games, expecting to find pandemonium from a crowd that hadn't had a winner in decades. The crowd reaction was reserved.

"Why's this?" I asked.

"Nobody knows this team," I was told. "If you don't buy the cable, you don't see the games. People can't develop a passion for a team of players they've never watched."


then the North Side got lucky in 1984 and it was all on free tv.

03-05-2004, 07:39 PM
seeing that Montville was in Chicago for those games, I wondered what he wrote... get your hankies out

Boston Globe

October 8, 1983
Edition: N
Section: SPORTS


Dateline: CHICAGO

She is an old lady, living on the South Side of Chicago, the place where Leroy Brown did his bad, bad work. The neighbors have come and the neighbors have gone, generations have grown and moved to the suburbs, but she always has stayed.

The old lady has endured. Comiskey Park. The oldest ballpark in major league baseball.

"Tell me a story about this place," you say to Gleason, a man who has been around this lady for a long, long time.

"OK, the owner of the White Sox was Charles Comiskey, known to everyone as The Old Roman," Gleason says, smoking a cigar in the second deck. "The Old Roman had a friend, a bartender named John McCuddy, and one day in 1909 he told John that maybe it would be wise to buy a little piece of land on 35th Street.

"Why is that?" McCuddy asked. "Because I'm going to build a ballpark across the street and you might want to have a bar in the neighborhood," The Old Roman said. McCuddy bought and the Old Roman built and the bar is still in existence, McCuddy's. Check it out. A patron bit a horse in front of it on opening day a few years ago."

Lovely, huh? The old lady is not one of those pre-fab concrete saucers spread across the country - Riverfront and Three Rivers and Riverview or whatever it is. The old lady has lines, character. History. Babe Ruth used to toddle across the street to McCuddy's bar after day games. Babe Ruth.

"Tell me a story," you say to Myslenski, a guy who has researched Comiskey Park history.

"The Old Roman researched all the ballparks in America before he built this one," Myslenski says, standing near the third-base dugout. "The guy he brought with him was Ed Walsh, his star pitcher. Walsh's ideas were what were incorporated most in the park.

"The symmetrical foul lines, the deep dimensions, Ed Walsh wanted a pitcher's park. Ed Walsh was given a pitcher's park. The story is that The Old Roman, a strong Irishman, had a piece of the auld sod laid as the first part of the infield, a green hunk of limestone as the cornerstone. The opening day was supposed to be July 1, 1910, a Friday, a fact that worried the Old Roman

because a first Friday is supposed to be bad luck.

"He tried to change the date, but failed. The park opened, the Sox lost, 2-0, three regulars were injured by the end of the first week. The Old Roman said, I told you so.' "

Bad luck. The old lady has seen enough of that, for sure. Look at the field and what is the first historical fact you remember when you let your mind roam? Shoeless Joe Jackson played here. Ed Cicotte. The World Series was dumped here. Right? The 1919 Black Sox played here.

History has not been kind at all to the old lady. After that 1919 ignominy, the White Sox did not win a pennant for 40 years. Then, after that one little dance in the sun in 1959 - they lost the World Series, of course, in six games to the Dodgers - the losing tradition began again.

"Tell me a story about life around here in the last couple of decades," you ask Goddard, who has lived around here for the past couple of decades.

"It was a terrible place for a long time," Goddard says in the press box. "It was billed as the World's Largest Outdoor Saloon,' and that was what it was. Guys would get out of work, start drinking and come here. They'd be drunk by the end of the third, fighting by the end of the sixth, in jail by the ninth.

"There simply wasn't any money to keep the place up. Arthur Allyn, when he was owner, had to take a loan on his butterfly collection, the third-largest butterly collection in the world, to keep the team going. Bill Veeck always was fighting for money. The team almost moved to Seattle, if you'll remember. Money always was a problem."

The old lady went through some changes during all this. The exploding scoreboard was put into center field, fireworks set off on the rare occasion of a White Sox home run. Artificial grass, a rug, was put in the infield, a strange-looking patch of broadloom in the middle of nature. Picnic areas were established in the middle of the outfield walls.

Worries developed about spectator safety in a declining neighborhood, and suburban fans stayed home. The paint peeled. The team was terrible. Poems were written about the other old lady of Chicago baseball, Wrigley Field, and its ivy, on the North Side. No poems were written about Comiskey Park.

"Tell me the other side of the story," you ask Holtzman, who also sat through all of this.

"It was all overrated," Holtzman says. "I grew up in this neighborhood 50 years ago and I'll tell you this, it's a better neighborhood now than it was 50 years ago. Heck, Mayor Daley only lived a 10-minute walk from here.

"This is a beautiful park. Do you know that it's exactly 36 blocks from Madison Street one way and Wrigley is exactly 36 blocks the other way? Stand on Madison and you have the same distance to go to see either the American League or the National League. Isn't that lovely?"

Lovely is a word to use about the old lady on this night, that is for sure. The restoration efforts of the new owners in the past two years have covered the park with paint, put a mega-scoreboard in center field, restored the grass and made the park as lovely as she ought to be.

She sparkles, she gleams as the White Sox play the Baltimore Orioles in the third game of the American League playoffs. This is her second postseason playoff party in 64 years.

"Tell me just one more story," you say to Gleason.

"When they were putting in the lights here, they used to test them on nights when the team was not playing," Gleason says. "On one of these nights, Grace Comiskey was the owner then, the lights were turned on and one of the star players was illuminated with, uh, his girlfriend. Very embarrassing."

You can't beat a sense of history in a ballpark.

Copyright 1983, 2001 Globe Newspaper Company
Record Number: 8304100791

Article Bookmark(OpenURL Compliant):LEIGH MONTVILLE\ COMISKEY PARK, CHICAGO IS (Boston Globe, October 8, 1983)