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The Old Roman Ruins Opening
2003-02-03 01:27
by Mike Carminati

The Old Roman Ruins

Opening Day, July 1, 1910, [White Sox Owner Charlie] Comiskey had the stands decorated with thousands of yards of colorful bunting. Five bands played. Comiskey's personal box was filled with flowers. Troops from the U.S. War Department conducted a flag raising ceremony. "Hail to the Chief" was played. The mayor presented a banner to Comiskey. The owner was aware of his working-class following and had put plenty of 25 cent seats in his stands. When the park was new those stands held 32,000.

The White Sox lost their home opener in their new park 2-0 to the St. Louis Browns. The losing pitcher was White Sox ace Ed Walsh, who had been on the committee to design "White Sox Park." That's why the new park almost made it through its first month without a home run being hit. The first was by the Sox's Lee Tannehill, on July 31, 1910, a grand slam against Detroit. The first Comiskey Park home run by an opponent was struck the same day by Ty Cobb to give the Tigers a 6-5 victory...

Like Forbes Field, Comiskey Park had a double-decked grandstand between first and third, with unattached single-deck pavilions beyond. Original plans were to give Comiskey Park a Roman facade much like the one on Shibe Park. For reasons of budget, the fancy outer shell was never put on. Instead, a simple brick wall covered the stadium's steel skeleton, with the letter C repeatedly designed into the brick patterns.

Similarly, there was a time when cantilevered construction was considered, but it would have added $350,000 to the construction costs, so the notion was scrapped-and fans to this day have to deal with the resulting support beam obstructions.

Comiskey managed to hold the total cost of the project to $700,000, which included $550,000 for construction and $150,000 for the property.

Unlike other owners, whose financial interests were largely elsewhere, Comiskey made his living owning the White Sox. Because of this he was willing to fight harder than the next guy to put a team of pennant-winning capabilities on the playing field.

He also went out of his way to make the fans happy. In the rain, those in the bleachers were allowed to move into the grandstand under the roof.

He was despised by his players, who found him maddeningly stingy, but loved by the people of Chicago. Any worthy Chicago organization that wanted to use his park for an event had it for free - assuming they were White Sox fans of course, and they always were. According to baseball historian David Voight, Comiskey said, "The fans built the park, didn't they?"

- Ballparks of North America by Michael Benson

Since before there was Fenway Park, Ebbets Field, or Yankees Stadium there has been a Commiskey Park. The name has been a fixture in Chicago longer than Wrigley Field. The original replaced South Side Park in the middle of 1910 and lasted until the end of the 1990 season. It was replaced by a new Commiskey Park across the street the next season. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the White Sox, using threats to move the team to St. Petersburg in 1988, received funding from the city of Chicago to construct the new park. He had the good sense to retain the traditional stadium name.

The city responded with a team-record 2.9 M patrons in its first year. Within two years the team won the division. They led the division again in the strike-shortened season of 1994. The White Sox have since have not broken two million in attendance and have won the division just once, and that year (2000) has since become another bittersweet season of unfulfilled expectations as the young team has failed to bloom as expected. It seems that a tone was set by the July 31, 1997 purge that sent two starting pitchers and the team's closer to the Giants for prospects (some of whom have since played well) when the team trailed the division-leading Indians by only three and one-half games.

This weekend the successor to the park "the fans built" was renamed the god-awful and un-rememberable U.S. Cellular Field. Not Commiskey Park at U.S. Cellular Field. Not CommiskeyPark/U.S. Cellular Field. Just U.S. Cellular Field. And it won't be just for a short time. It will be for the next 23 years, or until U.S. Cellular goes Chapter 11. And this was to kick off the "SoxFest" promotional campaign.

ESPN quotes the inimitable Jerry Reinsdorf as follows:

"U.S. Cellular and the White Sox have forged a unique partnership that will provide the resources for major design changes to the ballpark that will benefit every White Sox fan," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said.

What improvements do you ask? According to in the last two years three rows of seats between the dugouts and foulpoles were added and the bullpens were moved to accommodate additional bleachers among other things. Who benefits from these improvements? Jerry Reinsdorf, that's who, not the fans certainly.

Reinsdorf got a $167 M stadium for free thanks to public funding. Then he renovates the ten-year-old stadium to squeeze in a few more high-price seats and he has it paid for by corporate sponsorship. Meanwhile, the team perennially dumps talent to save on payroll. In 1997, it was Roberto Hernandez and Wilson Alvarez; in 2002, it was Ray Durham, Kenny Lofton, and Bobby Howry.

So far this offseason the White Sox appear to have a clear edge in their division. But with a management team that apparently is more concerned with balance sheets than winning percentage, this could be another disappointing season on the south side. At least, U.S. Cellular will be less offensive to the fans than Jerry Reinsdorf Park.

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