Old Comiskey Park, by Floyd Sullivan
Most baseball fans will tell you that the demolition of their old home ballpark was a very sad day in their lives. As an Orioles fan I still feel that way about Memorial Stadium. But time moves on, and the job of an author is to capture what was.
My friend Floyd Sullivan, author of “Waiting for the Cubs”, has done an outstanding job of just that, with his collection of essays from writers, players and fans about the old ballpark on the South Side of Chicago. The full title of the tome is "Old Comiskey Park: Essays and Memories of the Historic Home of the Chicago White Sox, 1910-1991"
If you are an older Sox fan especially, this book should be your Bible when it comes to their beloved former home.
The book begins with a terrific piece from Carl Rinder, describing the early history of the area and the three neighborhoods bordering Comiskey: Bridgeport, Douglas, and Chinatown. This is followed by Richard Smiley’s essay of the construction of the new ballpark in 1910, replacing the then state of the art Sox Park.
From there the book details the history of events that took place at Comiskey...like the first ever All-Star Game, with the two teams led by the heavyweight managers of the day--John McGraw and Connie Mack; the Negro League games played by the American Giants of Chicago and the popular East-West games that were often played there; the 1919 “Black Sox” World Series, the 1959 World Series, the 1983 ALCS, and three other All-Star Games.
Sullivan himself contributes a section dedicated to other events held at Comiskey. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Cinderella Man”, you know that Joe Louis claimed James Braddock was the toughest fighter he ever fought. That fight took place at Comiskey. There were legendary wrestling matches, it was the home of the Chicago football Cardinals, even roller derby events. And of course, the Beatles played Comiskey Park.
My personal favorite parts of the book are the bits about the inimitable Bill Veeck, who owned the Sox for a spell and was known for his imaginative promotions.
Dan Helpingtine contributes a great bit about Veeck...including, of course, the story behind “Disco Demolition Night”. It wasn’t Veeck’s finest hour.
But Veeck’s contributions to the game are often underappreciated...such as the home run celebration, extremely common today but unusual when the scoreboard first exploded at Comiskey. That was not a popular celebration among other teams…which was precisely why it stayed.
And I didn’t know this: the tradition of Harry Caray singing ”Take Me Out To The Ballgame” started at Comiskey. Caray was the White Sox announcer, and Bill Veeck urged him to lead the crowd, knowing that everyone in the stands could sing it better than he could and wouldn’t be afraid to join in. If that doesn’t cement Veeck as a promotional genius, I don’t know what does.
Another excellent piece comes from Greg Prince, author of the popular Mets blog “Faith and Fear in Flushing”. Prince tells his story of being in Chicago on business and wanting to visit Wrigley, but with the Cubs out of town he decides reluctantly to visit Comiskey instead...and while there he is shocked by what a true gem Comiskey turned out to be as a home of baseball, and to this day favors it to Camden Yards and PNC Park.
Towards the end are the somber reflections of players, personnel and fans as they share their memories and the emotion of losing their childhood second home. Interestingly, there is a consensus that it needed to be replaced among most, very unlike the angry fan reaction to the demise of Tiger Stadium. But this isn’t of much comfort to fans. There are quite a few tearjerker moments, something older Tigers and Orioles fans can certainly understand.
“Old Comiskey Park” is a large volume, and it works best as a coffee table book that you can open to any page and read a story about something that happened at Comiskey...like the first All-Star Game, the East-West Negro League games, or Disco Demolition Night. Or the great White Sox teams, like the Go-Go Sox or the South Side Hitmen, or the personalities like Charles Comiskey, Al Simmons or Bill Veeck.
For anyone who loved the old park, it’s an absolute must have...and for any White Sox fan or student of baseball history, it’s a great read. Check it out.
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