By Glen Sparks
Luke Appling, the great Chicago White Sox shortstop, thought he felt a rock underneath his feet at Comiskey Park, circa 1935.
He kicked at the dirt a few times. What was it? Well, it wasn’t a rock. It was an antique. Appling saw the top of an old black-and-white teakettle, buried in the infield dirt.
Appling called timeout and reported the problem. Grounds crew workers ran onto the field, uncovered the kettle and filled in the hole. Play resumed.
What was up? Well, Charles Comiskey, the club’s owner, had purchased an old city dump in 1909. On that site, he would build a ballpark, he promised, a new home for the White Sox. The park would be a concrete-and-steel structure, meant to replace the rickety and wooden South Side Park, less than a decade old but already past its prime (located at 39th Street—now Pershing Road–between South Wentworth and Princeton avenues).
Comiskey, a parsimonious sort, set up a speedy construction schedule. He wanted his White Sox out of South Side Park as quickly as possible. South Side only held 15,000 fans, not nearly enough, Comiskey thought, for a team as talented as Chicago. The White Sox won the American League pennant in 1901 and 1906 and almost always battled for first place.
Maybe, though, Comiskey set a schedule that was a bit too ambitious. Workers didn’t spend enough time clearing all the odds and ends—including black-and-white teakettles—from the site.
Anyway, White Sox Park opened on July 1, 1910, at 324 W. 35th St. The park, renamed for Comiskey a few years later, sat 32,000 fans. Patrons enjoyed a double-decked grandstand and two roofed single-deck pavilions to go along with 7,000 wooden bleachers in right field and left field. Both foul lines ran 362 feet from home plate; the center-field fence stood 420 feet from home. It was a big park, built for pitchers.
The White Sox lost that first game 2-0 to the St. Louis. They struggled to 68-85 in 1910 under Manager High Duffy, 10 games worse than in 1909. It was the team’s worst finish since 1903 (60-77). First baseman Chick Gandil, a decade away from infamy as a leader in the 1919 Black Sox scandal, led the team with two home runs; outfielder Patsy Dougherty drove in a team-high 43. On the mound, spitballer Ed Walsh won 18, but lost 20. He sported a nifty AL-leading ERA of 1.27 (ERA+ 189).
Comiskey Park lasted as the home of the White Sox for nearly 81 years. Capacity increased to 52,000 in 1927 and was then lowered several times throughout the years, eventually to less than 44,000. The park hosted four World Series, some All-Star games, the Beetles on Aug. 20, 1965, and Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979. New Comiskey Park, built across the street from the old yard, opened in 1991 and was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003.
South Side Park began hosting the Chicago American Giants of the Negro Leagues in 1911. Rube Foster, one of the giants of Negro League ball, renamed the park for his business partner John Schorling. The American Giants won the league championship in 1920-22 and 1926-27. Schorling Park went up in flames on Christmas Day 1940.
(Thank you to Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball’s Legendary Fields by Lawrence S. Ritter for details about South Side Park and Comiskey Park.)
Thank you to Johnmaxmena for taking the photo of Comiskey Park.