"Never on a Friday"
The Baseball Palace of the World Turns 100 Years Old...
David J. Fletcher, MD, Chicago Baseball Museum
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood..."
Daniel Burnham, Chicago Architect and Visionary
It didn't make it to its 100th birthday party, but nonetheless the "Baseball Palace of the World" turns 100 years old on Thursday, July 1, 2010 and is still alive in the hearts of Chicago baseball fans.
It never saw its home team win a World Championship on its field in its 80 year-year history (that is if you don't count the Chicago Cardinals 1947 NFL Championship thrilling 28-21 come-from-behind win over the Philadelphia Eagles on December 28, 1947).
It did, however, witness some incredible history and is one of the most hallowed grounds in our nation's history. Comiskey Park witnessed pivotal moments in our country's civil rights history, as well as baseball history, serving as the epicenter of Negro League baseball and the birthplace of the MLB All-Star game in 1933 and hosting four World Series (1917, 1919, 1959 for the White Sox and in 1918 for the Cubs – yes the Cubs who during the WWI-shortened season feared that the Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth would find Weeghman Park -- now better known as Wrigley Field's short right field porch in 1918 -- too inviting at 356 feet and its 14,000 seating capacity inadequate for the World Series).
Its owner and namesake, Chicago-born Charles A. Comiskey (1859-1931) believed he had cursed Comiskey Park and his franchise forever because he violated the Irish Catholic-based superstition about "Never on a Friday" when the park opened up on Friday, July 1, 1910.
Old-time ballplayers regarded it as bad luck to play their first home game of the season on Friday. The Friday superstition also played a prominent role in the Black Sox scandal according to J. L. Brown, "The Big Baseball Scandal" for The American Mercury, in May 1939 the White Sox players who conspired to toss the 1919 World Series all agreed early on about one thing: no money should be passed on a Friday.
For good luck, Charles A. Comiskey planted a brick with a Gaelic Soil imported from Ireland to commemorate the ground-breaking of Comiskey Park on St. Patrick’s Day 1910. It was painted a bright green hue according to legend but quickly was covered over by Comiskey Park architect Zachary Taylor Davis, who feared it would be carried away by souvenir hunters.
The entire construction schedule in the Spring of 1910 went very fast but still there had been disturbing omens that made Comiskey very apprehensive.
Comiskey attached great significance to the ancient superstitions of his Irish heritage who considered Fridays unlucky (except for Good Friday). Comiskey pleaded with AL President Ban Johnson (who would become his arch enemy in the Black Sox scandal) to grant his belated request for an eleventh-hour schedule change and move the opener back against the St. Louis Browns to Thursday, June 30th.
Ban Johnson said no and Comiskey knew that violating his "Never on a Friday" custom would come back to haunt him and saw his mighty franchise go into nearly 40 years of darkness after the Black Sox scandal and its Friday-laced-gambling-connection, like the bad omen of a Friday Opening Day date for the Baseball Palace of the World 100 years ago on July 1, 1910.
The Evolution of Comiskey Park
Comiskey Returns to His Ancestral South Side Roots
It was not by accident that Comiskey Park was built on the corner of 35th and Shields and that Comiskey would adopt the franchise name the White Stockings.
Comiskey was born in 1859 in Chicago as the 3rd of eight children. His father John Comiskey was a Ward Alderman. Young Charles Comiskey, as an 11 year old fan, watched as his beloved team the Chicago White Stockings played their inaugural season in Dexter Park at 47th Street and Halstead--a short walk from the future home of the franchise that his family would own for 59 years in Chicago.
He would become a stand-out 1st baseman in the American Association in 1882 as a player-manager for the St. Louis Brown Stockings, which he led to four consecutive American Association championships and was credited with being the first baseman to hold runners on.
Comiskey jumped to the newly formed Brotherhood Player's League that had protested the injustices of the "Reserve Clause" in 1890 and was competing against the National League that formed in 1876 and the American Association in 1892. Comiskey played and managed for the Chicago Pirates, which played at South Side Park II (also known as Brotherhood Park) which was located at Northwest Corner of 35th Street and South Wentworth Avenue (located where the White Sox marquee is now located in 2010 and the bus parking lot near the el stop) just east of the eventual Comiskey Park. Comiskey took notice that his 1890 Chicago Pirates outdrew their National League rival Chicago Colts and knew that a baseball team would do well there because of the Wentworth Street trolley car ran from downtown Chicago right past the park (a precursor to the Modern Day Red Line and Dan Ryan Freeway). With excellent access and the right on-field product, he knew he could cater to the hard working class that lived nearby in Bridgeport, Canaryville, Washington Park, and Back-of -the-Yards that would form the base of his franchise until the present day.
The Chicago Colts (which would eventually move in 1916 to Weeghman Park and eventually became known as the North Side Chicago Cubs) also noticed the advantages of Brotherhood Park. The Player's League folded after one season in 1890 and the National League Chicago franchise (that had given up its moniker the White Stockings to become the Chicago Colts until 1902 when they became permanently known as the Cubs) moved into Brotherhood Park in 1891 and played three seasons -- believe or it or not -- on the Southside as Chicago's only professional team.
After three seasons managing and playing for the National League Cincinnati Reds from 1892-1894, Comiskey left Cincinnati in fall 1894 to purchase with his life savings the Western League club (considered a minor league to National League) in Sioux City, Iowa and moved it to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1895.
After five seasons of sharing the Twin Cities with another Western League club in Minneapolis, Comiskey decided to invade the Chicago Colts National League territory (now playing at West Side Grounds off of Taylor Street in today's Near West medical center area) and claim the moniker of White Stockings, the magical name of his beloved boyhood team that played at Dexter Park in 1870. James Hart, the President of Chicago Colts, fought hard to keep Comiskey out of Chicago. Comiskey passed on an opportunity to locate his Chicago White Stockings in Lakeview nearby the present location of Wrigley Field and wanted to return to his roots on the South Side. Since Comiskey's players were subject to the National Agreement labor contract and could be raided by the National League Chicago Colts, he "conceded" to Hart and agreed that he would not locate his team north of 35th Street, knowing all a long he wanted to return to his Southside roots.
The maverick owner Comiskey moved the St. Paul Saints to the South Side as the White Stockings. At the same, the upstart Western League renamed itself as the American League for its 1900 season and in 1901 declared itself a major league starting in 1901 and with the start of the World Series in 1903 quickly became recognized as an equal to the National League.
Comiskey had to scramble for a suitable playing field for his inaugural year in 1900 for the Chicago White Stockings and he chose moving to the playing field of Chicago Wanderer's Cricket Club who played on the North side of 39th Street between Wentworth and Princeton. who played there since the 1893 World's Fair and became known as South Side Park, which served as the 1st home to the Chicago White Sox from 1900 until its final game June 27, 1910. Today, the Chicago Housing Authority's Wentworth Gardens housing project occupies the site of the 1st home of the American League Chicago White Sox (with a very difficult to locate marker the only reminder of its hallowed ground).
In early 1900, Comiskey borrowed money from the First National Bank to build a 7,000 seat wooden grandstand.
The White Sox won 8-3 Game 6 of the 1906 World Series over the Cubs to clinch the only all-Chicago World Series on October 14, 1906 at South Side Park before an overflow crowd of 19,266. Even before, fans had packed Southside Park for Game 6, Comiskey knew he wanted to build the Baseball Palace of the World and in the mold of Chicago city planner Daniel Burnham, Comiskey made no little plans and was set on building a new steel-and-concrete, like what had been built in Philadelphia at Shibe Park and Forbes Field in 1909.
He started scouting locations but he had his heart set on one location: His former 1890 Playing Grounds at Brotherhood Park at the corner of Wentworth and 35th Street. He was not able to secure the land that Brotherhood Park had stood in 1890 when he played for the Chicago Pirates in the upstart Brotherhood League and had later served three years as the home of the Chicago Cubs from 1891-1893. But he was able to get the land directly west to the track that had meant so much to him as 31 year-old player-manager.
He was able to secure from Roxanna A. Bowen, the daughter and heir of two-term Chicago Mayor John Wentworth the land that he would construct the "Baseball Palace of the World" that would play host to more than 6,000 major league games. He paid $100,000 +1907 back taxes 3 days before Christmas 1908. The land was a cabbage farm and had housed a city dump that would later see long buried objects in the ground surface in the White Sox infield.
Comiskey Park Construction
Architect Zachary Taylor Davis (1872-1946) submitted his 1st design to Comiskey on October 6, 1909. The kite-shaped stadium with its signature arch windows would be built with common red brick along the exterior walls that made it look like a factory that would blend into the working class neighborhood. (Later Davis would go to design the 1914 Federal League Park at Addison and Clark that would become Wrigley Field.)
Sox pitcher Ed Walsh helped Davis on the design. Walsh, who was with the Sox from 1904 through 1916 and holds the best ERA record in MLB history 1.82, helped design the park's imposing field dimensions (362 ft. left & right field and 420 to center).
Walsh and Karl Vitzhum, an architect on Daniel Burnham, toured several baseball stadiums to come up with a design that favored himself and other White Sox pitchers, rather than hitters and made Comiskey Park a "pitcher's park" for its entire 80-year history.
Comiskey passed on opportunity to avoid the obstructive support pole views because the cost was too high, more than $312,000 on top of the original half-million dollar cost to build Comiskey Park in 1910.
Meanwhile, South Side Park became the home of the Negro League baseball team called the Chicago American Giants in 1911. It was renamed Schorling's Park for team owner and Negro League founder Rube Foster's white business partner, John C. Schorling, who happened to be Comiskey's son-in-law. The Chicago American Giants leased the grounds through the 1940 season until Christmas Day of 1940, Schorling's Park was destroyed by fire and the American Giants would play their remaining 12 seasons at Comiskey Park.
The Chicago White Sox christened White Sox Park on July 1, 1910 when 32,000 fans filled the ballpark. A two-tier grandstand extended down both the base lines and a single level of wooden bleachers were located behind the outfield wall.
The July 1, 1910 Chicago Tribune told the story:
COMMY TO GREET SOX FANS TODAY Greatest Base Ball Park in the World to Be Thrown Open at 1 O’clock. "PLAY BALL" CALL AT 3:30 White Hose and St. Louis Browns to Play; Walsh and Sullivan in Points for Locals. New Home of White Sox Which Comiskey Will Open to Chicago Fans Today.
Comiskey Park Through the Years
A $1 million renovation occurred at Comiskey Park after the 1926 season when the wooden bleachers were removed and replaced with double-deck seats. This renovation enclosed the stadium increasing the capacity from 32,000 to 52,000.
The Comiskey family made money to operate the team on a small soda-pop bottling business under the stands.
Night baseball arrived at Comiskey Park on August 14, 1939 (though Comiskey had done temporary lights on August 27, 1910 as an experiment). Comiskey Park was the first MLB stadium to have lights. In 1947, the centerfield seats were closed and the moveable seats were permanently installed, decreasing the seating capacity to 44,492.
Bill Veeck bought the majority interest from Dorothy Comiskey Rigney in 1959 making many changes to Comiskey Park. Veeck decided to paint the red brick facade white, put a picnic area in left field and installed the first electric scoreboard behind the centerfield bleachers. Veeck also installed an exploding scoreboard in 1960 that had fireworks, aerial bombs and numerous sounds. The White Sox were sold to the Allyn brothers in 1961 after Dorothy's young brother Charles Comiskey II, who had feuded with sister, was unable to reclaim the Comiskey crown as the owner.
Comiskey Park: the Great Lady Shows Its Age &
the Coming of the 2nd Comiskey Park (US Cellular Field)
By the time, current White Sox ownership group, headed by Jerry Reinsdorf, took over the team in 1981 after the second coming of Bill Veeck, Comiskey Park was "near the end of its useful life" and the new owners were spending $20 million on repairs. A new stadium had to be built to keep the team competitive and in Chicago.
AL President Dr. Bobby Brown was hounding the Sox in 1985 to build a new stadium. Bob D. Campbell and Company, a Kansas City engineering firm hired to assess the situation renovation told the Sox "that renovating the current facility into state-of-the-art major league baseball stadium was not practical or economical."
White Sox purists cried foul and make some effort to preserve Charles A. Comiskey's aging dream-park for his Chicago neighborhood fans.
For a while it looked like the White Sox were going to become the Addison White Sox and even were nearly relocated to Florida to move into the Sun Coast Dome that the Tampa Bay Rays now call home.
How ironic that passage of the bill that led to the creation of Comiskey Park II (US Cellular Field since 2003) occurred at 12:03 AM on July 1, 1988 (though officially it was still 11:57 PM Illinois politics time). Eight-eight years after the Baseball Palace of the World had opened on a Friday, Illinois Governor Big Jim Thompson hold pulled a rabbit out of his hat and kept the Sox in Chicago still in the shadow of Old Brotherhood Park and Dexter Park that meant so much to Charles A. Comiskey and has led to a renaissance and rejuvenation for the franchise that would finally erase 87 years of failure and offer redemption for "The Old Roman" with a World Championship in 2005 after the sorrow of 1919 which he blamed on the curse inflicted on him because he did follow his Irish heritage "Never on a Friday..."
From the early 1970s until its demolition in 1991, Comiskey was the oldest park still in use in Major League Baseball.
As painful it was to see Comiskey Park demolished by the wrecking ball in 1991, Jerry Reinsdorf and Governor Thompson kept alive Charles Comiskey dream to build new baseball park near old Brotherhood Park stadium to remain the focal point of community life for his original fan base -- the people of Bridgeport, Canaryville, Back of the Yards.
We celebrate this 100 year anniversary of Comiskey Park, that was a crown jewel in MLB history: It was the site of four World Series and more than 6,000 major league games and it was the site of three Major League Baseball All-Star Games (1933, 1950, 1983). It celebrated a rich history with the Negro Leagues, and helped showed the way to integration and racial harmony in our country.
The Chicago Baseball Museum is looking for a permanent home and the site I had first proposed in 2004 was the parking lot that was once Comiskey Park I. But how more fitting--and a tribute to both the Cubs and Sox rich history-to build the CBM in the bus parking lot at the NW corner of Wentworth and 35th Street--on the site of the old Brotherhood Park.
The area around US Cellular Field owned by the Illinois Sports Facility Authority should rename the area: Comiskeyville.
Comiskeyville should be declared a historical national landmark and in and around the parking lot that once stood the Baseball Palace of the World-- there should historical markers that educate future generations about the rich history of this hallowed ground and how Charles Comiskey's vision to give back to his community still touches us today.
The sources for this article include multiple sources including the excellent book: Stealing First in a 2 Town Team: The White Sox from Comiskey to Reinsdorf by Richard C. Lindberg (1994 Sangamore Publishing); Through the Years: The History of Comiskey Park: July 1, 1910-September 30, 1990 (Sherman Media Company 1990); Commy: The Life Story of Charles A. Comiskey (The Mcfarland Historical Baseball Library, 2) 1919 G. W. Axelson; The Chicago White Sox, Warren Brown’s team history of originally appeared in 1952 as part of the celebrated series of major league team histories published by G. P. Putnam; Phillip Bess Baseball City Magic; private papers of the Comiskey family; and multiple interviews with Grace Patricia Ryan Samfillippo, who was one of the last living people to work for the Chicago White Sox's first general manager Harry Grabiner in the early 1940s and was featured in the "Growing Up Comiskey" CBM Newsletter April 14, 2007.
Grace Patricia's grandfather was Patrick Henry Comiskey, older brother and confident of Charles A. Comiskey. Patrick was the business manager of the White Sox in the late 1890s when the team was in St. Paul, Minnesota. During his tenure, the Comiskey brothers plotted to move the team to Chicago and invade the territory of the National League's Chicago Colts and dreamed of moving into the Colts 1891-1893 home Brotherhood Park also known as Southside Park II. Grace spent countless evenings nestled in the lap of her uncle Charles A. Comiskey as he riveted her with bedtime baseball stories. Sadly, Grace died in November 2009 at age 85 and this article is dedicated to Grace Patricia Ryan and the entire Comiskey family for their legacy for creating a Chicago civic institution that is located on the South Side because of the childhood memory of Charles A. Comiskey and his beloved 1870 Chicago White Stockings who played at Dexter Park.
I have my own personal Comiskey Park story with my ceremonial ritual of stepping on home plate every time I come into the City and is chronicled in the book Haunted Baseball: Ghosts, Curses, Legends, and Eerie Events by Mickey Bradley, Dan Gordon Lyons Press 2007. My own Comiskey Park curse was the 2008 demise of my 1998 marriage, which occurred at the site of Old Home Plate and witnessed by Sox great Bill Melton.