But since 1986 the Cubs have drawn 1.2 million more fans than the Sox, despite the teams' nearly identical—losing—records. This year the Cubs are averaging 7,000 more fans per game than the Sox, and they have a huge eight-point lead in the television ratings. Gift shops are crammed with Cubs paraphernalia and thin on Sox stuff, and the Sox brass points out that the Cubs' public address announcer, Wayne Messmer, has more endorsements locally—one—than the entire Sox team has had for the last three years. "And Wayne used to work here," says McClure. "That's what really hurts."
"Between the mystique of Wrigley Field and the marketing power of the Tribune Company, it's like sword-fighting with Zorro," says White Sox public relations director Paul Jensen. "The balance of power is gone. Joel Bierig wrote in the Sun-Times that the typical Sox fan now is 35 years old with kids growing up as Cubs fans."
But the Sox' problem hasn't been just marketing. Reinsdorf and Einhorn, who have kept a low profile in recent weeks, declining on-the-record interviews, have made some egregious mistakes. They bought the Sox with a consortium of 80 to 90 limited partners from the late Bill Veeck in 1981 and promptly alienated him. Colorful and unpretentious, Veeck, who had owned the club for two periods totaling eight years, was immensely popular. Chicagoans saw him as one of their own, a shirtsleeves type of guy who liked to sit in the bleachers and eat hot dogs. Almost as soon as Einhorn became White Sox president, he told reporters that the club was a shambles, that Comiskey Park was in disrepair and that the new ownership would run a first-class operation. Veeck took it personally and refused to enter Comiskey thereafter, attending Cubs games instead. The fans never forgot.
The new ownership also cut ties with the other baseball icon in the Windy City, Harry Caray, who had been the voice of the Sox from 1973 to '81. They let the Cubs lure Caray away. Then Einhorn, a former television executive at CBS, placed the team's home games on SportsVision, a pay-cable channel which was unreliable and generally unavailable in its early years. Even now, in 1988, cable TV reaches only 34% of the Chicago market. The move sent still more fans to the Cubs.
After picking up players like Carlton Fisk and Greg Luzinski, the White Sox won the 1983 American League West title by 20 games. The club set a Chicago-land attendance record of 2.13 million, breaking the old mark, set by the Cubs in 1969, by almost 500,000. Eddie and Jerry assumed very high profiles and became known as the Sunshine Boys. They poured money into Comiskey Park—$20 million in all—to add 36 luxury boxes, new seats, a new scoreboard, new dugouts, reinforced girders for the upper deck and to improve restrooms and concession stands. The Sox were the toast of the town. Even the next year, when they finished 74-88, they drew more than two million fans.
It was a bit of bad luck for the Sox that the Cubs won the National League East championship in 1984. Then the NFL Bears won the 1986 Super Bowl. The NBA Bulls became a major attraction with basketball's most exciting player, Michael Jordan. In little more than two years, the Sox' glory had faded. Einhorn and Reinsdorf fired general manager Roland Hemond after a third-place 85-77 season in 1985, and, desperate for publicity and success, hired their television commentator, Ken (Hawk) Harrelson, to replace him. Hawk lasted a year, but the damage done was far-reaching. Clouds had moved in on the Sunshine Boys.
It was during the Harrelson year that Einhorn and Reinsdorf first broached the idea of abandoning Comiskey Park. Comiskey, built in 1910, is the oldest park in the major leagues, and it may have the worst sight lines in baseball. Supporting stanchions on both the lower and upper decks obstruct the views from tens of thousands of seats. The seats along the left- and rightfield foul lines face straight ahead, toward the center-fielder, so that patrons must crane their necks for nine innings to see the pitcher. There are only 6,000 box seats between first and third base, among the fewest in any park in the major leagues.
The location of Comiskey is also a problem. Much of the South Side of Chicago is economically depressed. "Draw a circle around Comiskey Park with a 30-mile radius," says one team official. "You'll find that 40 percent of that area is in Lake Michigan. Twenty percent is poor. The other 40 percent is inhabited by Cub fans."
The Sox wanted out of Comiskey. But the Bears had nixed the idea of sharing a new stadium with the Sox on the west side of town, and the idea of a Sox-only site just south of the Loop never went anywhere. So the Sox set their eyes on the western suburbs. The Cubs could have Chicago proper. Einhorn and Reinsdorf wanted a ballpark that was accessible to the guy, and the family, who wouldn't put up with the hassles of an urban commute.
On July 7, 1986, the Sox owners held a press conference to announce the proposed site: Addison, a community of 30,000 in the heart of affluent Du Page County, just 20 miles west of the city. The performances of Einhorn and Reinsdorf did not go over well with the press. Says McClure, "They answered questions for 45 minutes, and the more they talked, the less people believed." One of the things that troubled the media was a letter Reinsdorf and Einhorn produced from the engineering firm of George A. Kennedy and Associates, which asserted Comiskey Park was "nearing the end of its useful life." The club never ordered an engineering report to confirm that finding. And anyway, hadn't the Sox owners just dumped millions of dollars into the park, hanging sky boxes from the rafters?