SI Vault
 
The Sunshine Sox?
E. M. Swift
May 30, 1988
After 88 years of playing baseball in Chicago, the White Sox may be heading south to the lucrative market of Florida
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 30, 1988

The Sunshine Sox?

After 88 years of playing baseball in Chicago, the White Sox may be heading south to the lucrative market of Florida

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

Chicago is set in its ways about many things, including ballparks. This is a city that hasn't built a major sports facility—discounting the forgettable Rosement Horizon, home of the Chicago Sting and the DePaul Blue Demons—since Chicago Stadium in 1929. "This is a weird town," says Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Verdi. "They want improvement but not change. Ninety percent of the people who live here have never known the amenities of a new ballpark. They think standing in line 20 minutes to go to the bathroom is an inalienable part of being at a sports event."

Owners Swing Greedy Deal was one of the newspaper headlines that came out of the press conference. A Chicago Tribune story quoted Harold Washington, then Chicago's mayor, as saying, "The bottom line is they want to make money." Washington vowed not to let the Sox take the name Chicago with them if they moved to Addison.

"I never expected to hit such a nerve," Einhorn has said. Einhorn and Reinsdorf began receiving hate mail—much of it anti-Semitic—after the Addison plan was announced. Einhorn, a native New Yorker who had moved to Chicago when he bought into the team, was seen as a slick carpetbagger. Reinsdorf, a Brooklyn native who has lived in Chicago for 31 years, became guilty by association.

"There's no question in my mind that if these guys had been named Butler and Smith, the move to Addison would have passed," says a Sox employee. As it was, in a nonbinding advisory referendum held in November 1986, Addison residents decided against building a ballpark for the Sox by 43 votes out of 7.531 cast.

So the Sox owners went back to the city and, in December 1986, signed a letter of understanding with Mayor Washington to move into a new stadium to be built across the street from Comiskey Park. The Sox would pay rent of $4 million a year. The state would pitch in by creating the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, an agency empowered to issue $120 million in bonds to build the stadium. Three of the authority's members would be named by Washington, three by Governor James Thompson. The chairman of the authority would be named by Thompson, with Washington reserving the right of approval.

Nothing happened until April 1987. At the White Sox' Opening Day in Comiskey, Thompson named his three appointees to the authority, plus his candidate for chairman, Thomas A. Reynolds Jr., a prominent Chicago lawyer. The trouble was that Thompson had neglected to consult with Washington on Reynolds's chairmanship. The mayor went into a snit, and delay followed delay. Not just for fun did Reinsdorf give both the mayor and the governor copies of the book The Dodgers Move West, by Neil J. Sullivan. He told the two officials that if the names of the team and the politicians were changed, the same story could apply to Chicago. Washington did not fill his three spots on the Stadium authority until October. On Nov. 25, Washington died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving the city in turmoil. The authority did not get around to holding its first meeting until January 1988, one year after its formation. By that time St. Petersburg was wooing the White Sox.

Suddenly the Sox, who had been facing homelessness a year earlier, were holding all the cards. What can we do to keep you? the governor asked. Thompson tore up the old agreement and the Sox presented the authority with a wish list. They asked that the bond issue be increased to $150 million. If attendance at the new stadium fell below 1.2 million in any of the first ten years, the Sox would not be obligated to pay rent; if it went over 1.2 million, the authority would get 20% of attendance revenues and a third of the revenues from parking and concessions. Plus, after 1991, when the Sox" current broadcast contracts expire, the authority would get 35% of the team's TV and radio revenues above $5.8 million. In turn, the authority would agree to put $2 million annually toward stadium maintenance, and another $1 million a year for improvements. If the stadium was not substantially completed by March 15, 1991, the Sox would receive $5 million in penalties from the state, escalating by $2.5 million per year thereafter until completion. In the last 10 years of the 20-year lease, the authority would purchase up to 300,000 tickets in any season in which attendance failed to reach 1.5 million.

Governor Thompson presented that deal to the state Senate Republican Caucus on May 12, saying, "It will not be easy." No, it won't. The legislators have until June 30 to approve the proposal. While they listened to the governor's spiel in the Statehouse, many of the upstaters wore Cubs caps and several from downstate wore the colors of the St. Louis Cardinals. "If the Sox leave, life will go on," says House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago. "We'll have other opportunities for recreation."

Indeed, there is a certain smugness around town, stemming from the belief that should the Sox head south. Chicago will automatically become first on the list of sites for an expansion club. "What is construed as apathy is the fans saying, Get rid of those two guys," says longtime Chicago columnist Bill Gleason, one of the most outspoken of the Reinsdorf-Einhorn critics. "Let them move and we'll get a new group in here, and the park will stand forever. They're a blight on Chicago sports."

But with Phoenix, Denver and Washington, D.C., all beckoning, it is doubtful that Chicago, with its aging South Side park, can compete for an expansion team. And even if Chicago were to lure another franchise, well, it takes a city a long time to accept the loss of one of its sports teams. Especially one that has been around for 88 years. "I'm convinced they're going to leave," says Mary Frances Veeck, Bill's widow. "The real movers and shakers of this town don't care if they go or not. There's no one to spearhead a drive to keep them. Chicago is totally happy with the Bears, the Cubs and Michael Jordan.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4