"This is a landmark. Lake Michigan is Chicago. The Merchandise Mart is Chicago. Lake Shore Drive is Chicago. And Comiskey Park is Chicago
. Tear it down? Why? I resent it deeply. I don't want to come to the new stadium. I don't want to start all over, building new memories. So much has happened here."
Comiskey is where, on June 22, 1937, Joe Louis knocked out James J. Braddock to win the heavyweight championship of the world. Twenty-five years later, Sonny Liston won the same title there by flattening Floyd Patterson at 2:06 of the first round. Comiskey is also where, on a tundra frozen so hard that the players had to wear sneakers, the Chicago Cardinals whipped the Philadelphia Eagles 28-21 to win the 1947 NFL championship.
The Beatles performed at Comiskey. The park had the first exploding scoreboard. Frank Sinatra and Michael Jackson sang there. Bill Veeck, who twice owned and operated the White Sox, installed an outdoor shower for fans in the sun-baked centerfield bleachers, hired a barber to give free haircuts and regularly made the rounds to sit in all corners of the ballpark, cheerily talking to his customers while putting out cigarettes in the ashtray installed in his peg leg.
Finally, Comiskey Park is where the 1919 White Sox, eight of them allegedly in the pay of gamblers, threw the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds and stained the franchise black. Gardner Stern was five years old when he attended the park opener in 1910 with his great-grandfather David Berg—"I remember that we sat in a box seat next to the Old Roman," says Stern—and by 1920, when he was 15 and the scandal broke, he was a fervent Sox fan. Now 86, Stern recalls the Black Sox vividly, particularly the hard-hitting, sweet-moving leftfielder, Shoeless Joe Jackson—"As fine a fielder as I've ever seen," he says—and the surpassing righthander, Ed Cicotte, who had a record of 29-7 in 1919. Both players were later implicated in the scandal and banished from baseball.
"We had the Series in the bag," recalls Stern. "We were playing five out of nine, and the only question was whether we'd win the first five. No one could touch Cicotte all year, and he lost two of the first four games; the Reds knocked him all over the place in the first game. It was awful. When it came out what had happened, well, for a 15-year-old kid, it was a heartbreaker. I just didn't understand. It could have been fatal—you know, soured me—but it didn't."
The White Sox then floundered for decades—they wouldn't finish higher than third until 1957, after manager Al Lopez took over—and visitors were usually the ones responsible for the prodigies achieved at Comiskey Park. Stern still can see Cleveland's fresh-faced pitching ace, Bob Feller, mowing down the Sox on April 16, 1940, in the only no-hitter ever thrown on an Opening Day. "Feller was sensational," he says.
But not sensational enough (on that day, anyway) for a no-hitter, insists former Sox shortstop Luke Appling. In the ninth inning, Appling rapped a line drive off Feller that skipped down the rightfield line. Umpire Bill McGowan signaled it foul. Appling argued the call, claiming the ball had hit the chalk, but McGowan waved him away, saying of Feller, "What the hell, he's going to be a credit to the game."
Looking at McGowan incredulously, Appling said, "What the hell am I, a bum?"
In fact, after 20 straight years with Chicago and a lifetime .310 average, Old Aches and Pains went to the Hall of Fame. Appling "always looked like he was lazing around, like he wasn't moving, but he always got to the ball," says Stern. "Like Shoeless Joe, he was a graceful, beautiful player."
Comiskey did not always have an infield that inspired grace. "The ground never was too good," says Appling. "They built the infield over a dump. One day I pulled a big blue-and-white coffee pot up out of the infield. My spikes were clicking on it. They had to hold up the game and bring out three or four shovelfuls of dirt to cover up the hole. Another time I slid into home plate, and the neck of a Coca-Cola bottle cut me on the leg. That stuff had just worked its way up."