Not only was Comiskey Park built on a dump, but it was also less than a mile as the wind blows from the sprawling Chicago stockyards, at one time the nation's busiest slaughterhouse and the center of its meat-packing industry. The burly workers who labored in the yards and in the steel mills to the south, and drank beer in all those blue-collar bars along Ashland Avenue west of the yards, made up the core of the Sox's resilient army of fans. The ballpark lies just outside the eastern boundary of Bridgeport, a neighborhood of white, working-class families of Irish, Eastern European and Italian descent who have lived there for generations. Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley's family has lived in Bridgeport since his grandfather Michael worked in the yards around the turn of the century. The mayor's father, former mayor Richard J. Daley, lived only four blocks from Comiskey Park, and after attending Sunday mass and eating a home-cooked dinner, he frequently walked to games with his family.
The racial makeup of the community around Comiskey Park changed dramatically during World War I, when thousands of Southern blacks boarded the Illinois Central Railroad and headed north to Chicago in search of jobs and economic deliverance. Most of the blacks settled on the South Side, where they found work in the mills and the stockyards. There was another influx of Southern blacks during and after World War II, and thousands of them ended up living in the rows of high-rise public housing projects that sprang up just east of the ballpark in the early 1950s.
Just as the Sox and Comiskey came to symbolize the South Side, so the Cubs and Wrigley Field came to represent the tonier, white-collar neighborhoods of the Near North. Of the two franchises, the Cubs have always been treated as the city's favorite sons, and Sox fans have resented them for that—and for their ivy-covered park and their fresh-faced, button-down followers. Cub fans dismiss their crosstown rivals with a shrug, while South Siders do not mask their contempt for Wrigley.
"If you like shrubbery, you go to Wrigley," says Gardner Stern Jr., a Sox fan like his dad. "If you like baseball, you come here."
Comiskey denizens believe that because the Cubs are losing and the Sox are winning, turncoat Cub fans are defecting from the Friendly Confines and are showing up in disguise on the South Side. Hence, the most popular sign seen among Comiskey partisans this year: YUPPIE SCUM GO BACK TO WRIGLEY. They aren't kidding. Sitting in Comiskey recently, 24-year-old Sox fan Lauren Stern (no relation to Gardner) listed five differences between the habitu�s of the two parks.
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Among visiting ballplayers, the cave dwellers in the upper decks at Comiskey Park have long been admired for the candor and originality of their signs, and for their incessant catcalling. "This is a rowdy ballpark," Milwaukee coach Don Baylor said on July 11. It was just before the park's "Turn Back the Clock" game, in which the Sox played in replica uniforms from 1917, the last year they won the World Series. "The fans stayed on you all the time. I always got a kick out of the big eye chart that the fans would put up in leftfield for the plate umpire."
They had to find humor where they could. Not much was amusing about anything the Sox did after the Black Sox scandal. In 1927 Comiskey raised the seating capacity to 52,000 by adding a second deck of bleachers in leftfield and rightfield, and at times the park looked like a tomb; worse, it appeared the players belonged in one. In 1932, with a record of 49-102, Chicago finished 56� games behind the first-place Yankees and drew a total of only 233,198 souls. In those days Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics would razz Appling unmercifully whenever he came to the plate. "The Athletics would get on him from the dugout when he came up to hit," says Harry Heisler, a 70-year-old fan. " Connie Mack, with his hat and bow tie, would sit there and watch. You know what Appling would do? He'd hit a dozen foul balls into the dugout. He had those guys running everywhere. It was unbelievable." ( Appling says he never intentionally hit foul balls at anyone, but if he had, he would have "liked to foul 'em off Yankee manager Joe McCarthy.")
The only thing in Comiskey Park that reeked worse than some of those White Sox teams was the southwest wind that blew in from the stockyards, with its eye-watering fumes from tanning hides and sun-steamed manure. At the end of the 1948 season, after Chicago finished last with a 51-101 record, Charles Comiskey II took over the running of the team and made speeches around Chicago begging for time and forgiveness. He had a standard line: "We lost 101 games last year, as you know, and we've been getting a lot of complaints from the stockyards that a strong odor is coming from Comiskey Park."
Three years later, with the sudden emergence of Fox, Pierce, leftfielder Minnie Minoso and shortstop Chico Carrasquel, the first edition of the Go-Go White Sox played at Comiskey. The day the Sox unveiled Minoso in Comiskey was uncommonly propitious. In his first major league at bat, he belted a home run off New York's Vic Raschi—"It was a slider," says Minoso, "and I get so excited"—and later in the game a promising Yankee rookie stroked the first homer of his career. Over the next 18 seasons, Mickey Mantle would hit 535 more of the same. The Sox ended up fourth, with an 81-73 record, but they drew 1.3 million fans, their first year of attendance in seven figures, and were young and alive again. They never finished worse than third through the rest of the 1950s, the decade when Fox and Aparicio began spraying hits all over the field and turning the double play. (Minoso is still reactivated to play one game every decade, and so far he has played in five decades.)