Baseball Way Back: A look at some White Sox history with Rich Lindberg
The recent passing of former Illinois Gov. James Thompson revived memories of the governor's famous 11th-hour maneuvers to keep the White Sox in Chicago.
But was it a cinch that the Sox would have fled for Florida if the legislature failed to act on the deal for new Comiskey Park?
I spoke with White Sox historian Rich Lindberg, who knows as much as anyone about the inner workings of the Sox during the Reinsdorf era.
"St. Petersburg was the joker in the deck until it wasn't. Then it became an absolute viable option," said the author of "Total White Sox: The Definitive Encyclopedia of the World Champion Franchise" and "Stealing First in a Two-Team Town: The White Sox from Comiskey to Reinsdorf."
In fact, he said, the Sox had two news releases ready to cover either staying in Chicago or moving to Florida.
"A reporter called me from the St. Petersburg Times and wanted me to give the history of the White Sox in a nutshell," because the Suncoast Sox seemed inevitable.
How could things have regressed this far?
One reason Lindberg gives is bad public relations.
Jerry Reinsdorf and co-owner Eddie Einhorn, known at the time as the Sunshine Boys, alienated the media, in particular a key ally of previous owner Bill Veeck, Bill Gleason of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Just as significant, the boys alienated Veeck, who, taking offense when Einhorn remarked that the Sox were going to be a "first-class organization," made the Wrigley Field bleachers his home and trashed the new ownership.
In 1981, the new owners invested heavily in ballpark improvements, including new skyboxes. In the process, Lindberg said, "they realized that within a period of time, it was likely that a section of the upper deck would come crashing down on the lower deck."
Two chunks of concrete did indeed fall from the upper deck in right field in 1987, but missed striking fans. Four sections of seats were closed for repairs.
When Reinsdorf asked Peter Krallitsch, vice president of the engineering firm George A. Kennedy & Associates, how much longer the Sox were going to have to pour money into the park, he was told, "Frankly, it's going to be endless. You're going to have serious structural maintenance on this park for the rest of its life."
Meanwhile, pressure built from another front. On Dec. 23, 1985, ownership received an ultimatum from American League President Bobby Brown -- leave Comiskey Park within the next five to seven years or get out of Chicago. The league was not happy with Comiskey's revenues.
"It was Bobby Brown's mandate that really tipped the scales on this thing," Lindberg said.
From that point, the Sunshine Boys faced a perfect storm of media hostility as they pushed for a new stadium.
"Unfortunately Reinsdorf and Einhorn went about the whole thing the wrong way in terms of informing the public," Lindberg said. "What they should have done and they didn't do was to slowly leak information and get a buzz going outside in the media."
Instead, they abruptly announced they would leave Chicago if the Sox didn't get a new stadium.
Addison initially seemed a perfect fit, since a key fan demographic had moved to DuPage County. But after the inconclusive results of an Addison referendum, Chicago Mayor Harold Washington worked to make a new stadium at 35th and Shields a reality.
"Jerry threw up his hands and said, 'Fine, OK, if you can pull that off, we'll stay.' Even though they didn't want to be there, and the economics dictated that they go to the western suburbs."
Washington's death sent the new stadium into limbo.
"It just took the forces of Jim Thompson, his allies, people in the business community, the (Illinois) Sports Facilities Authority to rally and use whatever influence to get this thing going and passed," Lindberg said.
Will Sox fans once again have to face the prospect of the team moving?
"A lot of it is going to revolve around what happens when Jerry dies," said Lindberg. "Does a new ownership group come in and say, 'We don't like the Rate anymore. We want a new stadium. And if we don't get one, we're going to move' "?
How about moving to a site like Arlington Park?
"What you pose is an interesting speculation," Lindberg said.
But, he said, "The thinking in baseball today is it's much preferable to have a team playing in a large urban area with a visible view of a skyline. Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland, you have these great views of the urban skyline, and because baseball is a city game, it's synonymous with urban areas."
Interesting to speculate. But let's hope we don't turn the clock back to 1988.