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Commentary: Comiskey Park already dead

By
GREGORY TEJEDA

In the insular world of professional baseball, a tragedy of historic proportions is taking place: Comiskey Park is no more!

The South Side stadium where the Chicago White Sox play baseball is getting, like many other parks used by professional athletic teams, a corporate name. The team gets millions -- $68 million to be exact over 20 years -- in exchange.

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Come April 4, the White Sox will hold opening day at U.S. Cellular Field. The 2003 Major League Baseball All-Star game will take place there July 15.

So the company that recently jettisoned the pink space alien as its marketing symbol in exchange for actress Joan Cusack is now hoping the White Sox can help boost its public image.

Many White Sox fans, historically a blue-collar breed, are upset, fearing their team is selling out. Some vow they won't use the new name, and Illinois state Rep. Patricia Bellock, who is White Sox founder Charles Comiskey's great-granddaughter, wants her colleagues in the General Assembly to make it illegal for state-owned buildings (like the stadium) to have corporate names.

Even Walter Jacobson, a long-time Chicago television news anchor and one-time Chicago Cubs batboy, said on the air recently that no one will ever get him to refer to a White Sox ballpark by any name other than Comiskey.

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But when one looks at the facts, this re-naming ought to be the ultimate ho-hum story. It might even be the one case where a corporate name is an improvement.

In baseball, the name Comiskey dates to the 19th century and White Sox teams have played their games in structures known as Comiskey Park since 1910.

But the current facility has been in service only since 1991. Other than Bo Jackson's comeback from hip surgery in 1993 and Mike Cameron of the Seattle Mariners hitting four home runs in a single game last year, there is no history attached to the structure.

The real Comiskey Park -- dripping with history -- was unceremoniously torn down in the early 1990s and now serves as a parking lot for the new stadium, with only a little plaque where home plate used to be indicating anything special about the site.

Keeping the Comiskey name has only encouraged people to remember the rustic charm (conveniently forgetting the rust, grime, exposed wires, cracked seats and potholes by the concession stands) of the old building. The new building, derided as the "ballmall" for its antiseptic ambience, can never compete with sepia memories of the past.

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Eliminating the name Comiskey will give the new building its own identity, and also will help improve it, since White Sox officials say the name sale will pay for an upgrade that will add character to the building. It will be done in stages, and will be complete by 2005.

Team officials are finalizing construction plans but Dallas-based HKS Inc. was hired to design an improved stadium. Their Web site mentions a "home run porch" of outfield seats where fans can hover over the playing field and chase down long homers.

It also has mentioned construction of a new main entrance and lobby to enhance the feeling of grandeur experienced upon entering the building, and officials also would like to eliminate the top rows of the uppermost deck -- the worst of which are 146 feet above the playing field.

These features would enhance the sensation of attending a game at the structurally adequate but architecturally mediocre stadium.

"Some fans may be upset with the name change, but they're upset with the upper deck even more," said Carlton Fisk, a baseball Hall of Fame member whose playing career included a 13-year stint with the White Sox. "The improvements can only make the stadium better, and White Sox fans will like that."

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Besides, while some fans at the Internet site WhitesoxInteractive.com already are dubbing the stadium "The Cell" (as in prison), Cellular Field is not the worst sounding name around.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., and Houston's Minute Maid Park are silly (the former Houston name, Enron Field, was a crime in and of itself), while Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum is awkward.

But Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego is the pits and the new stadium being built for the Padres is named Petco Field, which already has prompted locals to dub it "The Dog House."

The name change promises another improvement: the new building will no longer cheapen the legacy of the Old Roman, as Comiskey was known in his day.

Besides founding the White Sox in 1900, Comiskey was influential in the creation of the American League in 1901 and helped support other teams to ensure their existence. Comiskey also was in charge of four of the five White Sox teams in their 103-year history that actually won league championships.

On the whole, he is one of the few great characters (Bill Veeck is another) to come out of Chicago baseball.

Those who bash Comiskey focus on the 1919 World Series, which his Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds. Eight players were later indicted for conspiracy (but acquitted) and banished from baseball because of allegations they took bribes to lose games. The players said they hatched their scheme to get back at Comiskey for miserly salaries and other slights.

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But Comiskey was far from the only owner, either of his time or since then, who was a tightwad. Philadelphia Athletics boss Connie Mack twice sacrificed championship ballclubs that could have kept winning for years to come because he did not want to pay higher player salaries, while Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators almost never had winning teams because of his penny-pinching methods.

White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf insists Comiskey's memory will be maintained.

"We are committed to acknowledging the Comiskey family legacy within the ballpark in an appropriate manner," he said.

Speculation has been that the concourse or playing field will be named for him. But here's a better idea -- one to appease both Comiskey-backers and -haters.

Many new sports stadiums erect statues of the biggest names in team history. Perhaps a statue of Comiskey should stand outside the renovated stadium's main entrance. It would be appropriate to pay tribute to the White Sox founder with a larger-than-life figure.

And for those who despise Comiskey, just imagine how happy they'll be when they see the "Old Roman" covered in bird droppings.

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