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Chicago

A Comiskey farewell

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By PAUL M. GREEN

The closing of the 80-year-old Comiskey Park the home of the Chicago White Sox has brought forth a flood of historical and nostalgic reminiscences. The following is my contribution to this ongoing baseball memory genre with a dash of social commentary.

I was born on the southwest side of Chicago in a working-class neighborhood. For reasons of family tradition, geographic location and socioeconomic status, I was also born a White Sox fan.

Some of my best childhood memories were the times my grandpa Harry and I would be on the porch listening to the White Sox night games. The only thing that could pull me away from the radio were the bells of the Good Humor ice cream truck, run by Lenny the ice cream man. The sound of Lenny's bells would send me scurrying down three flights of stairs to purchase two coconut bars for myself and gramps. Total price: 24 cents.

As I grew older, a few pals and I would take two buses to get to Comiskey Park. Once the bus passed east of Ashland Avenue, the air came alive with the smells of the stockyards. Till this day I can still remember that stench and still repeat the often-said line when the air was particularly bad, "They must be making soap today.''

In the early 1950s, it was the time of the go-go White Sox: those great Friday night games against the hated Bronx Bombers (the New York Yankees) and the ongoing disappointments of eventually losing to those easterners. It seemed every Yankee was a big, broad-shouldered "moose," while many of my Sox heroes were described with the adjective "little."

But then came 1959. I was a teenager, an autograph collector and baseball expert. I went to the Sox games three hours before the first pitch, hoping to get my baseball cards autographed. I took my scrapbook to every game and split my time between the White Sox and the visitors' clubhouse areas, begging my heroes and enemies to sign my cards.

And 1959 was the team's golden year that comes only once in a young boy's life. Not only did the Pale Hose provide me with a lifetime of thrills, they also nursed my ailing grandpa Harry back to good health from a life-threatening illness. My family is still convinced that no medicine the doctors in the hospital gave him was as beneficial to him as Sox victories and the pennant. I can hear Sox announcer Bob Elson calling a curve ball "a twister on the corner" and a Cleveland Indian rally against the Sox "an uprising in the wigwam." The all-time best Elsonism echoes in my mind today as he describes a close play at home plate with a crescendoing, "He is-s-s out out out."

To this day I refuse to watch the replay highlights of the second game of the 1959 World Series. I already have shed too many tears watching slow-footed Sox catcher Sherman Lollar being thrown out at the plate, thereby costing the Sox the game and probably the series.

For the last several decades my interest in baseball has somewhat waned. My son Bobby is now the big statistical expert on batting averages, RBI's, etc. I could duck behind solid reasons for my loss of interest in baseball such as age, other interests and new responsibilities, but the real cause of my diminished interest is the Chicago Cubs replacing the Sox as the city's most popular baseball team.

You see, the Cubs now represent the new Chicago of gentrifiers, yuppies, independents, health club members and carbonated water drinkers. My Sox symbolized the city's old neighborhoods, blue-collar workers, organization Democrats, tavern-league softball players and shot-and-beer drinkers. At Wrigley Field people wear designer tee-shirts; at Comiskey it was old-fashioned undershirts. And

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though profane words have been occasionally heard at both parks, the dread four-letter word "cute" was not allowed at White Sox games.

Comiskey Park was more than a ball yard. It was a '' field of dreams'' for countless immigrants who came to the city. Built by the son of one of the area's first successful Irish politicians, the White Sox reflected the rhythm of ethnic advancement in the city far better than their crosstown rivals.

... 35th and Shields was a microcosm of the political, social and economic forces driving the city forward

At the time when race replaced ethnicity as a dominating force in the city, it was the Sox who first broke the so-called "color line" among Chicago's professional sports teams. It is not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that 35th and Shields was a microcosm of the political, social and economic forces driving the city forward. Like the city itself, the park was not always the cleanest or most hospitable place to visit. More than occasionally, fisticuffs would break out in the stands, and it resembled a "boiling cauldron" as much as a melting pot to its diverse fans. But it was Chicago.

Now there will be a new Comiskey Park. Fans will probably go there to be seen, drink Chablis and talk of their problems at the Merc or their golf swing. Even the presence of the new Mayor Daley siting along the third base line and not in a sky box will not bring back the old days - though it will help.

Simply stated, a chic new Comiskey Park filled with upscale and reformminded fans will never dull my boyhood memories of smelly old Comiskey Park and the boys of spring Looie, Nellie and Jungle Jim. And best of all, I know my late grandpa Harry is up there, still aggravating himself about the 1959 series and that damn second game.

Paul Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University.

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