Death Of A Stadium A Sentimentalist Makes A Pitch For Saving Historic Ballparks

October 21, 1990|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Western Maryland correspondent for The Sun.

I was 5 years old when they tore down Ebbets Field, home of the departed Brooklyn Dodgers. I have a vague memory of being there when I was 4. I wish it were more vivid.

I also have a vague memory of the stadium disappearing piece by piece, the wrecking ball smashing a place where 20th century American history, not just baseball, unfolded. I am grateful that memory is cloudy.

Next year, some people in Chicago will revel in their new stadium, their new Comiskey Park, now under construction. These days, most Chicago White Sox fans are united in their support of days to come in the new stadium. They are nostalgic about leaving Comiskey Park behind, but talk about it like a relative who can't hear them anymore.

"I think it's time for a new stadium," said Skip Landwehr, who lives in a suburb called Orland Park. "I think the whole city is really excited about it."

And then there is Ed Jones, from Oswego, Ill., about 50 miles from Chicago. "I have no feelings one way or the other. I'm looking forward to the new stadium."

I have some feelings. They range from sadness to anger. I'm sad that a stadium built in 1910 will soon be torn from the ground. I'm angry that when I went to Chicago last month to say goodbye to Comiskey Park, instead of finding people upset about the destruction, I found fans either numb or giddy about the prospects of watching baseball in antiseptic comfort.

The new stadium is being built right across the street. As I rode into Chicago last month on Amtrak's Capitol Limited, it was an unnerving sight, this new monstrosity dwarfing the charming baseball field on the city's south side.

At least Baltimore had the decency not to build its new field in view of Memorial Stadium. However, baseball fans here should pay attention to the activities that are occurring this year in the Windy City, for I have seen Baltimore baseball 1991, and it is Chicago 1990.

For Comiskey Park, insult has certainly been tacked onto the injury of facing demolition. First of all, it was deemed crumbling and useless by the White Sox owners, who threatened to leave town unless a new stadium was built. So, of course, a new stadium is being built, at a cost of $175 million financed by state bonds.

Then, after arranging the death of this historic landmark, they now preside over its funeral arrangements. White Sox owners have taken full advantage of the nostalgia of the park, playing the last year to the hilt as a promotional device. Everywhere souvenirs are for sale commemorating the last year of the stadium. The cover of the 1990 game program has a painting of Comiskey Park with the words "As the sun sets on the Baseball Palace of the World."

Attendance is up this year, from a little more than 1 million fans last year to more than 1.8 million this season, partly because of the successful season of the Sox, but also because many have come, and come far, to say goodbye. If you tear it down, they will come.

Like Ralph Barrow, a Greensboro, N.C., car dealer who came to say farewell with his 16-year-old son, John.

"This is a great ballpark," he said. "There's so much history here."

Some people scoff at that. Myself, I am a sentimentalist and I am one of those who elevate baseball beyond its status as a game. Walking in the outfield hours before a Saturday night game, I felt goose bumps as I realized that Shoeless Joe Jackson had played in the very outfield I was walking around. If that's corn, then can me.

George Carlson has been coming to Comiskey Park for 48 years. He's been taking pictures for a variety of Chicago newspapers for much of that time. He remembers coming here as a kid with a friend of his, who used to bring a jar, instead of a glove, to games.

"Ted Williams didn't think much of the fans here, and when we'd get on him, he used to turn around and spit on us," George said. "My friend used to bring this jar to try to catch Ted Williams' spit."

L So how do you feel about tearing Comiskey Park down, George?

"I think progress has to be made," he said. "This place has seen its years and seen its ballplayers."

That's one thing you can say about the new park -- Ted Williams never spit there.

Joe Pinotti celebrated his 80th birthday in the White Sox press box, receiving a team jersey with the number 80 and his name on the back. Joe has been working in the nooks and crannies of Comiskey Park for 50 years, primarily in charge of making sure everything is in its place in the press box.

He's seen history unfold here. "I saw Babe Ruth play here, DiMaggio, all the greats," he said. "I've been watching baseball here since I was a 10-year-old boy."

So aren't you hurt, Joe? Don't you feel like part of you is being torn down, Joe?

"In one respect, I'll miss it, but now with the new ballpark I have something to look forward to, something new," he said.

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