Old or new, Comiskey Park will always be suited to Hemond's tastes

Ken Rosenthal

April 23, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

CHICAGO -- The suit, that's what everyone asks about. Roland Hemond wore it the day the Chicago White Sox clinched the AL West title in 1983. It became a champagne-drenched symbol, and the club displayed it in a glass-enclosed case outside the press dining room in the old Comiskey Park.

Now Hemond is making his first visit to the new Comiskey, and the suit is nowhere in sight. "They haven't found it yet," the Orioles' general manager says, chuckling. "It hasn't been unpacked. Maybe it's over there being demolished."

"Over there" is across 35th Street at the old Comiskey, where Hemond, 61, was the White Sox GM from 1970 to '85. Later he learns the suit will return to its place of honor, not that he's concerned. He's so excited as he begins his tour of the park, he's practically speaking in tongues.

Can you blame him? Hemond flashes back to December 1975, when White Sox owner John Allyn kept the club in Chicago by selling to Bill Veeck rather than a group from Seattle. The team had been in such trouble, Hemond bought a one-way ticket to the winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla.

It seems the White Sox were always trying to leave Chicago, but none of that matters now. Hemond bounds out of the Orioles' dugout and White Sox vice president Howard Pizer rushes over, anxious to play tour guide.

On his journey, Hemond greets everyone from the owner who fired him six years ago to a youthful vendor who calls him by name. He remains incredibly popular in Chicago, and he's clearly moved by the new park. "This," he announces, "is progress."

The best part is, he'll experience a similar thrill next year when the Orioles' new downtown ballpark opens at Camden Yards. "If not for that, I would be envious," he says, "I'd be saying, 'My gosh, we're light years behind.' "

Pizer begins the tour asking, "Amazing, isn't it? All the stuff we ever wanted." They pass groundskeeper Roger Bossard's office, and Hemond knocks on the door. "I used to sneak naps in his old office," he says.

Ron Schueler, a White Sox pitcher in 1978-79, welcomes Hemond to the home clubhouse, this time as the team's GM. They proceed to the clubhouse manager's office -- "Your highness!" Hemond cries to the beaming Willie Thompson -- then stop at the dry sauna and steam room.

Those are two more places Hemond could have escaped from Veeck, who kept him up at night dreaming of trades. But the clubhouse doesn't end there. Schueler points to the vast training room joking, "If we get rained out, we come in here and take infield."

They pass a doctor's office and X-ray room -- optional features, for sure -- then walk through a door marked "Hydrotherapy." Three whirlpools and a jacuzzi are inside. The club plans to add a 20-foot swimming pool for players recovering from injuries.

This raises the critical question: Does Bo know breaststroke? If so, that's more than Hemond picked up in four years in the U.S. Coast Guard. "I left here too soon," he says. "I might have learned to swim."

Now it's on to the executive offices. Hemond is in a congratulatory frenzy, and his good wishes extend to those who aren't even present. Walking past a life-size poster of Carlton Fisk, he remarks, "Nice going, Pudge. I'm proud of you."

Schueler shows him his office. "See, the view they gave me Roland?" he asks, looking out his window at the wreckage of the old Comiskey. "It gets you," Hemond acknowledges. "You say, 'Oh my gosh, it's wounded.' "

Undaunted, he continues outside. Pizer is back, leading him past the concession stands on the lower deck, pointing out that the baking is done on-site. Hemond is preoccupied. "I always case a ballpark," he says. "Where are the phones?"

As he approaches the leftfield bleachers, an elderly usher asks, "Can I help you to your seat?" After a double-take, the usher gasps, "Oh my God." So much for being starstruck. Seconds later, the usher berates Hemond for -- get this -- stealing Ron Kittle from the Sox.

A construction worker says hello, a fan chewing a hot dog yells, "Hey Roland!" Pizer leads him to the stadium club behind the rightfield foul pole, the luxury suites in the mezzanine, then finally to the press box, which will be dedicated to Veeck.

"Roland Hemond! My idol!" cries White Sox broadcaster Tom Paciorek, the leading hitter on the '83 club. Then, turning toward Pizer, he asks, "Where's his suit?" Hemond replies with a wink, "Nice going, Tom. By popular demand."

After repeated inquiries, Pizer is worried. He excuses himself to check on the suit, and returns with the news, "It's here, it's framed, it's ready to go." Hemond, of course, is grateful. Old or new, it's still Comiskey Park.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.