ALL STAR GAME: 2003 WORLD SERIES: 2005 (1 W, 0 L)
BEEN THERE: I drove past it in 1998, rode past it on a train in 2008, and made a brief visit in August 2010.
The "new" Comiskey Park (as it was called until early 2003) was originally hailed by many as a much-needed modernization, but it soon came to be derided as the model of everything a new stadium should not be. As with nearly all other modern 20th century stadiums, of which this was the last example, the field layout was perfectly symmetrical. The outfield dimensions were quite similar to those of the original Comiskey Park, which it replaced: 347 feet to each corner, 375 feet to the power alleys, and 400 feet to center field. That design, plus the flashy pinwheel-and-fireworks-spewing scoreboard in center field, were fitting tributes to its predecessor. There were several design similarities with Kauffman Stadium, the widely-lauded next-to-last stadium in that category. For example, the walls between the dugouts and the foul poles originally followed a straight line, gradually increasing in height due to the slight curvature of the seating rows. As in Toronto's Rogers Centre (ex-Skydome), however, the upper-deck seats were set high above the field to accommodate two levels of skyboxes (and one tiny "mezzanine" deck), and the steep "rake" (angle) that this necessitated to view the field below is scary for acrophobic fans. Unlike most other stadiums, the entry portals are at the bottom of the upper deck. For some inexplicable reason, there is hardly any overhang between the decks, leaving almost everyone exposed to the often-harsh Chicago elements. They should have squeezed in ten or so more rows in back of the first deck rather than building such a big second deck. One good aspect is that there are real bench-seat bleachers in the outfield, available at a modest price.
It's a shame the White Sox didn't build the alternative ballpark proposed by Philip Bess. His design harkened back to the classical era stadiums, with a fully roofed upper deck that extended over much of the lower deck. It was a human-scale design that was intended to better fit into (and thus revive) Chicago's rough south side. (Remember Jim Croce's Bad, Bad, LeRoy Brown?) His nicely illustrated book City Baseball Magic was in large part a polemical tract against the dauntingly big new Comiskey Park. (Thanks, Connie!) Fortunately, some of his biggest gripes have been addessed by renovations in recent years.
Prior to the 2001 season, the new Comiskey Park underwent an $8 million renovation. Extra rows of seats were added between the dugouts and the foul poles, and the front edge of the lower deck now makes a gradual curve along the foul lines, and no longer rises in height as it did before. This addition created a notch in both corners. Also, a few extra rows of seats were added in most of the outfield sections, moving the outfield wall about 12 feet closer to home. The distance to center field remained 400 feet, however, creating slight bends in the outfield wall on either side of center field; see photo below. The areas behind the power alleys formerly occupied by the bullpens were filled in with seats, as new bullpens were built parallel to the fences. The White Sox bullpen is now located in the left field corner, while the visitor bullpen remains in the right field power alley. A new picnic terrace area (the "Bullpen Sports Bar") was added in back of the right field corner. The outfield dimensions are now slightly asymmetrical, a rather hollow concession to prevailing trends that really doesn't affect play very much. If you ask me, such contrived, arbitrary asymmetry is an indication of mediocre baseball stadium design.
CINEMA: Some scenes from the movies Major League II (1994) and My Best Friend's Wedding (1997) were filmed in this stadium, when it was still called "Comiskey Park."
Further renovations were made prior to the 2003 season. A new "fan deck" viewing area was built on top of the center field black background screen, while the bleachers were expanded slightly, filling in small triangular areas on either side of the center field batter's eye. New distance markers were added in the power alleys (about 20 feet closer to center field), which are now 375 feet on both sides. (This casts doubt on the 377 (LC) and 372 (RC) markers that were there in 2001 and 2002.) In addition, the capacity (originally listed at 44,702) was increased by more than 2,000 seats, to 47,098, but most of this seems to reflect the inclusion of the large standing-room-only area in back of the bleachers, where new amusements and amenities have been installed.
In February 2003 the White Sox reached an agreement with U.S. Cellular, which agreed to pay a total of $68 million over a 20+ year period for the naming rights. It's probably for the best that they changed the name, to avoid confusion with the original Comiskey Park. (We'll see how long that corporate name lasts.) The proceeds from U.S. Cellular were used to pay for a further major renovation of the stadium, which was completed prior to the 2004 season. Eight rows of seats were removed from the top of the upper deck, and a new flat roof (complete with wrought iron adornments) was installed, covering 13 rows of seats, leaving just eight rows exposed to the sun. This subsantially improved the ambience of the ballpark, making it much more comfortable -- and leaving fewer empty seats. Seating capacity was reduced to less than 41,000. It's a commenable effort to remedy the fundamental design defect represented by the sky-high second deck. In 2005 a new "FUNdamentals" practice area for kids was built on a platform behind the left field bleachers, and new elite "scout seats" were added behind home plate. I think the White Sox' home could be improved even further, however, so I have come up with an alternative design in which the outfield would be more similar to the old Comiskey Park, with a deep center field. Ideally, they should raise capacity by tearing out the upper skybox level and adding several more rows to the tiny middle deck, the "Skyline Box" seats.
Much like the other teams that continued to play in pre-World War I ballparks until late in the 20th Century, the White Sox did not win a single World Series title from the 1920s until the 21st Century. Unlike the Cubs and Red Sox, however, they decided to build a new stadium, which seemed to give the ChiSox a much-needed boost. They won the AL Western Division title in 1993, and were leading the new AL Central Division when The Strike ruined everything in 1994. Led by the power hitting of Frank Thomas, they won their division in 2000, but got swept by the wild card Mariners in the first round. They won the AL Central again in 2005, and this time they beat the Red Sox and Angels to take AL pennant for the first time since 1959. They then went on to sweep the Astros in the World Series, reclaiming the championship title for the first time in 88 years.
I've learned from several Chicagoans who have visited this site that this is a much more pleasant place to see a ballgame than it is generally given credit for. Based on my visit in August 2010, I can confirm reports from Chicago fans that the surrounding neighborhood has benefited from a major renovation. Most of the local folks still call it "Comiskey Park," but others have taken to calling it "The Cell." Based on their input, I revised upward my ranking for this stadium.
SOURCES: Lowry (2006), Pastier (2007), Rosen (2001), USA Today / Fodor's (1996), Chicago Sun Tribune (Apr. 17, 1991); Philip Bess, City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense About Cities and Baseball Parks (Knothole Press, 1989)
FAN TIPS: Scott Simmons, M. Slize, Bill Blake