This article was written by Robert Kimball
The expression “wait ’til next year” permeates baseball. But for fans waiting for the White Sox to entertain the Seattle Mariners on July 1, 1985, the past was very much part of the program as Comiskey Park’s message board noted: “CELEBRATING 75 YEARS THE PALACE OF BASEBALL.”1
The oldest ballpark in the majors at the time, the facility on Chicago’s South Side debuted as White Sox Park on July 1, 1910, under owner Charles Comiskey, the man nicknamed “The Old Roman” and who called his steel-and-concrete home the “Baseball Palace of the World.”2 And while baseball games were the main attraction, his Comiskey Park would be the site of numerous sports memories.3
The White Sox dropped the Comiskey opener, 2-0 to the St. Louis Browns, with future Hall of Famer Big Ed Walsh taking the loss. Fast-forward to the diamond anniversary, and the White Sox fell to the surging Mariners 3-1, suffering their sixth consecutive defeat and 10th in 11 games.4
But the setback aside, the 30,041 fans in attendance witnessed a pregame ceremony that featured 11 people who were at that first game at the corner of 35th and Shields. In fact, one of those honored fans, 92-year-old Bill Trow, even recalled Walsh pitching as far back as the 1906 World Series. “His attitude made Walsh the most popular player with Sox fans,” Trow said.5
The White Sox also invited Art Wheeler, who at 95 remembered fondly rooting against the crosstown Cubs as a youngster — a tradition still alive on the South Side.6 For Frank Bentivegna, his Comiskey Park memories included sneaking under the fence and sitting in the bleachers to watch outfielder Shoeless Joe Jackson. “The fans used to ask him, ‘How many homers you gonna hit today, Joe?’ And he would hold up two fingers.”7
The White Sox featured three future Hall of Famers that night, including Fisk, who at 37 still caught 130 games in 1985. Cooperstown was also on deck for manager Tony La Russa, who was in his final full season on the South Side, and 40-year-old Tom Seaver, who was in his next-to-last big-league season. The right-hander, who played 2½ seasons for the White Sox, liked working at Comiskey, saying, “It’s a joy to pitch here.”9
There were postgame fireworks as part of the celebration, but the lack of runs on the field translated to zeros on the scoreboard as the clubs played scoreless baseball for seven innings. Seattle right-hander Frank Wills was having the best of it and at one time retired 11 consecutive Chicago hitters. His counterpart, Floyd Bannister, worked out of the stretch more often as he allowed runners in every inning he pitched.
In the fateful eighth, Bannister gave up a one-out single to Ivan Calderon and a walk to Gorman Thomas, setting the stage for Al Cowens, who homered for a 3-0 lead. On the game-deciding blast, Cowens said Bannister gave him just what he wanted: “I was hoping to get a fastball and I got it.”10
Bannister faced one more batter, then departed after throwing 136 pitches — usually an unreachable total in the twenty-first century.11 The left-hander fell to 5-7 and finished the year with four consecutive victories for a 10-14 record and a 4.87 ERA. Dan Spillner pitched the last 1⅓ innings for the White Sox.
Wills, in his third major-league season, worked 7⅔ innings and earned the victory. In the eighth he got the first two outs before walking pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston. Pinch-runner Julio Cruz stole second and Rudy Law hit an RBI single. Manager Chuck Cottier had seen enough and pulled Wills to end his longest big-league stint. He had allowed one run on four hits and three walks.
“I’m tired of bouncing around,” said Wills, who had been was brought up from Triple-A Calgary on June 5 after spending the 1983 and ’84 seasons in Kansas City. “I’m looking for consistency.”12 However, Wills’s only consistency in 1985 was in the loss column: He went to 4-1 that night at Comiskey, but dropped 10 of his final 11 decisions for a 5-11 record and fat 6.00 ERA.
Ed Vande Berg and Edwin Nunez finished the five-hitter, with Nunez notching his 12th save against a listless Sox offense that had batted only .213 and averaged just 2.4 runs in its last 11 games. The offensive woes were certainly foremost in La Russa’s mind. Before the game he said there were pros and cons to having extra hitting for slumping players. “Sometimes you hit too much. Sometimes you’re better off taking less batting practice.” La Russa also believed taking extra swings could be advantageous in two instances: Maintaining your stroke when you’re hitting well and using batting practice to correct a “mechanical weakness.”13
For the season, the Sox batted .253, eight points below the American League average (ranked 12th out of 14 AL teams), while they scored just under the league average of 4.6 runs a game.
But La Russa remained optimistic, saying “the worm will turn”14 if the White Sox kept putting runners on base. Chicago had men on in each of the last four innings, but only Law’s hit produced a run. La Russa never saw Cowens’ homer or Law’s RBI single from the dugout; plate umpire Ken Kaiser had ejected him for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the fourth.
“The umpires did not beat us,” said La Russa. “Seattle has a good ballclub.”15
The win, the Mariners’ ninth in 10 games gave them a 37-37 record and let them slip into fourth place in the American League West, a half-game ahead of the White Sox, who dipped to 35-36. Asked if the M’s were “for real,” a stern-faced Cowens told the Associated Press, “We’ve always been for real.”16
Cowens was certainly a big part of the Seattle surge, with three homers and 10 RBIs in his last seven games, all Mariners victories. Cottier cited his mound corps as a reason for the recent good play, saying, “We’ve been getting steady pitching from our starters.”17 Over the last 10 games, Seattle starters had a 3.30 ERA.
Despite the midseason run of good baseball, the Mariners finished 74-88 and 17 games off Kansas City’s division-leading pace. The White Sox wound up six games behind the eventual World Series champion Royals at 85-77.
As the fans looked back that night on Comiskey Park’s 75th anniversary, the man in charge looked ahead to a new breed of ballparks. Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, in town for the festivities, told the Chicago Tribune, “From now on, we’re going to go backwards a bit. The trend will be toward nostalgia and intimacy in ballparks of the future.”18 Was Ueberroth somehow seeing past the sterile new Comiskey just six years away and envisioning the prototype retro stadium opening in 1992 at Baltimore’s Camden Yards?
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and SABR.org.
1 Information from photos by Charles Cherney, Section 1, Page 1 and Section 4, Page 1, Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1985.
2 Michael Gershman, Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993), 92.
3 Notable happenings at Comiskey included Joe Louis winning the heavyweight boxing title in 1937, baseball’s first All-Star Game in 1933, Cleveland’s Larry Doby integrating the American League in 1947, the Chicago Cardinals beating the Philadelphia Eagles to capture the 1947 NFL title, and unruly fans rushing the field on Disco Demolition Night in 1979, forcing the White Sox to forfeit a game to the Detroit Tigers.
4 Associated Press, “White Sox Continue Fade,” July 2, 1985.
5 Bob Logan, “A Comiskey Hurrah — But Is It the Last?” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1985.
6 Logan, “It’s Still a Palace,” Chicago Tribune, June 30, 1985.
7 Logan, “A Comiskey hurrah.”
8 Cherney photo, Section 1, Page 1; Chicago Tribune; Associated Press, “White Sox Continue Fade.”
9 Logan, “A Comiskey Hurrah.”
10 Bill Jauss, “Punchless Sox Can’t Cool Off Hot Mariners,” Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1985.
12 Associated Press, “White Sox Continue Fade.”
13 Jauss, notes column, Chicago Tribune, July 2, 1985.
14 Jauss, “Punchless Sox.”
16 Assocxiated Press, “White Sox Continue Fade.”
18 Logan, “A Comiskey Hurrah.”