This article was written by John Bauer
After 80 years in the same home on the South Side of Chicago, the White Sox were moving. Two years before, the team was dangerously close to moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, until a last-minute, late-night deal in the Illinois Legislature ensured that the name Chicago, instead of Florida, would remain in front of the words White Sox. With their new home towering above their old home, the White Sox hosted one final game at the original Comiskey Park on September 30, 1990. Complete with the amenities and revenue streams associated with modern stadiums, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf touted the financial advantages in moving across the street: “Now we can compete.”1 Perhaps those potential dollars would keep together a club experiencing a surprising 1990 season that would end in a worst-to-almost-first turnaround, as Chicago improved from 69 wins to 94 wins. Only the juggernaut Oakland Athletics denied the team the AL West Division title.
This contest was one where the game was secondary to the occasion. The occasion was such that there was a lottery to identify the person who would turn off the ballpark lights for good. Edith Alexsevitz won the honor. She did not enter the contest because she liked the White Sox, or even baseball for that matter; rather, she entered lotteries as a hobby.2 As a result, Charles Comiskey’s grandson, Chuck, was drafted to assist. Before the lights went off, the White Sox were to play the Seattle Mariners, and right-hander Jack McDowell strode to the mound seeking his 14th win of the campaign. Leading off, Seattle’s Harold Reynolds struck out. Ken Griffey Sr. lined out to Lance Johnson in center field, before Ken Griffey Jr. singled over the head of second baseman Scott Fletcher. Shortstop Ozzie Guillen had to back up in order to get under cleanup hitter Alvin Davis’s popup, and the catch ended the top of the first. In the home half of the inning, the White Sox stirred the crowd of 42,849 by getting the first two batters on base against Mariners rookie starter Rich DeLucia: Ivan Calderon through a walk and Johnson with a single to right. With runners at the corners, Chicago could not convert. Carlton Fisk and Frank Thomas hit successive pop flies to shortstop Omar Vizquel, and Dan Pasqua’s fly ball to Griffey Jr. in center field ended the frame.
McDowell struck out Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner to start the second, but the Mariners got singles from Dave Valle and Vizquel. McDowell walked Jeff Schaefer to load the bases for Reynolds, but the latter’s grounder to Fletcher ended the inning. Fletcher earned a two-out walk in the home half, but that proved the only blemish against DeLucia.
The game remained scoreless through five innings, with baserunning mistakes damaging possible run-scoring opportunities. Johnson’s one-out single meant a baserunner for the White Sox in the third. After Fisk struck out, DeLucia’s pickoff throw caught Johnson off the bag, and Martinez flipped to second baseman Reynolds to apply the inning-ending tag. With one out in the Seattle fourth, Buhner sliced a single between Guillen and third baseman Robin Ventura. After Valle flied to Johnson in short center field, Vizquel kept the inning alive with a bullet to right. Like Johnson in the previous inning, Vizquel was caught off base when McDowell threw to Thomas for the pickoff and Thomas fired to Guillen to catch Vizquel.
The Mariners broke the scoreless deadlock in the top of the sixth. Opening the inning, the 20-year-old Griffey Jr. worked a full count and then ripped a groundball to right for a triple. With Davis at the plate, McDowell’s wild pitch allowed Griffey to streak home for the game’s first run. Davis struck out swinging, and Martinez and Buhner flied out to Calderon in left field.
Johnson led off the bottom of the sixth and lofted DeLucia’s first pitch toward right field. The wind did the rest. The ball carried away from Buhner and dropped into the corner. Johnson raced around the bases, stopping at third. Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre observed, “That was a fly ball that got caught up in the wind and kept blowing away.”3 Fisk tried desperately to bring Johnson home, but his seven-pitch at-bat ended with a big swinging strikeout. Caught up in the occasion, Pudge said later, “I tried so hard to get a hit. I was more nervous than I was in the World Series.”4 No matter. Thomas got the game-tying hit, ripping a line drive to center field for a run-scoring single. The hit extended Thomas’s hitting streak to 13 games.5 Pasqua worked the count full before hitting a screamer toward Griffey Sr. in left field. Instead of being fielded for a possible single, the ball, in Griffey’s words, “was going one way and all of a sudden it went the other way about a foot and a half.”6 The ball rolled to the wall, allowing Thomas to score the go-ahead run from first and earning Pasqua his third triple of the season. Ventura and Sammy Sosa hit first-pitch grounders for routine defensive plays to close the sixth, but the White Sox now led, 2-1.
Having lost the lead, the Mariners came out aggressively in the top of the seventh. Valle drove a ball to right that went past Sosa to the wall. The Mariners catcher made it safely to second, but with Sosa bobbling the ball, third-base coach Bill Plummer waved Valle to third. Sosa threw to Fletcher, who rifled the ball to Ventura. The ball beat Valle to third with Ventura applying the tag. Plummer took the blame for the out, saying, “It was my fault.”7 The cost of his decision became apparent on the next play, when Vizquel singled to right-center with a ball that might have scored Valle. Schaefer launched McDowell’s pitch into deep center field, but Johnson got under the ball for the second out. Although Reynolds lined a single into right to move Vizquel into scoring position, Griffey Sr.’s fly to Calderon ended the threat. After the stretch, the White Sox appeared poised to add to their lead. Fletcher led off with a single and Guillen bunted him to second. Calderon’s single to center gave the White Sox runners at the corners with one out, but Johnson’s grounder to second baseman Reynolds started a double play that ended the seventh.
Griffey Jr. opened the eighth with a long fly to Johnson, then Davis doubled to deep left to start a nascent Seattle rally. Greg Briley ran for Davis, but the move was wasted. Martinez struck out and Buhner lined out to Calderon to close the half-inning. Davis may have betrayed some frustration about the Mariners’ inability to convert hits into runs. He said, “The story of the game was the 11 hits we got and one run that came on a wild pitch.”8 Fisk led off the home eighth with a popup easily gathered by first baseman Martinez in foul ground. The fans nonetheless paid tribute to the longtime White Sox catcher with a standing ovation; Fisk had to be coaxed from the dugout to acknowledge the crowd. As Andrew Bagnato wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Only after Guillen jumped onto the steps to wave his cap did Fisk bound up the steps with the legs of a teenager to acknowledge the tribute.”9 Thomas singled, but Pasqua popped up and Ventura grounded out to close the inning.
As he had done many times during the season, White Sox manager Jeff Torborg handed the ball to Bobby Thigpen to close out the game. Thigpen had long since shattered the major-league season record for saves.10 Hitting for Valle, Scott Bradley drove Thigpen’s first pitch through the gap in the right side of the infield for a leadoff single. Vizquel attempted to bunt Bradley to second, but the White Sox forced Bradley at second. Pete O’Brien, batting in place of Schaefer, launched the ball into deep left-center, but Johnson made the catch for the second out. Harold Reynolds proved to be the last batter in the history of Comiskey Park when he pulled Thigpen’s fastball to his second-base counterpart; Fletcher flipped the ball to Steve Lyons for the ballpark’s final out at 4:23 P.M. Central time. Thigpen’s 57 saves would stand as the American League and major-league record until Francisco Rodriguez achieved 62 for the Los Angeles Angels in 2008.
After the final out, the crowd sang along as organist Nancy Faust played “Na Na Na Na, Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey.”11 The players strolled through the outfield, about which Thigpen commented, “It was goose-bumpy.”12 Four hundred police officers and security personnel ringed the field to prevent souvenir hunters from tearing up the ground, and two paddy wagons were parked along the warning track as an additional deterrent.13 The public-address announcer proclaimed, “See you across the street next April 18.”14 After the last fans left the ballpark, the players had one final moment with Comiskey Park. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Farewell, old beauty. … [I]n the way that baseball and its places abide and grow in loving American recollection, and its ghosts walk among us for one more turn on the fields where they played, you will always be there.”15
In addition to the articles cited in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com and The Sporting News.
1 Bob Verdi, “Dear Friend Will Be Missed, but Better Days Are Ahead,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1990: 3, 1.
2 Andrew Bagnato, “Sox Turn Out Lights in Style,” Chicago Tribune, September 30, 1990: 3, 13.
3 Jim Street, “Sox Rock Comiskey, M’s for One Last Win,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 1, 1990: D1.
4 Bagnato, “One Last Sox Win for Old Comiskey,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1990: 3, 1 and 10.
9 Bagnato, “One Last Sox Win”: 10.
10 Dave Righetti had held the record with 46 saves for the New York Yankees in 1986.
11 Phil Hersh, “At Comiskey, Farewell to an Old Friend,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1990: 1, 1.
12 Bagnato, “One Last Sox Win”: 10.
13 John Gilardi, “Next Ball Tossed at Comiskey Will Be Iron.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 1, 1990: D8.
15 Editorial, “Comiskey Park Passes Into Memory,” Chicago Tribune, October 1, 1990: 4, 2.