This Day in White Sox History: Comiskey Park's last Opening Day

This Day in White Sox History: Comiskey Park's last Opening Day
Comiskey Park pregame ceremonies on April 9, 1990.

April 9, 1963 - The start of the season found the Sox in Detroit and it was a highlight game for third baseman Pete WardWards macked a seventh inning, three run home run off Jim Bunning to push the Sox into the lead and he also made a barehanded pick up and throw out of a slow roller hit by Al Kaline. The Sox would win 7-5 and it would be the start of Ward’s Co-American League Rookie of the Year campaign. Years later Ward remembered that afternoon at Tiger Stadium when I spoke with him.

"I could probably tell you everything about that day, what happened at the game and what I did after the game... that will always stay with me. The ball I hit off Bunning came in the seventh inning and was one of the hardest balls that I ever hit. The ball Kaline hit was a topped ball that I had to charge. I remember after the game Ron Hansen, who was my roommate, and I walked back to the hotel where we were staying. That was a special day. You asked how I felt that day. I was very confident because remember I had been playing in the minor leagues and had been moving up slowly over four years. I felt that I belonged."

April 9, 1971 - It was the largest home opener in years as 43,253 fans poured into Comiskey Park to see the ‘new look’ White Sox under GM Roland Hemond and manager Chuck Tanner. Ownership was completely caught with their pants down when that many fans showed up. Concession stands and vendors ran out of items by the middle of the game!

The Sox wouldn’t disappoint as Rich McKinney’s two out ninth inning single scored Rich Morales with the game winning run in the 3-2 victory over Minnesota.

April 9, 1976 – Owner Bill Veeck was back and 40,318 fans turned out to say ‘welcome home Bill!’ on opening day. They got their money’s worth, as in a tribute to the Bicentennial, Veeck, manager Paul Richards and front office executive Rudy Schaffer presented the colors dressed as the fife player, drummer and flag bearer of the Revolutionary War. Wilbur Wood tossed a complete game six hitter and Jim Spencer had a two run home run in the 4-0 win against Kansas City. Veeck bought the club when it seemed they were on their way to Seattle.

When I interviewed Mike Veeck, Bill's son, I asked him about the events leading up to his dad getting the team for the second time.

"Mayor Daley called in December 1975 and offered considerable support. My dad always had the philosophy of ‘you can’t go home again’, and he wasn’t comfortable in the ‘savior’s role,’ but he loved Chicago. He was a Midwesterner by birth and had a Midwesterner’s pride. He understood and had a lot of respect for Chicago. He knew it was a working town and it was the town of ‘everyman.’  He also loved the idea of the Sox being the ‘underdog.’ He never made any apologies for the fact that there were two baseball teams in Chicago so he stepped up when he was needed. He always thought he was going to get it done. Again he loved being the underdog and he loved the intrigue in baseball, the politics and the dealing. One of the first things that I did when my dad took over the club was open all the cards and letters that the fans sent it to us. I’d see fifty cents from kids, $10 from people... all doing what they could. I sent two tickets to a future Sox game to everybody who sent anything. We then contributed all the money, I think it was $60,000 or $70,000 to the American Cancer Society in the name of Nellie Fox who passed away from it. But I was touched by what they did, remember I was 25 years old and to see people care about the team like that was very special.”

 April 9, 1977 - The White Sox defeated the Blue Jays 3-2 in Toronto for the franchise’s first ever regular season win outside of the United States. Oscar Gamble’s home run in the fourth put the Sox on top to stay and the team added two more in the fifth. Chris Knapp got the win and Lerrin LaGrow earned his first save in what would be the best season of his career. He’d end 1977 with 25 of them and a 2.46 ERA.

April 9, 1985 - For future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, it was his record 14th opening day start. For Ozzie Guillen, it was his debut in the major leagues. The two of them combined to help the Sox beat Milwaukee 4-2 at County Stadium. Guillen would get his first hit in the big leagues that day, a bunt single off former Sox pitcher Ray Searage in the ninth inning.

April 9, 1990 – It was the last home opener at the original Comiskey Park and the Sox made it a good one beating the Brewers 2-1. Scott Fletcher’s sacrifice fly scored Sammy Sosa with what turned out to be the winning run. Barry Jones got the win with Bobby Thigpen picking up the first of what would be his then record setting 57 saves in a season. 

April 9, 1993 - During the home opener with the Yankees, Bo Jackson showed that the human spirit is simply amazing. Jackson, playing with an artificial hip, hammered a Neal Heaton pitch into the right field seats for a home run. It was Jackson’s first at bat since the hip surgery, caused by an injury he suffered during his days as an All Pro running back for the Raiders.

In 1993 Bo would hit 16 home runs including one in late September against Seattle that would provide the margin to win the game and the Western Division title. As far as the baseball hit off Heaton, a fan returned it to him and he later had it encased and welded to his mother’s headstone.

Want to read up on the White Sox farm system and stars of tomorrow? Check out Future Sox.

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