The American League had three problems in the mid-70s. They were fighting a lawsuit filed by the city of Seattle for moving the Pilots to Milwaukee in 1970. Charles O. Finley, owner of the Oakland A's, wanted out of Oakland. John Allyn, owner of the White Sox, was broke. He wanted to sell the team for a princely sum of $14 million.
There was a way to solve all three problems in one fell swoop. In July of 1975, the Tribune reported that Allyn would sell the Sox to an ownership group in Seattle. The original White Sox would move to the Pacific Northwest. Charlie Finley would settle his debts with the Oakland Coliseum and move the A's to Comiskey Park, where they would play as...
...The White Sox!
The A's were in first place in the AL West in 1975, and there was no way Finley was going to talk about relocation while the team was still in contention. But it was no secret that Finley wanted to be in Chicago. He grew up in Indiana. His insurance business was located in Chicago. Finley wanted to buy the Sox from the Comiskeys in 1959. His ownership group was edged out by Bill Veeck.
The Tribune called it an arrangement "worthy of Solomon." Allyn gets his money, Seattle gets a baseball team, and Finley gets his wish.
Bucky Dent, Jorge Orta, Carlos May, Jerry Hairston, Jim Kaat, and Wilbur Wood would decamp to the new domed stadium that was being built in Seattle. Joe Rudi, Phil Garner, Sal Bando, Gene Tenace, Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue, and Ken Holtzman would move to Comiskey Park and play as the White Sox v2.0.
The 1970's White Sox teams weren't that good. They were so bad, that the 1972 and 1977 squads were memorable for not being terrible. They were so bad that by 1979 they could only entice fans to the ballpark with the promise of watching a DJ blow up disco records in center field.
So what happened? Negotiations happened.
John Allyn wanted $14 million for the Sox: $10 million for the team and $4 million for Comiskey Park. Potential buyers didn't have a problem with the asking price for the team ... but they thought $4 million was an insane amount of money for a crumbling ballpark.
If the Sox left for Seattle at the end of 1975, the American League wanted Comiskey Park to have a new tenant for 1976.
The Tribune broke the story about the Finley/White Sox arrangement on July 30, 1975. On July 31, 1975 ... a man named Andy McKenna visited Bill Veeck at his home in Maryland.
McKenna is a Chicago businessman. He's chairman of the Schwartz Paper Co. He's the honorary Chairman of McDonald's and Aon Corp. At age 82, Chicago Magazine calls him "eminence grise among Chicago dealmakers." If the name sounds familiar, that's because his son is the former head of the Illinois Republican Party who staged an unsuccessful run for Governor in 2010.
The elder McKenna didn't want the Sox to leave for Seattle. Veeck, meantime, was growing bored with his self-imposed exile from baseball. An attempt to buy the Baltimore Orioles had been torpedoed by the IRS earlier that year. McKenna's sales pitch to Veeck was a simple one.
"Bill, it's time; time to come back home."
Veeck cobbled together an ownership group, and bought the Sox in October of 1975. The American League owners initially vetoed the deal, but they later relented and approved the sale by a 10-2 margin. Veeck was back in the game, and the Sox would remain in Chicago.
Finley would remain in Oakland. Seattle wouldn't get its ballclub until 1977.
Let's imagine, for a moment, what would have happened if the A's moved to Chicago in 1976. For starters, Sox fans would have seen some quality ballplayers. Finley may have waited to trade Reggie Jackson (in real life, he was traded to the Orioles just before the start of the 1976 season).
The '76 A's won 87 games and finished 2½ games behind the AL West champion Royals. The "Seattle White Sox" still would have struggled to win 70 games. I can't predict what would have happened after that. The new White Sox would eventually develop their own history and identity. But Charlie Finley in Chicago would have altered baseball history in a substantial way.
No Harry Caray. After he was chased out of St. Louis, Harry Caray spent a year in Oakland. Finley wanted Harry to change his home run call to "Holy Mule!" Their dislike was mutual, and the toxic relationship led Caray to find employment with the White Sox in 1971. John Allyn had "fired" Harry Caray at the end of 1975. He was immediately reinstated by Bill Veeck, who gave him free reign on the air and in the ballpark. It's safe to say that Harry Caray probably would have left town with the original White Sox. If Harry Caray is in another city from 1976-onward...would he end up with the Cubs when Jack Brickhouse retired at the end of 1981?
SportsVision? Would Finley put the Sox on cable TV? Even though SportsVision is considered one of the greatest marketing mistakes in White Sox history, every owner was kicking the tires on cable TV in the early 80's. Just before he sold the Sox, Veeck had a deal in place to televise home Sox games via Cablevision (road games would be on WGN-TV). Cablevision, by the way, was only available in Oak Park and Homewood. But it was set to expand to "10,000 sets" by the end of 1980. The "new" Sox ownership might have gone the same route.
No Reinsdorf? Finley eventually sold the A's in 1981. Assuming he cashed out the White Sox at the same time, who would buy the team? In 1980, Bill Veeck sold the Sox to real estate magnate Ed DeBartolo. That deal was scuttled by the American League. The AL owners forced Veeck to take the lowball offer from Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn. Some historians believe that was one final parting shot on the part of the owners, who were upset at Veeck's disparaging comments over the years.
Would the White Sox even play on the south side? Comiskey Park was a well known money sink. Either Finley or his successor would want to move into a new ballpark. Would the Sox play at 35th and Shields? Would they move to the South Loop? The suburbs? Another city?
Next week's "what if" scenario? What if Ed DeBartolo was successful in his attempt to buy the White Sox?