clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Right on Q: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks ... and the White Sox

In the early 1950's the White Sox took a pass on three future Hall of Famers...forever altering the history of the franchise.

Mike Zarrilli

Here's another "What If?"...

A couple of weeks ago, we made a tantalizing discovery. The White Sox had a line on the following players: Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks.

The front office passed, and the scout who discovered them quit his job to work for the Post Office.

Now, imagine a world in which the White Sox have three members of the 500 home-run club playing at the same time.

With some serious pop in their lineup, it's a safe guess the White Sox make the World Series in 1955, 1957, 1959, 1963, 1964, and 1965. They are a dynasty.

The Sox posted winning records from 1951 to 1967. They were a consistently in second or third place, behind the Indians, Yankees, Tigers, or Twins. They Sox of the '50s and '60s had great pitching, great fielding, and mediocre hitting. Mays, Aaron, and Banks get them over the hump again and again.

The late '50s and early 60s were a period of transition for the White Sox. The actions (and inaction) of that period of time would set in motion the events that would define the White Sox into the 1990s.

Grace Comiskey died in 1956. Grace was the daughter-in-law of the Old Roman. She was married to his son, J. Louis Comiskey, and inherited control of the White Sox upon his death in 1939. Grace Comiskey passed her shares on to her daughter, Dorothy Comiskey Rigney. Dorothy was the majority owner of the White Sox. Her brother, Chuck Comiskey, was minority owner of the team.

The Comiskeys spent the next two years fighting over control of the Sox. Dorothy Comiskey wanted to sell her shares. Chuck, as architect of the team's 1950s renaissance, wanted to keep the Sox in the family.

Chuck wanted to buy Dorothy's shares. Assuming she would never consider selling the White Sox to someone not named Comiskey, he made a lowball offer.

She was so offended by the overture she sold her 54 percent stake in the White Sox to Bill Veeck, who installed his own people to run the team. Chuck Comiskey was still the minority owner, but he was effectively powerless. He made one more unsuccessful attempt to re-assert his diminished authority after Veeck sold the team to the Allyns in 1961. It didn't work, and Chuck sold his shares of the team. After 62 years, the Comiskeys were out of baseball.

But what if the White Sox were coming off of two World Series appearances? What if Comiskey Park was home to three of the best hitters in baseball? If Chuck Comiskey was responsible for turning the Sox into the best team in the game, would Dorothy Comiskey keep the team?

What if she decided to hang on to the White Sox? For starters, that would mean no Bill Veeck. He would not have the opportunity to buy the team in early 1959.

All of a sudden, the White Sox become a very different team. For starters, there's no exploding scoreboard. Veeck's monster scoreboard was installed in the 1959-60 offseason. A scoreboard that belched smoke and breathed fire every time the White Sox hit a home run could only emerge from the mind of Veeck. During that same offseason, he applied the first of what would turn out to be many layers of white paint to the red brick exterior of the ballpark.

(Full disclosure: I am a fan of Bill Veeck. He is one of the great figures in baseball history. But whitewashing Comiskey Park was the worst decision of his career.)

Then again, Comiskey Park might have fallen a lot sooner. In the 1960s, Arthur Allyn tried to convince P.K. Wrigley, George Halas, and Bill Wirtz to invest in a sports complex in the South Loop. The plan died because the other owners didn't share Allyn's vision.

But, if the White Sox are the best team in baseball .... maybe they move to a concrete donut in the South Loop sometime in the mid-to-late '60s. There might have been more political will to help the four-, five- or six-time American League Champion White Sox.

At this point, White Sox history enters the realm of imagination. What if the Sox played in a Chicago equivalent of Three Rivers/Riverfront/Veterans/Busch/RFK Stadium? Would they play in a new "retro" stadium in the South Loop today?

Would this version of "US Cellular Field" have a few arched windows ... as a nod to the original Comiskey Park?

That's the great thing about following a franchise that's 113 years old. There are thousands of chances look at what might have happened if history turned the other way.