History will happen today.
Not the good kind of history. Not a perfect game or a no-hitter or a playoff win or a World Series championship. This afternoon, the White Sox will play the Orioles in a vacant Oriole Park at Camden Yards because of the unrest that continues to roil Baltimore.
This is a sports blog, so I will restrict the commentary to how the events in Baltimore impact White Sox baseball. This sport is a distraction, and it is unfortunate when the real world intrudes on the institution that is supposed to help us forget about our day-to-day worries.
Riots are woven into the fabric of the history of a city. Over the decades, issues of race, labor, and war have brought people into the streets. Comiskey Park, located at 35th and Shields, has been close to history – but not close enough to merit canceling a White Sox game.
The Race Riot of 1919 began on July 27, when Eugene Williams, an African-American swimming in Lake Michigan between 25th and 29th streets, was pelted to death by rocks thrown by a crowd of white people on a segregated beach. Williams’ death lit the fuse on the tension that had been building between the white population on the South Side, and the city’s booming African American population.
The first day of the riot also happened to be the last day of the homestand for the White Sox. The Sox lost 11-5 to the St. Louis Browns at Comiskey Park before embarking on a two-week road trip. The Sox wouldn’t return to Chicago until Aug. 14, long after the riot had ended.
Now, had the White Sox schedule been different … there’s a very good chance a game (or several) might have been called off. Although the riot covered a large swath of the South Side, 35th Street was particularly dangerous.
The 1968 baseball season was scheduled to start on April 9. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on April 4. King’s death sparked two days of rioting along Madison Street on the West Side. Even though the riots were confined to a small area of the city, the glow of the fires could be seen for miles. Rumors of rioters moving into downtown or the Bungalow Belt prompted the city of Chicago to set up a special rumor control hotline.
The riots ended on April 6. President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered all sports canceled as part of a national Day of Mourning on April 7. That forced the cancellation of the exhibition game between the Sox and Cubs at Wrigley Field. A Blackhawks playoff game had to be rescheduled.
King’s funeral was scheduled for April 9, which was Opening Day in Chicago and many other cities. The White Sox postponed the opener out of respect for King’s memory. The game was eventually made up in June.
April 10 became Opening Day by default, and the White Sox started a lackluster 1968 campaign with a 9-0 loss to Cleveland in front of 7,756 at Comiskey Park. It was the smallest Opening Day crowd in recent memory.
The White Sox were also home during the Democratic National Convention that August. 1968 was the year the White Sox played selected "home" games at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. It was part of Bud Selig’s plan to convince MLB that the baseball-starved residents of southeast Wisconsin desired a team. It was also part of Bud Selig’s plan to get the Allyn family to sell the team and move the White Sox to Milwaukee.
The convention started Monday, Aug. 26, which was the same day the White Sox lost to the Tigers 3-0 at County Stadium. The White Sox then wrapped up the series with Detroit at Comiskey Park, with a 2-1 walkoff victory.
The convention took place at the International Amphitheater, which wasn’t too far away from Comiskey Park. But the delegates were staying at the hotels along Michigan Avenue. The 1968 DNC is known for what was later termed a "police riot," a brutal suppression of anti-war protestors who were gathered in Grant Park.
While the police riot raged, the White Sox blanked the Yankees at Comiskey Park 3-0. Gerald Nyman outdueled Mel Stottlemyre en route to his first Major League win.
The White Sox were in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Even if MLB didn’t cancel all games that day, it is almost certain the game would have been canceled because of the emergency.
One final note – even though Disco Demolition is considered a "riot," it wasn’t the result of external social forces that were beyond the team’s control. The forfeit of July 12, 1979 was the result of inadequate crowd control, and that was the fault of the White Sox.
Enjoy the game today, and enjoy witnessing history. It’s gonna be surreal.