10th anniversary: New Comiskey becomes The Cellby Chris Jaffe
January 31, 2013
Ten years ago today, the White Sox got a new place to play. No wait, check that—they played in the same place, but they just started calling it something different.
On Jan. 31, 2003, the White Sox sold the naming rights to their stadium to U.S. Cellular phone company. From this day forward, what had been known as Comiskey Park II would now be U.S. Cellular Field—The Cell for short.
A team naming a field after a corporation was nothing new. The Cubs have long played in Wrigley Field, a stadium whose name has a not at all coincidental connection to the gum. But that’s different; the team was owned by the Wrigley family for decades and the stadium was named after the owner, not the company. Many stadiums were named after owners.
I once heard that when the Busch family bought the Cardinals in the 1950s, they wanted to rename Sportsman’s Park after Budweiser, the main product their brewery made. However, baseball lords opposed it, thinking it too gauche. So instead the stadium was renamed Busch after the owner—and then a year or two later they came out with Busch beer for the first time. Times have changed.
However, a new era began in the 1990s, when teams began selling the naming rights to long-existing places—and this time it was solely to raise more revenue for the clubs. In 1996, three National League teams changed their stadium names to gain corporate money. Thus Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium became Cinergy Field, San Francisco's horrible Candlestick Park became the horribly named 3Com Park, and Florida’s Joe Robbie Stadium became Pro Player Stadium.
In many ways, this was an outgrowth of the new generation of stadiums. With places like Camden Yards pumping in tremendous tons of cash, those without new stadiums began looking for ways to make more money with their older stadiums. Of course, it didn’t have to be one or the other. You could have a new stadium and sell naming rights, too. In 1998, Arizona did just that with Bank One Ballpark. Two years later Houston did likewise with Enron Field.
By the time the Sox changed the name of Comiskey to The Cell, naming rights were an established fact in major league baseball. In some ways the Sox have been fortunate. Unlike some teams, they’ve managed to keep the same corporate sponsor, and it’s one that hasn’t embarrassed the team. Houston ought to be jealous. First, its stadium is named after the most scandalous corporation of the 21st century (Enron) and the replacement sponsor has a name that just doesn’t sound right for a major league park: Minute Maid.
Other places keep bouncing back from nickname to nickname. The new Giants stadium is already on its third sponsor: Pacific Bell, SBC, and now AT&T. (And that’s on top of 3Com naming their old stadium.) The Marlins' original stadium had five or six names in under 20 years: Joe Robbie, Pro Player, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium (yes, they changed the stadium name to singular for some reason), Land Shark and Sun Life. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the current incarnation of every stadium name. When it changes this much, it’s hardly worth the corporate dough, because when names are that transitory it’s too easy to forget them.
But the South Side of Chicago has kept the U.S. Cellular name—and kept it for exactly 10 years now.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today have their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since Brewers manager Ken Macha’s coin flip works great. He used a coin to determine if Corey Hart or Jody Gerut should start in right. After Gerut wins, he hits for the cycle.
1,000 days since Mark Teixeira hits three home runs in one game. It’s the third time he’s done it—and the third team he’s done it with.
4,000 days since the Marlins sign free agent Tim Raines for what will be the final year of his career.
6,000 days since the Cardinals release Mike Morgan.
6,000 days since the Pirates trade Denny Neagle to Atlanta for two guys and a player to be named later. The PTBNL will be Jason Schmidt.
6,000 days since Anaheim trades Chili Davis to the Royals for Mark Gubicza and another player.
7,000 days since Houston trades Doug Jones and Jeff Juden to the Phillies for Mitch Williams.
7,000 days since Cleveland signs free agents Eddie Murray and Dennis Martinez.
8,000 days since the recently un-retired Jim Palmer has a rough outing in Baltimore’s spring training camp. He allows two runs on five hits in two innings. Palmer’s comeback attempt will soon be over before it really begins.
9,000 days since Rick Rhoden becomes the first pitcher to start as a designated hitter since the invention of the rule.
10,000 days since Jose Cruz gets his 2,000th career hit.
10,000 days since Houston trades Joe Niekro to the Yankees for Jim DeShaies. Four players are involved in the trade overall, but those are the most notable ones.
10,000 days since Rick Reuschel sets a personal best with his seventh straight complete game. He’s 5-2 with a 1.17 ERA in that span.
20,000 days since Frank Robinson hits the first of 12 career walk-off home runs.
1845 Bob Ferguson, nicknamed Death to Flying Things, is born.
1857 The publication Spirit of the Times refers to baseball as “the national pastime.”
1893 George H. Burns is born. He’ll get over 2,000 hits, twice leading the league, and lead the AL with 64 doubles in 1926. As a young player, he’ll thrice lead the league in HBP.
1896 Charlie Robertson, pitcher who once threw a perfect game, is born.
1919 Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer and sports icon, is born.
1926 Lou Bierbauer, the guy who caused the Pittsburgh club to get its nickname when it pirated him from another team, dies at age 60.
1927 Cleveland releases veteran center fielder Tris Speaker, who is immediately signed by the Senators.
1927 Judge Landis rules that Rogers Hornsby can’t own stock in the Cardinals and play for the Giants.
1931 Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, is born.
1931 Hank Aguirre, one of the worst hitting pitchers of all-time, is born. More impressively, he’ll lead the AL in ERA in 1962 with a 2.21 mark.
1940 The Red Sox release catcher Moe Berg, the smartest player in baseball history.
1941 The Brooklyn Dodgers sign former star Paul Waner.
1942 Henry Larkin dies at age 82. In the 1880s, he twice led the league in doubles.
1947 Johnny Kling, catcher for the Tinker-Evers-Chance Cubs, dies at age 71. He was also a champion pool player and took the 1909 season off to run a pool hall.
1947 Nolan Ryan, all-time great fastball pitcher, is born.
1950 Pittsburgh signs high school pitcher Paul Pettit to a record bonus of $100,000.
1952 U.S. federal jury awards Mexican League owner Jorge Pasquel $35,000 for breach of contract by ex-Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen.
1955 Ted Power is born. He’ll be a reliever with the Reds, leading the league in games pitched in 1984.
1956 Buck Weaver, Black Sox who demanded a separate trial, dies at age 65.
1956 St. Louis trades pitcher Brooks Lawrence to the Reds.
1958 Rafael Santana is born. He’ll be the starting shortstop on the 1986 Mets and basically the only easy out in that lineup.
1959 Joe Cronin is officially elected to a seven-year term as AL president.
1962 The Mets sign Ralph Kiner as an announcer, joining him with Lindsey Nelson and Bob Murphy.
1963 Ossie Vitt, former player and the manager the 1940 “Cleveland Crybabies” club rebelled against, dies at age 73.
1965 Houston signs amateur free agent Bob Watson.
1965 Japanese pitcher Masanori Murakami says he won’t return to the Giants, instead pitching for the Nankai Hawks. This spurning will result in no other Japanese players in America for 30 years.
1969 The DH is approved for use in the Eastern League, Texas League, International League and New York-Pennsylvania League. The AL and NL agree to an experiment allowing a DH in spring training games.
1980 Houston signs free agent Joe Morgan. So long, Cincinnati.
1982 Yuniesky Betancourt, shortstop, is born.
1983 The Phillies sign Tony Perez.
1984 Josh Johnson, pitcher, is born.
1990 Pittsburgh signs free agent Wally Backman.
1994 St. Louis signs free agent Rick Sutcliffe for his final season.
1994 California signs free agent Bo Jackson, who is near the end of his line.
1996 The Royals sign free agent pitcher Tim Belcher.
2000 John Rocker is suspended until May 1 for his Sports Illustrated article comments.
2001 A Wall Street Journal article quotes 1951 Giants survivors Monte Irvin, Sal Yvars and Al Gettel. They admit they stole signs in the 1951 pennant race. Yvars says it happened only in the best-of-three playoff games against the Dodgers at the end of the season.
2002 Harry Chiti dies at age 69. He was most famous as a catcher for the 1962 Mets and supposedly the only player traded for himself. (The story goes he was traded to the Mets for a player to be named later—and they sent him back. Baseball-Reference.com, however just says the Mets purchased and returned him, something that has happened to other players).
2003 The Dodgers sign free agent pitcher Wilson Alvarez.
2003 Pittsburgh signs free agent pitcher Jeff Suppan.
2005 Bill Voiselle dies at age 86. Pitching for the Giants, Voiselle went 21-16 in 1944, leading the league in starts (41), innings (312.2), strikeouts (161), batters faced (1,327), and home runs allowed (31).
2006 Minnesota signs free agent Ruben Sierra.
2006 Oakland signs free agent Frank Thomas. He leaves the White Sox after a lengthy and excellent stay there.
2006 ESPN signs for the rights to broadcast the World Baseball Classic.
2008 Florida signs free agent Luis Gonzalez for what will be the last year of his career.
2008 The Yankees sign free agent Morgan Ensberg.
2008 Seattle signs free agent player Brad Wilkerson.
2011 Tampa Bay signs a pair of big name, past-their-prime free agents: Johnny Damon, and Manny Ramirez.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.