Warm weather has arrived to stay (at least for a few months) and baseball season is heating up. Much has been made in Chicago news recently about Wrigley Field and the commemorations for its 100th anniversary. The ballpark began as home to the Chicago Whales, a Federal League team, in 1914 and it was originally called Weeghman Field for its owner, Charles Weeghman. All of this has been covered, however, in honor of Wrigley Field’s centennial celebrations.
What I want to look into with today’s post is a relatively forgotten ballpark that housed many championship games on Chicago’s other side of town: South Side Park (and later Schorling Park). This park stood at 39th and Wentworth Avenue from 1893 until it burned down on Christmas Day in 1940. It was called South Side Park (and sometimes 39th Street Grounds) from 1900 to 1910 while the Chicago White Sox (then known as the White Stockings) played there. According to Paula Lupkin of the Encyclopedia of Chicago, “The relocation of the White Stockings to Comiskey Park enabled Chicago’s Negro League team, the American Giants, to purchase their old facility, South Side Park, located at 39th and Wentworth. Rechristened Schorling Park, it stood until 1940 when it was destroyed by fire.” Shortly after baseball began integration, the Negro League started to fade and was gone by the 1950s.
Today, near the spot you can find a Chicago Tribute marker (as seen in the photograph above) which commemorates Andrew “Rube” Foster. We’ll look at him more in a moment.
No other ballpark went up on the 39th and Wentworth Avenue site after the fire in 1940. What intrigues me, however, isn’t the park’s end, so much as its beginning in 1893. As every Chicago history fan knows, 1893 was the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition. In the excellent book When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906 author, Bernard A. Weisberger explains, “The park had opened in 1893 in time for the world’s fair for a professional cricket team known as the Chicago Wanderers, who played and drew their audience from recent immigrants from the British Isles. There were not enough of these to make the Wanderers a success, however, and by 1900 the grounds were no more than a bumpy abandoned lot strewn with junk. Yet Comiskey spotted the place as a choice location,” (62). The thing I love about Weisberger’s book is that he takes plain facts like the dimensions of a ballpark and puts them fluidly into context. Look at his description of South Side Park:
In 1900, Comiskey’s first task after cleaning up, leveling and seeding the deserted cricket field (a job in which he sometimes joined with his own hands) was to create seating. The First National Bank of Chicago lent him the money for an enclosed wooden grandstand extending from first to third base, the roof supported by whitewashed posts. The dimensions made it a tough place for right-handed hitters: the left-field foul line was 355 feet long, left center was 400 feet from home plate, and center field was a deep 450 feet (but only when not accommodating standees). The distance to the right-field fence seems to have disappeared from available records, but given the fact that the White Sox’ regular-season lineup featured four left-handed hitters (and one who batted from either side of the plate), it seems likely that it was at least as short as and possibly shorter than the left-field line. 63-64.
The White Sox played in South Side Park until 1910 when Comiskey’s new park opened its gates on July 1st of 1910. Before leaving however the White Sox would make a lot of memories there such as winning Chicago’s only crosstown World Series in 1906. A fact that I need to research more involves whether or not Comiskey had owned or was leasing the land for South Side Park. One of the most recent biographies on his life, Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey states, “…Comiskey was a man who treasured tradition and familiarity. That being said, he initially discussed terms with the owner of the current South Side Park at 39th and Wentworth Avenue to buy or lease the land for twenty years. A mutually satisfactory agreement could not be reached, so Comiskey moved on,” (171). Another text, however, titled Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black Urban Life examines the uneasy transition from South Side Park to Schorling Park. That author, Davarian L. Baldwin, states, “The major point of reported contention among race leaders was Foster’s partnership with John Schorling, a white saloon keeper and son-in-law of Charles Comiskey, who leased the old White Sox stadium on 39th and Wentworth to the American Giants,” (212). Regardless of who owned it, after the White Sox moved out, Rube Foster and his Chicago American Giants moved in.
The city’s tribute marker remembers Foster and explains, “Andrew ‘Rube’ Foster dominated the Negro Leagues as a pitcher, manager, owner, and league organizer.” Foster came to Chicago in 1906 to play for and manage the Leland Giants but, “In 1911, in partnership with white saloonkeeper John Schorling he founded the Chicago American Giants, which became one of the greatest teams in black baseball history…He led his team to Negro League championships in 1914, 1915, and 1917.” In many ways Foster was the heart of the league and an excellent promoter of the sport. In his book Chicago’s New Negroes Baldwin argues, “For the next decade, Foster’s Giants were among the most dominant black nine, and some would say baseball team more generally. Foster’s disciplining and ‘scientific’ style of speedy play focused on pitching, targeted hitting, base stealing, and signaling,” (213). Foster entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1981, but I feel his legacy sadly needs greater prominence and emphasis in Chicago.
You can find his tribute marker on the northwest corner of 39th/Pershing and Wentworth Avenue just a few block south of where the White Sox currently play. After games many baseball fans drive past it and the very spot where South Side/Schorling Park once stood when they attempt to get back onto the Dan Ryan expressway.
Resources and Citations
Baldwin, Davarian L. Chicago’s New Negroes: Modernity, The Great Migration, and Black Urban Life. 2007.
Hornbaker, Tim. Turning the Black Sox White: The Misunderstood Legacy of Charles A. Comiskey. 2014
Weisberger, Bernard A. When Chicago Ruled Baseball: The Cubs-White Sox World Series of 1906. 2006.
White Sox timeline