Chicago White Sox

Guaranteed Rate Field

Chicago, IL

Year Opened: 1991

Capacity: 40,615

Grade: 74.5 Ranking: Coming August 2017*

Getting the Most Out of New Comiskey

Despite disastrous start, perennial renovations to U.S. Cellular Field made it a reasonably nice place for a ballgame

July 10th 2005: Upper Deck reserved
July 25th 2011: LG Skyline Club

 

PHOTO GALLERY at bottom of page

 

By: Cole Shoemaker
Written in 2012

*Ranking coming after revisits to Busch Stadium, Progressive Field, and Petco Park.  All post-1991 ballparks are rated

Note: This review refers to Guaranteed Rate Field as U.S. Cellular Field and New Comiskey Park

 

If Charlie Comiskey was one of baseball’s most frugal bastards when it came to paying his players, then the cheap, disposable looking New Comiskey Park originally yielded one of the worst returns in utility of any ballpark in history.

 

Widely seen as architecturally obsolete only one year after opening, the White Sox ownership failed to see the obvious tide of integrated urban aesthetics, retro designs, and fan friendly features about to sweep the nation’s baseball cities.

 

In retrospect, many White Sox loyalists claim that New Comiskey Park really wasn’t all that bad, just underwhelming in comparison to the brilliance of Camden Yards. White Sox officials said New Comiskey was modeled after the modern Royals Stadium (as it was called at the time), so it just seems bad in comparison to the new retro ballparks. I say hogwash. When comparing Comiskey to any other baseball only facility, it’s like day and night. They did everything wrong.

 

Contrary to most people, I actually believe we underestimate just how bad the original version was. Never had there been a facility so transparent in its cold revenue generating nature, so aesthetically bleak, and so fan unfriendly.

 

All things considered, my position is that New Comiskey Park was the worst baseball only facility of all time in its original form.

 

New Comiskey Park vs Old Comiskey Park

Infamous cross-section comparison between New Comiskey and Old Comiskey. The first row in the upper deck of the new ballpark is farther from the field than the last row in the upper deck of the old ballpark

Revenue generating functionality was the only design principle of the project. Good architectural treatment was solely an afterthought, as most of the arches, albeit cheap and concrete, are concealed behind cold ramps. The park was originally designed for suburban Addison in the mid 80s, and was not revised when moved to the Old Comiskey site, signaling standardization is paramount and the aesthetic design didn’t respond to its environment. That’s a far cry from the contextually based Camden Yards we see a year later.

 

Reinsdorf was going to shove the same symmetrical layout wherever he could get it built. He built a ballpark that turned its back on the neighborhood, somehow managing to turn New Comiskey into a true suburban ballpark, even though it was in the same location as the neighborly Old Comiskey.

 

They actually had a provision in their lease that didn’t allow local businesses to operate in the area. The White Sox wanted a self-contained stadium without the originality or timelessness seen in the old version. You got there; went into the stadium; and then went home.

 

How about the lack of fan friendliness and the interior vacuity? The seemingly inviting main entrance wasn’t for the fans, but for the team’s offices. The outfield stands were over 15 feet from the outfield wall; ensuring fans wouldn’t be too immersed in the game, creating a decidedly temporary look. The backstop was further from the batter than the pitcher was. The outfield bullpens were vertically designed and covered toward the top, ensuring fans couldn’t peak in to see who was warming up. It wasn’t just about the lack of a retro design; you could go on and on about the little things that separated Chicago from the rest of the new ballparks.

 

Three decks of premium seating punctuate the interior vibe and separate the average fan from the ballgame. In order to compensate for the vicinity of the upper deck, they made it steeper than ever before (steeper than Royals Stadium), attempting to put fans on top of the action.

 

Coming in under budget, it all had an unmistakably cheap feel to it too. Sterile, white concrete characterized most of Comiskey’s interior design. The seats were marked in a disposable Wall-Mart shade of plastic blue. Enclosed from the skyline and the surrounding projects, the bleak white steelwork and blue plastic batters eye characterized the “bathtub motif” of the outfield aesthetics. And you want to compare this to pastoral Royals Stadium?

 

New Comiskey Park 1990

The bland New Comiskey didn’t have much pop

But at the same time, the air of exclusivity was unlike anything seen before, and arguably since. Of course, it’s been surpassed in quality, but the vibe in new Comiskey was ridiculous. It was the first ballpark where officials advertised that the concourses would be cleaner than your home. The media ran horror stories (seriously, some of this would be unheard of today.  No children?!  Per Se welcomes children) about the ballpark’s stuffy Stadium Club restaurant, which had a strict dress code and other ridiculous policies. It was the White Sox version of the Yankees’ Legends Suites PR disaster. Luxury suites and club seating was the sole focal point of the presentation. Ticket attendants wore tuxedos!

 

New Comiskey was the anti-thesis of baseball. Standardized. Self-Contained. Suburban. Sterile. Cheap. Divisive. Exclusive.

 

While we underestimate how bad New Comiskey really was, I think we also underestimate how different U.S. Cellular Field has become through renovations. The new color scheme, characterized by sea of dark greens and black steel, is a breath of fresh air. While some of the little things made New Comiskey almost unbearable, some of the little amenities of U.S. Cellular Field now make it a great place for a ballpark.

 

Comparing the before and after pictures, I have to admit I never thought this place could be this good. The White Sox really made the absolute best out of a disastrous situation. The interior design ultimately came out as distinctively minimalist, a step above a couple of the retro cookie cutters.

 

Guaranteed Rate Field panoramic view

When analyzing U.S. Cellular Field, it’s better to compare it to its original version than to compare it to other retro ballparks. It’s improved significantly but will never be a great ballpark.

While the White Sox should be proud of what they accomplished, the structural flaws can’t be fixed. I will say that U.S. Cellular Field is the worst park in the majors for a ballpark trekker that likes to explore all areas and levels. This main concourse is usually restricted to lower box ticket holders, but I had club level tickets, ensuring complete accessibility. But even with this privilege, it’s a ridiculous hassle to explore, as ramps are your only option. No stairs. Escalators are only on the outside. Elevators are only for the disabled.

 

Irreversible defects aside, the organization deserves immense praise for immediately accepting work needed to be done here. I will provide pre-renovation scores in gray for certain categories. I was amazed by how many positive things I ended up saying about the interior aesthetics as well. They really made something out of nothing.

NEXT - Setting

Gallery

Scorecard:

Setting: 5/10

Location/Access: 2/5

Local Scene: 3/5

Architecture & Aesthetics: 19.5/33

Exterior Design: 5/10

Interior Aesthetics: 9.5/15

Panoramic View: 3/5

Concourses: 2/3

Functionality: 19/25

Sightlines: 7.5/10

Seat Comfort: 3.5/5

Concourses: 5/7

Scoreboard: 3/3

Amenities: 20/25

Concessions: 4/5

Signature Food: 1/2

Restaurants: 4/5

Premium Services: 4.5/5

Historic References: 3.5/5

Entertainment: 3/3

Miscellaneous: 11

Atmosphere/Fans: 3/5

Ballpark Policies: 0/2

Bonus: 8

Conclusion

Final Score: 74.5