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Reinsdorf's Secret



In his zeal to paint a balanced portrait of the 24-year-old business relationship between the reigning lord of the sports world, Jerry Reinsdorf, and the man who plays the executive vice-president for his substantial holdings, Howard Pizer, columnist Ben Joravsky conceded far too much to his subject's point of view. ("Reinsdorf's Secret Weapon," September 20.) The result was embarrassing, I'm afraid. Like the image of the storyteller who at some point in telling his tale realizes that he's also a character in the story, cut from the same cloth as the greater fiction, Joravsky's method of letting some of the players around Reinsdorf's sports empire on Chicago's south and west sides tell their own tale was no favor to the truth. The rest of the Chicago-area media have been giving the man that kind of pass for years.

Nowhere was the crime of balance more evident than in the following passage from Joravsky's article:

"Old Comiskey was falling apart,' says Pizer. "We had an engineering study that showed it was in horrible shape.' . . . Some fans aren't convinced the Sox even needed a new park, and many still don't believe the owners' original engineering report" (pages 20 and 21).

Notice the fingerprints all over the scene of the crime. Pizer says the White Sox had an engineering study, and that it showed the "old Comiskey was in horrible shape"; then for his part, Joravsky trots out "some fans" who don't believe a word of the "owners' original engineering report." And, voila! Balance was achieved. The conscientious reporter has done his job.

There's only one problem with Joravsky's account, as far as I can tell: There never was an "original engineering report" for "some fans" not to believe it. In his trying to balance the contentious views of the White Sox and their fans on this particular issue, Joravsky has fixed the game. Arnold Rothstein's "Black Sox" could have been starters on this team.

For the record, the White Sox' original engineering study, produced by the firm Kennedy & Associates (March 1986), wasn't really an engineering study of the old ballpark at all. In fact, it was a very brief, half-page-long memorandum to the White Sox, with about zero validity from the standpoint of structural engineering and even less documentation to back it up.

When Kennedy & Associates vice-president Peter Krallitsch wrote that "there are no realistic long-term solutions since the deterioration is irreversible," and added that "Comiskey Park is nearing the end of its useful life," he of course meant something specific, though it wasn't that the physical deterioration of the old ballpark was irreversible. What he meant instead was that the White Sox didn't want to renovate or reconstruct the old ballpark. In that sense, but that sense alone, the ballpark's "deterioration [was] irreversible."

Unfortunately for fans of the old Comiskey, it was on the flimsy basis of this so-called engineering study that the White Sox, Governor James Thompson, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (the owner and manager of the new Comiskey), and the local media (with only a couple of notable exceptions) were able to establish and thereby control the terms of the debate over the fate of the Sox for the ensuing 27 months. That's why the second, more substantive, and in truth only engineering study of the old ballpark, performed by Campbell & Company Structural Engineers of Kansas City, Missouri, from April to July 1988, was supposed to have been so important for the advocates of the project. Though by 1988, the White Sox had begun to negotiate the relocation of their franchise if they didn't get a new stadium (in other words, it didn't matter whether the old place was falling apart: they wanted a new stadium--or else), the ISFA preferred to stick with original canard that the old ballpark's "deterioration [was] irreversible." Since the ISFA knew it was going to need something more substantive to take to the General Assembly than the Kennedy & Associates memo, they asked Campbell & Company to study it. But Campbell & Company's "Final Report, Physical Condition Survey of Comiskey Park" wasn't released to the public until early August 1988--more than one month after the June 30 capitulation by the General Assembly to the White Sox' or else. Nevertheless, it was a serious piece of work. In one and the same document, Campbell & Company devoted dozens of pages to detailed recommendations for how to go about reconstructing an essentially brand-new stadium out of the old Comiskey Park, exactly where it stood. It provided an estimate of what this project would cost (approximately $86 million in 1988 dollars, assuming an uninterrupted, two-year construction cycle). And then in a politically expedient afterthought, as if out of nowhere, Campbell & Company tossed in the following observation:

"In summary, we submit that considered renovation is a misnomer due to its extensiveness to upgrade to "state of the art' and should, in fact, be considered as reconstruction. We further submit that reconstruction on this exact site for the sake of historic preservation is not in the best interest of the vast majority of the parties involved. Rather, it is believed more prudent to construct a modern, uncompromised "state of the art' stadium nearby and continue to use this facility throughout the construction period" (page 51).

You read that right: "reconstruction on this exact site for the sake of historic preservation is not in the best interest of the vast majority of the parties involved." The rest is history. A political conclusion smuggled into a single paragraph near the end of a bona fide structural engineering study was allowed to overrule the hard data presented in the engineering study proper, and ruled the day.

Nor did it matter one bit that this conclusion flatly contradicted the thrust of the rest of the Campbell & Company study--powerful people are free to lie, when there's nobody willing to call their bluffs. Messrs. Reinsdorf, Pizer, et al would get their new publicly funded "mall park" (Phillip Bess). The Chicago-area media would get a sentence or two in an executive summary that accompanied the release of the study that they could seize upon to tell their audience, "See! The White Sox were telling the truth all along. The state had no choice but to agree to build a new stadium for them." And the actual conclusion of the Campbell & Company study would be flushed down the memory hole. Where it still remains to this very day, undisturbed by probing reporters.

David Peterson

Evergreen Park

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