It was June 30th 1988, and owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn had already fled the city trying to escape the negativity surrounding the team. Not because they had just lost to the Yankees and not because they were again under .500, it was because Sox fans were less than a day away from losing their team. Old Comiskey was run down and the team needed a new home, and Reinsdorf and Einhorn didn’t want to pay for it, they were playing off a time honored tradition of asking the public to build them a stadium. It was going to a vote in the State Senate and house that evening with a midnight deadline .
Now Chicago in the late 80’s was a bad time to ask for public funding for a baseball stadium. The state was broke, flaunting a $5.5 billion operating deficit, $7.7 billion in unpaid bills, and an estimated $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Reinsdorf and Einhorn had a couple different ideas for where the team could play. A long thought out and often talked about (then) stadium built in the neighborhood but just north in Armour Park detailed here by the great Dayn Perry. They also had done a lot of work in the suburb of Addison, going as far as opening an office having mockups of a stadium and location, and passing out informational fliers to residents about the effects of the team on their lives. There was another option, relocation, several cities were in the running but the biggest threat, St. Petersburg in Florida.
St. Petersburg had been long ready to have a major league team come to town, and they were confident that it would be the White Sox. They had not only secured stadium financing but the stadium was already half built. Reinsdorf had already had discussions with Tampa officials and as the vote neared Tampa had all but started buying season tickets, it was viewed as inevitable, with “Florida White Sox” shirts already being sold. They had journalists in Chicago for the seemingly imminent vote that would net them a major league franchise after more than two years of planning.
When James Thompson arrived at the capitol building hope seems gone. The state senate had narrowly passed the bill, but seemed no faith that the house would approve the bill with the state and cities finances in shambles. Thompson who was hell bent on keeping the White Sox in Chicago ran the bill to the house floor after getting the minimum amount of votes from the Senate to pass. He needed 60 votes for the bill to pass the house and he only had 54 and a handful of minutes to swing 6 votes. Thompson known for his ability to sell people and make deals and it would be tested now. He recruited Mike Madigan to help him swing votes and they were making headway in short order. They were close but the clock was against them.
No word of a yay vote had been announced, Tampa news stations were getting reports from their reporters saying, “that’s it the White Sox are coming to Tampa”. No one had mentioned that there was no word of a nay vote was announced either leaving some news outlets and reporters to wonder what was going on. At 12:03 am on July 2nd before the second round of champagne could be passed around in Tampa news broke. Thompson and Madigan had saved the team by getting the 60th vote at 11:59 PM.
Tampa was crushed by the dramatic unseen turn of events, wasn’t the deadline midnight, isn’t it after midnight? Doesn’t that mean they had finally gotten the franchise they had longed for? How does this happen, well there are several thoughts, maybe the celebration in Chicago had slowed news out of the capital. Many think, especially in Florida, that the clock had been stopped. Legend has it that Thompson and Madigan had unplugged the clock, theoretically stopping time at 11:59 giving them precious extra minutes to ensure that last vote. Thompson claims that’s a legend but anyone who pays attention to Illinois politics knows it wouldn’t be a huge stretch.
Either way the Sox were safe in Chicago, Jerry and Dick had their publicly funded new stadium, Thompson and Madigan saved the Chicago White Sox on the south side of Chicago. Dick and Jerry got a sweetheart deal, the Chicago Sports Authority would own the stadium with the Sox not paying rent unless attendance tops 1.2 million, and the get 2.50 per ticket after that 1.2 million, and 35 percent of all media revenue. They also would pay the White Sox 2 million a year for stadium maintenance and would buy 300 thousand tickets every year the attendance dipped below 1.5 million, along with many other perks and outs.
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