Rebranding Charles Comiskey

I have a favorite niece that I adore. She’s bright, charming, whip smart, funny, and very good at her job. But she’s really into all this business jargon that sometimes confuses me. She’s worked with a job counselor, done all sorts of community service (which isn’t bad by any means), made sure her name is out there. She calls it “branding”, as in “establishing her brand” for prospective employers. When she says that, I always have images of John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Paul Fix, and Walter Brennan leading a roundup and branding cattle in the 1940s classic Hollywood Western Red River.

In many ways Charles Comiskey is a brand (in the sense my niece uses the word), usually seen as a bad one. The other day I put him in my personal Hall of Fame and got a lot of comments. Some of them didn’t show up on the post (see the post directly below this one) but came in emails directly to me. Uniformly they thought Comiskey was a scumbag and probably shouldn’t be allowed near sane people or little children. Most, however, acknowledged that Comiskey had a great impact on baseball. Kortas put it best when he mentioned he’d hold his nose but vote to let Comiskey into the Hall of Fame. That sums up my view of Comiskey.  But all of us, aware of what was to happen in 1919 have rebranded him from his status in 1907.

Between 1882, his rookie year, and 1901 the first year of the American League, Comiskey is one of the more important people in baseball. He joins the St. Louis Browns (now the Cardinals, not the Baltimore Orioles) in 1882 and by 1883 he is a player-manager (after the other guy is fired). In 1884 he again takes over as manager after the previous manager leaves and remains the manager through 1889 when Comiskey joins the Players League. So from the beginning he’s seen as both a fine baseball mind (and don’t forget credit for inventing the first baseman playing off the bag) and a good businessman (1880s managers also did a lot of general manager type stuff like booking hotels and seeing that uniforms were clean). In joining the Player’s League he indicated a devotion to the Brotherhood, making him an early advocate of player’s rights.

Although it’s true that Ban Johnson was front and center in forming the American League in 1901, Comiskey stood at his right hand. He’d joined Johnson in the 1890s looking to have a team of his own and looking to move into the Major Leagues (of which there was only the National League). With no ownership openings available, Comiskey ended up controlling a team in the Western League and both encouraged and joined Johnson in taking that league “Major” in 1901 under the name American League. He had a strong team and in 1901 picked up the first ever AL pennant. A strong team in Chicago gave the AL instant recognition as on par with the NL (although I’ll be the first to admit that Boston winning the 1903 World Series was surely more significant in granting parity between the two leagues). In 1906 his White Stockings won again. To this point a career to applaud.

But Comiskey’s career didn’t end in 1907. We all know what happened in 1919 (something 1907 contemporaries didn’t) and it destroyed the Comiskey Brand for anyone who is a baseball fan. But in defense of Comiskey (and, no, I can’t believe that I actually typed those words) he was a fairly typical owner of his era. Guys like Soden whose pennant winning Beaneaters left for the AL in droves, or the Robison brothers who destroyed the Cleveland Spiders weren’t significantly worse than Comiskey when it came to treatment of their players. There was one significant difference, Comiskey was an ex-player and he knew what it was like to be a player and be treated badly by ownership. There’s a wonderful moment in the movie Field of Dreams when Shoeless Joe states, “Shoot, I’d a played for nothing.” I’m certain Comiskey would have been more than willing to let him. But so would the other owners of the day and, frankly so would the current set of owners. So Comiskey isn’t really different from his contemporary colleagues, it’s just that he’s a degree worse.

And all of that was unknown in 1907, at least to most people (and I admit I have no idea how badly he treated the 1906 squad, but I doubt it was significantly better). The Comiskey Brand was still viewed with the aura of good player, great manager, innovator, winning owner. We know there was another side, but the rebranding of Charles Comiskey didn’t come until the 1920s.

 

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10 Responses to “Rebranding Charles Comiskey”

  1. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Charlie Comskey’s nickname was “Commy” and I don’t want no Commys in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, I think the Cincinnati Reds should change their name back to their 1950s name, the Cincinnati Redlegs. Or if not, the Cincinnati FROG Legs. Or ANYTHING. Anything but REDS. Better dead than Reds and better salamis than Commys. (The Reds “beat” Comiskey’s White Sox in 1919. The REDS beating the COMMYS??? This confuses me.)
    Glen

    • steve Says:

      weird that they called comiskey a commie because wasn’t he a ruthless capitalist? And didn’t the white sox get their name because Comiskey wouldn’t pay to clean the player’s socks? or something like that? Maybe the nickname was designed as one of those ironies? maybe that’s obvious and I’m just waking up now? I tend to figure shit out later than most people.

      • verdun2 Says:

        Commy is a nickname like “Johnny” might be a nickname for someone named Johnson.
        The original NL team in Chicago was called the White Stockings (now the Cubs). They’d changed their name by 1901 and Comiskey picked up the old name for his team. The washing of socks came later and gave rise to the “Black Sox” name, which was, of course, perfect for the guys who threw the 1919 Series.
        v

      • steve Says:

        I get it now… so the commy had nothing to do with communists other than the spelling of his name. Thanks v.

        I guess I fell for the Glen prank. Well, I hope that’s not the last time I fall for a Glenn gag because not only is Glenn funny. He’s smart.

  2. Glen Russell Slater Says:

    Seriously, though, Comiskey shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, and certainly not before Joe Jackson, who it has been pretty much proven that he was ignorant of the whole throwing-the-series thing. He didn’t really know what was going on. The poor guy couldn’t even READ; how was he supposed to read an edict from Rothenberg the THUG to throw the series. I sincerely believe that Jackson didn’t know what was going on.

    Glen

    PS Minnie Minoso should be in the Hall of Fame before ANY of ’em.

    • steve Says:

      I think Minny Minosa is the only player to play in five decades. I remember him as part of a trivia question on the back of a baseball card; maybe the 1978 set. The question was something like only players to appear in four decades. I think Nick Altrock was another one, but he only appeared in four.

  3. steve Says:

    I relate to what you’re saying v about your niece and the business jargon she uses. I often have similar confusion among the literary crowd and all the wit and turns of phrases and subtle innuendo that I often misinterpret or don’t understand at all.

    I didn’t know much about Comiskey until reading your article and now I’m in favor of him being in the hall of fame because of all the drama and scandal surrounding him. He’s a big part of baseball history I think and maybe reflects a significant part of American society and isn’t that what the HOF is supposed to be regardless of our own judgments. I don’t think fame or famous has anything to do with good or bad.

    I still can’t get over how much Comiskey looks like Ken Hawk Harrelson. They both have that hook nose of a hawk I guess. Is that how Harrelson got his nickname? Weird in a ghostly reincarnation sort of way.

  4. Gary Trujillo Says:

    My girlfriend fixed my resume and established my “brand” a few years back…I didn’t realize how impressive I was!

  5. wkkortas Says:

    Points well taken; you can’t judge a Comiskey induction in 1907 with information a baker’s dozen years hence, unless the good folks of the Aughts had time-travel they chose not to share with us.

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