Chicago Baseball Museum

April 14, 2007 A 501(c)(3) non-profit organization   VOLUME 2007 ISSUE 2  
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Growing Up Comiskey
by David J. Fletcher

Grace Patricia Ryan Samfillippo is an 82-year-old legend.  As one of the last living people to work for the Chicago White Sox's first general manager Harry Grabiner, she spent countless evenings nestled in the lap of Charles A. Comiskey as he riveted her with bedtime baseball stories.  Along with her 80-year-old cousin Charles A. Comiskey II, Grace is a direct living link to the 'Old Roman' and his tremendous impact on baseball in America.
Grace Patricia's grandfather was Patrick Henry Comiskey, older brother and confident of Charles A. Comiskey.  Patrick was the business manager of the White Sox in the late 1890s when the team was in St. Paul, Minnesota.  During his tenure, the Comiskey brothers plotted to move the team to Chicago and invade the territory of the National League's Chicago Colts.[1]  The team was moved to 39th and Princeton (four blocks south of present day U.S. Cellular Field) because of its proximity to the working Irish neighborhood of Bridgeport.  In April 1900, shortly before the Chicago White Stockings' first opening day, Patrick Henry Comiskey died of Bright's disease at the age of 47.
Grace has fond memories of her great-uncle Charley and their family vacations at their compound in Eagle River, Wisconsin.  She bristles when she hears criticism of him and the widely-accepted theory that his low player wages was the primary cause of the Black Sox scandal.
"My uncle Charley was a generous man.  He paid mortgages for an entire city block of fans around the ballpark.  He paid for the neighbor kids to go to school and sent many of my family members to college at Notre Dame."
She produces original letters and papers documenting her uncle's philanthropy.
"He talked about the Black Sox investigation.  It was really hard on him.  He loved the game of baseball and felt betrayed by his players."
Grace is quick to point out that her uncle Charley wanted to be the first baseball owner to break the color barrier in the early 1920s.  He rented his former ballpark at 39th and Princeton to the Chicago American League Giants of the Negro National League for their home games.  The Comiskey Family was very proud that Comiskey Park hosted the annual East-West Negro League All-Star game from 1933 - 1959.
She also says no one gives her uncle credit for the fact that the first night game in MLB history was actually played at Comiskey Park in 1920 when he brought in temporary lights.[2]
When Charles A. Comiskey died in 1931 he left the White Sox to his son J. Louis Comiskey[3].  Louis, as Grace Patricia points out, weighed a colossal 400 pounds.
"Lou had a thing for donuts.  Once he was at a store ordering a dozen donuts and told the store clerk to pack just nine because he had already eaten three of them," she said.
"He (Louis) tried to diet and was even hospitalized for obesity.  He was so large he had a special 'Lou Comiskey' seat at the Eagle River, WI movie theater to hold his massive frame."
Lou's weight alarmed his wife Grace Reidy Comiskey[4].  With one eye on the future she frequently attended ballgames sitting in box number 45 near home plate.
Just eight years after the death of his father, Louis passed away in 1939 and left the White Sox to his wife and children.  Grace Reidy Comiskey became baseball's second female executive and ran the White Sox from July 1939 to her death in December 1956.[5]
In the beginning, Grace Reidy Comiskey had Harry Grabiner to assist her with baseball operations.  Grabiner had been with the White Sox since 1905 when he started selling scorecards at the old 39th street grounds, and became general manager in 1915 through 1945.

Just before the end of Grabiner's tenure with the White Sox, Grace Patricia Ryan became his secretary in 1943.  Patricia's office was just off the famous Bards Room at Comiskey Park.  While employed with the White Sox she met many famous baseball figures, including Judge Landis, Babe Ruth, Les O'Connor (Landis' secretary and eventual Sox employee) and Ted Williams.
"I loved Harry Grabiner.  He was a class act and very well-connected with both baseball and Hollywood[6]," she remembers warmly.
During WWII Grace Patricia would get a ride to Comiskey Park from her cousin-by-marriage and former White Sox pitcher John Rigney.[7]
Grace was unaware that Grabiner kept a diary of the events surrounding the 1919 Black Sox scandal, later found in the bowels of Comiskey Park by future owner Bill Veeck and excerpted in his 1966 book, "The Hustler's Handbook."
"Harry talked about the Black Sox and the investigation a lot.  He offered to share the players' contracts to show their wages were similar to other players of that era.  But my (great) uncle Charley refused.  He felt it was unnecessary to prove his character to anyone."

When Grace Comiskey passed away in 1956, she left controlling share of the White Sox (54%) to her daughter Dorothy Comiskey Rigney while Charles A. Comiskey II held the remaining shares (46%).  The shares were held in trust for Charles A. Comiskey II until a later age.  This sparked a feud within the White Sox family.  Charles A. Comiskey II felt he should have been left majority owner of the White Sox so he sued Dorothy Comiskey Rigney.  After more than 3 years of litigation and dispute over the White Sox, Dorothy Comiskey Rigney sold her shares to Bill Veeck in 1959 for $2.4 million.[8]

Over the years Grace Patricia Ryan remained close to Charles A. Comiskey II.  Grace showed me a photo she had of C.A.C. II at age 15.  He was a strapping 5' 10", 165 lbs. boy with a definite talent for baseball.  His ambition was to be a great first baseman like his grandfather.  He always felt he should've been the heir to the White Sox crown.  He dreamed of being the first player-owner in baseball history.  Sadly, his dream never materialized.
Grace Patricia also talked about the strained finances of the Comiskey Family.
"The family really depended on the rental income of the Chicago Cardinals NFL team who played their home games at Comiskey Park.[9]  It was a big blow to the family when the Bidwells moved the team in 1959," she said.
Grace Patricia remains a devout White Sox fan.  She was invited to attend the final game at Old Comiskey Park in September 1990 and the unveiling of Charles A. Comiskey's statue at U.S. Cellular Field in April 2004.
She proudly displays her 2005 World Series Championship ring, given to her because of her unique family connection to the team and her former service to the White Sox.
David J. Fletcher, MD is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and the President and Founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum.

[1] National League team that started in 1876 and later morphed into the Chicago Cubs.
[2] This fact has not been independently verified by the author.
[3] Grace Comiskey shared the little known fact that the 'Old Roman' had a son named Charles A. Comiskey II who died in infancy.  Lou, CAC's only heir then named his son Charles A. Comiskey II.
[4] Lou and Grace Reidy were married in 1913 before the start of the World Tour in 1913 - 1914.
[5] The first female baseball executive was Mrs. Schuyler P. Britton, who succeeded her husband as president of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1916.
[6] Harry Grabiner's daughter June Travis was a well known movie star in the 1940s.  June Travis is still living.
[7] John Rigney is the father of Illinois State Representative Patricia (Rigney) Bellock who serves as an advisory board member for the Chicago Baseball Museum.  John pitched for the White Sox from 1937 - 1942 and again from 1946 - 1947.  He married Dorothy Comiskey (Lou and Grace Reidy Comiskey's first child)
[8] Charles A. Comiskey II had 46% interest and did not sell his shares until 1962.
[9] The NFL Chicago Cardinals rented Comiskey Park from 1923 - 1959 with the exclusion of the 1926 - 1928 seasons.  They won the 1947 Championship at Comiskey Park on December 28, 1947 with a 28 - 21 come from behind victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Grace Patricia Ryan Samfillippo.
Grace Patricia Ryan Samfillippo.
Published by Dr. David J. Fletcher
Copyright 2007 Chicago Baseball Museum. All rights reserved.
The Chicago Baseball Museum is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
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