Last Comiskey, a new documentary by White Sox fan Matt Flesch of Arlington Heights, is a nostalgic look at the team’s 1990 season, the last in its original stadium at 35th and Shields. The Sox finished 94-68 that year, nine games behind the pennant-winning Oakland A’s, as they began building the roster that would win the American League West three years later: future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas was called up to the big leagues in August. Flesch scored interviews with star players, including Ozzie Guillen and Jack McDowell, but he also features vendors, clubhouse attendants, sportswriters, lifelong fans, and organist Nancy Faust, to build a portrait of a ballpark that felt like a “carnival” at every game. The first episode was posted on the Last Comiskey YouTube channel March 2, followed by episodes on March 9 and 14. Flesch talked to Chicago about his memories of old Comiskey, and the process of making the documentary.
What are your memories of the original Comiskey Park?
I was 15 years old in 1990, so my memories are that of a kid at the absolute height of their baseball fandom, at that age where I think I’m going to be a major league player. My last game going there with my brother Mike, who worked with me on the project. We sat in the upper deck, right above first base. As a kid, this place was really special: the way you are so close and on top of the action, especially in that upper deck area, or really anywhere, there’s this intimacy, you just feel like the players are right there. A lot of the players that I talked to talked about how the fans felt like they were part of the team, the proximity between the fans and the players was so strong. I love all of it: the players, of course, the team, but also Nancy Faust on the organ, the vendors and the security, and Andy Frain — the whole experience was kind of like a carnival.
So you grew up as a White Sox fan. What was the first time you remember going there?
First time I remember going was probably like 1981. I was 5 or 6 years old. We always parked at O’Malley’s hot dog stand on 35th. And I just remember walking to the park and the festive atmosphere and going under the bridge and seeing the park and it looked like a warehouse, not really like a ballpark. The way it smelled, the beer, the hotdogs and all that. We’d always get there early. We’d get autographs. Autographs were easy to get when you were a kid back then, just go up to the front row. Players were pretty amenable.
At the time it closed, Comiskey was the oldest park in baseball — built in 1910. Wrigley and Comiskey are about the same age. Why do we still have Wrigley but not the original Comiskey Park?
That’s a good question. They were designed by the same guy, Zachary Taylor Davis. I’m jealous of Cubs fans because they can still go there. And I still go there. I love the history it represents. I think it was always a destination. “Hey, you’re in Chicago, have you checked out Wrigley?” They were broadcast nationwide by WGN. People all love the Cubs and the atmosphere and the rooftops. I think Wrigley, there was a recognition that that park was iconic.
I think if they would have kept Comiskey it would be similar. Comiskey was not a friendly confines. It was a very different experience than Wrigley Field. The people who went there — there’s two camps: There’s people who absolutely love old Comiskey, miss it a ton. But then there’s a lot of people I talked to, they talked about the poles, and they talk about being in the upper deck underneath the roof and just a lot of bad seats, that the place was falling apart. They really needed to upgrade. Could they have renovated old Comiskey? I think they could have done that. But it would have been incredibly expensive.
Attendance in 1990 was over 2 million, double what it was in 1989. How much do you think that had to do with the team being so exciting, and how much was it fans wanting to get a last look at the park?
It’s a combination of both. If it was a bad team that won 70 games, I think we would have seen sellouts at the end of September, but I don’t think we would have seen sell outs all throughout the summer. I think the reason why their attendance was so great had more to do with the team being really exciting. It started out with great pitching, defense, and stolen bases. But then they brought up Frank Thomas, so now you have this spectacle like you had never had on the Sox since Dick Allen — somebody who, when they come up, everybody just stops what they’re doing and watches them. That was a game-changer.
That was the emergence of the team that won the AL West three years later.
Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, and then Alex Fernandez, they were all back-to-back-to-back-to-back No. 1 through 6.
What do you remember from the last season?
You love an underdog story, and what made that season so fun is that they were not supposed to be good. They were supposed to maybe be .500. And then in the division, you have the Oakland A’s who were the Yankees of that time. They were so good. It was unfair. [Jose] Canseco and Mark McGwire. So it was an awesome kind of David and Goliath thing going at this old park in its last season with all these young players. And Carlton Fisk and Ozzie Guillen, these veterans. Every game was must-see TV. The most memorable game I went to that last year was in late July, against Milwaukee. It was a sellout; it was a big game. And the way they played — stolen bases, triples were hit, great defense, the crowd was insane. If you look at videos back then it seems like everybody in the crowd has their shirt off. People just were going crazy. And Ozzie Guillen was the leader on that team, and he was leading the league in hitting. He came up in the bottom of the ninth and he hit a ground ball up the middle, walk-off base hit, and the whole crowd was chanting “Ozzie” for 25, 30 minutes as they were walking out of the park.
You said this was a project that started during COVID. Tell me a little bit about the genesis of it and the process of tracking down these guys for interviews.
I work in communications for a healthcare company. We went remote and I just had some extra time on my hands. I love this team. And I always wished there was a documentary about this last season. I started playing around with it. My brother and I did some videos and I narrated about the ’90 season. We put them on YouTube and started to get a nice response. Ozzie Guillen reached out to us, Nancy Faust. And so, why don’t we try to do something where we actually interview the players — a real documentary. It started in earnest with Nancy Faust telling me she had this video of the last game at the old park. And she said, “Matt, you’d probably like this.” Nancy was unbelievable. I was able to go over to her house. And she played some of her songs on the organ and then I interviewed her. She’s a Chicago icon. Another one of the people who I enjoyed getting to know the most was Wayne Edwards, middle relief pitcher on that team. I was out in L.A. and I actually went to his house and did a video with him. Then I interviewed an Andy Frain guy and a security guard.
I really liked Scott Radinsky, seeing all his punk rock posters and his guitar. I didn’t realize he had this other career as a punk rock singer.
They call it nardcore out there in California. He was always different. He actually married Ozzie Guillen’s sister.
So what are your feelings about new Comiskey Park or whatever they call it now?
Guaranteed Rate? It’s a comfortable place to watch a game, very kid-friendly. I take my daughter and my nieces and nephews and go to the Kids Zone. I think it’s an underrated ballpark. I like what they’ve done with the renovation and painting the seats green and taking out some of the upper deck. Initially, the new Comiskey Park had a lot of issues. It wasn’t nearly as homey as it is now.
That upper deck was so steep. I remember sitting there and watching the moon rise over the Robert Taylor Homes. So what do you hope to add to the lore of the Chicago White Sox with this?
I think it’s important that we appreciate history, and I think, ultimately, the park was such a huge part of the history of the White Sox, all the great players who went through there, and I just wanted to capture this: What it was like to go to a game. How did it feel to be in the park? What did it sound like with Nancy and the organ? I just wanted to capture that vibe. That’s why I go into things like [clubhouse attendant] Chicken Willie. What was it like in the clubhouse? In Part Two, there’s a whole part on vendors.
Do you still call it Comiskey?