My sister-in-law is on a journey to visit all 30 major league baseball parks. So far, she’s been to 25. She ranks Guaranteed Rate Field 24th, ahead only of the Oakland Coliseum, which is such an outdated dump the Athletics are trying to escape to Las Vegas so they can lose 100 games a year in more modern surroundings.

Guaranteed Rate Field isn’t falling apart — it’s only 33 years old — but it may be the least lovable stadium in baseball. It’s certainly the unluckiest. New Comiskey Park, as it was known at the time (and should still be known), was the last stadium built before Baltimore’s Camden Yards began the retro movement, which attempted to duplicate the intimacy of old time ballparks. The Sox were pitched a retro option by a local architect, to be called Armour Field, but turned it down in favor of something similar to Kansas City’s Kaufmann Stadium. They got a new home that looked like it was assembled from a kit. Within a few years, even Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf admitted he’d made a mistake.

“I thought people wanted unobstructed views and wide aisles,” Reinsdorf said in 1999. “I guessed wrong. People wanted a more homey feeling. But I really believe that if we had built Camden Yards instead, I would have been massacred. People wanted a modern park.”

Guaranteed Rate Field “was definitely the emptiest park we’ve been to, by far,” my sister-in-law said. “It’s crazy how empty it was. So the one advantage to that was that they really did not care where you sat. Even though we had really cheap seats that were midway up, we were able to sit 10 rows out in the field. 

 “We felt like there was nothing unique about it. It was big and impersonal. Some stadiums you know where you are, like the San Francisco stadium where it literally looks out over the water. That Chicago stadium, we literally could have been anywhere.”

I attended one White Sox game last year, on a chilly May 2. The official attendance was 13,094, but David Allen, a devoted Sox fan I sat with, figured there couldn’t have been more than 3,000 people in the stands. 

“This park was built at the exact wrong time,” Allen told me. “Everyone thought stadiums were going to be the big thing. Then the Orioles went retro with Camden Yards. This is a relic of the early ’90s. You’re coming here because you’re here to watch the White Sox. It’s not a destination.”

Wrigley Field transcends its purpose: It’s a tourist attraction even for tourists who aren’t attracted to baseball. Now that the White Sox are considering a move to The 78, a plot of undeveloped land in the South Loop, they have a chance at a do-over, a chance to build a stadium that will draw someone other than die-hard Sox fans, in a neighborhood closer to the city’s growth.  

There was a time when the Sox were a bigger deal than the Cubs. In the 1950s, they won more games (even a pennant) and drew more fans. The balance of popularity between the two teams began to shift in the late ’60s, for reasons related both to baseball and to the diverging fortunes of the North and South sides. “The Chicago White Sox, 1968-70: Three Years in Hell,” an article by Sam Pathy for the Society for American Baseball Research, pinpoints when and how things went south for the South Siders.

On April 10, 1968, the White Sox lost their home opener, 9–0. What was worse was that only 7,756 bothered to show up. The game came less than a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and subsequent riots accelerated the growing fear that Comiskey Park, and its Bridgeport neighborhood, were dangerous to visit (even though the closest riots to the park happened more than five miles away). In the last decade, white flight had affected the Canaryville and Back of the Yards neighborhoods near the park, as the Union Stockyards all but closed down, eliminating decent jobs.

Die-hard Sox fan Matt Flesch, who directed the documentary Last Comiskey, about the team’s final year in the stadium it had called home since 1910, knows what he wants to see in a new stadium: not surprisingly, it’s similar to the original Comiskey Park. In old Comiskey, the upper deck sat directly on top of the lower deck, allowing fans in the cheap seats a close look at the game. In old Comiskey, the last row of the upper deck was 62 feet above field level. At Guaranteed Rate, it’s more than twice as far away — 130 feet, at the top of a steep flight of stairs. Nowadays, teams want to cram skyboxes between the decks.

“Old Comiskey Park, if you were in the upper deck, you are right on top of the action,” Flesch said. “When I was a kid, going to the games with my dad and three brothers, there’s six of us go into the game, where we weren’t gonna be able to afford great seats, but we’d always be in the upper deck. And even though you have the cheaper seat, you’re right on the action. You can hear the crack of the bat and the players talking. You felt like a part of the team in a way. And then you move over to New Comiskey Park and the upper deck, you know, is like, twice as far away, super high up, and you just kind of felt removed from everything. With a new park, there’s no other parks like that outfield upper deck, like you had at Comiskey Park.”

Flesch would also like a view of the Chicago skyline from behind home plate, so fans know what city they’re in. (In the ’90s, new Comiskey had a view of the Robert Taylor Homes, but those have been demolished.) With those features, maybe, just maybe, the Sox can play in a stadium that would occupy a place on the Chicago bucket list alongside Wrigley Field. They don’t want to make it too appealing, though. For years, the knock on the Cubs was that they never spent the money to win, because Wrigley Field was such a gem that fans showed up no matter how the team played. But they can build a ballpark that strikes a balance between that and a crowd of 3,000 on a dreary spring evening — a ballpark that will allow the Sox to once again compete with the Cubs for the title of Chicago’s favorite baseball team.