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Rooting for the Home Team

Rooting for the Home Team


In the classic baseball film Eight Men Out, Chicago White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was portrayed as a miser. The film alleged that it was his penny-pinching ways that led a group of players to conspire to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for an illicit payday from gamblers.

In recent years, however, a number of historians have challenged that depiction, arguing that “The Old Roman” has received a bad rap in Hollywood and in popular culture.

One thing that is beyond a doubt to those of us looking back on 130 years of history at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls is that Comiskey helped put this mission on a secure footing at a crucial moment.

Fr. Mahoney’s Dream for a Permanent Home

As the new century dawned, the struggling mission continued to operate out of three cramped and aging residences on Chicago’s near West Side. In 1901, Mercy Home President Rev. Dennis Mahoney drafted a proposal for a spacious and well-equipped permanent structure on the same site that would provide a more supportive oasis for homeless and neglected boys.

Finding benefactors who would help Mahoney continue to cover the costs of caring for boys while also undertaking an ambitious construction project would place an even greater strain on an already overburdened priest. But an article in a 1902 edition of the mission’s Waifs Messenger magazine lauded Mahoney’s indomitable pursuit of the project, noting that, “not until such a building is completed can Father Mahoney feel that his life’s work has really begun, because only then will he be able to see those beneficial results which now he can only earnestly desire.”

Declining health and the stress of seeing the mission through its most difficult years forced Mahoney to step down as the Mission’s president in 1906. Two years later, Charles Comiskey, the innovative owner of the young American League baseball team from the city’s South Side stepped up to the plate to help make Mahoney’s dream a reality.

Comiskey Helps Make Dream a Reality

Comiskey organized a charitable baseball game between aldermen from St. Louis and Chicago to raise funds toward the project. The son of a former Chicago alderman, Comiskey had played and managed in St. Louis before taking the helm on the South Side. On August 15, 1908, some 6,000 cheering fans came to the 39th Street Grounds, which was the home of the White Sox since the team’s founding only eight years prior, for “Comiskey’s Day for Newsboys and Waifs.”

White Sox players Nick Altrock and Jiggs Donahue, (no relation to the Home’s current president Fr. Scott Donahue), served as umpires. The Chicago team was led on the pitcher’s mound by Mayor Fred Busse. Regrettably, the visiting pols from St. Louis crushed the home team 18-0, but the game raised more than $10,000 toward the Mercy Home project—a sixth of the total cost of the building.

In addition to creating the successful fundraiser, Comiskey himself made the largest personal donation. An article in the Waif’s Messenger about the event concluded that “when the annals of the new home are written, inscribed high upon its lists of benefactors will be found the name of Chas. A. Comiskey” going on to describe him as “genial” and “big-hearted.” In contrast to the Scrooge-like character depicted in Eight Men Out, the article went on to say that Comiskey “was the first citizen of our city to offer a helping hand in the erection of the Home for the neglected boys.”

In addition to helping raise funds, the Comiskey’s Day for Newsboys and Waifs attracted needed supporters to the cause as well. Thanks in part to Charles Comiskey Mercy Home was able to construct a modern, safe, and spacious new edifice, which was dedicated by Archbishop Quigley on August 22, 1909. In addition, he helped lay the cornerstone for an entire century of growth that has saved the lives of tens of thousands of young people.

Throughout Mercy Home’s history since then, the Chicago White Sox have been very generous supporters of our young men and women in countless ways, even making a surprise visit to the Home last week to deliver treats to our youth and coworkers.

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