“Tonight’s game will be delayed by…popcorn”
It was a fun game all the way around. Jim Kaat would gain the win in a rare 2 inning relief appearance. Joe Henderson, a rookie making his major league debut had gotten the starting pitching assignment for the White Sox. Regardless of the fact the the Sox offense had staked the rookie to a three run lead with a four run third inning, he wouldn’t make it out of the fifth inning, relinquishing four runs to the Boston Red Sox at Comiskey Park on the night of June 7, 1974.
Dick Allen would launch a three run home run in the third inning after Carlos May had driven in a run with a single. The shot would be estimated at more than 425 feet, not surprising it traveled so far, it was just a typical Allen shot.
Just as Joe Henderson wouldn’t survive the fifth inning, neither would Bo-Sox pitcher, Bill “Spaceman” Lee, his catcher Carlton Fisk and their skipper Darrell Johnson when they apparently argued too hard with home plate umpire Jim Odom over a close play at the plate when Brian Downing scored on a wild pitch, coming in from third base. All three were given the heave-ho.
But, it was the eighth inning that really ‘heated’ up the night. The White Sox were holding an 8-6 lead as the game entered the top of the frame with southpaw Terry Forster on the bump for the Pale Hose, taking on Rico Petrocelli at the dish when the first indications something was wrong somewhere out around the right field stands. By the time the next hitter, Bob Montgomery was batting, fans began jumping over the right field wall, running for their lives and umpires had to hold up play on the field.
Since Lee, Fisk and Johnson had all been ejected earlier, they were spending their new found free time in the visitors clubhouse when it would start filling up with smoke and just as the fans did, the three Carmine’s would evacuate to the field of play. The visitors clubhouse was just adjacent to where a fire had broken out beneath the right field stands which was rapidly spreading. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a game delayed by fire, the crowd was super, they just walked around” Red Sox slugger Carl Yasztremski would observe.
Twenty two pieces of Chicago Fire Department apparatus would converge on Comiskey Park along with seventy five firefighters to battle the blaze. According to the Chicago Tribune, fourteen people were transported to Mercy Hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. The fire department would have the blaze under control in a little less than an hour, estimating damage at around $100,000. The game would resume about twenty minutes later. Before the game got back under way, some of the fans had gotten a bit frisky, running bases during the delay while another fan was literally trying to steal home plate before police intervened,hauling the base thief off the field to jail.
After the game, White Sox chairman, John Allyn would comment that for the most part, the fans had been fairly well behaved, calling them “jovial”. Even Organist Nancy Faust got in to the spirit of the goings-on, playing a rendition of ‘Fire and Rain’ (the previous nights game had been delayed by showers) and then ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, bringing fans to their feet and break in to a dancing frenzy, and one fan pushed the envelope, streaking about the ballpark (a very 70’s fad). And it was all thanks to a popcorn machine that had overheated, igniting the oil and quickly spreading beneath the stands.
The White Sox would be victorious and guess what the fans would be treated to after the game? A FIREworks show.
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