Column: Chicago White Sox defend decision to continue play after shooting at Guaranteed Rate Field. Was it the right call?


The unthinkable happened Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field when two women were hit by gunfire in the left-field bleachers during the fourth inning of the Chicago White Sox’s loss to the Oakland A’s.

One day after the shooting, a Chicago Police Department investigation still had no answers as to how the incident occurred or where the shots came from.

A shooting inside a major-league ballpark obviously would seem serious enough to stop the game and clear the ballpark. But play continued as if nothing had happened, and Sox security simply moved fans to a different area while searching the stands for casings.

The Sox on Saturday defended the decision to keep playing, saying there was no “active threat” to anyone in the park.

“Initially it was presented as just a fan who needed first aid,” vice president of communications Scott Reifert said before Saturday’s game. “It was a wound. No one understood it was a bullet or gunshot. So there was this time delay as that person got treatment. Then as they investigated a little bit more, we started to understand what may have happened.”

According to the police report, Chief of Patrol Brian McDermott asked the Sox to stop the game for “public safety” reasons at 8:12 p.m., shortly after the incident.

Why did the Sox not respond?

“Once the police got here and talked to us, they understood it was not an active threat,” Reifert said.

By that time the Sox were aware the injuries were the result of gunfire but did not believe anyone was in imminent danger. Fans were not informed, and even the team was not informed of the incident until after the game.

“It didn’t feel like it was an active threat that would have affected the team per se,” Reifert said.

Manager Pedro Grifol said he “absolutely” agreed with the decision not to tell the team during the game, even as many, including him, had family members in attendance.

“If they felt we were in danger, then probably they would have let us know prior to (the end),” Grifol said. “We never felt threatened whatsoever.”

MLB was alerted to the incident, and White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who was at the game in his suite, was kept informed.

“He was aware and very concerned,” Reifert said. “He reacted first and foremost with kind of concern for the fans. The fans that were injured and then (asked) ‘What do we know?’ and ‘How do we know it?’ ”

Reifert said there were no gunshots heard at the park. In his description of the incident, he said the woman came to first aid with a wound. He didn’t know if she immediately realized it was a gunshot wound.

“There’s a degree of time before there’s a determination of what’s even happened, right?” he said. “And then there’s an investigation in the space that’s going on at the same time. Basically those things all come together to say, ‘Wow, we have someone who somehow was shot.’ But there’s no gun report, there’s no gunshot.”

The police report said the woman was shot in the thigh and the bullet was “lodged in (her) lower leg.” But the reaction of fans in the section showed no panic, according to a video the team released.

“You saw the video, you see how people a row away don’t really react,” Reifert said. “So given the time lag and given what had happened, our security and CPD together were fairly comfortable that the game could keep going on while we did this investigation and try to figure out what’s going on.”

Did the fact two people were shot suggest there could have been an imminent threat?

“Obviously that’s a CPD question,” Reifert said. “They are going to control the ballpark ultimately. If they feel like there is a public safety issue, they’ll take action.”

Reifert said they felt fortunate the two victims were not more seriously injured. One woman refused treatment for a graze wound and another found a bullet in her hoodie.

“Absolutely,” Reifert said. “This kind of randomness of it, right? It’s this kind of crazy randomness. It would be nice to have some kind of closure to understand how this happened, because every scenario somebody comes up with seems crazy. But something happened, so we’ve got to figure that out.”

Do the Sox believe the shots came from outside the park and happened to land in the bleachers, as some have speculated?

“I don’t want to say what it could’ve been, but that’s what the investigation hopefully shows,” Reifert said. “And I guess there’s a chance they don’t ever find out. I don’t know.”

When the ballpark was under construction and called New Comiskey Park in January 1991, police confirmed reports of bullet holes in the center-field scoreboard, which led to a check, and three more seats were damaged from gunshots in the upper deck.

According to a Tribune report, a bullet, which the police believed was possibly from a rifle, was recovered. A CPD spokesman speculated the shots came from “nearby high-rises or from somewhere in or near the ballpark.”

The Sox believed it was a random act that would not be repeated.

“Comiskey Park has peacefully existed in the neighborhood for 80 years,” then-vice president Rob Gallas told the Tribune. “Prior to now, nothing like this has ever happened, and we`re confident that once construction is complete, this entire matter will be put to rest.”

No further reports of shootings inside the ballpark occurred until Friday, which came a few days after the Sox confirmed they could be looking for a new home before Guaranteed Rate Field’s lease ends in six years.

In Section 161 where the shootings occurred, fans settled in for Dylan Cease bobblehead night.

Mike Schneegas, a 42-year-old bleacher regular from Itasca, laughed when asked if he had any concerns about another shooting incident.

“I’m more worried about what they do with the front office,” he said, referring to the search to replace fired executives Ken Williams and Rick Hahn.

Many didn’t realize there was a shooting in the section Friday, and one fan in Section 161 declared “this is the safest night to be here.”

In a week that tried the patience of Sox fans, gallows humor was all they had left.



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