Archive for the ‘ Alumni ’ Category

From the Pages of Vine Line: Our July Q&A with Ernie Banks and Derek Jeter

JETER_ERNIE_BANKS_JP-9994
(Photo courtesy New York Yankees)

Mr. Cub and Mr. November. When it comes to playing shortstop in the major leagues, it’s hard to do better than Cubs legend Ernie Banks and all-time Yankees great Derek Jeter.

Between them, they have 28 All-Star appearances, two MVP Awards (with 10 top-10 finishes) and six Gold Gloves. They have also amassed nearly 6,000 hits and 800 home runs. Banks was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. Assuming Jeter holds firm on his decision to retire after this season, he just needs the calendar to turn to 2019 for his certain enshrinement.

Both enjoyed long and distinguished careers with one organization; both spawned memorable moments and were the faces of their respective franchises; and both became great ambassadors for the game.

When Derek Jeter made a rare interleague appearance in Chicago this past May, Vine Line and Yankees Magazine couldn’t let the opportunity to get the two iconic players together slip away.

Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III spoke to the man affectionately known as Mr. Cub and the Yankees captain about playing a demanding defensive position, spending their entire careers with a single team, playing at the Friendly Confines and more.

For baseball fans, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Vine Line: First of all, it’s an honor to be here with two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen. Thank you both. Mr. Jeter, how did Mr. Banks, who is over 6 feet tall, impact the future of the position?

Derek Jeter: I’ve had the opportunity to meet Phil Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese, who were two of the other great shortstops from Mr. Banks’ era. Those guys epitomized who played that position back then—shorter guys without a lot of power. Mr. Banks redefined the position, and he really paved the way for taller players like me to get the opportunity to play shortstop.

Ernie Banks: Who were the shortstops you watched when you were growing up?

DJ: I was a big Cal Ripken Jr. fan. He’s 6 foot 4, and he played the position as well as anyone I had seen. I also liked watching Barry Larkin, who played his college ball in my home state of Michigan. Alan Trammell played for the Detroit Tigers, and they were on TV a lot in my house when I was growing up, so I got to see him play frequently.

EB: Why didn’t they ever move you to third base?

DJ: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.

VL: Mr. Banks, what are your thoughts on Mr. Jeter’s ability to play such a demanding position so well for nearly two decades?

EB: Well, he’s a remarkable player, and that’s proven by the fact that he is still playing shortstop. We all slow down a little as we get older. I moved to first base after about 10 seasons at shortstop. But Derek has done what no one else has, and that’s remarkable.

VL: How much does it mean to each of you to have played for one team your entire careers—and to be synonymous with those teams?

DJ: Playing my entire career in New York has always been important to me. I’ve been fortunate because in this day and age, it’s more difficult to stay with one team than when Mr. Banks was playing. With free agency, there is so much player movement, and teams get rid of players when there are younger players available who can play the same position a little better. But I can’t imagine playing anywhere else.

EB: It means the world to me. We played all day games in Chicago back then because they didn’t have lights at Wrigley Field until 1988. That was something I got used to and really enjoyed. The only night games we played were when we were on the road. Like Derek said, I couldn’t have imagined what it would have been like to play for another team. If I had played for another team and I had to play most of the games at night, it would have felt like every game was an away game for me.

VL: How would each of you describe your respective fan bases?

EB: The fans here are loyal. When I was playing, I got to meet a lot of fans, and that was a lot of fun. I signed autographs for as many kids as I could because I thought that one day I might be asking one of those kids for a job. Cubs fans aren’t as loud as Yankees fans though. The first time I met Derek, I asked him what it’s like playing in New York. He looked at me and said, “When you win, it’s loud.”

DJ: That’s a great story. Yankees fans follow the team closely, and there’s a lot of energy in Yankee Stadium every time we take the field. The expectation level is high, but there’s no better place to win than in New York.

VL: The enthusiasm that both of you have for the game is well documented. What makes playing baseball for a living so enjoyable?

DJ: Every day is a new day. It’s kind of like life in that you wake up and you never know what’s going to happen when you get to the ballpark. Regardless of how you played the day before, you come to the ballpark with a clean slate the next day. I like that about baseball. I have enjoyed competing and being around my teammates as well. That’s why I have played the game for as long as I have.

EB: It was fun being out there every day. That’s why I said, “It’s a great day for baseball. Let’s play two.” I especially enjoyed playing the shortstop position. For me, making adjustments to where I was going to play in the field depending on who was on the mound and who was at the plate was part of the game I relished. I got as much fun out of the strategy of the game and making sure I was in the right place to turn double plays as I got out of hitting the ball out of the park.

VL: Mr. Banks, what were the most challenging aspects of going directly from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues to the Cubs at a time when there were very few African-Americans in the majors?

EB: As far as being discriminated against, that’s all I knew since the time I was growing up. But the hardest thing about leaving the Monarchs for the Cubs was saying goodbye to my teammates in Kansas City. I liked being around those guys, and I didn’t want to leave them. They were like my family.

VL: How did you adjust to life in the big leagues?

EB: I played for [legendary Negro Leagues player and manager] Buck O’Neil in Kansas City, and I played alongside Gene Baker and Tony Taylor, who knew a lot about the game. I learned how to play the game from those guys. They taught me about the intricacies of the game and the shortstop position. That along with some God-given ability made it so I was prepared to play in the big leagues when I arrived in Chicago.

VL: Mr. Jeter, how was your career impacted by what Mr. Banks and others did in breaking the color barrier in the early 1950s?

DJ: It’s unimaginable for me. Mr. Banks is one of the players who paved the way for all African-Americans to play the game. I’m grateful to him for what he did on the field, and I also appreciate the way he has treated me since I was a young player.

VL: Mr. Banks, what stands out about Mr. Jeter’s accomplishments and the way he has represented himself and his team over the years?

EB: I really admire him. He’s accomplished so many great things. He’s knowledgeable about every aspect of playing the game. He studies the opposing pitchers, and he learned how to hit the ball to all fields at a young age. He’s an amazing young player. When he got his 3,000th hit on a home run, that was really special for me to watch. What was that like for you, Derek?

DJ: Well, I appreciate you referring to me as a young player. Hitting that home run felt great. More than anything, I was happy that it happened in front of our fans in New York.

EB: How did you do that?

DJ: I closed my eyes and swung the bat.

VL: Mr. Banks, what makes Wrigley Field such a special baseball destination?

EB: It’s special because it has been here for 100 years, and we’ve had some great teams. It’s a beautiful place, and so much history has taken place on this field. Babe Ruth stood a few feet from where we are sitting, pointed to the seats and then hit the ball out of the park. More than 80 years later, Derek Jeter will come up to the plate in the same place. That’s an amazing thing. Also, the fans are very close to the field, and that makes it an intimate setting for baseball. There’s no better place to watch a game.

VL: Mr. Jeter, how exciting is it to visit Wrigley Field in your final season—and during the stadium’s centennial?

DJ: I like being a part of history and tradition, and I’m thrilled to get one last chance to play here—especially since I was on the disabled list when we played here in 2011. I drove here with my class on my last day of high school, and that is a great memory. If I could have written a script for my career back then, I would have included a trip to Wrigley Field during my final season.

EB: You’re not really going to quit, are you?

DJ: After this season.

EB: You can’t do that.

DJ: Yes, I can.

EB: I wish guys like you never had to quit.

DJ: Well, let’s just say I’m moving on.

—Alfred Santasiere III

1960s Homestand Promotions and Guests: 7/11/14-7/13/14

Sayers

(Photo by Stephen Green)

A short, three-game homestand at Wrigley Field kicks off this Friday, July 11, as the Cubs welcome the Braves to town for a 1960s-themed celebration. Cubs fans can relive one of the venerable stadium’s greatest decades along with Hall of Fame Bears running back Gale Sayers, Rookie of the Year star Thomas Ian Nicholas and Cubs players from the 1960s.

Here are the other guests and promotions you’ll find at the Friendly Confines this weekend.

1960s Homestand Recap, July 11-13

Friday, July 11, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves, 3:05 p.m.

  • Promotion: Gale Sayers Bobblehead presented by Comcast SportsNet (first 10,000 fans)
  • First pitch: Carl Giammarese, Chicago native and original lead singer of 1960s band The Buckinghams
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers
  • Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Saturday, July 12, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves, 3:05 p.m. 

  • Promotion: Billy Williams Retired Number Flag presented by Wrigley (first 10,000 fans)
  • First pitch and seventh-inning stretch: Thomas Ian Nicholas, actor from Rookie of the Year
  • National Anthem: Derrick Mitchell, Out at Wrigley contest winner
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Sunday, July 13, Chicago Cubs vs. Atlanta Braves, 1:20 p.m.

  • Throwback uniforms: Retro 1969 home and visiting uniforms
  • Promotion: ‘60s Throwback Cubs Etch-A-Sketch (first 5,000 children)
  • First pitch and seventh-inning stretch: Former teammates from the late-1960s, including Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley, Rich Nye, Paul Popovich and Ken Rudolph
  • Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

For more information on Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday celebration, please visit www.wrigleyfield100.com.

10 Decades, 10 Legends: 1930s—Billy Herman

BillyHerman

For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the highest Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.

Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.

In the third installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, the 1930s provided a second baseman who saw his fair share of All-Star Games and provided a boost at the plate.

Previous Decades:
1910s – Hippo Vaughn
1920s – Grover Cleveland Alexander

1930s – Billy Herman, 37.6

Seasons: 1931-39
AVG/OBP/SLG: .312/.368/.422
PA: 5,505
HR: 32
R: 794
RBI: 520
SB: 52

In 1935, second baseman Billy Herman compiled a 7.3 WAR. To put that into perspective, Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 Triple Crown season was good for a 6.8 WAR. Known for his defense, Herman had 466 putouts at second base in 1933, an NL record that still stands today. But his offensive output from the middle infield was equally impressive. In eight 1930s seasons on the North Side, he hit .300 or better six times, including a .341 average in his most productive season of 1935. The second baseman went to an All-Star Game in each of the last six years of the 1930s and was named a starter from 1935-38. Herman was a part of three Cubs World Series teams in the decade and was top 10 in the NL in WAR three times. In 1975, he was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee.

10 Decades, 10 Legends: 1920s—Grover Cleveland Alexander

Alexander

For our annual July All-Star issue, Vine Line set out to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in Wrigley Field’s history to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the best Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.

Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and outputs them into a single number designed to quantify that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.

In the second installment of our 10 Decades, 10 Legends series, the 1920s saw one of the game’s greatest arms spend most of the decade on Chicago’s North Side.

Previous Decades:
1910s – Hippo Vaughn

1920s – Grover Cleveland Alexander, 28.8 WAR

Seasons: 1920-26
Win-Loss: 110-71
Games-Games Started: 209-193
IP: 1623.1
K: 478
K/9: 2.65
ERA: 3.02

Grover Cleveland Alexander’s best days were already behind him by the 1920s. From his debut in 1911 through 1919, he averaged more than 300 innings per season and went 208-100 with a 2.09 ERA. Still, the Cubs got a pretty solid arm when they acquired Alexander from the Phillies in 1918. He won 27 games, put up a 1.91 ERA, made 40 starts, threw 33 complete games, logged 363.1 innings and fanned 173 batters in 1920. All of those numbers led the league for the year. In his seven 1920s seasons with the team, Old Pete’s ERA was never higher than 3.63, and he won 15 games or more five times. In 1938, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, receiving more than 80 percent of the vote on his third attempt.

10 Decades, 10 Cubs Legends: 1910s—Hippo Vaughn

HippoVaughn

The following appears in the July issue of Vine Line.

The 100 Years of Wrigley Field celebration is in full swing on the North Side. Every time fans venture into the Friendly Confines this season, they’re not only treated to Cubs baseball, but they also come away with a bit of a history lesson.

In 2014, Wrigley-goers have gotten to see throwback uniforms, retro toys and a guest list that has included people with ties to the baseball cathedral’s storied past. All of this is part of the Cubs’ 10 Decades, 10 Homestands promotion, which celebrates a different decade at each of 10 home series.

For Vine Line‘s annual All-Star issue, we decided to piggyback on the decade-by-decade concept to create a Cubs All-Star team for the ages. Our goal was to find the most valuable player from each 10-year span in the stadium’s history. There are hundreds of ways to go about this, so we simplified things by using the baseball statistics website Fangraphs to find the player with the best Wins Above Replacement total for each decade.

Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, takes all of a player’s statistics—both offensive and defensive—and quantifies them into a single number designed to summarize that player’s total contributions to his team (though for pitchers, we used only their mound efforts and excluded offensive stats). According to Fangraphs, WAR basically asks the question, “If a player got injured and his team had to replace him with a minor leaguer or someone from their bench, how much value would they be losing?” The final number is expressed as a win total, so if Ryne Sandberg earned a 7.4 WAR in 1992, that means he was worth 7.4 wins to the Cubs.

For our purposes, a player received credit only for the numbers he posted in each individual decade and only for the years he was a member of the Cubs.

Some players who made the cut didn’t receive a ton of recognition for their efforts in Cubbie blue, while a few Hall of Famers are noticeably absent. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out the decade leaders one by one.

We start off the 10-part series with a right-hander who dominated for the North Side squad in the 1910s.

1910s – Hippo Vaughn, 32.0 WAR

Seasons: 1913-19
Win-Loss: 129-78
Games-Games Started: 248-218
IP: 1806.0
K: 977
K/9: 4.90
ERA: 2.08

It takes just a glance at Hippo Vaughn’s numbers to see how thoroughly he dominated his era. From 1914-19, he won 21, 20, 17, 23, 22 and 21 games. Of course, wins aren’t the end-all, be-all of pitching stats, but 124 victories over six seasons is still rather impressive. The 1918 season was probably his best, as he led the league in wins, ERA, innings pitched, strikeouts and WHIP. Vaughn’s most famous start was actually a game he lost in 1917, when he and Reds pitcher Fred Toney both had no-hitters going through nine innings. Over the course of the decade, the southpaw’s overall WAR total is second among all NL pitchers. Never one to surrender the long ball, Vaughn’s .09 home runs per nine innings is the decade’s lowest total for a pitcher who threw more than 700 innings.

Hot Off the Press: July VL featuring the best player from every decade at Wrigley Field

VL1407_Cover_newstand

I’m a sucker for nostalgia, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed this season at Wrigley Field so much. I have been looking forward to Wrigley’s 100th birthday for a few years now because I knew it would give Vine Line a chance to really delve into the organization’s history.

We not only produce the magazine, but we also create the scorecards sold at the Friendly Confines during every home series. To tie in with the Cubs’ 10 Decades, 10 Homestands promotion, we’ve been populating the covers with photos specific to the years being celebrated—which means we’ve spent countless hours searching the team’s photo archives for just the right shots.

When the Yankees were in town during the 1930s homestand, we found a picture from the 1932 World Series between the North Siders and the Bronx Bombers. When the Cubs were honoring the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940s series, we found a photo of the league’s tryouts, which were held at Wrigley Field in 1943.

In the interest of full disclosure, my home is littered with black-and-white photographs of everything from the Chicago Theater to my relatives during WWII to the Cubs at Spring Training on Catalina Island. I love this stuff, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a few evenings looking through the photo archives just for fun.

In other words, this is probably something I shouldn’t get paid to do (though I probably don’t need to spread that news around).

Some of the things that caught my eye when we were planning our 2014 content for the magazine last year were the memorable program and scorecard covers the team used from the 1930s through the 1960s. We liked them so much, we decided to dedicate the valuable back page of the magazine (The Score) to featuring some of the best of the best this season.

When we wanted to learn more about the scorecards, we went to that amazing wellspring of arcane Cubs information from every era, team historian Ed Hartig, who has been an invaluable resource for all the historical content we’ve published this year. It turns out, for decades, most of the scorecard designs were the brainchild of one man, Otis Shepard, former art director for the William Wrigley Jr. Co. and longtime member of the Cubs board of directors. For our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we look into the life and career of Shepard and how he came to design some of the Cubs’ most iconic images.

It’s also the July issue, which means it’s almost time for the Midsummer Classic. For our annual All-Star issue, we set out to find the most valuable Cubs player in each of Wrigley Field’s 10 decades. To do this, we used the stats website Fangraphs to compile the highest Wins Above Replacement totals for each decade. WAR essentially takes all of a player’s offensive and defensive efforts and outputs them into a single number designed to measure how many wins he provides over an average replacement player. There are definitely some names you would expect (I don’t think we could have a list like this without Mr. Cub), but there are also a few surprises (Rick Reuschel, anyone?).

Finally, Vine Line had a dream opportunity in May when the Yankees came to town. We worked with Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III to bring together two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen: Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. The legendary players sat down for a tête-à-tête that is every baseball fan’s dream come true.

Of course, we’re good for more than just history lessons. Follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline for the best of the Cubs past, present and future.

And let’s keep that whole “shouldn’t get paid” thing between us.

—Gary Cohen

Former Cubs manager Don Zimmer dies at age 83

zimmer

The baseball world mourned Wednesday at the passing of longtime Cubs player, coach and manager Don Zimmer, who died at the age of 83.

One of baseball’s great personalities, Zim spent 60 years working in the game, including a 12-year playing career as a major league infielder. Zimmer was traded to the Cubs in 1960, and earned his lone All-Star appearance with the team in 1961. Following that season, he was drafted by the New York Mets as the 5th pick in the 1961 minor league expansion draft.

After the 1965 season, Popeye moved on to the next phase of his career as a coach and manager. He was the Cubs third base coach from 1984-86 and managed the North Siders from 1988-91. In 1989, was named Manager of the Year after leading the Cubs to a division title. Zimmer would later win four World Series titles as bench coach for the New York Yankees under manager Joe Torre.

Zimmer’s death was announced by the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was working as a senior adviser.

Cubs name Darnell McDonald baseball ops assistant

Darnell

(Photo by Stephen Green)

The Cubs Tuesday named former player Darnell McDonald to the role of baseball operations assistant.

McDonald, 35, announced his retirement as a player earlier this month after 16 professional seasons, including last year with the Cubs organization. The former outfielder also went to Spring Training with the club this year.

In his new role, McDonald will contribute to all elements within the club’s player development and amateur scouting departments. He will visit the club’s affiliates to work with the minor league players on and off the field, evaluate amateur players leading up to the draft and spend time around the major league club. McDonald will also attend instructional league during the fall where he’ll serve as an extra coach among other responsibilities.

McDonald was originally selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the 1997 draft and made his major league debut with the Orioles in 2004, the first of seven seasons in which he saw big league action. He batted .302 (16-for-53) with one home run and five RBI last season with the Cubs and retired with a .250 (191-for-764) batting average with Baltimore (2004), Minnesota (2007), Cincinnati (2009), Boston (2010-12) and the Cubs (2013).

Former Cubs president Bill Veeck Sr. changed the face of baseball

Veeck-Wm-Sr.-4095.76_HS_NBL

(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Once upon a time, early in the 20th century, the Confines were not so friendly. Cubs games drew nattily dressed men to Weeghman Park’s sleepy Lakeview neighborhood by trolley or elevated train to cheer on the likes of Max Flack and Jigger Statz. Fans took to their seats, likely among the festering trash abandoned by the previous day’s crowd. They might lose a few bucks when a favorite pitcher “threw” a fixed game. Some may have had a box seat reserved only to find it occupied by a friend of one of the many unscrupulous ushers. They’d slam some beers, eat hot dogs, and not surprise a soul if they walked out with a black eye after an all-too-typical tussle.

You know, just your average day at the ballpark.

“It was kind of a rough crowd,” said Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field historian Ed Hartig, of the ballpark experience in the early 1900s. “It was not a place for families.”

This hardscrabble climate was a common feature of baseball parks at the time. The Cubs drew about 600,000 fans per season, and the crowds were primarily male and often intimidating.

“The team wasn’t complaining,” Hartig said. “That was fine.”

But it wasn’t enough, at least not for one man.

In 1918, a baseball writer was plucked off his beat and deposited into the Cubs front office, where his years of outsider observations and unbiased criticism of management were put to the test.

As the ’20s roared loud and proud at Wrigley Field, the rough-and-tumble tumult of gamedays gave way to memorable, safe and pleasant afternoons at the park. Home games were broadcast on the radio. Attendance records were set. The park grew. Women and children arrived in droves. And most of this can be traced directly to the efforts of then-Cubs President Bill Veeck Sr.

“He’s right up there at the top,” Hartig said of Veeck’s place in baseball history. “You go to a game [today], and 40 percent of the crowd is women, there are kids at games, the ballpark is clean.”

Veeck was an integral cog in the team’s front office, from his hiring in 1918 to his death in 1933 at the age of 56. During his time at the helm, he led the Cubs out of the Dark Ages and revolutionized the marketing of baseball. He had such a profound and lasting impact on the game that campaigns are underway to get him elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at the next available opportunity, in December 2015.

“He was a pioneering executive who changed baseball from a cottage industry into an entertainment colossus,” said Dr. David Fletcher, president and founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum and one of those pushing for Veeck’s Cooperstown enshrinement. “It’s sad—most Cubs fans have never heard of him.”

* * * *
William Louis Veeck Sr.—not to be confused with his legendary, franchise-owning, promotional stuntman of a son (think exploding scoreboards and Disco Demolition)—was a by-the-book but out-of-the-box leader who rewarded loyalty and regularly took the long view. A baseball fan from a young age, Veeck was born in Indiana in 1877 and had his roots in journalism, not management. His first job was selling newspapers, and as a teenager he worked as a printer’s apprentice.

Veeck never attended college and eventually landed a job in the cutthroat world of Chicago newspapers. He bounced around among publications until gaining purchase at the Chicago Evening American, first reporting on the city desk and later on sports, where his lifelong love of baseball paid off. He wrote under the pen name “Bill Bailey,” and there was a quality to his work that went beyond simply posting gameday recaps and churning out stats.

He demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the game that caught the baseball world’s attention—so much so that when the Cubs began considering a new management direction, Veeck’s name was on the short list.

“[He] was more critic than critical,” Hartig said.

In 1918, then-Cubs President Charles Weeghman was underwater financially and had to choose between his baseball career and his restaurant business. The team had just won the National League pennant during a season abridged by World War I, but both his restaurant and his namesake Weeghman Park, where the Cubs played, were suffering from dismal attendance due to the aftereffects of the war and a worldwide influenza epidemic that caused the U.S. government to urge people to stay out of crowded places. To make matters worse, he had a German-sounding last name during the acrimonious postwar period. Ultimately, he stepped down from the team, and Cubs manager Fred Mitchell took over.

Veeck—somewhat improbably by today’s standards—was hired by the Cubs as vice president and treasurer. The following summer, the National League determined Mitchell could not serve as both manager and president. As he preferred to stay on the field, Veeck was bumped up to the big job.

“To hire a sportswriter with little or no business background,” Hartig said, “today you’d be like, ‘What are they thinking?’”

* * * *
But the Cubs had good reason for optimism. Almost immediately, Veeck began to combat the scourge of player gambling.

“He basically saved baseball with his role in the Black Sox scandal,” Fletcher said. “He blew the whistle on his own team.”

With his swift punitive measures, the Cubs president set a league-wide standard for transparency. Yet Veeck’s cleanup efforts were only beginning.

In 1922, he insisted the team wear freshly laundered uniforms for each game. According to Veeck’s logic, a tidy team upped the park’s allure and would put more fans in the seats, as would the newly hired Andy Frain uniformed ushers.
Before Frain, the park’s ushers weren’t known for their courteous service, often giving otherwise reserved seats to friends or to those proffering bribes, resolving conflicts with fisticuffs, or generally ignoring the safety and comfort of their charges. Not so with the new fleet.

And then there was the mess. Ballparks typically only underwent a cleaning after every series, so fans were often sitting amid piles of days-old trash. Veeck upped the size of the grounds crew and instituted park-wide cleanup after every home game.

He also expanded concessions beyond the standard beer and hot dogs to include items such as lemonade, soda, candy and popcorn—all in the name of courting a new crop of fans.

But nothing did more to bring a different crowd to the ballpark than his championing of Ladies Day. With the help of team Vice President John Seys and club Secretary Margaret Donahue (who later served as VP), Veeck fought to welcome women to the newly christened Wrigley Field.

The league wasn’t wild about the idea of a regular day on which women didn’t have to surrender the buck or so to buy a ticket, as it would chip away at revenues. The promotion was actually first introduced in the 1880s, but the NL abolished it in 1909. When Weeghman took over the Cubs in 1916, he made his case for Ladies Day, but the NL again said no. Finally, in 1918 and ’19, the NL allowed the Cubs to attempt the concept on a trial basis.

It was the promotion of the event by Veeck, Seys and Donahue in the 1920s that convinced NL owners that offering Ladies Days would eventually lead to women attending other games. With that, the NL removed the restriction, and the Cubs turned it into a regular Friday event. By the mid-1920s, the team was drawing close to 10,000 women for a single Ladies Day game. In 1929, one August game drew 29,000 women, and the numbers only swelled from there, according to Hartig.

The Ladies Day promotion continued in some form until 1990.

* * * *
Veeck’s sweeping changes never would have been possible without the support of chewing gum magnate and team owner William Wrigley Jr.

“They understood marketing before the whole science of marketing was studied,” Hartig said of the Wrigley family, which boldly sent a pack of their eponymous gum to every telephone customer in the country—twice.

One of the harder sells Wrigley and Veeck teamed up on was the idea of broadcasting home games on the radio. Popular opinion decried such a practice as a deterrent to actual attendance. If a fan could hear games on the radio, why would he or she feel the need to hop on a train to see a game in person? But on Oct. 1, 1924, the Cubs made their successful radio debut, broadcasting a city series 10-7 win over the White Sox on WGN. In the 1925 season, the Cubs became the first major league franchise to broadcast all of their home games.

“The announcers are going, ‘It’s a beautiful day at the ballpark,’” Hartig said. “People want to go.”

And people did. While the Cubs ended the year well below .500, their attendance totaled 622,610, nearly 100,000 more than the National League average, according to the Baseball Research Journal.

Thanks to this surge in fandom, a second tier of grandstands was added to Wrigley Field in 1927. In 1929, manager Joe McCarthy, a Veeck hire, nabbed his first pennant. The team also won the NL in ’32, ’35 and ’38, due in large part to Veeck’s management. During this time, the team began drawing more than a million fans per season, becoming the first NL club to do so.

Veeck died of leukemia in 1933, shortly after championing interleague play as a way to combat the dismal Depression-era attendance. He also supported the creation of the All-Star Game. Veeck even helped negotiate a deal to bring a football team called the Decatur Staley’s to Chicago. They are better known these days as the Chicago Bears, a franchise that went on to play for 50 years at Wrigley Field.

While a Veeck bid for the Hall of Fame was unsuccessful in 2012, the effort is far from over. Fletcher is gearing up to take another shot in December 2015, more than 100 years after the president’s heyday.

“I think he’s the most unsung hero of Major League Baseball,” Fletcher said. “His footprints are significant.”
And they’re all over Wrigley Field.

Wrigley 100: Before the Confines, there was the West Side Grounds

West-Side-Grounds-Chicago-6121-97-NBL

(Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Each month in Vine Line, we are looking back at a century of Wrigley Field history. In the January issue, we tackle the pre-Wrigley years when the team called various parks home.

Imagine a world in which Wrigley Field wasn’t the home of the Chicago Cubs. There’s no marquee, no manual scoreboard, no ivy and no bleachers.

Though the Cubs became one of the eight charter members of the National League all the way back in 1876, they didn’t officially move into the Friendly Confines until 1916—two years after the venerable facility was built.

Aside from Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox, perhaps no stadium is as inextricably linked with its organization as Wrigley Field is with its lovable Cubs. When people travel to Chicago, the nearly 100-year-old stadium is a top tourist destination year after year. It’s a testament to one of the most sacred baseball cathedrals in the game.

But for all the history—the beloved ballpark will celebrate its centennial on April 23—and despite the great stories your grandparents, parents and kids have regarding their many trips to Wrigleyville, there was a time when the Chicago Cubs existed without Wrigley Field.

A century ago, there was no such thing as baseball on Chicago’s North Side. The South and West sides were the epicenter of sports in the city, while the corner of Clark and Addison still served as a cemetery. The Lutheran Church constructed a facility on the property that would one day house Wrigley Field in the 1870s, and they opened an adjoining seminary in 1891.

For the first decade of the 20th century, the Cubs dominated the National League at a stadium called West Side Park—though there were other facilities as well.

Chicago’s National League representative had the same problem finding a suitable place to play home games that much of baseball was experiencing at the time. Poor ballpark conditions, inadequate fields, bad leases and an inconstant fan base turned the NL club later known as the Cubs into a de facto Chicago barnstorming team for nearly 20 years.

From 1876-93 they spent time at the 23rd Street Grounds (1876-77), Lakefront Park with its 200-foot left-field fence (1878-84), West Side Park I (1885-91) and South Side Park (1891-1893). The 1891 overlap came as a result of the organization using West Side Park on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and South Side Park on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

At the time, Blue Laws—city- or region-specific ordinances—were still in effect in much of the country (including Chicago), and they effectively limited local recreational and entertainment options on Sundays and prevented any viewing or playing of baseball games. This was during a time when men generally worked six days a week and reserved Sunday for relaxation, often for religious observances.

In 1892, however, the National League removed any restrictions against Sunday baseball, paving the way for Chicago NL club President James A. Hart to take advantage of a prime opportunity. The World’s Fair was set to open in Chicago in May 1893, and Hart realized the global event could help drive his business (and perhaps signal an end to the city’s Blue Laws). The Columbian Exposition’s arrival also meant thousands of people would be visiting Chicago and looking for ways to spend their day off—and their hard-earned money.

Ideally, the management of Chicago’s NL team, then called the Colts, wanted to continue playing its games at South Side Park—located on 35th and Wentworth—due to its close proximity to the World’s Fair, which was occurring at Chicago’s lakefront. The problem with South Side Park was that the initial lease on the stadium still prohibited games from being played on Sundays. As a result, Hart pushed the team west to the West Side Grounds, a facility that was owned by Albert Spalding and John Walsh, also the Colts’ majority owners.

For the 1893 season, home games were still played at South Side Park Monday through Saturday, but the team played its Sunday games on the West Side. The Colts moved into the West Side Grounds full time the following season.

Though it sounds odd in today’s world for an ownership group to have its team play in a ballpark other than the one it owns, Spalding and Walsh viewed the western location that now houses the University of Illinois Medical Center as too far away from the city. Playing ball at the West Side Grounds was originally seen as a major gamble—though it’s one that would eventually be rewarded with solid play from the club.

The West Side Grounds, or West Side Park as it was called at the time, was a spacious wooden ballpark that seated 8,000 fans when the club initially moved in. Home plate was on the corner of Polk and Lincoln (now Wolcott) facing southeast, Wood Street ran behind left field, and Taylor Street’s flats and stores abutted the facility to the south. Though it’s difficult to find accurate dimensions for the stadium, during some of the time the Cubs spent there, center field was 560 feet from home plate. It’s believed it was roughly 340 feet to right and 310 feet to left.

In the early 1900s, a series of renovations added an upper deck and replaced the small row of outfield seats with full bleachers, doubling the stadium’s capacity to 16,000. By 1910, seating had expanded all the way to 30,000. Bleachers were also added to center field in 1908, reducing the outfield distance to 418 feet.

The most eye-catching aspect of the venue was an advertisement that was installed in 1913 and ran down the length of the right-field wall. The enormous ad stood back only about 10 feet from the fence, and it blocked sightlines for many who sat in the back of the bleachers. Like Wrigley Field today, fans were also able to take in a game from the adjoining rooftops.

But perhaps West Side Park’s best feature was the caliber of baseball that was played there. Cubs fans in the early 1900s got to see something people have been fantasizing about for the last century—success at the highest level. As a tenant of the West Side Grounds, the Cubs averaged nearly 100 wins per season over a nine-year span (898 wins from 1904-12). The infield trio of Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance, along with pitcher Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, became league stars who were well worth the price of admission.

Charles Webb Murphy’s purchase of the Cubs in July 1905 coincided with one of the club’s most successful runs in franchise history. Between 1906-10, the team played .693 ball (530-235) and captured four NL pennants and two World Series titles (1907 and ’08). The one season during that run in which they didn’t win the pennant, they still managed to win 104 games.
But there was a growing problem. Though there was plenty of success on the field and the stadium was constantly expanded, the park’s infrastructure was starting to give way.

Murphy, who purchased the stadium in December 1908, failed to update the visiting facilities, and rival NL teams complained that the plumbing in their clubhouse often didn’t work. Murphy argued that it wasn’t his job to make visiting teams happy, even after a family of ducks made a home in the clubhouse. Murphy’s West Side Grounds was also being rendered obsolete by the first steel and concrete ballparks, which were being built in 1910.

But it wasn’t just the stadium that was falling apart. The team that became a dynasty in the century’s first decade was aging and beginning to fray at the seams. Following a 104-win campaign in 1910, the Cubs had six straight seasons in which they lost more games than they had the previous year. This run of poor play eventually caught up to the fan base, and attendance numbers began to dwindle.

In 1916, a group headed by Chicago business mogul Charles Weeghman purchased the Cubs and moved them into his new Weeghman Park—or Wrigley Field as it’s known today—a modern steel and concrete facility on the city’s North Side that was opened two years prior to house the Federal League’s Chicago Whales.

As terms of the move, the Weeghman group agreed to pay two years of rent at the West Side stadium while Murphy found a tenant to replace the ballclub. Even though Murphy received his rent checks, he still filed several unsuccessful lawsuits attempting to block the team and the National League from playing Cubs home games on any field other than his own. He’d later claim he was raising money to repurchase the club, though that never came to fruition.

Finally, in October 1919, Murphy finalized a deal to sell the property to the state of Illinois for $400,000. The space was to be used as the future home of the Illinois State Hospital and the University of Illinois Medical School. The stadium was torn down in 1920.

The West Side Grounds certainly did not have the hold on the hearts and minds of visitors that the Friendly Confines has today. It lacked the marquee, the ivy and all the other attributes that make Wrigley Field the special place it is.

It did, however, house more than 20 years of Cubs history and some of the best teams ever to play the game. Wrigley Field has deservedly received so much praise that the West Side Grounds is not much more than an afterthought these days. But hosting four World Series appearances in five years is no small feat, and for that, the West Side Grounds should always be remembered.

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