(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.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Don’t miss your first chance to meet new manager Rick Renteria and celebrate Wrigley Field’s upcoming 100th birthday at the 2014 Cubs Convention, Jan. 17-19, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. Featured guests include the current Cubs roster, the new coaching staff, alumni and many top prospects. The 29th Annual Cubs Convention will also feature more than 100 photo and autograph opportunities, new activities and traditional favorites.
The convention’s Opening Ceremony begins Friday, Jan. 17, at 6 p.m., and will feature player introductions on a red carpet runway with special VIP access for children 16 and under. Following the Opening Ceremony, guests can search for some of their favorite Cubs and young prospects throughout the hotel in an exciting Autograph Hunt Game. The event’s first day concludes with a special movie premiere of MLB Productions’ 100 Years of Wrigley Field, followed by a “Cheers to 100 Years” toast at Sheraton Chicago’s Chi Bar hosted by Budweiser.
Saturday’s program continues with fan favorites such as the return of Cubs Family Feud and Cubs Jeopardy, which will feature unique trivia based on Wrigley Field’s 100 years of history and the addition of fan guests on each team. Saturday will also be fans first chance to meet manager Rick Renteria and his coaching staff at the much-anticipated Meet the New Skipper session. The evening will conclude with a special 100 Years of Wrigley Field session, at which fans will get a sneak peek at some of the promotions planned for the centennial season, and long-time Convention favorite Cubs Bingo, presented by Budweiser and led by Wayne Messmer.
Additional weekend sessions (subject to change) include: The Ricketts Family Forum, Meet Cubs Baseball Management, Scouting and Player Development, Rookie Development Group, For Kids Only Press Conference presented by Advocate Health Care, 30-Year Anniversary: 1984 Team, WGN Radio Sports Central, Meet Cubs Business Management and Down on the Farm.
In addition to the sessions highlighted above, the Convention includes many new and returning activities throughout the weekend for fans:
- Beginning at Cubs Convention and continuing through Spring Training and at each regular season home game, the Cubs will unveil and pay tribute to 100 Great Times in Wrigley Field history presented by Budweiser. One will be unveiled each day at Cubs Convention, and fans will be able to follow these unveilings via social media.
- A new autograph system will be integrated this year, which will include the opportunity for fans to have a meet-and-greet with marquee players through a donation to Cubs Charities.
- Fans can visit a dedicated social media lounge, featuring giveaways, charging stations, an interactive screen and special guest Twitter takeovers throughout the weekend.
- Walgreens Field is a miniature turf diamond that gives kids a fun place to play pick-up wiffle ball games or participate in professional instructional clinics as part of the Baseball Interactive Zone. Cubs players and coaches will pair up with Illinois Baseball Academy instructors to conduct a series of training opportunities for kids of all ages throughout the weekend.
- Enhanced this year with a radar gun, MLB Network’s Strike Zone allows fans to test their arm speed and win prizes at an inflatable speed pitch.
- A dedicated Kids’ Corner will host face painting, caricatures, balloon artists and a coloring station with a weekend-long coloring contest. Winners will be selected Sunday morning.
- The Blue Bunny Bucket Toss gives kids a chance to win ice cream prizes in a fun bucket toss game.
- The Cubbie Closet gives kids a chance to dress up like a big leaguer in complete, full-size uniforms for a fun photo opportunity.
- A variety of Cubs memorabilia will be available for sale or auction from Cubs Authentics, Cubs Charities and a selection of third party vendors.
Room packages at the Sheraton Chicago and individual weekend passes for the 2014 Cubs Convention are still available. Cubs Convention room rates include passes at a discounted price of $20, or passes can be purchased individually for $60 per pass plus convenience fees at www.cubs.com/convention or 1-800-THE-CUBS. Guests can visit the Cubs Convention page for more information and the most up-to-date list of confirmed players, coaches and alumni.
Due to high demand of parking at the Sheraton Chicago during Cubs Convention weekend and the cost of parking downtown, a limited number of parking spots will be available at Wrigley Field for the duration of the weekend on a first-come, first-serve basis. These print-at-home parking vouchers are available at www.cubs.com/convention for $25 for the entire weekend, beginning Friday at 3 p.m. until Sunday at 3 p.m. Please note transportation from Wrigley Field to the Sheraton Chicago will be the responsibility of the attendee.
A percentage of the proceeds from the Cubs Convention benefits Cubs Charities. To date, the Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for the Cubs’ charitable arm.
(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Every year, MLB celebrates Jackie Robinson’s 1947 breaking of the color barrier, but the Cubs organization made some history of its own six years later.
Sept. 22, 1953, marks the 60th anniversary of the day the North Siders fielded baseball’s first African-American double play combo: shortstop Ernie Banks and second baseman Gene Baker. Though Robinson and others had already integrated the game, racism was still rampant throughout the country, keeping many qualified African-American players out of the big leagues. The talented Baker, who played eight seasons for the Cubs and Pirates and made the 1955 NL All-Star team, was a victim of this prejudice.
Baker signed with the Cubs as an amateur free agent in 1950, but despite three-plus successful seasons in the minors, owner P.K. Wrigley opted to wait to bring Baker up until the team acquired another major league-ready African-American player. Wrigley figured because the two could stay in the same hotel rooms and eat at the same places, it would reduce the pressure on them.
On Sept. 8, the Cubs purchased the contract of 22-year-old shortstop Banks from the Kansas City Monarchs. He made his major league debut on Sept. 17, and Baker made his three days later as a pinch-hitter. Then, on Sept. 22, the duo made big league history when Banks started at shortstop and Baker moved over to second base.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The last time Ryne Sandberg was in the Wrigley Field dugout as a visitor was in 1981 when he was a rookie with the Philadelphia Phillies. On Friday afternoon, he’ll return as the Phillies’ manager, when the Cubs open a three-game set with Philadelphia on Friday. Sandberg spent 15 years in Cubbie blue during his Hall of Fame career. He went to 10 All-Star games, won nine Gold Gloves and was the 1984 NL MVP.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
Every month, Vine Line checks in with Cubs alumni in our Glory Days section. For the August issue, we caught up with former pitcher and broadcaster Dave Otto. The lanky left-hander, who pitched eight major league seasons, had the good fortune to finish his career playing for his hometown Cubs. The father of three grew up in Elk Grove, Ill., and now lives in the western Chicago suburbs. When his boyhood hero Ron Santo became ill and needed a day off from time to time, Otto was there to handle the mic as color commentator for WGN Radio. Though he’s out of baseball now, Otto hopes to get back into uniform someday as a coach.
“I work for Best Transportation Services, a small transportation company in Chicago, as director of sales and marketing. But there’s a point down the road where I’ll probably get back down on the field as a coach. I had a lot of great pitching coaches—Dave Duncan and Ray Miller. So I’d like to pass on some of that. The game gets in your blood.”
“The first time I walked into Wrigley was probably 1968 or ’69. I have a vague memory of it, but the place is timeless. I used to go with my grandma for Ladies’ Day. As a player, there were times where I’d look out and remember where I used to sit as a kid. That was kind of cool.”
“I was left-handed and I didn’t play third base, but Ron Santo was somebody I just loved to watch. He was such a bulldog. I tried to emulate Ken Holtzman. He had that big curveball and turned his back to the hitter. I tried to hide the ball real well like that.”
“I was in minor league camp during Spring Training after I signed with the Cubs. The big league team would call over a couple of extra pitchers just in case the guys scheduled to pitch couldn’t fill out their innings. A couple of times, I’d just go over to HoHoKam. Yosh [Kawano, the clubhouse manager] would give me a uniform, and I’d just show up to practice there. I remember one time manager Tom Trebelhorn said, ‘Hey, we don’t have you scheduled here.’ And I said, ‘Somebody over there told me you wanted me over here.’ And so I’d sit in the bullpen, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t get into the game. That happened twice!”
“I started the year off in Triple-A. They flew me in for an exhibition game against the White Sox at Wrigley, and then I flew back to Des Moines. So I gave up a hit to Michael Jordan. He hit a fastball. I didn’t want to walk him. He also got a hit off of Chuck Crim, so I wasn’t the only one.”
“On my first day as a Cub, Trebelhorn was having a firehouse chat after the game with fans. A week after that, they showed up with a billy goat that they were walking around on the field. Then Ryne Sandberg retired in the middle of the season. We were getting on a flight to the West Coast while he was holding a press conference. And the whole O.J. Simpson thing was going down then too. Crazy year.”
Hall of Famer Ernie Banks turned 82 years old Thursday. Mr. Cub played 19 seasons with the Cubs, accumulating MVP awards in 1958-59, racking up 11 All-Star trips and a Gold Glove in 1960. Banks was a career .274 hitter and was the ninth member to join the 500 home run club, finishing with 512. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977, earning 83.8 percent of the votes on his first attempt.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Chicago Cubs have announced the Cubs On The Move 2013 Caravan Tour, which includes the winners of the 2013 Cubs Caravan Visits My School Contest. The annual tour will feature two buses of players, coaches and front office personnel.
This year’s Caravan theme, Cubs On The Move, reflects the Cubs’ and Chicago Cubs Charities’ focus on health and fitness.
The tour will visit six schools, four hospitals and the Chicago Public Library on January 16 and 17. New stops this year include the 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine base, where Cubs players, coaches and front office staff will serve lunch to active duty military and veterans in partnership with the USO. The Caravan will also stop at the new Cubs Single-A affiliate Kane County Cougars’ ballpark and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Two lucky schools were selected as winners of the Cubs Caravan Visits My School Contest this year: Montini Catholic High School and DeWitt Clinton Elementary School. Montini Catholic (Lombard, Ill.) was selected as a contest winner for proudly displaying team memorabilia throughout the school. DeWitt Clinton Elementary School (Chicago) was selected for integrating Cubs baseball into their teaching curriculum and for their commitment to fitness initiatives.
Attendees (subject to change) include: David Bell, Joe Bohringer, Mike Borzello, Michael Bowden, Randy Bush, Shawn Camp, Tony Campana, Steve Clevenger, Rob Deer, David DeJesus, Jim Deshaies, Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Len Kasper, Andy Lane, Dave McKay, Jason McLeod, Keith Moreland, Jamie Quirk, Shiraz Rehman, Anthony Rizzo, James Rowson, James Russell, Dave Sappelt, Lester Strode and Dale Sveum.
CUBS ON THE MOVE 2013 CARAVAN ITINERARIES
9 a.m. – Montini Catholic High School – Lombard, IL
11 a.m. – 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, 3034 W. Foster Ave. – Chicago (Cubs Caravan Luncheon)
12:15 p.m. – Advocate Christ Medical Center – Oak Lawn, IL (Two players)
1 p.m. – DeWitt Clinton Elementary School – Chicago
2:15 p.m. – Museum of Science and Industry – Chicago
10 a.m. – Fox Chase Elementary School – Oswego, IL
11:15 a.m. – Kane County Cougars – Geneva, IL
2 p.m. – Advocate Lutheran General Hospital – Park Ridge, IL
4 p.m. – Urban Initiatives at Jahn World Language Elementary School – Chicago
9:15 a.m. – Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago – Chicago
11 a.m. – 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, 3034 W. Foster Ave. – Chicago (Cubs Caravan Luncheon)
2 p.m. – Battalion 9 Fire House – Chicago
3:45 p.m. – Chicago Public Library: Merlo Branch – Chicago
9:30 a.m. – Lake View High School – Chicago
11 a.m. – D’Agostino’s Pizza with Blaine Elementary School – Chicago
3 p.m. – John Spry Elementary School – Chicago
3:30 p.m. – Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago/Ronald McDonald House – Chicago
(Photo by Stephen Green)
In a Hall of Fame vote filled with as much drama as checking off a name can produce, not one of the 37 eligible participants received enough votes to earn a Hall call. This is only the second time in four decades, and the first time since 1996, Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters failed to elect any candidates.
The 2013 ballot was headlined by controversial superstars—including baseball’s only seven-time MVP Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens—but it was former Astros catcher/second baseman Craig Biggio who led all candidates with 68.2 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility. Players must receive at least 75 percent of the vote to earn enshrinement.
While nobody got into Cooperstown by this vote, there was no shortage of former Cubs on the ballot. Lee Smith spent eight seasons on the North Side from 1980-87, compiling 180 saves. In his 11th year of eligibility, he earned 47.8 percent of the vote. Fred McGriff, who spent time with the Cubs in 2001-02, earned 20.7 percent of the vote. And, most notably, former slugger Sammy Sosa, owner of 609 career home runs (545 with the Cubs), received just 12.5 percent of the vote in his first season of eligibility. Though the total is small, it’s well above the 5 percent necessary to remain on the ballot.
Below is a list of former Cubs and the percentage of votes they received on the 2013 BBWAA ballot:
Lee Smith — 272 votes, 47.8 percent, eleventh year on ballot
Fred McGriff — 118 votes, 18.6 percent, fourth year on ballot
Sammy Sosa — 71 votes, 12.5 percent, first year on ballot
Rafael Palmeiro — 50 votes, 8.8 percent, third year on ballot
Kenny Lofton — 18 votes, 3.2 percent, first year on ballot (did not receive enough votes for 2014 ballot)
Todd Walker — 0 votes, 0 percent, first year on ballot (did not receive enough votes for 2014 ballot)
Rondell White — 0 votes, 0 percent, first year on ballot (did not receive enough votes for 2014 ballot)
(Art by Jerry Neumann)
Kerry Wood has spent most of his adult life honing his craft as a major league pitcher. So excuse him if he’s not a world-class bartender.
On Jan. 18, you’ll get your chance to see him in action and critique his skills as he slings drinks at the second annual Woody’s Winter Warm-Up at Harry Caray’s Tavern on Navy Pier. Starting at 8:30 p.m., Wood will join former and current Cubs players, as well as local celebrities, behind the bar, where they will compete for tips with all proceeds benefitting the Wood Family Foundation. Wood said the event is a good time, and current players like Darwin Barney, Jeff Samardzija and James Russell are expected to attend.
“People want to give back and do it for a good cause,” Wood said. “Last year … people got really into it, and it was really cool.”
At the inaugural mixer in 2012, the Grammy-nominated band Plain White T’s performed. They even got a little help from former Cub Randy Wells and baseball president Theo Epstein on a few songs. The event raised more than $85,000, thanks to about 30 current and former players, who pitched in behind the bar or simply enjoyed the evening.
But don’t count on Wood to make you the best Old-Fashioned or dirty martini of your life, as he admits this probably won’t be a new career path.
“I’m really good at taking the tops of beers off with the opener,” Wood joked. “I pour a mean glass of wine, but I’m not a mixologist.”
Tickets are on sale now and in limited supply. For more information, visit woodfamilyfoundation.org.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
On this date in 2001, the Cubs came to terms with corner outfielder Moises Alou on a three-year deal worth $27 million.
Alou had three solid seasons on the North Side, including a 2004 All-Star campaign, in which he hit .293/.361/.557 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 39 homers, 36 doubles and 106 driven in. The slugger’s 335 total bases were good for fourth in the NL that year, and he finished 14th in MVP voting.
In his three seasons with the Cubs, the veteran hit .283 with 76 homers, 258 RBI, 94 doubles and a .353 on-base percentage. In his first year with the organization, Alou had the highest fielding percentage among NL left fielders. He was granted free agency in November 2004 and signed with the Giants in January 2005.
Despite his success on the field, many best remember Alou for his involvement in the Steve Bartman incident. In Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS, Bartman, a fan, reached over onto the field, preventing the left fielder from making the catch.