(Photo by David Durochik)
Every baseball season is filled with memorable moments, and this year’s Cubs campaign was no exception. Cornerstone players had bounceback seasons, newer additions stepped up, and top prospects made their big league debuts. To wrap up the year, we asked you to pick your top 10 moments of 2014. From now until the end of the year, we’ll be unveiling one moment per day.
The Cubs celebrate Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday—April 23
Reaching 100 years old deserves a little fanfare, and the Cubs pulled out all the stops to properly celebrate Wrigley Field’s big day on April 23.
A number of dignitaries were on hand for the special pregame ceremony, including Cubs alums like Andre Dawson and Ryan Dempster; Bears legends Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers, who called Wrigley Field home until the 1971 NFL season; then-Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig; and representatives of past Cubs ownership groups.
The Cubs took the field wearing 1914 Chi-Feds uniforms as part of the team’s yearlong throwback celebration. The visiting Arizona D-backs sported Kansas City Packers uniforms to re-create the Federal League matchup that took place 100 years ago when the stadium first opened its doors.
Fans dressed up in period costumes, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” during the fifth inning as balloons flew from behind the left-field wall, and Dutchie Caray, widow of beloved broadcaster Harry Caray, led a group of Wrigley alumni in a rousing rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.
Though the Cubs/Chi-Feds ultimately dropped the game 7-5, it was certainly a day to remember for fans and alums alike.
The Cubs welcomed the Lake View community to their annual tree-lighting ceremony Thursday to celebrate the holidays and conclude the team’s 100 Gifts of Service initiative. The 100 Gifts of Service projects were part of a yearlong program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins was on hand along with Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, Cubs Charities Chair Laura Ricketts, President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s charitable acts this year. The large tree, donated by Christy Webber Landscapes, is located in front of the Cubs Store at the northwest corner of the Clark and Addison intersection. We were at Wrigley Field last night to help ring in the holiday season. And look for a feature story on the 100 Gifts of Service project in the January issue of Vine Line.
The Cubs are inviting their fans to participate in a holiday toy drive benefiting children at Lawrence Hall Youth Services to conclude the team’s yearlong 100 Gifts of Service. Toys may be donated at the Cubs Store across from Wrigley Field beginning today until December 4 at 5:30 p.m., when the team will once again host a holiday celebration and tree lighting ceremony at the corner of Clark and Addison streets.
Fans and neighbors are invited to attend the tree-lighting ceremony and may bring their new, unwrapped toys to donate at the event. The large tree donated by Christy Webber Landscapes will stand at the northwest corner of the Clark and Addison intersection to avoid conflict with Wrigley Field construction. Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins will be joined by Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and representatives from many of the organizations that benefited from the team’s 100 Gifts of Service this year. These 100 Gifts of Service represent a yearlong program featuring Cubs players and associates engaging in community service in celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday season.
For fans and neighbors who are unable to attend Thursday evening’s tree-lighting ceremony, the Cubs Store will accept new, unwrapped toys as donations during its business hours of 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Lawrence Hall Youth Services has compiled a wish list of desired toys (attached) that include action figures, board games, dolls, educational toys, puzzles, sporting equipment, stuffed animals, toy cars and more.
“Lawrence Hall’s foster care and treatment programs serve youth who have experienced trauma or neglect,” said Connie Falcone, vice president of development for Cubs Charities. “These holiday gifts will provide much-needed smiles to some very deserving children.”
In addition to the toy drive, fans worldwide can offer a monetary donation to Cubs Charities to support the toy drive and other programs targeting improvements in health, fitness and education for those at risk. Those interested in donating are encouraged to do so on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 2), which is a global day dedicated to giving back. The Cubs will participate in the global #GivingTuesday social media campaign and request fans share both the #GivingTuesday and #CubsCharities hashtags when encouraging donations online. Donations to Cubs Charities may be submitted online at cubscharities.com.
Robbie Gould knows a thing or two about playing in front of an enthusiastic fan base. The longtime Bears kicker, who has called Chicago home for the last decade, has quietly become one of the NFL’s greatest special teamers of all time. Vine Line caught up with the 32-year-old before a chilly, early-May showdown against the White Sox to talk about the similarities between the Bears and the Cubs, playing football at Wrigley Field and the pressure that comes with his chosen profession.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
To strengthen the franchise and provide additional streams of revenue, the Ricketts family and the Cubs organization have broken ground on the most ambitious restoration and expansion of Wrigley Field in the ballpark’s 100-year history. The following story can be seen in the November issue of Vine Line.
Even by American standards, Chicago is a relatively new city architecturally speaking. When a raging inferno wipes out a town’s entire central business district in the late 19th century, it does force planners and architects to start fresh.
The landmark structures that define the Chicago cityscape are all of recent vintage. Navy Pier was completed in 1916, the Wrigley Building in 1924 and the Willis (née Sears) Tower in 1973.
That makes Wrigley Field, which first opened its doors as Weeghman Park on April 23, 1914, one of the most venerable and historic structures in one of America’s great cities. When you walk into the Friendly Confines today, the feeling of shared history and connection to the game’s glorious past is palpable. It’s easy to imagine Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown squaring off against Christy Mathewson or Billy Williams striding to the plate to face Bob Gibson.
“So much has happened in the last 100 years, but Wrigley is still the same,” said Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts. “It is the same ballpark your grandfather came to. It is the ballpark you’ll be able to take your grandkids to. It has a great history—the clubhouse where Babe Ruth got dressed, where Lou Gehrig played, where the Bears played for 50 years—it’s a building filled with 100 years of incredible memories.”
But the Wrigley Field Ruth played in is actually much different from the ballpark Williams played in. And that one is much different from the one Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jake Arrieta call home today.
As the second-oldest facility in the major leagues—behind Boston’s Fenway Park—Wrigley Field is uniquely connected to its past. But while people think of Wrigley as constant and unchanging, and speak wistfully of its early days, it has actually undergone a series of enhancements and improvements over the years to keep up with the evolving game of baseball.
The ballpark Brown played in seated a little more than 14,000 people in one deck and had only a small section of bleachers. Williams experienced the modern bleachers and scoreboard, which were installed in 1937, but never played a night game at home.
Beginning this offseason, the world-famous ballpark, which just completed its 100th anniversary season, will take the next major step in its evolution, as the long-awaited restoration and expansion, known as The 1060 Project, is now underway. This privately funded, $575 million upgrade is designed to ensure the viability of the Friendly Confines for future generations of Cubs fans, while retaining the features that make Wrigley Field so special.
The four-year plan—which will include structural upgrades; improved player facilities; new fan amenities; outfield signage, including video boards in left and right field; expanded concessions; new and improved restroom facilities; and much more—will be rolled out in four phases, beginning this offseason.
The goal of The 1060 Project—so named for Wrigley Field’s address, 1060 W. Addison St.—is simple: to preserve the beauty, charm and historic features of Wrigley Field that fans have cherished for a century, while upgrading the overall gameday experience.
“Wrigley is a special place because it’s organic,” said Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. “It’s a part of the neighborhood in a way that no other ballpark is. It’s very much unchanged over the last 100 years, so you feel a connection to previous generations and previous players. To be able to walk through the tunnel and know that that’s where Billy Williams and Ernie Banks—or on the visiting side, all the way back to Babe Ruth—walked. It resonates the same way that baseball does for me, which is that it connects you to your past and connects you to the next generation.”
The 1060 Project isn’t just about modernization, though better food and amenities do require that. It also includes restoring Wrigley Field to its mid-1930s glory, when the ballpark was at its peak. The entire project team brings local and national experience working on historic facilities and respects its responsibility to maintain the park’s unique atmosphere. To get the details right, they have spent years studying and researching historical minutiae. This has required everything from poring over old photographs to studying soil samples.
“The ballpark always was designed to be very light and transparent,” said William Ketcham, principal at VOA, the architect of record on the construction drawings. “As we go back in time, the bottom register of the ballpark will be back to its original finishes of stucco and brick and terracotta with windows in it. The upper register will become iron and transparent grillage again. So the wind will blow through the park, and the light will come into the park in a way that is more historic. The way that it presents itself to the street again will be more delicate, a little lighter. The additions that we’re putting on the outside of the building will be of a vocabulary that is respectful of that tradition of the ironwork that was here in the ’20s and ’30s.”
It’s easy to be inspired by the one-of-a-kind experiences Wrigley Field provides: walking up the stairs and seeing the lush, green field for the first time; tracking the game’s progress via the hand-operated scoreboard; measuring the time of year by the amount of ivy covering the brick outfield walls. Leaving those features untouched while updating the ballpark so it’s prepared to last another 100 years presents its share of challenges.
“We’ve had engineers and contractors looking at every aspect of this building for the last two years documenting existing conditions and how the building is today, and utilizing that intelligence that we’ve learned in the design process, but there are still things that we haven’t been able to uncover,” said Michael Harms, senior vice president of Icon Venue Group, the project management team for the restoration. “We’re going to expose almost every square inch of this building in the phases we’re going to do, and we know there are surprises out there. The solution to that challenge is that we’ve hired a great group of professionals who are going to solve those problems and keep the project moving forward.”
To ensure the integrity of the Friendly Confines is maintained throughout the restoration process, the design team visited a number of iconic, older sporting venues—including Fenway Park, Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl—that recently underwent major renovations. No modern sporting facility would be designed like Wrigley Field was—the ballpark was constructed 100 years ago—so everyone working on the project wanted to be as prepared as possible before breaking ground.
“Our experience thus far in working with the Cubs organization and the Ricketts family is they want to do this right,” Harms said. “That’s, frankly, the best thing we could ever hear because we want to make sure everything we do in this ballpark improves the fan experience, restores the ballpark back to history and restores the ballpark for generations to come.”
To help fans better understand the scope of the project, which will be rolled out in four phases, here’s what you can expect at the corner of Clark and Addison in the coming years.
PHASE ONE (2015 SEASON)
The primary focus of the first phase of The 1060 Project will be structural work to prepare Wrigley Field for enhancements and improvements over the course of the construction plan.
During Phase One, major structural steel and deep foundation work will be performed in the concourse on the third-base (left-field) side of the ballpark from Gate K to home plate.
“It’s striking that so many things about the ballpark haven’t been addressed over the years,” Ricketts said. “I think we had decades where the stewards of the ballpark just did not address enough, particularly in the infrastructure of the ballpark. We’re going to address that. We know what we have to do, and we’re excited to get started on it.”
Phase One will also focus on expanding and improving the left- and right-field Budweiser Bleachers. Before the 2014 season ended, the team purchased more sidewalk space behind the ballpark on Waveland and Sheffield avenues to accommodate the expansion. The outer walls of Wrigley Field will now extend to the edge of where the sidewalk used to be.
The plan calls for an additional 300 seating positions in the left- and right-field bleachers and 300 more standing room positions in the bleacher deck. There will be new concession areas under the bleachers as well as group terraces where fans can congregate to enjoy Cubs games and other events.
The Friendly Confines will also get new outfield signage, including a 3,990-square-foot video board in left field and a 2,400-square-foot video board in right field. These will provide fans with real-time stats and information about the Cubs and their opponents during games.
“Wrigley has a very special vibe. It’s a special place,” Ricketts said. “We respect that. We think we understand what makes it so special. All the things that people associate with this beautiful ballpark will be preserved. It will just have better amenities and better services.”
PHASE TWO (2016 SEASON)
To win at the major league level, the Cubs must do much more than draft, sign and develop the right mix of players. They also must provide those players with the kind of best-in-class, off-the-field facilities needed to train players, rehabilitate injuries and prepare for the season. Phase Two of The 1060 Project will feature the improvement and expansion of the home clubhouse to give the team the best facilities in the game. The new clubhouse will be located directly west of the stadium beneath the new plaza, the current site of the Purple and Red parking lots.
“We want our players to have every possible advantage to compete on the most competitive stage there is night in, night out and to put themselves in a position to stay healthy and effective for 162 games, which is increasingly difficult in this modern era,” Epstein said. “It’s hard enough to get yourself ready to play and do it 162 times, but when you have dated facilities that are falling apart and that are limited—we don’t even have a batting tunnel to get players ready for the game—it’s really hard for players to get physically prepared, fundamentally prepared and mentally prepared for the game.
“It’s a good feeling for us to know that the players are going to have the best possible support to go out and compete. That, to me, is the most important part of a new ballpark.”
The current 11,000-square-foot clubhouse will be replaced by a state-of-the-art, 30,000-square-foot space, giving the Cubs one of the largest clubhouses in the game. This new area will include a locker room for players and coaches, a strength and conditioning center, training and hydrotherapy areas, a media center, team offices and a player lounge.
The former clubhouse area will be redeveloped into a new, larger dugout, two underground batting tunnels, an auditorium and additional office space for team officials.
Phase Two plans also include the development of a new home-plate club and a third-base club for premium and season ticket holders. The third-base club will be adjacent to the batting tunnels so fans can get a glimpse of Cubs players taking their practice swings prior to at-bats.
To enhance player safety, the home and visiting bullpens will be relocated from the field of play to an area underneath the expanded Budweiser Bleachers. New seats will be added in the old bullpen areas.
The new Wrigley Field will also have dramatically improved concession options for fans. A new, 30,000-square-foot concessions prep and staging area will be built below the plaza to ensure service levels are best in class and provide for the delivery of quality, fresh food.
The seats and most of the concrete from the left-field foul pole to the main gate under the marquee will all be replaced, and the third-base-side concourse will be completed. Plans include new concessions and bathrooms in the area.
Phase Two also calls for enhancements to the upper level in right field, including a new outdoor concourse along the south and west roofline with additional concessions and bathrooms.
“It would be really wonderful if all of the support we put into the infrastructure makes the gameday experience better for the fans,” Ketcham said. “They can spend more time in their seats watching the game, enjoying it, with better food delivered more comfortably, and be able to look around and say, ‘Yeah, it’s still the neighborhood ballpark I remember from 50 years ago.’”
PHASE THREE (2017 SEASON)
For Phase Three, much of the work will move to the first-base side. This will include a new umpires’ room and an improved visitors’ clubhouse, in addition to improvements to the first-base-side concourse to create a better fan experience.
“My first time here with a visiting team was 1996, and I remember being shocked at the visiting clubhouse—just how small it was,” Epstein said. “I thought it was a joke. I thought someone had walked me into the utility closet and told me it was the visiting clubhouse.”
Clark the Cub will get a new home on the first-base side, and there will be a first-base club space for season ticket holders.
Enhancements to the upper level will shift to the left-field side. The new outdoor concourse along the south and west roofline will be completed in this phase as well.
By the conclusion of Phase Three, the goal is to have the majority of work in the main concourse completed.
“As fans come back to the restored Wrigley Field over the next few years, they’ll see some changes, but what you won’t see is a wholesale difference,” Ricketts said. “You’re going to feel like this is the ballpark you know and the ballpark you love. But what you will see are shorter lines for everything, you will see more information during the game, you will see a cleaner, more open concourse, you will see easier exits and entrances. It will be a much better fan experience.”
The Cubs will also add an upper-deck club for season ticket holders and improve and expand the luxury suites. As an added bonus, suite-holders can now customize their space by choosing from several design options.
PHASE FOUR (2018 SEASON)
Phase Four will finish any remaining work in the main concourse along the first-base line and add a two-story retail and entertainment complex of at least 9,000 square feet in the right-field corner to replace the existing street-level restaurant.
Work will also be completed on the middle portion of the upper level. This will include a renovated press box, new seats, new concessions and new bathrooms.
By Phase Four, the Ricketts family’s neighborhood development project should also be completed. Plans call for an open-air plaza outside the ballpark for Cubs fans, visitors and families in the community to enjoy year-round.
The development will incorporate an office building at the north end of the new plaza space to house Cubs offices, a conference meeting space and retail shops.
Finally, the plan features a premium Starwood hotel across the street from the ballpark. This will include 175 rooms, a 40,000-square-foot health club, retail spaces, and food and beverage options for fans and the community.
“This restoration of Wrigley Field is extremely important,” Ricketts said. ”It is Wrigley-ville.
People move here because they want to live near the ballpark. Businesses open and thrive here because of the ballpark. It’s an important part of this community. But it is bigger than that. It is really the beating heart of the North Side of Chicago. It is the place where the people gather. And so we think the renovation of Wrigley and the preservation of this wonderful ballpark means an incredible amount to the city and its people.”
Though it will be some time before The 1060 Project is completed, the Cubs organization and the project team have already done years of groundwork to ensure Wrigley Field remains the jewel it has always been. It has been said before—and often—but the closest comparison for a project of this scale is Fenway Park. It’s the only baseball facility that can match Wrigley Field in terms of age and historical relevance. Following the work in Boston a few years ago, it would be hard to argue that Fenway Park doesn’t still feel like Fenway, despite more modern touches and advertising signs. It’s just a better ballpark experience for fans and players.
“I got to experience the transformation of Fenway Park in Boston, really witness how that was a win for everyone,” Epstein said. “For the fans, it just improved the experience where it was still the same old traditional, wonderful venue, but just enhanced with modern amenities. It’s a more comfortable experience without sacrificing any of the traditions that made it great for generations upon generations.”
By the time fans stream into Wrigley Field in 2018, the ballpark will look a bit different.
Among other improvements, the bleachers will be enhanced, there will be video boards and advertising signs in the outfield, the concourses will be cleaner and more accessible, and an open-air plaza will take the place of the old Purple and Red parking lots. But the bricks and ivy will still be there, as will the hand-operated scoreboard and iconic marquee.
Preserving the past while still modernizing the ballpark will take considerable time, effort and resources, but it’s also essential to ensure a 100-year-old facility can survive and thrive in the modern era.
“There’s really no way to describe the amount of work that has gone into getting just to this point, where we’re beginning the process of restoring the ballpark,” Ricketts said. “There’s a lot of people who have dedicated their lives over the last several years to be ready for this moment, and they’ll be dedicating their lives going forward for four more years. But when it’s done, it’ll all be worth it. For everybody.”
Not only is the restoration process at Wrigley Field in full swing, but fans can now capitalize on its progress. On Monday, Cubs Authentics introduced the Wrigley Field Collection for fans looking to collect unique items from the historic ballpark.
The Wrigley Field Collection will feature authenticated items in limited quantities throughout the season, including bleacher seats, flags, scoreboard tiles, signage and celebrity guest memorabilia, plus items related to Wrigley Field’s restoration and expansion.
The items are available for purchase or bidding at cubs.com/authentics, beginning with a limited number of Wrigley Field flags plus Budweiser Bleacher seats and aisle placards recently removed from the ballpark. Additional items, such as ‘W’ flags flown over the ballpark after home wins and swatch items with authenticated infield dirt, will become available during the 2015 season and throughout the course of the restoration process.
“The Wrigley Field Collection is the best way for fans to secure an authenticated piece of Wrigley Field history,” said Cubs Senior Director of Marketing Alison Miller. “Whether it’s a flag flown at the ballpark during the season or a Budweiser Bleacher seat removed as part of the restoration, Cubs Authentics and the Wrigley Field Collection offer both the team and our fans a chance to preserve the history attached to these great items.”
In addition to memorabilia made available for sale to fans, the Cubs and Cubs Authentics continue to preserve historic elements of the ballpark and game-used gear for the team’s archives. Some items, such as bricks from Wrigley Field’s original bleacher construction, will be re-used in the restored Wrigley Field as possible. Others, such as unique signage or equipment from noteworthy games, are stored securely in the Cubs Archives.
Cubs Authentics can be found at the following locations:
• The Cubs Authentics kiosk, located in the Wrigley Field concourse (in-season only)
• The Cubs Store (3620 N. Clark St.) across from Wrigley Field
• Online at cubs.com/authentics
• Memorabilia also can be purchased over the phone at 773-404-4753 or by emailing CubsAuthentics@cubs.com.
If you want to learn more about the Cubs Authentics program, check out our video from last year.
(Photo by Stephen Green)
The Cubs and ESPN announced Friday that the 2015 season opener at Wrigley Field has been moved to Sunday, April 5, to accommodate MLB’s Opening Night. The North Siders will host St. Louis, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
This will mark the first Opening Night in Wrigley Field history. With the 2015 Cubs now debuting on Sunday night, the series against the Cardinals will be adjusted as follows:
Sunday, April 5: 7:05 p.m. vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Monday, April 6: OFF DAY
Tuesday, April 7: 7:05 p.m. vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Wednesday, April 8: 1:20 p.m. vs. St. Louis Cardinals
Thursday, April 9: OFF DAY
On April 23, 1914, a new and thoroughly modern ballpark opened up on Chicago’s North Side. When the gates were flung wide on the Federal League’s crown jewel, Weeghman Park, fans were treated to their first look at a beautiful steel and brick structure that was designed to stand the test of time. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t need a little help.
Over the last 100 years, the iconic ballpark at the corner of Clark and Addison has gone through countless enhancements, modernizations and expansions. The game moves fast, and major league teams need to keep pace. In 1914, Weeghman Park had only one level, the press box was on the roof, and the facility seated just north of 14,000 people. Not much of that would fly today.
Since then, Wrigley Field has been updated with everything from a second deck, to a hand-operated scoreboard, to new bleachers, to stadium lights, to an improved field drainage system, to a right-field video board. At every step along the way, the Friendly Confines has retained its charm and feel—and has been better off for the additions. A ballpark doesn’t get to be 100 years old without evolving to meet the demands of its sport.
There are pros and cons about playing in a landmark, century-old facility. On the plus side, there is no more beautiful place to watch a Major League Baseball game than the Friendly Confines, from the bricks and ivy of the outfield wall to being ensconced in a thriving urban neighborhood. But there are things the park is missing too, from both a fan and player perspective.
Most fans wouldn’t argue with more and better food options or a few extra restrooms here and there. The players could use a larger clubhouse facility, a better strength and conditioning center, and underground batting tunnels to use during games. And the front office would love additional revenue from things like new video boards and advertising to help keep the Cubs competitive for the foreseeable future.
Every other team in the fiercely competitive NL Central has opened a new facility since 2001, and, make no mistake, they all have these things.
This offseason begins the next, and most ambitious, step in the evolution of Wrigley Field. Over the next four years, the Cubs plan to preserve the beauty and historic features fans have cherished about the ballpark for decades while updating and improving the gameday experience for everyone.
In Vine Line‘s November issue, we get a first look at The 1060 Project and how the plan will come together between now and 2018. We talked to the people who are making the restoration happen, from Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein to the project team, so fans know what to expect as the ballpark is enhanced.
“Wrigley has a very special vibe,” Ricketts said. “It’s a special place. We respect that. We think we understand what makes it so special, and all the things that people associate with this beautiful ballpark will be preserved. It will just have better amenities and better services and more information.”
We also jump into the 2014-15 offseason along with the Cubs players. After more than seven months of continuous routine and rigorous training, it’s an unusual experience for them to suddenly have so much free time on their hands. We stopped by the clubhouse in the season’s final days to find out how the Cubs handle the transition to the offseason.
Finally, for our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we look back at one of the most beloved Cubs figures of all time, Harry Caray. The legendary broadcaster and Hall of Famer died in 1998, but he more than left his mark on the franchise in his 16 years in (and out) of the booth.
We’ll spend this offseason keeping you up-to-date on all the details of The 1060 Project in the pages of Vine Line, on the Web and on Twitter at @cubsvineline. Here’s to the next 100 years at Wrigley Field.
Have you ever dreamed of climbing inside the iconic Wrigley Field manual scoreboard? While you may never get the chance to turn one of the steel plates yourself, we give you the next best thing. For the October issue of Vine Line, we took a guided tour of the landmark structure with the people who work inside it 81 times per season.
The accompanying article can be found in the October issue of Vine Line.
Photo by Stephen Green
Thirty years ago this month, the Cubs played in their first postseason series in nearly four decades. In the October issue of Vine Line, we look back at a game during that season that gave the organization the spark it needed to reach the playoffs.
Impressive single-game performances by unproven players should generally be taken with a grain of salt. Over a long season, even the most below-average hitter or spottiest of spot starters occasionally has his day. Mario Mendoza, whose name is synonymous with offensive mediocrity, had one four-hit game in his major league career.
Sometimes, though, there is a perfect storm of circumstances that make a single-game performance stand out above the 162-game grind—a performance that launches a Hall of Fame career and helps define a player’s legacy.
On June 23, 1984, Ryne Sandberg had such a performance. His 5-for-6, seven-RBI outburst certainly looks impressive on paper, but his day was about much more than the stat sheet.
Start with the fact that he took the game’s elite closer deep twice, tying the game in both the ninth and 10th innings. Throw in the setting (a beautiful Saturday at Wrigley Field) and the matchup (an afternoon showdown against the NL East rival Cardinals). Consider the game’s viewership as NBC’s nationally televised Game of the Week. Finally, pile on the fame it brought Sandberg, the playoff boost it gave a struggling organization, and the sustained steady bump in attendance at Wrigley Field, and the Sandberg Game was a seminal moment in both his career and in the enduring popularity of the Chicago Cubs.
* * * *
“While the performance was great, the reason it resonates was that the context was so different,” said broadcaster Bob Costas, who was in his third year on NBC’s baseball broadcast team when he called the Sandberg Game in 1984.
The broadcast landscape was dramatically different in the mid-1980s. Sports on TV were not the 24-hour, 365-day-a-year industry they are today, and cable had not yet taken hold, so most viewers had limited options when it came to what they watched. The National Game of the Week on NBC was a big deal to both baseball and its fans. Every Saturday, the network arranged a premier game to be broadcast in an afternoon time slot, which meant it was often the only matchup going, as most clubs played their weekend games at night.
“The Game of the Week really was the Game of the Week then,” said Costas, who admitted the Sandberg Game was his favorite regular season broadcast of his illustrious career. “No matter how well a game is telecast today, there’s no one game outside of the postseason that rivets everyone’s attention.”
This combination of factors lent Wrigley Field a Monday Night Football-type atmosphere, with a huge audience tuning in and ratings reaching as high as 10, a number today’s postseason games struggle to match. Even with the WGN Superstation broadcasting Cubs games to viewers across the country, there was still reason to get excited about the weekly NBC tilt.
“There’s only one National Game of the Week on Saturday,” said former Cubs catcher Jody Davis, who started behind the plate that day. “Of course, you didn’t get to play in many every year, so you’re lucky to get into one.”
Sandberg shared similar sentiments and said he relished the idea of the national spotlight shining on him and his teammates for an afternoon.
“Every game on television was a big deal to me,” Sandberg said. “I knew that everybody back home was watching. That really got me fired up to play every game. It brought the most out of my abilities.”
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This particular Saturday was one of those picturesque afternoons that happen only a few times a summer. With temperatures in the low 80s and a slight breeze off the lake, Wrigley Field was made-for-TV perfection.
A series of roster moves—including the addition of right-hander Rick Sutcliffe just 10 days prior—was doing wonders for a team that hadn’t exactly lit up the decade. On the morning of June 23, 1984, the Cubs sat 1.5 games out of first place and were in striking distance of their first postseason berth in 39 years, further raising expectations for the 38,000 fans in attendance and the millions of people tuning in across the nation. It didn’t hurt that the rival Cardinals, the 1982 world champs, were in town.
Steve Trout toed the rubber for the Cubs, but it wasn’t one of his better outings. The right-hander lasted just 1.1 innings and was on the hook for seven earned runs, spotting St. Louis an early six-run lead.
“You mean to tell me that because of me, [Sandberg] became [a key] in one of the most famous games ever,” Trout said with a laugh, reflecting on his start that afternoon.
Momentum temporarily shifted when the Cubs got two runs in the bottom of the fifth, but they promptly gave them both back in the top of the sixth. Trailing 9-3 entering the bottom of the inning, the North Siders injected some much-needed excitement into the stadium when they plated five behind a run-scoring single from Richie Hebner, a two-run double from Bobby Dernier and a two-run single from Sandberg.
Leading 9-8 with two outs in the seventh, St. Louis called out the big guns, enlisting lockdown closer Bruce Sutter to carry them the rest of the way. The eventual Hall of Famer, who would amass 300 saves in his stellar career, was the elite back-end arm of his generation, earning a Cy Young Award for his efforts in 1979 as a member of the Cubs. Sutter relied heavily on a split-finger fastball, a devastating pitch that was still new to players at the time.
“It was just a pitch that nobody had seen before,” Davis said of the splitter. “He brought [it] out, and nobody knew what it did. And he was the best at it. It was just really tough facing him, and he was a true competitor.”
Sutter fanned Gary Matthews to wrap up the seventh and set the Cubs down 1-2-3 in the eighth, putting an apparent damper on any comeback hopes. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion as Sandberg stepped into the box to start the bottom of the ninth inning with the first and third basemen guarding the lines and the infield shifted slightly to the left side.
Sandberg was having a great season in 1984 and was already 3-for-4 on the day with four RBI. After two-plus major league years, he was seen as a good player with a solid glove at second, having claimed his first Gold Glove Award in 1983, but few had him pegged as an eventual Hall of Famer.
“Though he had already emerged as a very good player, he was still early in his career,” Costas said. “That one just propelled him onto the national stage.”
The first pitch came in low and away for ball one. Sandberg took the second pitch on the outside corner for a strike. But the third pitch was on the inner third of the plate, and Sandberg didn’t miss it, sending the ball screaming into the last row of the left-center-field bleachers.
Tie game. Extra innings.
“I said, ‘You know what this is, Tony? It’s a telephone game,’” Costas said, referring to his broadcast partner, Tony Kubek. “It’s the kind of game where as a baseball fan, you pick up the phone and call your baseball buddy, and you go, ‘Are you watching this? Put on NBC.’”
Cards outfielder Willie McGee was having quite a day himself, with a homer, triple and single to his credit. He’d already compiled five RBI and two runs heading into extra innings. The eventual 1985 NL MVP would complete the cycle with a run-scoring double in the top of the 10th and score two batters later, giving the Cards a two-run lead and shifting momentum back into the visitors’ dugout.
After two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th, Dernier took all six pitches he saw to record a full-count walk. As Costas and Kubek thanked the sponsors and crew for their day’s work, up stepped Ryno.
On the third pitch of the sequence, Costas bellowed: “He hits it to deep left-center. Look out! Do you believe it? It’s gone!”
With Sandberg’s bomb, Wrigley Field was up for grabs. The broadcast duo went silent for nearly a full minute to capture the jubilation of the ecstatic crowd.
“I’m sure there was a lengthy period where I called it as ‘gone,’ and we went quiet because the crowd and the pictures said everything,” Costas said. “We had just seen something that almost defied words. And I think the way the second home run was called, it was not just excitement, but amazement.”
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Just like that, Sandberg became a household name. Few remember that Dave Owen drove in the winning run an inning later on a bases-loaded single to complete the comeback and give the Cubs a 12-11 win.
“I went inside [the clubhouse], and I could barely get to my locker because there were so many people to talk to,” Sandberg said in the book Banks to Sandberg to Grace. “That was the start of my first experience with the media. It was pretty cool.”
With his talent on full display for the nation to see, Sandberg soon became a marquee attraction in Major League Baseball. The first example of his enhanced reputation came with the 1984 All-Star voting. In a matter of days, Ryno surpassed Steve Sax, who had been the leading vote-getter at the keystone position.
“That game really told me that I could do that,” Sandberg said. “It was really a different mind-set that game gave me, and it’s something I wanted to live up to—not only the rest of that year … but it also brought new standards for me each and every year, as far as winning a Gold Glove, a silver bat and an MVP.”
When the ’84 campaign came to a close, Sandberg was a nearly unanimous choice for National League MVP, capturing 22 of 24 first-place votes. According to FanGraphs, he compiled a Wins Above Replacement rating of 8.0, hitting .314/.367/.520 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 19 homers and a league-best 114 runs, all while playing a key middle-infield position at an elite level.
* * * *
The dramatic win didn’t benefit just the Cubs’ now-star second baseman. The team was showing signs of ending a 39-year postseason drought and used the comeback as a rallying cry for the season.
“That was kind of our exclamation point,” Davis said. “It was still early enough in the season. We were off to a good start, [and we were] in the pennant race, which fans weren’t too used to [us] being. The excitement was starting to build, and that day made all of the fans start to believe that we did have a chance.”
The team went 59-34 the rest of the way, including an 18-10 record in July and a 20-10 mark in August. They finished 31-24 in one-run ballgames and won 11 games in walk-off fashion en route to an NL-best 96 wins. The North Siders were fun to watch, and, for the first time in a long while, Wrigley Field became the hottest ticket in town, as more and more fans flocked to the North Side to see the miracle Cubs and their soon-to-be MVP second baseman.
“In ’84, the fans came alive, and you saw the first fans on the rooftops,” Sandberg said. “Just to see that whole transformation and see it be a tough ticket here for the rest of my career [was exciting].”
According to Baseball-Reference, the Cubs hit the 2 million mark in attendance for the first time ever that season. Individual game sales were up nearly 8,000 from the previous year and nearly 11,000 from 1982. At least 2 million people have attended games at Wrigley Field in all but three seasons since.
In that single game, a future Hall of Famer emerged from the shadows into full-fledged stardom, a dormant franchise was catapulted to its first postseason berth in nearly four decades, and the fan base was energized for decades to come.