Results tagged ‘ Wrigley Field ’

Cubs set to honor the 1960s at Wrigley Field

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It’s a shame the 1960s-themed homestand will only last only one weekend, especially considering the amount of success the home teams had at Wrigley Field during the decade. While the Cubs had a strong 10-year stretch, it was the NFL’s Chicago Bears that hoisted a championship trophy in 1963, winning the league behind players like Bobby Wade and Mike Ditka.

This weekend, Cubs will host a quick three-game, 1960s-themed series against the Atlanta Braves from July 11-13 leading into Major League Baseball’s All-Star break. The team’s throwback uniform, promotional giveaways, specialty food and beverage offerings, and entertainment will all mirror the sights and sounds of the 1960s at Wrigley Field as part of the season-long celebration of the ballpark’s 100th anniversary. Each game in the series includes a promotional giveaway, offering fans a chance to collect an item commemorating the ’60s decade at the ballpark.

On Friday, July 11, Cubs fans will be able to congratulate 2014 All-Star representative Starlin Castro as he receives his All-Star jersey from Majestic. The team and its fans are pushing for Anthony Rizzo to join the festivities in Minneapolis through MLB’s Final Vote campaign. Fans can vote for Rizzo at mlb.com/vote or by texting N4 to 89269 until this Thursday at 3 p.m. CDT.

On Saturday, July 12, Cubs Charities and Kraft will extend the good feelings with a donation ceremony benefiting programs focused on health, fitness, and education for at-risk youth and families. In June, Kraft committed to donating $100 to Cubs Charities for every opposing batter a Cubs pitcher struck out at Wrigley Field. The Cubs pitching staff delivered 138 strikeouts at home (en route to a National League-leading 247 strikeouts for the month), resulting in a donation of $13,800.

Throwback Uniforms:
On Sunday, July 13, the Cubs will wear a throwback uniform from 1969 to honor some of the team’s most popular players from the era. That squad featured Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo and Billy Williams, as well as other Cubs legends. The visiting Atlanta Braves will wear a 1969 throwback uniform as well.

Promotional Giveaways:
Fans coming to the ballpark will have the chance to collect a unique promotional item at each game of the homestand, beginning with an exclusive Gale Sayers Bobblehead presented by Comcast SportsNet for the first 10,000 fans on Friday. On Saturday, the first 10,000 fans will receive a Billy Williams Retired Number Flag presented by Wrigley. On Sunday, the first 5,000 kids 13-and-under will receive a ’60s Throwback Cubs Etch-A-Sketch, and the first 1,000 kids in the park can run the bases postgame.

Specialty Food Offerings:
Levy Restaurants continues its decade-inspired menu at the Decade Diner, located inside Gate D near Section 142. The 1960s homestand features a Kraft BBQ Pork Sandwich with Kraft Cheese and fried onions served on a toasted onion roll. Fans can also try the Traditional Buffalo Wings homestand special. These classic wings are tossed with Buffalo sauce and served with carrot and celery sticks along with ranch dipping sauce.

The Decade Dogs stand near Section 123 is serving the 1960s Buffalo Wing Dog—a Vienna Beef hot dog topped with diced chicken, buffalo sauce, crumbled bleu cheese and chopped celery. The Buffalo Wing Dog is available all season.

Adults 21-and-over can enjoy an Alabama Ironman Cocktail. This modern twist on the Whiskey Sour, which pays homage to Billy Williams, is made with peach puree, lemon and lime juice.

Historic Moments:
Wrigley Field hosted many memorable baseball and non-baseball moments in the 1960s. The team also started an important tradition at the ballpark.

Wrigley Field hosted its final NFL Championship game in 1963 on a frigid, seven-degree day in December. The Bears beat the New York Giants 14-10 to take the title.

On Dec. 12, 1965, Gale Sayers tied an NFL record by scoring six touchdowns in a 61-20 rout of San Francisco on a muddy Wrigley Field.

In 1966, in his first game after being acquired by the Cubs, eventual Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins threw five scoreless innings in relief and belted a home run in a 2-0 victory over the visiting Dodgers.

In February 1967, the Cubs announced they would feature organ music and play the National Anthem before every home game. Before this, the National Anthem was only played on holidays and special occasions at Wrigley Field.

After completing a doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals on June 29, 1969, Billy Williams officially broke the National League record for consecutive games played with 896. His streak would eventually extend to 1,117 games. That same year, after tossing seven hitless innings against the Braves on Aug. 19, pitcher Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter looked lost as Hank Aaron connected on a deep fly ball. Luckily, a gust of wind knocked it down at the last second, and Billy Williams caught it on the warning track to preserve Holtzman’s career performance.

Tickets for the Braves series remain available at cubs.com or 800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

 

1000 Words: Happy Fourth of July

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(Photo by Chicago Daily News)

The American flag is raised over Weeghman Park in 1914. Vine Line wishes everybody a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July.

1000 Words: A dense fog shrouds the Friendly Confines

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(Photo by Stephen Green)

The last few nights at Wrigley Field have felt more like April than June, with temperatures in the low 60s. Thursday night’s game versus the Nationals was played under a heavy fog, captured here by team photographer Stephen Green.

 

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

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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

1000 Words: Wayne Newton at the Confines

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You’ve got to give it to entertainer Wayne Newton: The man certainly knows how to make an entrance. He stopped by Wrigley Field today to throw out the first pitch and to promote Las Vegas travel.

Wrigley Field Smokies are back

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It’s been a long time coming, but the Smokie is back at the Friendly Confines.

The Chicago Cubs and Vienna Beef have partnered to introduce Wrigley Field Smokies, a menu item that will spark memories for fans who remember the aroma of smoked sausages being grilled at the ballpark decades ago.

Levy Restaurants will serve Wrigley Field Smokies at the newly re-branded grill cart near Aisle 108 in Wrigley Field’s main concourse beginning this homestand and continuing throughout the season. Wrigley Field Smokies will also be available in retail locations throughout the Chicago area within the next several weeks.

“We are very excited to team up with the Chicago Cubs to bring back the Smokies to Wrigley Field this year,” said Vienna Beef Chairman Jim Bodman. “For decades, fans enjoyed great-tasting smoked sausages while they took in a game at the ballpark. They’ll be able to savor that smoky flavor once again both at Wrigley Field and at home from their local supermarket.”

Actor Bill Murray once told Vine Line the sausages were a favorite of his when he would visit the stadium as a child, and he couldn’t wait for the Cubs to bring them back.

“Our fans have been asking if we’d bring smoked sausages back to Wrigley Field for years,” added Chicago Cubs Vice President of Sales and Partnerships Colin Faulkner. “We’re thrilled to collaborate with Vienna Beef to bring back a piece of our history in a new and delicious way.”

Vienna Beef, the Official Hot Dog of Wrigley Field, will celebrate Hot Dog Month in July through promotions and giveaways at the ballpark.

In addition to the Wrigley Field Smokies, the Cubs and their culinary team have put a historical twist on the fan favorite with the Decade Dogs, 10 specially designed hot dogs piled high with toppings linked to the particular decade being recognized at the park.

“It’s fun. People react to it in a positive way,” Bodman said. “Vienna has been around for 130 years, baseball has been around for over 160 years, so if somebody can come up with something that’s different, that combines these two things, it obviously [gets] you thinking they’re attempting to do something outside the norm.”

Many of the upcoming decades’ hot dogs have actually been available throughout the season, including the 1960s Buffalo Wing Dog and the 1970s Pulled Pork Dog. Meanwhile, the 1980s Nacho Dog and the 1990s Bagel Dog will only be around during the ’80s- and ’90s-themed homestands. Fans searching for these unique concessions can find them next to Gate F near Section 123.

“I think when you start getting into some of the decades that represent the lives of the current fans, it’s going to be more thrilling than even the stuff of the 1930s and the 1940s,” Bodman said.

1950s Homestand Promotions and Guests: 6/20/14-6/28/14

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The upcoming homestand at Wrigley Field kicks off with an impressive list of guests this Friday, June 20, as the Cubs host the Pirates, Reds and Nationals for the 1950s-themed celebration. The Cubs will welcome in everyone from superfan Jeff Garlin to TV host Chelsea Handler to pop superstar Sting for the 10-game set.

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

1950s Homestand Recap, June 20-28

Friday, June 20, Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 3:05 p.m.

  • Promotion: Ernie Banks Debut Bobblehead presented by Giordano’s (first 10,000 fans)
  • First pitches: Aloe Blacc (singer/songwriter of top hits like “The Man” and “Wake Me Up”), Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and Wayne Newton for Las Vegas
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Ernie Banks and Tom Morello
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com
  • Community Event: Hot Stove Cool Music

Saturday, June 21, Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 6:15 p.m.

  • Promotion: Cubs T-shirt presented by Cooper Tires (first 10,000 fans)
  • First pitch: Comedian/television host Chelsea Handler
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Comedians Chelsea Handler and Josh Wolf
  • Broadcast: FOX-TV, WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com
  • Community Event: Catch in the Confines presented by Advocate Children’s Hospital

Sunday, June 22, Chicago Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, 1:20 p.m.

  • Throwback uniforms: Retro 1953 Cubs and Pirates uniforms
  • Promotion: 1950s Throwback Cubs Mr. Potato Head Keychain (first 5,000 kids 13-and-under). First 1,000 kids 13-and-under run the bases postgame, weather permitting.
  • First pitch and seventh-inning stretch: Former Cubs third baseman Kevin Orie
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Monday, June 23, Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m.

  • Seventh-inning stretch: Sting
  • Broadcast: WCIU-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, WRTO 1200-AM Spanish Radio, Cubs.com

Tuesday, June 24, Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds, 7:05 p.m.

  • Special Event: Salute to Heroes Night
  • First pitches and seventh-inning stretch: Actors LaRoyce Hawkins and Jon Seda from NBC’s Chicago P.D., and Joe Minoso and Christian Stolte from Chicago Fire
  • Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Wednesday, June 25, Chicago Cubs vs. Cincinnati Reds, 6:05 p.m.

  • Special Event: Halfway to the Holidays
  • First pitch: Chef Graham Elliot
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Jeff Garlin and Sean Giambrone from ABC’s The Goldbergs
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

Thursday, June 26, Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m.

  • Special Event: Teacher Appreciation Night
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Former Cubs outfielder Bobby Dernier
  • Broadcast: Comcast SportsNet, WGN 720-AM Radio, WRTO 1200-AM Spanish Radio, Cubs.com

Friday, June 27, Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals, 3:05 p.m.

  • Promotion: Wrigley Field 100 Tote Bag presented by MLB Network (first 20,000 fans)
  • First pitch and seventh-inning stretch: Kristian Bush from the country group Sugarland
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com
  • Community Event: Cubs Favorite Things basket auction by Cubs Wives

Saturday, June 28, Chicago Cubs vs. Washington Nationals, Doubleheader, 12:05 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.

12:05 p.m.

  • Promotion: American Girl Doll-sized Cubs Apparel (first 4,000 kids 13-and-under)
  • Seventh-inning stretch: Former Cubs outfielder George Altman
  • Broadcast: WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

6:15 p.m.

  • First pitch and Seventh-inning stretch: TBD
  • Broadcast: FOX-TV, WGN-TV, WGN 720-AM Radio, Cubs.com

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

 

 

 

The Party of the Century shifts to the 1950s

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Ernie Banks made his major league debut in 1953 and claimed the NL MVP in 1958 and ’59. (Photo courtesy National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

Wrigley Field will host this season’s lengthiest homestand to date, as the Cubs face the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals in a 10-game set from June 20-28 that concludes with a Saturday doubleheader against Washington (separate ticketing required). The team’s throwback uniform, promotional giveaways, specialty food and beverage offerings, and entertainment will mirror the sights and sounds of the 1950s at Wrigley Field as part of the season-long celebration of the ballpark’s 100th birthday.

Throwback Uniforms:
On Friday June 22, the Cubs will sport a throwback uniform from 1953 to honor Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. Banks made his Major League debut Sept. 17, 1953, vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. The 1953 uniform is the last of the zipper-front retro uniforms the team will wear this season. The visiting Pirates will wear a retro uniform from 1953 as well.

Promotional Giveaways:
Fans coming to the ballpark this homestand have the chance to collect a number of unique promotional items, beginning with an exclusive Ernie Banks Debut Bobblehead presented by Giordano’s for the first 10,000 fans attending the game Friday, June 20. On Saturday, June 21, the first 10,000 fans will receive a Cubs T-shirt presented by Cooper Tires. On Sunday, June 22, the first 5,000 kids 13-and-under will receive a ’50s Throwback Cubs Mr. Potato Head Keychain, and the first 1,000 kids in the park can run the bases postgame. On Friday, June 27, the first 20,000 fans in the ballpark will receive a Wrigley Field 100 Tote Bag presented by MLB Network. Finally, for the 12:05 p.m. game of the June 28 doubleheader, the first 4,000 kids 13-and-under will receive limited-edition American Girl Doll-sized Cubs apparel.

Cubs Special Events:
On Tuesday, June 24, Cubs fans can show their support of the men and women of our law enforcement and firefighting communities at the Salute to Heroes Night special event. Upon entering, fans can choose a blue Cubs-themed heroes shirt to support the men and women of law enforcement or a red Cubs-themed heroes shirt to support the men and women of the firefighting community. Some of Chicago’s bravest heroes will be honored during the evening’s pregame ceremony. Heroes Night tickets are available in the Budweiser Bleachers, Field Box Outfield or Terrace Reserved Outfield.

The team’s inaugural Halfway to the Holidays event in the Budweiser Bleachers is Wednesday, June 25. Each special event ticketholder will receive a Cubs Ugly Holiday T-shirt inspired by ugly holiday sweater designs.

Teacher Appreciation Night is Thursday, June 26. Teachers are invited to celebrate their hard work with a game ticket in the Budweiser Bleachers, Terrace Reserved Outfield or Upper Deck Reserved Outfield. Special event attendees will receive a Cubs Wall Clock and postgame walk on the warning track.

Tickets for all three special events may be purchased at cubs.com/specialevents.

Specialty Food Offerings:
Levy Restaurants continues its decade-inspired menu at the Decade Diner, located inside Gate D near Section 142. The 1950s homestand features a Kraft Classic Grilled Cheese Sandwich served with Tomato Basil Bisque. The other homestand special is an Elvis “Nanner” Sandwich with peanut butter, banana and bacon. Kraft will continue to donate $100 to Cubs Charities for every opposing batter a Cubs pitcher strikes out at Wrigley Field in the month of June. Fans can pick up “K” cards inside the Decade Diner to help celebrate each strikeout.

The Decade Dogs stand near Section 123 is serving the 1950s TV Dinner Dog, which is a Vienna Beef hot dog topped with mashed potatoes, gravy and corn.

Adults 21-and-over can enjoy a Mr. Cub #14 Cocktail, served in a limited-edition souvenir glass on the main concourse at Section 109 and in the bleacher patio in left field. This Cubbie Blue cocktail features Smirnoff Vodka, Blue Curacao and lemonade, and is served with a slice of lemon and a cherry.

Community Events:
In addition to the team’s home games, fans can participate in three events benefiting charitable causes. On Friday, June 20, the third annual Hot Stove Cool Music Chicago concert combines music and baseball. Cubs president Theo Epstein, Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons and Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper will join an All-Star lineup of musicians and personalities at Metro in Wrigleyville to benefit Cubs Charities and Epstein’s Foundation To Be Named Later. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at metrochicago.com for $50 or fans can call 773-404-CUBS for more information.

The next day, June 21, fans can come to Wrigley Field before that evening’s game to take some swings in the batting cage, throw a ball in the outfield or sit in the team dugouts at Cubs Charities’ Catch in the Confines event presented by Advocate Children’s Hospital. Catch in the Confines tickets are $150 per person or $25 for guests and can be purchased online at cubscharities.org or by calling 773-404-CUBS. All proceeds benefit Cubs Charities.

Finally, on Friday, June 27, Cubs wives will auction off Cubs Favorite Things baskets filled with select gifts and memorabilia on the Wrigley Field concourse during the game. A similar auction will follow online at cubscharities.org June 29-July 6, with all proceeds benefiting Cubs Charities.

Historic Moments:
Wrigley Field hosted noteworthy baseball and non-baseball events in the 1950s, including the debut of Mr. Cub Ernie Banks against the Phillies on April 17, 1953.

In 1951, during the Korean War, Wrigley Field instituted a voluntary policy in which fans who caught a foul ball could return those balls so they could be shipped to servicemen overseas. Fans were asked to write their name and address on the ball so the servicemen would know who sent it.

That same year, on April 17, professional golfer Sam Snead did what no major league batter has ever done—he hit Wrigley Field’s center field scoreboard with a golf ball and also hit a ball over the scoreboard with his 2-iron for good measure.

On August 21, 1954, a basketball court and portable lights were installed at Wrigley Field for games featuring the Harlem Globetrotters against George Mikan’s U.S. Stars, and the House of David traveling team against the Boston Whirlwinds.

Interestingly, Wrigley Field in Chicago wasn’t the only Wrigley Field in operation heading into the 1950s. The Cubs played Spring Training games at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles until 1951, when the franchise moved its Spring Training home from Santa Catalina Island in California to Rendezvous Park in Mesa, Arizona. The team’s programs at both ballparks featured cover designs by artist Otis Shepard. Season Ticket Holders will notice a nod to the Cubs’ final years at Wrigley Field Los Angeles on their ticket designs for the June 21 and 22 games.

To learn more about these historic moments and others, visit wrigleyfield100.com.

Tickets for the Pirates, Reds and Nationals series remain available at cubs.com or 800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).

Home Series No. 10 Preview: Cubs vs. Marlins

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Giancarlo Stanton is leading the NL with 17 homers and 53 RBI. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

After dropping 100 games last season, the upstart Marlins pull into Wrigley Field 32-28 and in a surprising tie for first place with the Braves in the NL East. The Fish have one of the most exciting young players in the game in behemoth Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a can’t-miss batting practice attraction who delivers unmatched power, and he’s putting up MVP-like numbers in the early going. But the Marlins aren’t just the Stanton show. The team has come out swinging in 2014, scoring more runs than any other offense this side of the Rockies. Pair that with a group of young pitchers with plenty of upside, and the Marlins aren’t far off from making a run at relevance. The good news for the Cubs is the Fish have proven to be a much better team at home than they are on the road.

PITCHING
(11TH IN NL, 4.2 RA/G)
The Marlins took a big hit early this season when they lost Cuban sensation Jose Fernandez for the year following Tommy John Surgery. His passion and performance made every one of his starts must-see baseball. They immediately moved to sign veteran Randy Wolf (1-1, 3.38 ERA), who the Cubs will face on Saturday. He also has a pair of teammates who aren’t too shabby. Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.24 ERA), who the Cubs will face Friday, is one of the hardest throwers in the game and is getting results to match the stuff. Sunday’s starter, Henderson Alvarez (3-3, 2.62 ERA) relies more on command than velocity, but his excellent ERA puts him right up there with any strikeout artist. The fifth starter and the bullpen, outside of closer Steve Cishek, are where the Marlins’ troubles lie. They’ll need more out of their pitching if they want to remain competitive all season long.

HITTING
(2ND IN NL, 4.6 RS/G)
The Marlins began the season hitting the cover off the ball, especially at Marlins Park. Stanton is the leader on offense, and he’s proving to be one of the game’s best players when healthy. He comes into the series hitting .314/.407/.614 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and is leading the NL with 17 homers and 53 RBI. But he is hardly alone. The Marlins’ big free-agent addition, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has been solid early on, though his numbers have dropped in the last month. Veteran Casey McGehee has also looked good (.298/.355/.382), but it remains to be seen if he can keep it up for the entire season. Joining Stanton in the outfield are Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, both very young (23 and 22, respectively) and delivering with the bat. If the youth can continue to perform, the Marlins’ offense could turn out to be one of the biggest surprises in baseball.

From the Pages of Vine Line: Wrigley Field and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

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The following article appears in the June issue of Vine Line. The Cubs will salute the girls of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Friday at Wrigley Field.

With her glove in hand and her head on a swivel, a young woman from Cincinnati stood on hallowed baseball ground and awaited her big break in a steady rain.

Crack! A batter pummeled a fly ball that soared to her left, and the 22-year-old sprinted after it in the wet grass. Crack! Another ball sailed to her right, and she lunged. Crack! Yet another flew high over her head, and the gifted athlete took off once again.

“You had to run about a mile to get the ball,” said retired schoolteacher Betsy Jochum with a chuckle. “It was quite a thrill to try out on that field.”

That field, of course, was Wrigley Field, and those fundamental drills triggered a movement that would dispel the popular notion that girls were not cut out for sports. Jochum was among a group of women trying out for 60 spots in the newly formed All-American Girls Softball League, according to the Chicago Tribune.

It was 1943, and as big league baseball clubs ceded talent to the war effort, front offices scrambled to fill the void. Scouts were dispatched to the coasts, Midwestern cornfields and even Canada to mold a new league. The ballplayers—some still in their teens—came by train and were run ragged on the field. Dreams were made, hearts were broken, fans were entranced, and a rocketing 12-inch softball cracked the old boys’ club wide open.

“At the time, we were just having a lot of fun playing,” Jochum, now 93 years old, said in a telephone interview from her home in South Bend, Indiana. “Later on, they told us we were pioneers.”

* * * *
The plan was hatched for practical, decidedly unromantic reasons. Executives simply needed a way to fill stadium seats.

Chicago Cubs owner and team president Philip K. Wrigley, a business-minded numbers man, found himself staring at a deficit in 1942. The front lines of World War II were plucking MLB’s best and brightest from the rosters, and Wrigley knew that old-timers, nobodies, rookies and the 4-F would hardly excite his fan base. He worried postwar teams would be weaker or could possibly fold altogether, and large ballparks such as his, which stood empty for more than half the year anyway, would be history.

“[The league] came about not because he wanted to do the right thing,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “Baseball shutting down was a very real fear.”

Organizations were just recovering from the Great Depression, and the war threatened to gut professional baseball so drastically there were fears it might never rebound.

As chief of a chewing gum empire, Wrigley had a knack for solving problems. Summer softball leagues, for men and women alike, were popular in Chicago, and the swelling interest in the sport got him thinking—why not start a pro league for women?

He and Ken Sells, assistant to the Cubs general manager and the new league’s future president, drummed up the idea of marrying softball with some of baseball’s rules. There would be nine players on the field rather than 10, and they would play a full nine innings instead of seven. But the league would also feature a shorter pitching distance, underhand pitching, a bigger ball and a shorter distance between bases. Wrigley pitched his idea to the other owners, but even with the dangling carrot of filling their parks, the idea went over like a lead rosin bag.

“The Wrigleys were a lot better off financially,” Hartig said. “They were a little more willing to experiment.”

With minimal support outside of his own office, Wrigley plowed ahead. He secured four cities that each agreed to pony up $22,500 in financing, which would be matched by Wrigley himself. In February 1943, the league’s formation was made public.

Based in Chicago, the All-American Girls Softball League—the name changed several times, eventually landing on All-American Girls Professional Baseball League—comprised four Midwestern teams and would do its own marketing, player recruiting, training, signing and allocating. The women were offered one-year contracts by the league, not their individual clubs.

Wrigley had never been short on cash, but his financial stake in the league was enough to send a tremor through even the deepest pockets. In addition to his initial investment, he ran the league as a nonprofit, redirecting all proceeds to the war effort. If any team was in the red, Wrigley made up the difference himself. Hartig noted that the Cubs owner spent between $135,000 and $200,000 on the venture by his tenure’s end.

“It was pretty much guaranteed not to be a moneymaker,” Hartig said. “But [Wrigley] was pleased with what he had done.”

* * * *
On that dreary mid-May day in 1943, Betsy Jochum and the other invited talent swung bats and shagged balls at Wrigley Field, trying to nab one of the 15 coveted spots on each club. Days were spent sweating on the field, while evenings found the women knee-deep in etiquette training, which was designed to teach them the finer points of being “ladies.” This included the art of walking in high heels, applying make-up and sitting in a proper, ladylike manner.

The women were chaperoned on any social outings, and they were forbidden from smoking and drinking hard liquor in public. They were to wear dresses outside of the ballpark (and inside the park, thanks to their fashion-forward belted tunic uniforms).

Tryouts wrapped up on May 25, and the season began just five days later. The Racine Belles, Kenosha Comets, Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox, where Jochum played for six seasons as an outfielder and pitcher, were officially playing professional ball.

Games drew about 2,000-3,000 fans initially, with one July 4 doubleheader in South Bend bringing in close to 10,000, Jochum recalled. Though the league was formed in part to fill major league ballparks, the women’s teams had their own fields and played in the big stadiums only for special events.

The Racine Belles clinched the ’43 title, and the 108-game season (54 games per team) wrapped with attendance reaching nearly 176,000 leaguewide, according to the AAGPBL.

Wartime games had an especially patriotic bent, with the women lining up in a V formation (for victory) before play began. Servicemen and -women were admitted free of charge, and exhibition games were often played to benefit the armed forces or the Red Cross.

Etiquette training was ongoing, as was extensive promotion of the women as ladylike girls next door. The average age of the players hovered around 21, and they earned between $45-85 per week, a decent living in those days. In the offseason, they were likely to stay in their team’s town, taking on a factory job or something similar, said Jeneane Lesko, a former player and the president of the AAGPBL Players Association.

Competition was intense, with rivalries almost guaranteed given how infrequently the teams were able to socialize with one another. Lesko recalled clearing both benches when she nearly beaned an opponent with a wild pitch, but the managers broke up the scrum before it got physical.

“Oh, it was major league,” said the 79-year-old Lesko. “The competitiveness was there.”

As the seasons progressed, the game looked less and less like softball. The pitching distances increased, the ball size decreased and overhand pitching was instituted. Certain players emerged as powerhouse fan favorites, and clubs even reported to Spring Training in Florida and Cuba. After Wrigley divested himself and Arthur Meyerhoff took over operations as the war drew to a close, the league expanded to 10 teams. In 1948, attendance reached 1 million.

“After they saw we really could play,” Jochum said of the fans, “they knew.”

* * * *
Over the run of the league, there were 15 different teams—the dismal Chicago Colleens even graced the Windy City for one season in ’48. But changes in leadership, the end of wartime rationing and the incursion of television sets into American households dealt the AAGPBL a fatal blow. The organization had been decentralized, and team owners were feeling the sting of dwindling attendance.

The league quietly folded after the ’54 season—so quietly, in fact, that by the following April, many players still assumed they would be on the field again in a month, Lesko said. As the teams disbanded, some women went back to their hometowns, some stayed in their affiliate towns, and others headed to college and pursued careers. Jochum quit after the ’48 season when she learned she had been traded, but opted to stay in South Bend.

Lesko, a southpaw, was still active when the AAGPBL dissolved and then joined a traveling league that played barnstorming games in the U.S. and Canada. She quit after two years, taught school overseas, and returned to the States to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour. She eventually married, had three sons, worked in real estate and became involved in the AAGPBL Players Association. The Seattle resident is currently serving as the association’s president, and she is active in the organization, formation and promotion of women’s professional ball leagues. Up until this year, she was still playing softball.

“Our purpose is to promote the AAGPBL and to promote women’s baseball,” Lesko said. “To ensure our place in history, and to help other girls have an opportunity to play sports.”

Lesko has made the league’s legacy her mission, traveling around the world for tournaments, organizing AAGPBL yearly reunions and assisting with other high-profile gigs, such as the salute to the AAGPBL that will take place at Wrigley Field on June 6. Of the 600 women who played in the league, roughly 150 remain, and just a handful will head to Chicago to be honored before the Cubs take on the Brewers. “Sockem Jochum” has been asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch on the field where her career began more than seven decades ago.

“Well, I’m going to attempt it,” Jochum said with a chuckle. “I’ll just bounce it into the catcher’s mitt.”

—Kerry Trotter

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