Results tagged ‘ Wrigley Field ’
(Photo by Stephen Green)
We are officially two weeks out from the Cubs’ April 4 home opener against the Ryne Sandberg-managed Philadelphia Phillies. The opener will kick off the season-long celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. All year, the Cubs will be honoring the venerable stadium with throwback uniforms, retro bobbleheads, decade-themed giveaways and concessions, and more. We’ll see you in two weeks.
(National Baseball Hall of Fame)
Looking to get in on the fun when you visit Wrigley Field during its 100th birthday season? On Wednesday, the Cubs officially launched WrigleyField100.com to honor 100 years of history at the iconic ballpark and share the team’s season-long plans to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime milestone.
The website features an extensive look at all of the unique, historic moments that have taken place at Wrigley Field over the last 100 years, including Cubs baseball, Chicago Bears and collegiate football games, summer concerts and other special events. Visitors can browse through Wrigley Field history from each decade, infographics about baseball and life in 1914, and “100 Great Times” that have taken place at the stadium over the last century. The Cubs will pay tribute to these 100 Great Times presented by Budweiser during each home game, with several athletes, performers and dignitaries associated with the moments joining the Wrigley Field 100 celebration.
Fans visiting WrigleyField100.com are also invited to participate in polls to determine their “All-Wrigley Team,” as well as other topics like their favorite broadcasters, concession items, traditions and Wrigley Field icons.
Some of these “All-Wrigley” candidates have already shared their favorite Wrigley Field memories on the website. More than two dozen current and former players, executives and celebrities revealed their favorite Wrigley Field stories in candid personal videos.
In addition to these historical elements, WrigleyField100.com showcases the team’s plans to commemorate “The Party of the Century” during 10 decade-themed homestands, complete with historic player uniforms, gameday entertainment, specialty food offerings, one-of-a-kind bobbleheads, retro toy giveaways, commemorative memorabilia, Cubs Charities’ 100 Gifts of Service and more.
“WrigleyField100.com is a great resource for fans looking to learn more about Wrigley Field’s history and our season-long plans to celebrate its centennial,” said Cubs Senior Director of Marketing Alison Miller. “We encourage everyone to spend some time on the site and vote for their favorite players and attractions from the last century at Wrigley Field.”
As part of an ongoing commitment to ease vehicle traffic and reduce the number of cars near Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs are launching a free remote parking lot operation two miles west of the ballpark during night and weekend games. The new remote parking lot is located at 3900 N. Rockwell St., just east of the Chicago River and immediately south of Irving Park Road. The lot has a capacity of 1,000 vehicles and will be secured by Cubs personnel. The parking service includes free shuttle transportation to and from the remote lot and Wrigley Field.
“We believe free parking is a great incentive for our guests and encourages fans to take advantage of this new remote parking lot,” said Manager, Government & Neighborhood Relations Kam Buckner. “We recognize many fans drive to Wrigley Field, and this easy-to-use remote parking operation will help alleviate traffic congestion in the neighborhood before and after games.”
Shuttles will begin running two and a half hours prior to the start of games and will run continuously for approximately an hour postgame. At the conclusion of night and weekend games, the shuttle bus will pick up fans at the designated drop-off location on Addison Street.
This shuttle service will also be available for postseason games and night games of a day-night doubleheader. The Cubs’ first day-night doubleheader of the season will take place Sat., June 28.
This newly introduced free remote parking lot replaces the team’s previous remote parking operation at DeVry University.
(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Once upon a time, early in the 20th century, the Confines were not so friendly. Cubs games drew nattily dressed men to Weeghman Park’s sleepy Lakeview neighborhood by trolley or elevated train to cheer on the likes of Max Flack and Jigger Statz. Fans took to their seats, likely among the festering trash abandoned by the previous day’s crowd. They might lose a few bucks when a favorite pitcher “threw” a fixed game. Some may have had a box seat reserved only to find it occupied by a friend of one of the many unscrupulous ushers. They’d slam some beers, eat hot dogs, and not surprise a soul if they walked out with a black eye after an all-too-typical tussle.
You know, just your average day at the ballpark.
“It was kind of a rough crowd,” said Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field historian Ed Hartig, of the ballpark experience in the early 1900s. “It was not a place for families.”
This hardscrabble climate was a common feature of baseball parks at the time. The Cubs drew about 600,000 fans per season, and the crowds were primarily male and often intimidating.
“The team wasn’t complaining,” Hartig said. “That was fine.”
But it wasn’t enough, at least not for one man.
In 1918, a baseball writer was plucked off his beat and deposited into the Cubs front office, where his years of outsider observations and unbiased criticism of management were put to the test.
As the ’20s roared loud and proud at Wrigley Field, the rough-and-tumble tumult of gamedays gave way to memorable, safe and pleasant afternoons at the park. Home games were broadcast on the radio. Attendance records were set. The park grew. Women and children arrived in droves. And most of this can be traced directly to the efforts of then-Cubs President Bill Veeck Sr.
“He’s right up there at the top,” Hartig said of Veeck’s place in baseball history. “You go to a game [today], and 40 percent of the crowd is women, there are kids at games, the ballpark is clean.”
Veeck was an integral cog in the team’s front office, from his hiring in 1918 to his death in 1933 at the age of 56. During his time at the helm, he led the Cubs out of the Dark Ages and revolutionized the marketing of baseball. He had such a profound and lasting impact on the game that campaigns are underway to get him elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at the next available opportunity, in December 2015.
“He was a pioneering executive who changed baseball from a cottage industry into an entertainment colossus,” said Dr. David Fletcher, president and founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum and one of those pushing for Veeck’s Cooperstown enshrinement. “It’s sad—most Cubs fans have never heard of him.”
* * * *
William Louis Veeck Sr.—not to be confused with his legendary, franchise-owning, promotional stuntman of a son (think exploding scoreboards and Disco Demolition)—was a by-the-book but out-of-the-box leader who rewarded loyalty and regularly took the long view. A baseball fan from a young age, Veeck was born in Indiana in 1877 and had his roots in journalism, not management. His first job was selling newspapers, and as a teenager he worked as a printer’s apprentice.
Veeck never attended college and eventually landed a job in the cutthroat world of Chicago newspapers. He bounced around among publications until gaining purchase at the Chicago Evening American, first reporting on the city desk and later on sports, where his lifelong love of baseball paid off. He wrote under the pen name “Bill Bailey,” and there was a quality to his work that went beyond simply posting gameday recaps and churning out stats.
He demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the game that caught the baseball world’s attention—so much so that when the Cubs began considering a new management direction, Veeck’s name was on the short list.
“[He] was more critic than critical,” Hartig said.
In 1918, then-Cubs President Charles Weeghman was underwater financially and had to choose between his baseball career and his restaurant business. The team had just won the National League pennant during a season abridged by World War I, but both his restaurant and his namesake Weeghman Park, where the Cubs played, were suffering from dismal attendance due to the aftereffects of the war and a worldwide influenza epidemic that caused the U.S. government to urge people to stay out of crowded places. To make matters worse, he had a German-sounding last name during the acrimonious postwar period. Ultimately, he stepped down from the team, and Cubs manager Fred Mitchell took over.
Veeck—somewhat improbably by today’s standards—was hired by the Cubs as vice president and treasurer. The following summer, the National League determined Mitchell could not serve as both manager and president. As he preferred to stay on the field, Veeck was bumped up to the big job.
“To hire a sportswriter with little or no business background,” Hartig said, “today you’d be like, ‘What are they thinking?’”
* * * *
But the Cubs had good reason for optimism. Almost immediately, Veeck began to combat the scourge of player gambling.
“He basically saved baseball with his role in the Black Sox scandal,” Fletcher said. “He blew the whistle on his own team.”
With his swift punitive measures, the Cubs president set a league-wide standard for transparency. Yet Veeck’s cleanup efforts were only beginning.
In 1922, he insisted the team wear freshly laundered uniforms for each game. According to Veeck’s logic, a tidy team upped the park’s allure and would put more fans in the seats, as would the newly hired Andy Frain uniformed ushers.
Before Frain, the park’s ushers weren’t known for their courteous service, often giving otherwise reserved seats to friends or to those proffering bribes, resolving conflicts with fisticuffs, or generally ignoring the safety and comfort of their charges. Not so with the new fleet.
And then there was the mess. Ballparks typically only underwent a cleaning after every series, so fans were often sitting amid piles of days-old trash. Veeck upped the size of the grounds crew and instituted park-wide cleanup after every home game.
He also expanded concessions beyond the standard beer and hot dogs to include items such as lemonade, soda, candy and popcorn—all in the name of courting a new crop of fans.
But nothing did more to bring a different crowd to the ballpark than his championing of Ladies Day. With the help of team Vice President John Seys and club Secretary Margaret Donahue (who later served as VP), Veeck fought to welcome women to the newly christened Wrigley Field.
The league wasn’t wild about the idea of a regular day on which women didn’t have to surrender the buck or so to buy a ticket, as it would chip away at revenues. The promotion was actually first introduced in the 1880s, but the NL abolished it in 1909. When Weeghman took over the Cubs in 1916, he made his case for Ladies Day, but the NL again said no. Finally, in 1918 and ’19, the NL allowed the Cubs to attempt the concept on a trial basis.
It was the promotion of the event by Veeck, Seys and Donahue in the 1920s that convinced NL owners that offering Ladies Days would eventually lead to women attending other games. With that, the NL removed the restriction, and the Cubs turned it into a regular Friday event. By the mid-1920s, the team was drawing close to 10,000 women for a single Ladies Day game. In 1929, one August game drew 29,000 women, and the numbers only swelled from there, according to Hartig.
The Ladies Day promotion continued in some form until 1990.
* * * *
Veeck’s sweeping changes never would have been possible without the support of chewing gum magnate and team owner William Wrigley Jr.
“They understood marketing before the whole science of marketing was studied,” Hartig said of the Wrigley family, which boldly sent a pack of their eponymous gum to every telephone customer in the country—twice.
One of the harder sells Wrigley and Veeck teamed up on was the idea of broadcasting home games on the radio. Popular opinion decried such a practice as a deterrent to actual attendance. If a fan could hear games on the radio, why would he or she feel the need to hop on a train to see a game in person? But on Oct. 1, 1924, the Cubs made their successful radio debut, broadcasting a city series 10-7 win over the White Sox on WGN. In the 1925 season, the Cubs became the first major league franchise to broadcast all of their home games.
“The announcers are going, ‘It’s a beautiful day at the ballpark,’” Hartig said. “People want to go.”
And people did. While the Cubs ended the year well below .500, their attendance totaled 622,610, nearly 100,000 more than the National League average, according to the Baseball Research Journal.
Thanks to this surge in fandom, a second tier of grandstands was added to Wrigley Field in 1927. In 1929, manager Joe McCarthy, a Veeck hire, nabbed his first pennant. The team also won the NL in ’32, ’35 and ’38, due in large part to Veeck’s management. During this time, the team began drawing more than a million fans per season, becoming the first NL club to do so.
Veeck died of leukemia in 1933, shortly after championing interleague play as a way to combat the dismal Depression-era attendance. He also supported the creation of the All-Star Game. Veeck even helped negotiate a deal to bring a football team called the Decatur Staley’s to Chicago. They are better known these days as the Chicago Bears, a franchise that went on to play for 50 years at Wrigley Field.
While a Veeck bid for the Hall of Fame was unsuccessful in 2012, the effort is far from over. Fletcher is gearing up to take another shot in December 2015, more than 100 years after the president’s heyday.
“I think he’s the most unsung hero of Major League Baseball,” Fletcher said. “His footprints are significant.”
And they’re all over Wrigley Field.
The Cubs today announced details for purchasing single-game tickets for the 2014 season. This year, Cubs fans will be able to watch their favorite team while taking part in a season-long celebration of the last 100 years of baseball and other events at Wrigley Field. Guests will enjoy unique promotional items, retro food and beverage options, throwback uniforms and entertainment specific to the time period being celebrated during 10 decade-specific homestands.
Single game tickets go on sale Friday, March 7, at 10 a.m. CST at http://www.cubs.com and by phone at 800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).
As referenced last year, the team will no longer host a two-hour on-sale event at Wrigley Field prior to online and phone sales. The Wrigley Field Ticket Windows will open Saturday, March 8, at 9 a.m.
In celebration of Wrigley Field’s milestone, the team has introduced a section of MasterCard Century Seats with tickets priced at $19.14 before tax for every game of the season. This 350-seat section is located in the Upper Deck Box level in left field. These tickets must be purchased with a MasterCard and are available at http://www.cubs.com/CenturySeats or 800-THE-CUBS with no service or delivery fees.
“We’re excited to host the ‘Party of the Century’ at Wrigley Field this year while honoring our historic ballpark,” said Cubs Vice President of Sales and Partnerships Colin Faulkner. “Our fans will notice a unique look and feel when they attend each homestand as we recognize a century of events, milestones, people and teams who play a significant role in Wrigley Field’s iconic history.”
Following Opening Week, Cubs fans will be treated to a variety of elements to celebrate 10 decades, during 10 unique homestands at Wrigley Field. These festivities include historic bobblehead giveaways on the first Friday of each homestand to honor key individuals or events from the corresponding decade; “Throwback Sunday” games on the first Sunday of each homestand, in which the Cubs and many visiting teams will wear throwback uniforms; retro toy promotional giveaways to children 13-and-under on those same Sundays; a dedicated “Decades Diner” with rotating food and beverage options; plus commemorative ballpark décor, guests and game entertainment.
While the entire season is dedicated to celebrating 100 years of Wrigley Field, one game stands out as Wrigley Field’s actual 100th birthday. On April 23, the Cubs will host the Arizona Diamondbacks exactly a century after the Chicago Federals opened then-Weeghman Park against the Kansas City Packers on April 23, 1914. Both teams will wear commemorative uniforms, and the first 30,000 fans in the ballpark will receive a replica 1914 Chi-Feds jersey. Like any good birthday party, Wrigley Field’s celebration will feature special guests, gifts, cake, entertainment and even a serenade to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
Details for each single game purchasing option follow:
SINGLE GAME GENERAL ON-SALE:
Via the Internet: Visitors to http://www.cubs.com can purchase tickets beginning at 10 a.m. A virtual waiting room will be used for all Internet orders. The virtual waiting room will begin accepting customers Friday, March 7, at 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., customers will be selected from the virtual waiting room to begin purchasing tickets. All Internet customers will need a valid cubs.com account. Customers are recommended to register for an account prior to March 7.
By Telephone: Tickets can be purchased by telephone beginning at 10 a.m. by dialing 800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).
At the Wrigley Field Ticket Office: Tickets will be available for purchase at the Wrigley Field Ticket Windows Saturday, March 8, beginning at 9 a.m. Due to offseason construction in the main concourse and fans’ increased use of online ticket purchasing, the team will no longer host a two-hour on-sale event at Wrigley Field prior to online and phone sales.
MASTERCARD CENTURY SEATS:
In celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday, the Cubs and MasterCard have partnered to offer a consistently low-priced seating option for every game during the 2014 regular season. Cubs fans can use their MasterCard to buy tickets priced at $19.14 before tax with no service or delivery fees. This 350-seat section is located in the Upper Deck Box level in left field.
MasterCard Century Seats must be purchased with a MasterCard, which serves as the buyer’s day-of-game ticket for admittance along with a photo ID. Guests will receive email confirmation of their purchase, however print-at-home tickets are not available for MasterCard Century Seats. These tickets are non-transferable. MasterCard Century Seats are available at http://www.cubs.com/CenturySeats or 800-THE-CUBS beginning Saturday, March 8, at 10 a.m.
For updated ticket pricing, please visit http://www.cubs.com. For more information, please contact the Chicago Cubs Ticket Office at 800-THE-CUBS (800-843-2827).
(Photo courtesy of National Baseball Hall of Fame)
The following can be found in the February issue of Vine Line.
It’s a typical chilly April afternoon on the North Side.
A strong breeze blows off the lake, and the people clustered in the bleachers are bundled in winter clothes. But they don’t seem to mind the cold. Some arrived as early as 9 a.m. to see the marching bands and politicians parade in the street.
They wear red and blue caps, ring bells and sing songs. The park looks, someone would later remark, like “a huge floral horseshoe.” Music plays and curious onlookers gather at windows and on the rooftops of adjacent buildings.
A few dozen members of the Daughters of the Grand Army of the Republic parade in with a 30-foot silk American flag. They present the team’s manager with gifts—three dozen neckties, a six-foot-high floral display—and someone fires off a series of explosions to mark the occasion.
Finally, one of the leaders of the GAR, filling in for Chicago’s mayor, steps out onto the mound and throws the first pitch.
It’s April 23, 1914, and baseball has come to West Addison Street on Chicago’s North Side. But the Cubs—and Wrigley Field as we know it—would take a little longer to arrive.
* * * *
Depending on how you look at it, the story of Wrigley Field began either with a property deal struck in the waning hours of 1913 or with an unlucky investment made a few years earlier.
In 1909, three men with ties to American Association baseball found what they thought was the perfect spot for a ballpark. The parcel of land at North Clark and West Addison streets in Chicago was the former site of a Lutheran seminary. It was surrounded by homes and businesses and offered convenient access to public transportation.
The plan was to bring an American Association team to Chicago. But there was a problem: The city was spoken for, according to Organized Baseball. The Cubs and White Sox had already claimed the town—the Cubs were playing in a park on the city’s West Side at the time—and both teams refused to approve a new organization in their territory.
For the next few years, the three men held onto the property, but they didn’t make any progress on a new team.
Enter Charles Weeghman.
The self-made millionaire began his working life as a waiter. He eventually opened a diner, followed by another and another. Once he was running 15 restaurants, he began investing in pool halls and movie houses. By the time the men from the American Association were sitting on their North Side plot of land, baseball was surging in popularity, and Weeghman was getting some big ideas.
In 1913, the increasingly crowded baseball universe got a new competitor, an independent minor league operation called the Federal League. To secure its financial standing, the league went looking for deep pockets and found Weeghman, who had already tried, and failed, to buy the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
With Weeghman’s clout in the mix, organizers figured they could give the American and National leagues a run for their money and declared the Fed League an official major league. Because the operation was independent, they didn’t have to get Organized Baseball’s permission to set up a new franchise in town.
Prior to the 1914 season, Weeghman acquired the Chicago Federals for $25,000—but he insisted if they were going to be a major league team, they needed a major league-quality stadium to rival those of the other professional teams in town.
He had just the spot in mind—that former North Side seminary that was close to streetcars and the city’s rail system. Plus, it came with a near-perfect geographic orientation. It was as far north from the city’s center as Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, was south. For the first time, Chicago would have proper North Side and South Side teams.
On Dec. 31, 1913, Weeghman agreed to a 99-year lease on the property. The spot at Clark and Addison was about to get a second chance. That is, unless Organized Baseball had anything to say about it.
* * * *
Technically, the Chicago Federals didn’t need anyone’s permission to play in the Windy City, but the fledgling organization was still going to have to fight its way in.
The AL and NL threatened to blacklist players who joined the Federals. Even though Weeghman was already gathering up a roster of big-name players—including infielder and manager Joe Tinker—the opposing leagues didn’t stop their fight. Instead, they tried to pull the rug out from under him, right in the North Side neighborhood where he was trying to build his new baseball empire.
Weeghman’s lease became official in January 1914, and all the details were published in the Chicago Tribune. He would pay $16,000 annually for the first 10 years of the 99-year lease, eventually upping the rate to $20,000. That averages out to the equivalent of about $452,000 per year in today’s dollars.
By late February, some of the neighbors around Clark and Addison were pushing back. Several of them signed a petition against the ballpark, which they delivered to the city’s building commissioner.
But the little secret just about everyone knew at the time was that the neighbors weren’t particularly opposed to the park.
Cubs historian Ed Hartig said major league officials were holding frequent meetings, trying to figure out how to get rid of Weeghman, his team and his ballpark.
“You think about this nowadays—oh, my gosh, some of the stuff they tried to do,” Hartig said. “Professional men who had made their money in real estate, in communications, in newspapers, and here they are in back rooms trying to finagle these deals.”
One of the schemes cooked up in those backroom meetings was to use the ballpark’s neighbors to fight the team’s plans. But Hartig said just about everybody saw through that tactic.
“Organized Baseball saw Chicago as being the key to the success of the Federal League. As Weeghman went, so did the Federal League—or at least that’s what Organized Baseball thought,” Hartig said. “The belief, or hope, was that if they could make life miserable for Weeghman, Charlie would withdraw his interest in the Chicago Federal League team. And with no Chicago team, the league would fold.”
The plan didn’t work.
The building commissioner told the neighbors he’d take their concerns under advisement, but warned them the Federal League already had enough support in the neighborhood to go ahead with its plans.
Two days later, wrecking crews were tearing down the seminary and a few nearby houses to make way for Weeghman Park.
* * * *
The stadium went up with a speed that seems unfathomable today, when major public projects typically require years of study, design and debate. Weeghman gave his construction team less than two months to complete the job, because he wanted the park ready for the start of the 1914 season.
About 5,000 people turned up for a groundbreaking ceremony on March 4, 1914. The building commissioner stuck a shovel in the dirt, and someone smashed a bottle of champagne. As soon as the ceremony was over, the chief contractor began issuing orders to 100 workmen hired to build the grandstand.
By late March, the structure was nearly complete. Weeghman pushed for speedy work, paying off union workers who went on strike and nearly doubling his 450-man crew.
The city provided some help too. The park’s eight-foot-high brick fence in the outfield didn’t follow city ordinances. An inspector reported the violation, but didn’t insist the wall be taken out. Ultimately, it stayed.
On April 23, visitors streamed in for Weeghman Park’s first game. Tickets were $1 for box seats (about $24 today) or 75 cents for the grandstand. One of the reasons the construction was able to move so fast was that the park was far less polished than today’s big league facilities.
“The ballparks were pretty simple then,” Hartig said. “It was 14,000 seats with no upper decks. The bleachers were pretty basic.”
Weeghman made a point of selling the facility as a cleaner alternative to other ballparks of the day, which were known for being a bit grungy. Hartig said it was common for teams to go through 15-game stretches and hose down the bleachers only a few times—and this in an era when the primarily male crowd generally went to games dressed in suits and ties.
Though the park was a scaled-down version of the modern Wrigley, it had a few special touches. Among them was a stable Weeghman had built for his horse, Queen Bess, under the third-base grandstand. Queen Bess pulled the lawnmower that cut the grass on the field and was allowed to run free around the park when the team was on the road.
About 21,000 people turned out for the first game to watch the Federals top the Kansas City Packers, 9-1.
The team finished the season second in the league, but Weeghman was worried about its continued success. In 1915, after a naming contest, the club was rechristened the Chicago Whales. They had another excellent season, winning the Federal League title, but by year’s end, the league was mired in legal challenges with Organized Baseball.
The Federal League had sued the American and National leagues for antitrust violations, but the battle was a stalemate. The federal judge on the case, future baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, thought the upstart league had a legitimate case, but understood that a ruling in its favor might cause Organized Baseball to collapse.
So he did the only other thing he could think of—he stalled, hoping one or both sides would cave. By the end of the 1915 season, the Feds were in a financially untenable position and reached an agreement to shut down.
In January 1916, less than two years after his namesake park opened, Weeghman and nine other investors, including majority stockholder Albert Lasker and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., struck a new deal. The Cubs would add most of the Whales personnel to their roster and swap their well-worn West Side home for something bigger, better and newer: Weeghman Park.
* * * *
As the Cubs were moving in, Weeghman was moving out of the baseball business. Facing monetary problems, he began selling off his Cubs stock and was off the team’s board of directors by the start of the 1920s.
Wrigley, who wasn’t much of a baseball fan, began regularly attending games. By the 1917 season, he’d convinced the team’s board to move their Spring Training operations to his property in California. He continued to boost his holdings and owned a majority of the shares by 1919. From then on, his name would forever be linked with the Cubs and their venerable ballpark.
But Hartig said the forgotten bit of Wrigley Field’s early history is part of what makes the park so unique. During tours of the stadium, visitors are often surprised to learn that it hasn’t always been all about the Cubs on West Addison Street.
“To me, that’s the biggie, that it wasn’t built for the Cubs,” he said. “There was an independent league team that existed for three years—and almost took down Major League Baseball.”
ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon has never been shy about giving his opinions, whether it’s in print or on camera. And despite his years as a columnist for the Washington Post, it doesn’t take long to realize he’s a die-hard Chicago sports fan. Vine Line caught up with the Northwestern alum when he was on hand for Social Media Night in mid-August to talk about growing up a Cubs fan and his love for Wrigley Field.
(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.
Len Kasper is moderating and opens the panel by introducing Pat Hughes, stadium announcer Andrew Belleson, Cubs historian Ed Hartig, groundskeeper and scoreboard operator Rick Fuhs and senior director of marketing Alison Miller.
Miller shows a quick slide presentation about what the Cubs are doing to celebrate the Party of the Century in 2014. The theme is 10 Decades and 10 Homestands. Each of 10 homestands (starting after Opening Week) will celebrate a different decade in Wrigley’s history.
At each of the 10 homestands, there will be a themed Friday bobblehead giveaway: 1910s Joe Tinker, 1920s Red Grange, 1930s Babe Ruth, 1940s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, 1950s Ernie Banks, 1960s Gale Sayers, 1970s Jack Brickhouse, 1980s Rick Sutcliffe and lights, 1990s Kerry Wood’s 20K game, 2000s TBA.
On Sundays, the team will wear throwback uniforms. Unis being represented are 1914 (not a Sunday but the birthday game on April 23), 1929, 1937, 1942, 1953, 1969, 1978 (baby blue road jersey), 1988, 1994, 2008. The opponents will also wear throwbacks.
There will also be retro toys on Sundays for kids 13 and under. Each will represent the top toy from that decade from yo-yos to Viewmasters to Mr. Potato Heads to Etch-a-Sketches.
There will be themed food and beverages at the ballpark to represent the decades. This will include cocktails, like a Manhattan for the 1930s.
Organist Gary Pressey is working with the Cubs on decade-specific music.
The ballpark will be decorated, and the players will have sleeve and hat patches commemorating Wrigley’s 100th. The game balls will also be stamped.
For each decade, there will be special guests at the ballpark, from former Cubs and Bears players to celebrities.
The official birthday is on April 23, 2014. The Cubs will wear old Federal League Chi-Fed uniforms, and the Diamondbacks will wear Kansas City Packers unis (the team the Chi-Feds played that day). Everyone will also get cake. Yep, everyone. And the first 30,000 fans will walk out with a Chi-Feds jersey.
The Cubs are working with MLB on developing WrigleyField100.com to celebrate the ballpark. The site will feature historical facts, fan stories, ballpark facts and more.
Hartig talks about the ballpark’s beginnings as Weeghman Park for the independent minor league Federal League. For more info on this, check out the January issue of Vine Line.
Hughes talks about his first major league game as a broadcaster—an exhibition game between the Cubs and Brewers in 1992. He was immediately struck by Wrigley Field’s atmosphere. He’s now in his 19th season with the team.
Fuhs talks about how he runs the scoreboard and how he’s so fast putting up balls and strikes. He watches the umpire’s movements. If the ump moves his foot, it’s going to be a strike. He knows most of the characteristics of most of the umps in the league. He also credits Curt Huebert, who designed the scoreboard in 1937. Fuhs has been operating the scoreboard for 26 years, and there haven’t been any major problems with the electronics. He’s still using the original panel from 1937. Fuhs also credits Bill Veeck for helping design and plan the scoreboard. He complains about how slow umpire Tim McLelland is with his calls. Apparently, Quick Rick would like to take the day off whenever McLelland is umpiring.
Fuhs talks about Lee Smith and the closer’s relationship with the groundscrew. Those were Smith’s best friends on the team. After being repeatedly asked, Fuhs went down and visited Smith in Louisiana last year. Reiterates that Smith deserves a Hall call.
Belleson talks about getting the job at Wrigley Field. He was only 24 (he’s 27 now) when he got hired. Says he has the greatest job in the world.
Back to Hartig about ballpark history. Weeghman Park was originally just a single-story grandstand, and it seated 14,000. The scoreboard was originally in left field. For more on the original park, check out the January issue of Vine Line.
The team actually tried to install lights in the early-1940s. They had already bought them, but after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Wrigley donated them to the war effort. They were supposed to be used to play twilight games so people could attend after work.
One fan wants to bring back smoky links and Ron Santo pizza. There is something in the works on the smoky links front.
One fan asks if Wrigley Field will be the last park to turn 100. Kasper mentions Dodger Stadium was built in 1962, so it’s halfway there. But other than that, it’s not likely. Hughes agrees that no other park will last that long.
Belleson said he doesn’t emulate anyone in his job, but likes the simple style of guys like Paul Friedman.
Kasper compares Wrigley Field to Central Park in New York—a green oasis in the middle of the city. He says he loves coming into the ballpark before everyone else arrives. You can hear the sounds of the city around the park. Once baseball starts, it drowns out those city sounds.
Hughes talks about the possibility of being the only announcer living Cubs fans have ever heard say the words, “the Cubs win the World Series.” Kasper thinks about it too.
Someone asks about biggest pranksters. Rick Sutcliffe, Greg Maddux, Ron Santo and Keith Moreland all get mentions.
Asked about most exciting players to watch, Hughes brings up Derrek Lee as one his favorite ballplayers. Cites his defense, power hitting, modesty, friendliness and more. Kasper agrees that Lee was one of the best. Fuhs remembers Sosa in 1998 and the buzz around the ballpark.
Hartig’s favorite event at the ballpark happened in 1944—a ski-jumping event at the ballpark. They set scaffolding up behind home plate and trucked in ice. The skiers took off from about the current home television booth and landed at second base.
Asked about the most memorable seventh-inning stretch renditions, Fuhs talks about the infamous Jeff Gordon incident. Gordon called the park Wrigley stadium, possibly because Fuhs asked him about the “stadium” right before that.
Belleson talks about how scared people are before they sing the stretch, no matter how big the celebrity. And says no one did it better than Harry Caray.
And that’s it for us on Saturday at the 2014 Cubs Convention. Thanks for following along. We’ll be back up with the 30th anniversary of the 1984 season and Down on the Farm tomorrow.
Go Cubs go.
Clark, the newly introduced Chicago Cubs mascot, made his debut Monday night along with more than a dozen prospects in the Cubs Rookie Development Program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center’s Pediatric Developmental Center. Together, they helped reinforce positive activities being taught to children with autism and other developmental challenges.
Clark was joined at Advocate Illinois Masonic by prospects Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, C.J. Edwards, Kyle Hendricks, Pierce Johnson, Eric Jokisch, Mike Olt, Neil Ramirez, Armando Rivero, Rubi Silva, Jorge Soler, Christian Villanueva and Arodys Vizcaino.
The players divided into four rooms and hosted activities for the children and their siblings, including an interview room where kids asked questions of players and practiced social skills; a reading room where players and kids looked at pictures of Wrigley Field and read stories about baseball; a game room where kids practiced sportsmanship in matches against their Cubs counterparts; and a gym where Clark and players stressed the importance of learning from others through pre-activity stretching drills and practiced motor activity skills during a ball-toss drill.
The next stops for Clark will be the Cubs 100 Gifts of Service 2014 Caravan Tour and the Cubs Convention.