Wrigley Field

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Wrigley Field is a sports stadium in Chicago, Illinois which was built in 1914 for the Chicago Federal League baseball team, the Chicago Whales and which became the home of the Chicago Cubs in 1916. It was also the home of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League from 1921-1970.

The ballpark was originally named Weeghman Park for the Whales' club owner, Charles Weeghman, who obtained a 99-year lease on the property from the city. The field became the home of the Chicago Cubs following the 1915 season when the Federal League was disbanded. Weeghman had gained part ownership of the Cubs, and moved the club to his new north side facility, abandoning legendary (and wooden) West Side Park.

William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum magnate, was part of that group of investors, led by Weeghman, which purchased the team. Wrigley gained full ownership in 1919 after Weeghman suffered financial setbacks and had to sell his shares. The field was then called Cubs Park from 1920 to 1925 before it was expanded and named after Wrigley in 1926. "Cubs Park" is still sometimes used as an alternate name. It is one of two parks that was named for William Wrigley; there was a Wrigley Field in Los Angeles that was home to the Los Angeles Angels, a Pacific Coast League team which Wrigley also owned.

Located in the residential neighborhood of Lakeview, Wrigley Field sits on an asymmetric block bounded by Clark and Addison Streets, Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. As every fan of the movie The Blues Brothers knows, the ballpark's mailing address is 1060 W. Addison Street. During Cubs games, Cub fans will stand on Waveland Avenue, waiting for home runs literally hit out of the park. (However, Cubs fans -- whether inside or outside the park -- will promptly return any home run ball hit by an opposing player.)

Wrigley Field is nicknamed The Friendly Confines, a phrase popularized by "Mister Cub", Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. With a capacity of under 40,000, Wrigley is the third-smallest ballpark being used in 2005. It is the second oldest active major league ballpark (behind Fenway Park) and the only remaining Federal League park. Wrigley Field had an original seating capacity of 14,000 and cost $250,000 to build.

Ivy Covered Walls

Wrigley Field is known for the ivy planted against the outfield wall in 1937 by Bill Veeck and the manual scoreboard Veeck also erected. No batted ball has ever hit the scoreboard, though Sam Snead did manage to hit it with a golf ball teed off from home plate.

For some time prior to 1937, the Wrigley outfield was rather more spacious, though not initially. The early history is explained well in A Day at the Park, by William Hartel, 1994. There were other buildings on the west side of the property in 1914, and this compelled the designers to squeeze the structure between those buildings, resulting in the ballpark having a short right field, some 298 feet to the outer wall. The only bleachers were in the left and center field areas. The stands were single-decked, and also narrower than they are now, with the box seat railing being some 7 or 8 feet above ground. This was the park's configuration for its first 9 seasons.

During the off-season between 1922 and 1923, with the extraneous buildings cleared off, engineers took the unusual move of slicing the single-deck grandstand in two places, and rolling those stands 60 feet to the west. The gap was filled in with more seating, resulting in the noticeable "dog leg" in the stands on the first base side, barely visible at the lower right of the "friendly confines" photo accompanying this article. The diamond and the foul lines were rotated 3 degrees counterclockwise, providing room for additional rows of box seats all around foul ground, but resulting in a shallower left field. So the bleachers were removed from that area and re-installed across right field. It was then about 360 feet to the outer right field wall, but an inner fence was constructed to cut the distance to 321.

During the mid-1920s, the ballpark was upper-decked in two stages, the third-base (shady) side first, and then the first-base (sunny) side. But the bleachers were set. By the early 1930s, distance markers were posted: left field line, 364 feet; left-center against the outer wall, 372; left center, corner of bleachers, 364; deep center field, 440; right center, 354; right field line, 321.

File:Wrigley Field 1935.JPG
Wrigley - 1935 World Series

In 1937, the Cubs announced plans to rebuild the bleachers in concrete instead of wood, to be fronted by brick that would soon be covered in ivy, and to build a new scoreboard. To make the outfield look more symmetrical and graceful, the plans called for extending the left field bleachers to a point closer to the corner. The gentle curves between the ends of the left and right field bleachers would become known as the "wells". That summer, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles about major league ballparks, and the writer sharply criticized the Cubs for a remodeling that he suspected would result in too many "cheap" home runs. The writer later retracted when he saw that the final plan was somewhat more spacious than originally announced. But the results in subsequent decades speak for themselves, and it is fair to say that the Trib's original assessment was correct.

File:Wrigley Sign.jpg
Wrigley Field sign on W. Addison St., Chicago

Be that as it may, construction went on behind a temporary fence during the summer, and the finished product was unveiled in time for the last month of the season. Bill Veeck's famous ivy was planted not long after, but it would be another year before it fully took hold. Another part of the arboretum was to be a series of Chinese elms on the large "stairsteps" up to the scoreboard. According to Veeck's own biography, Veeck as in Wreck, that plan did not fare so well as the winds kept blowing the leaves off. Management finally gave up, so the trees are long gone, leaving just the large bare steps. Another mistake was putting bleachers in straightaway center, which looked nice as long as you were not batting. That area has been off-limits for spectators for decades now, last used during the 1962 All-Star game. The area is now occupied by juniper plants, complementing the ivy nicely.

So by the end of 1937, the dimensions we all know and love were set: 355 feet to the left field corner, a few feet behind where the foul pole kisses the corner wall; 368 to fairly deep left-center; 400 to the deepest part of center; 368 to right center; and 353 to the right field foul pole. There are other intriguing distances, never posted. In the original Encyclopedia of Baseball, by Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson, 1951, it revealed measurements of 357 feet to the left field "well" and 363 to the right field "well". That would put the closest point of the left end of the bleachers no more than about 350 feet from home plate, a fact many pitchers have cursed over the years. Left-center in general is shallow. Straightaway center is probably about 390. Deep center and the right field area in general are better balanced.


Let there be lights!

Lights were scheduled to be added to Wrigley Field in 1942, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, then-owner Philip K. Wrigley (son of the late William) donated the materials, intended for lighting Wrigley Field, to the war effort. Baseball boomed after the war, allowing P.K. Wrigley to procrastinate on the issue. He eventually decided never to install lights, for a variety of publicly stated reasons, so Wrigley Field remained a bastion of totally day baseball until the Chicago Tribune Company acquired the Cubs in 1981.

The Cubs had been run almost like a hobby by the Wrigleys, but the Tribune Company was interested in the Cubs strictly as a business. The new owners started talking about lights and began stirring debate on the matter. One of P.K.'s stated reasons for not installing lights was that it would upset the neighborhood, and initial reaction to the Trib intentions supported P.K.'s contention.

This debate continued for several years, especially as the Cubs returned to competitiveness during the 1980s. Lights were finally added to Wrigley Field in 1988 after Cubs management threatened to move the team and Major League Baseball announced that any playoff games would have to be held at Busch Stadium. The first major league night game at Wrigley was attempted on August 8, 1988 against the Philadelphia Phillies and was rained out. The first official night game was achieved the following night, August 9, against the New York Mets ending a streak of 5,687 consecutive home day games. In the 1940s, some AAGPBL night games were played in Wrigley Field using temporary lighting structures.

Wind's Blowin' Out, Wind's Blowin' In

File:WrigleyFieldScoreBoard081105.jpg
The main scoreboard at Wrigley Field. This photo was taken after the August 11, 2005 Cubs-Cardinals game.

At no other current major league ballpark does the weather affect game play as much as at Wrigley Field. In April and May the wind often comes off Lake Michigan (less than a mile to the east), which means a northeast wind "blowing in" to knock down potential home runs and turn them into outs. In the summer, however, the wind often comes from the south and the southwest, which means the wind is "blowing out" and has the potential to turn normally harmless fly balls into home runs. A third variety is the cross-wind, which typically runs from the left field corner to the right field corner and causes all sorts of interesting havoc.

Many Cubs fans check their nearest flag before heading to the park on game days for an indication of what the game might be like; this is less of a factor for night games, however, because the wind does not blow as hard after the sun goes down.

With the wind blowing in, pitchers can dominate, and no-hitters have been tossed from time to time, though none recently; the last two occurred near the beginning and the end of the 1972 season, by Burt Hooton and Milt Pappas respectively. In the seventh inning of Ken Holtzman's first no-hitter, on August 19, 1969, Henry Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hammered one that looked like it was headed for Waveland, but the wind caught it just enough for left fielder Billy Williams to leap up and snare it in "the well".

With the wind blowing out, some true tape-measure home runs have been hit by well-muscled batters. Sammy Sosa and Dave "Kong" Kingman broke windows in the apartment buildings across Waveland Avenue several times. Glenallen Hill put one on a rooftop. Batters have occasionally slugged it into, or to the side of, the first row or two of the "upper deck" of the center field bleachers. Sosa hit the roof of the center field camera booth on the fly during the 2003 NLCS against the Florida Marlins, some 450 feet away.

But the longest blast was probably the one that Kingman hit on a very windy day in 1976, while with the New York Mets. There is a north-south street called Kenmore Avenue that T's into Waveland. On that one day, Kingman launched one that landed on the third porch roof on the east (center field) side of Kenmore, a shot declared with only slight exaggeration to be 550 feet on the fly.

No matter the weather, many fans congregate during batting practice and games on Waveland Avenue, behind left field, and Sheffield Avenue, behind right field, for a chance to catch a home run ball. The Cubs still play the majority of their home games during the day, though they are scheduled to play as many as 30 of their 81 home games in 2005 at night.

Da Bears

The Chicago Bears of the National Football League played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970 before relocating to Soldier Field. The team had transferred from Decatur, and retained the name "Staleys" for the 1921 season. They renamed themselves the "Bears" in order to identify with the baseball team, a common practice in the NFL in those days.

Initially the Bears worked with the stands that were there. Eventually they acquired a large, portable bleacher section that spanned the right and center field areas. This "East Stand" raised Wrigley's football capacity to about 46,000. After the Bears left, it would live on for several years as the "North Stand" at Soldier Field, until it was replaced by permanent seating.

The football field ran north-to-south, i.e. from left field to the foul side of first base. The remodeling of the bleachers made for a very tight fit for the gridiron. In fact, the corner of the south end zone was literally in the visiting baseball team's dugout, which was filled with pads for safety, and required a special ground rule that sliced off that corner of the end zone. One corner of the north end line ran just inches short of the left field wall. There is a legend that Bronko Nagurski, the great Bears fullback, broke through the line, head down, and ran all the way through that end zone, smacking his leather-helmeted head on the bricks. He went back to the bench and told Coach "Papa Bear" George Halas, "That last guy gave me quite a lick!" That kind of incident prompted the Bears to hang some padding in front of the wall.

The Bears are second only to the Green Bay Packers in total NFL championships, and all but one of those came during their tenure at Wrigley. After a half-century, they found themselves compelled to move, because the NFL wanted every one of its stadiums to seat at least 50,000. The Bears had one experimental game at Dyche Stadium on the Northwestern University campus, but otherwise continued at Wrigley until they transferred to the lakefront, finally ending their long and glorious run on the north side.

In another brand of football, the professional soccer team called the Chicago Sting called Wrigley their home for awhile during the 1980s. Their games occurred during the baseball season, so there were no special stands in evidence, just added wear-and-tear on the field.

Up on the Roof

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Fire Engine 78 across Waveland from Wrigley

Old-time ballparks were often surrounded by buildings that afforded a "freebie" look at the game for enterprising souls. In most venues, the clubs took steps to either extend the stands around, or to build "spite fences" to block the view. Perhaps the most notorious of these was the one at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, which caused a rift between the residents and the team that never healed. The Cubs themselves had built a high fence along right field at West Side Park, to hide the field from flats whose back porches were right next to the outer fence of the ballpark.

But at Wrigley it was different somehow. The flat rooftops of the apartment buildings across Waveland and Sheffield, which actually pre-date the ballpark, were often populated with a reasonable number of fans having cookouts while enjoying the game for free. The Cubs tolerated it quietly, until the 1990s, when some owners of those apartments got carried away: they began building little bleacher sections, and charging people to watch the games. That was a whole different ball game, and the Cubs management became very vocal in expressing their displeasure, threatening legal action. In 2003 they went so far as to line the screens that top the outer walls with opaque strips, to block the best exterior sight lines. That was the closest thing to a spite fence that Wrigley had seen.

This led to meetings and to a peaceful settlement among the various parties. The building owners agreed to share a portion of their proceeds with the Cubs, and the Cubs obtained permission from the city to expand the bleachers out over the sidewalks and do some additional construction on the open area of the property to the west, bordered by Clark and Waveland, and to close the remnant of Seminary Avenue that also existed on the property.

Amidst this debate, a potentially more serious problem arose. On at least two separate occasions during the summer of 2004, small chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck, nearly injuring spectators. The city ordered an inspection of the 90-year-old park, and there was much concern about whether the structure was falling apart. It turned out that the pieces that fell were merely shielding around wires, not part of the main structure. To improve safety, netting was strung under the upper deck to catch any more pieces that might fall.

Silver Screen

As indicated earlier, Wrigley Field had a brief cameo in the movie The Blues Brothers (1980) starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues. Elwood lists 1060 W. Addison as his fake home address on his Illinois driver's license.

The ballpark was featured in a scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986), starring Matthew Broderick.

An early 1990s film about Babe Ruth had the obligatory scene in Wrigley Field about the "called shot". A scoreboard similar to the one existing in 1932 was used, atop the ivy wall which of course did not exist until later in the decade.

The Natural (1984), starring Robert Redford, had a scene set at Wrigley but it was actually filmed at All High Stadium in Buffalo, New York. The other baseball scenes in that movie were also shot in Buffalo, at the since-demolished War Memorial Stadium.

Wrigley Field was also used for a lengthy establishing scene in A League of Their Own (1992), a Hollywood account of the women's baseball league which the eccentric but visionary Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley had, in fact, championed during World War II. Garry Marshall (older brother of the film's director Penny Marshall) has a cameo as "Walter Harvey", P.K.'s fictional alter ego. The big sign behind Wrigley Field's scoreboard was redone to read "Harvey Field".

Wrigley Field was also heavily featured in the 1993 film, Rookie of the Year. The movie is about a young boy who becomes a Cubs relief picture after injuring his arm. The injury seemed to cause a strong tension in the boy's rotator cuff, which consequently allowed him to throw a 100 mile-per-hour plus fast ball.

Pilgrimage

File:Wrigley Scoreboard.jpg
The back of Wrigley Field, with old fashioned scoreboard

The Red Line stop at Addison is less than one block from Wrigley Field. The stadium was originally built where it is due to its proximity to the train tracks. At the conclusion of games the scoreboard operators will raise to the top of the scoreboard either a white flag with a blue "W" to signify a Cubs victory, or a blue flag with a white "L" to signify a loss; this is done to allow passengers on the train heading home from the Loop to see the outcome of the game.

Parking in the area remains scarce, but that does not seem to bother fans who want to come to this baseball "mecca", which drew over 3 million fans in 2004, averaging to a near-sellout every day of the season, even with those many weekday afternoon games.

Wrigley Field has continuously evolved over its 90-plus seasons. There is relatively little left of the original that is visible to the casual viewer. One of the more obvious originals would be the brick portions of the outer bleacher wall, visible in the "back of Wrigley Field" photo that accompanies this article. It is unclear whether that wall, or a portion thereof, will be incorporated into the Cubs planned expansion of the bleachers.

Historic moments

  • May 2, 1917 Jim "Hippo" Vaughn and the Cincinnati Reds's Fred Toney both pitch nine-inning no-hitters before Jim Thorpe drives in a run in the 10th inning for a Reds victory.
  • August 29, 1918 With the season ending early due to war restrictions, the Chicago Cubs clinch the National League pennant with a 1-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley. Pennant clinching dates cited herein are taken from Day by Day in Chicago Cubs History, by Art Ahrens and Eddie Gold, 1982.
  • June 26, 1920 In a high-school "inter-state championship" game between New York City's Commerce High and Chicago's Lane Tech, just-turned-17 New York boy Lou Gehrig slugs a grand slam home run to lead his team to a comeback victory.
File:Harry Carey.jpg
Statue of the beloved former announcer Harry Caray, outside Wrigley Field, Chicago.
  • September 8, 1985 Pete Rose hits his 4,191st career hit to tie Ty Cobb's record. (Note, however, that according to some baseball historians, this hit actually broke Cobb's record. Sources differ as to Cobb's career hits total, which has been cited as 4,189, 4,190, and 4,191.)
  • September 13, 1998 Sammy Sosa hits home runs 61 and 62 to pass Roger Maris and tie Mark McGwire for the all time single season home run record. McGuire would win the race 70 to 66.
  • October 14, 2003 In the top of the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, a fan attempts to catch a foul ball that leftfielder Moises Alou was attempting to catch. This incident is soon followed by walks, hits, and shortstop Alex Gonzalez's crucial error on a potentially inning-ending double play. The 8-run inning results in a Cubs loss in that game. The Cubs would also lose Game 7 to the eventual World Series-winning Florida Marlins. See The Inning

See also

External links

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