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Wrigley Field: The Centennial
100 Years at the Friendly Confines
By Les Krantz
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 Les Krantz
All rights reserved.
Building a Ballpark: THE HISTORY OF WRIGLEY FIELD
Wrigley Field. Just the name evokes the image of warm, sunny days spent at the ballpark, the breeze blowing in off Lake Michigan. Or maybe it's blowing out, carrying home-run balls out onto Waveland Avenue. These are the Friendly Confines — home of the beloved Chicago Cubs.
THE SECOND-OLDEST ballpark in the nation, Wrigley Field epitomizes America's pastime. At Wrigley, it's baseball the way baseball used to be. Babe Ruth played there. So did Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Sammy Sosa called Wrigley Field home. Wrigley Field is truly an icon.
But it wasn't always that way. Would the mystique remain if this were Weeghman Park? Who can even spell that? Who'd want to name their dog after that stadium? And would we want to root for the Chicago Federals (or Chi-Feds, as they were sometimes called)? Or the Whales? Because those are the teams that played at Weeghman.
Maybe we should back up a bit. At the start of the 20century, Clark and Addison Streets, where Wrigley Field proudly stands today, were smack dab in the middle of a working-class neighborhood. The houses held two or three apartments each, mostly filled with factory workers and their families. The rest of the neighborhood was made up of factories and warehouses.
While the National League's Chicago Cubs were busy winning their first and only back-to-back World Series, in 1907 and 1908, at their home field, the West Side Club, the working stiffs who resided near Clark and Addison represented the nation's industry, not the national pastime.
And then along came Charles Henry "Lucky Charlie" Weeghman. He was a prosperous businessman who earned his money the old-fashioned way — by working for it — and he found himself with a little extra cash around the same time the Federal League was trying to establish itself in baseball. Weeghman bought the Chicago Federals in 1914 and decided they needed a suitable place to play their games.
When a vacant North Side lot caught Weeghman's attention, he promptly leased the land and hired Zachery Taylor Davis, a well-known local architect, to design the future ballpark. Davis was already established in the Chicago baseball community; he had designed Comiskey Park for the major league White Sox just four years earlier. But Weeghman's field was never intended to compete with "the world's greatest baseball palace" on the South Side. Instead he created a ballpark that was the perfect size for the untested Federals and their fans. And it came in at half the price of Comiskey Park — a mere $250,000.
Construction of the 14,000-seat ballpark kicked off with a groundbreaking ceremony on March 4, 1914, and ended on April 23 of the same year with a parade, rose presentation, and — just like at baseball games today — the ceremonial throwing of the first pitch. With extra "circus seats" brought in for that first game, more than 21,000 baseball fans were on hand to watch the Chi-Feds beat Kansas City by a score of 9–1.
Weeghman was a baseball lover, but he soon learned that even with a winning season, owning a team in the Federal League was not the best investment. He was reluctant to put more money into making improvements at the park, but after a record number of home runs were hit over the left-field wall during that inaugural season, Weeghman agreed to have the left-field fence moved back 25 feet. The only other changes he made were to remove the right-field stands and double the left-field bleachers.
In 1915 the Chi-Feds were renamed the Whales — the result of a fan "naming contest." The team won the Federal League pennant that year and managed to keep those bleacher seats full. And when the Federal League disbanded that same year, Weeghman was in a position to buy himself a new National League baseball team: the Chicago Cubs.
Formerly a West Side team, the Cubs were owned at the time by Charles P. Taft (brother of former US President William Taft) and run by Charles H. Thomas, who both resided in Cincinnati. Finding it difficult to manage the team from afar, they agreed to sell 90 percent of the franchise to Weeghman and a few investors (including William Wrigley Jr.) for $500,000.
Merging the Whales with the Cubs on his first National League roster, Weeghman secured Joe Tinker (of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame) as manager and moved the team to his own Weeghman Park. In 1916 the Cubs officially became North Siders, playing at what is today the oldest National League ballpark. The Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds by a score of 7–6 in their debut game at the corner of Clark and Addison.
Weeghman really catered to his audience. He was the first owner to allow fans to keep foul balls and the first to set up food booths behind the stands. A popular guy? No doubt.
Financial difficulties, however, caused Weeghman to sell his interest to William Wrigley Jr. in 1918, and he renamed the ballpark Cubs Park in 1920. It wasn't until several years later that the chewing-gum magnate apparently had a revelation: what's the point of owning a baseball team if you can't name the park after yourself? In 1926 Wrigley Field was born. Along with the new name, the park got an upgrade that year when an upper deck was added to the grandstands, doubling the seating capacity.
For those fans who couldn't make it out to the ballpark, Wrigley turned to the airwaves to broadcast games throughout the Midwest starting in 1925. Critics feared this might keep fans away from the ballpark, but exactly the opposite came to pass. WGN Radio brought baseball into American homes, creating Cubs fans young and old, near and far — fans who couldn't wait to attend a baseball game at storied Wrigley Field. In fact, in 1927 the Cubs became the first National League team to draw more than one million fans in a single season.
Today Wrigley Field is widely known for the ivy covering its outfield walls. Many a baseball has been lost amidst those vines over the years. In 1927 Bill Veeck, a 13-year-old popcorn vendor and son of then-Cubs president William Veeck Sr., came up with the idea of planting the ivy. He finally saw the idea become reality 10 years later when 350 bittersweet vines and 200 Boston ivy plants were put in. The Boston ivy eventually won out, and that's what covers the wall today.
Right behind those ivy-covered walls, you'll find the "Bleacher Bums" sitting in stands erected in 1937 to further increase the seating capacity at Wrigley Field. The manually operated 27-foot-high scoreboard that still stands today was also added at that time. And anyone passing by Wrigley Field after a game — both then and now — knows immediately how the Cubs fared. They need only look up to see which flag is flying atop the scoreboard — the white flag with a blue W practically shouts "Cubs Win!" while the blue flag with a white L reminds Cubs fans that there's always tomorrow.
Win or lose, the Cubs continued to draw fans, and June 27, 1930, marked the largest crowd ever — 51,556. Unfortunately it was a Ladies' Day promotion that day, so only 19,748 were paying guests. On hand to watch the Cubs play the Dodgers, the crowd hoped to see outfielder Hack Wilson club one of his 56 homers. It didn't happen, but in September of that year, Wilson collected his 190 and 191 RBIs — a number that still stands as a major league record.
The 1930s saw at least two other memorable moments in baseball. The first was hardly a fan favorite. It was in October 1932, the third game of the World Series, when Babe Ruth supposedly gestured to the outfield, predicting the home run he was about to hit. Witnesses gave different accounts, and it was never verified, but the Yankee slugger's "called shot" remains part of baseball lore to this day.
The second, in 1938, was Gabby Hartnett's home run in the ninth inning of a tie game. His winning shot became known as the "Homer in the Gloamin" when the outfielder hit the ball out of the park and into the darkening evening to catapult the Cubs into first place. It's too bad there was no organ on hand back then to celebrate the moment. Wrigley Field later set the tone — and the trend — in 1941 for organs, which became standard equipment at ballparks across the nation.
And who can forget 1945? That's the year that all Cubs fans have emblazoned on their hearts, marking the last time the Cubs made it to the World Series. The Cubbies put up a valiant effort, winning three postseason games, but lost out to the Tigers, who won four.
Other highlights of the decade include Wrigley's largest paid attendance ever. A record-setting crowd of 46,572 was on hand to witness Jackie Robinson's Chicago debut in May 1947. And then there was WGN-TV's premiere broadcast in 1948 with Jack Brickhouse at the helm.
The 1950s were a disappointment to the Wrigley Field fans; the park sat empty during the postseason for the entire decade. (Well, actually for the next four and a half decades, but who's counting?) On the bright side, newcomer Ernie Banks hit his first major league home run in 1953 and later became the first National League player to win the MVP trophy in back-to-back seasons (1948 and '49). And in an unlikely — and unlucky — moment in time, June 30, 1959, became known for the infamous "two balls in play" game. A wild pitch sent Cardinal Stan Musial to first base, but havoc ensued when he attempted to steal an extra base. Third baseman Alvin Dark had the original ball (recovered from the wild pitch), while pitcher Bob Anderson held a new ball issued by the umpire. Both Cubs fired to the unsuspecting second baseman — at the same time. St. Louis won.
In 1960 P.K. Wrigley came up with the — in hindsight — terrible idea of instigating a College of Coaches in place of a traditional manager. Five years later, the idea was chucked, and Leo Durocher took over as the Cubs skipper. Cubs fans will also remember the excitement of 1969, when Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins led the Cubs to a 92-win season. Unfortunately, a late run by the Mets won New York the pennant — along with the undying and everlasting resentment of Cubs fans everywhere.
By the 1980s Wrigley Field was widely known for its storied traditions — and for being home to baseball's loveable losers. The Tribune Company bought the Friendly Confines from the Wrigleys in 1981 for $20.5 million. Later in the decade, there was much debate over adding lights to Wrigley Field, with forward-thinking proponents encouraging the ballclub to keep pace with the other more high-tech teams and the purists wanting to maintain the traditions of this historical gem. Wrigley Field finally did add lights — and night games — in 1988. But what a lot of people — even the staunchest of Cubs fans — may not know is that lights were actually scheduled to be installed as early as 1942. The bombing of Pearl Harbor and the US entry into World War II caused Phil Wrigley to instead donate those lights to the government for the war effort.
Other bright spots in the 1980s were the debut of Ryne Sandberg in 1982 and a National League East title in 1989 to cap the exciting decade.
Rookie pitcher Kerry Wood tied a major league record in 1998 when he struck out 20 batters, and in 1999 Sammy Sosa became the first major leaguer to hit 60 homers in back-to-back seasons. Wrigley renovations included the addition of 63 private boxes and the old ballpark's first-ever elevator. The Cubs even clinched a wild-card berth in 1998 but failed to advance. But even sadder in 1998 were the deaths of Cubs broadcasters Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse. The seventh-inning stretch would never be the same again at Wrigley Field without a bespectacled Caray leading the fans in his enthusiastic rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
The 21 century brought a series of highs and lows for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. But win or lose, Cubs fans stayed loyal. In 2005 the fans saw an expansion of the bleachers and the addition of a restaurant that overlooks the field. A Wrigley Field attendance record of 3,303,200 was set in 2008 — almost 600,000 more than the National League average.
And for those who can't get a ticket to Wrigley — or prefer not to — there are always the Wrigley rooftops. The flat-roofed apartment buildings behind the outfield have been there as long as Wrigley Field itself. Unlike some other big-league ballparks that go out of their way to block the view for nonpaying fans, Wrigley Field embraced the concept. What started as a few apartment-dwellers having a barbeque has expanded to include bleacher seats, open bars, and lots of food. The building owners have agreed to split the profits with the Cubs organization, and those apartment seats are now considered Wrigley Field Part 2 — almost like having a seat in the upper (and over) deck.
One can only imagine the look of surprise on the faces of 1914 Chicagoans if they could see the ballpark today. While many of the buildings still stand, the area's demographic has changed drastically. Factory workers have given way to young professionals who can easily hop the "L" or ride a bus to their jobs in the Loop. Part of the Lakeview neighborhood, this is Wrigleyville. Bordered by Ashland Avenue and Roscoe Street, Byron and Halstead Streets, this thriving neighborhood is home to a wealth of restaurants and bars. And if most of them cater to the Cubs fans who frequent the area, well...that's okay.
When the Tribune Company sold the Cubs to the Ricketts family in 2009 for a whopping $845 million, Tom Ricketts knew better than to promise the fans a World Series championship — or even a World Series berth. But hope is still alive at Wrigley Field, and it always will be. The Friendly Confines beckon to baseball fans year in and year out. Whether the team is winning or losing, Wrigley Field will always be home. Here, it's always "a beautiful day for a ballgame."CHAPTER 2
The Early Years (1918–1929)
The late 1910s and 1920s saw some major changes at Wrigley, including the arrival of the Cubs in 1916 and two name changes (to Cubs Park in 1920 and finally Wrigley Field in 1926). Despite winning the NL pennant in 1918 and 1929, the Cubs just couldn't get it done on the big stage, losing the 1929 World Series to the Philadelphia Athletics.
1918: FIRST PLACE JUST WASN'T GOOD ENOUGH
LOOKING AHEAD TO the 1918 season, Charles Weeghman hoped to bolster the Cubs roster to where the finished product could claim the National League pennant. The Cubs president didn't land the player he targeted, but he did manage to put together a quality club capable of living up to his high standards.
Weeghman tried to pry talented second baseman Rogers Hornsby away from the Cardinals, offering them two quality players and $50,000. Alas, the Cardinals didn't bite on the deal that would have sent "the Rajah" to Chicago, so Weeghman shifted gears and focused on finding pitching to complement his 23-game winner Hippo Vaughn.
First the team acquired Grover Cleveland Alexander and another player from the Phillies in exchange for two players and a reported $55,000. Alexander had gone 30–13 the previous season. Next Weeghman acquired Lefty Tyler — who had won 14 games and posted a 2.52 ERA for the Braves in 1917 — for two players and $15,000. The acquisitions set the tone for the team the Cubs put on the field in 1918 — one that could pitch, field, and had uncommonly good timing at the plate. In addition, they were able to overcome adversity, like when they lost Alexander to the army at the end of April. Nevertheless, the team continued to roll, a fact epitomized by a come- from-behind 9–8 win over the Reds at Weeghman Park when they scored four in the ninth.
When the Cubs beat the Phillies 3–0 in Philadelphia on June 6, they took over first place. They did not relinquish the position for the remainder of the season, which was shortened to 140 games due to World War I.
Vaughn's brilliance on the mound could be seen time and again throughout the season. The left-hander kicked off the season at Weeghman Park with a 2–0 complete-game one-hitter over the Cardinals. And on July 6 he did everything in a 1–0 win over the Giants, again at Weeghman Park. Not only did he go the distance in the 12-inning affair, he also singled home the winning run.
The Cubs clinched the pennant with a doubleheader sweep over the Reds at Weeghman Park on August 20. Tyler tossed a complete-game gem in a 1–0 win in the first game. Claude Hendrix won his 20 game of the season in the Cubs' 6–4 win in the second game.
The club finished with a record of 84–45 to win the pennant by 101/2 games. The team ranked first in ERA at 2.18, well under the 2.76 National League average, and they allowed the fewest runs in the league, 393, while leading the league in runs scored with 538. Shortstop Charlie Hollocher led the team in batting average (.316), on-base percentage (.379), slugging percentage (.397), and stolen bases (26). Vaughn led the team in wins (22), strikeouts (148), and ERA (1.74).
By winning the National League pennant, the Cubs earned the right to meet the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, which began on September 5, 1918.
Boston had not lost a World Series in four previous trips. To the 1918 Fall Classic they brought a dominating pitching staff that included Joe Bush, Carl Mays, and Sam Jones. In addition the Red Sox had a secret weapon in Babe Ruth, a young man who had broken into the major leagues as a pitcher but in 1918 began to split time between the mound and the outfield, with astonishing results. Ruth led the American League with 11 home runs, and he hit .300 while compiling 13 wins.
Oddly, the first game of the World Series was played at Comiskey Park, due to the larger seating capacity at the White Sox's home park. Facing a hostile crowd, Ruth shut down the Cubs in Game 1 by pitching a complete game in a 1–0 Red Sox win. The only run of the game came when Stuffy McInnis singled to left off Vaughn to drive home Dave Shean.
Excerpted from Wrigley Field: The Centennial by Les Krantz. Copyright © 2013 Les Krantz. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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