Wrigley Field's $500 Million Makeover Saves One of MLB's Last Cathedrals

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2013

Renovating Wrigley Field isn't a bad thing, though old-school fans may not like it.
Renovating Wrigley Field isn't a bad thing, though old-school fans may not like it.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the pantheon of Major League Baseball stadiums, Wrigley Field ranks at or near the top. Along with Fenway Park, it is one of the last remaining true "old-school stadiums." It is part of the fabric of the city of Chicago and the Cubs franchise. 

It is also outdated and in desperate need of serious upgrades in order to be a great place to watch a baseball game. 

Having been to Wrigley several times in my life, there are certain parts of it that you can't and shouldn't touch; the bleachers in the outfield remain the best place in America to watch a baseball game, though you will likely be distracted by so many things out there that you might forget to, you know, actually watch the field. 

According to the Associated Press (via ESPNChicago.com), the city of Chicago and the Cubs reached a deal for a $500-million renovation and an increased number of night games in a move that has been rumored for months.

The deal isn't completely done, as the Cubs still have to get city approval for the work, which the report states will hopefully happen before the end of the baseball year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office released a statement that says a video board in left field and a sign would be placed over the Toyota billboard. 

Business owners have been keeping a close eye on that last part, as the Ricketts family, which owns the team, has been in a battle with the people in charge of the rooftop seats about whether these renovations will ruin those and destroy revenue chances. 

On April 5, Fran Spielman of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the rooftop owners were planning to use "any and all means necessary" to protect their investment.

Sources told Spielman that a jumbotron in left field could have serious ramifications on two rooftops. 

Other renovations and upgrades will include a "175-room hotel, a plaza and an office building with retail space and a health club." Wrigley will also get 10 more night games per year, four concerts and 1,000 additional parking spots. 

Anyone who has been to Wrigley knows that parking in that area is a nightmare, so the last piece of information should be welcomed news to fans. 

The matter of the rooftops is one that will be near and dear to the hearts of Cubs fans, as the rooftop seats are another staple of the city and park. It also doesn't help the Ricketts family that the team and rooftop owners signed a 20-year agreement in 2004 from which the Cubs collect millions of dollars each year.

Leaving aside the potential business impact for the rooftop owners in Wrigleyville for a moment, just from a pure aesthetic standpoint, this is a big day for Wrigley Field. 

Too often in this country we equate things that are "old" and "traditional" with "historical" and "comfortable" when in reality we just can't accept the fact that something is old and broken. 

Living in the Midwest, I am around Cubs fans all the time. One thing that constantly gets mentioned is how these potential changes are going to take away the majesty of what Wrigley Field has been for so long, making it just another stadium.

To those people, there are two things that have to be said.

One, if you think that adding today's technology to a baseball stadium is a bad thing, then you need to get rid of your cell phone, iPod, computer, DVD player, high-definition television and Xbox 360. 

Technology is not a bad thing. Adding a video scoreboard to left field wouldn't be the worst thing that ever happened to Wrigley.

Have you ever been there and thought to look at the manual scoreboard in center field (which won't be touched in the renovations) for updates on games happening around the league? They are always well behind because it is impossible to update multiple games in a timely fashion. 

Or perhaps you have been sitting in the stands when a really great play happens that you missed. Before, you would have to wait until it showed up on MLB.com or when you got home to watch SportsCenter

With a new video jumbotron, you can see it right away. You can also get scores from all around Major League Baseball in the blink of an eye (if you don't already have a cell phone or an iPod).

Second, no one says that they are going to fundamentally try to change Wrigley Field. You are still going to have the manual scoreboard in center field. The bleachers won't be touched, nor should they be. Presumably a deal will be worked out between the rooftop owners and the team. Ivy will still cover the outfield walls. The marquee will still be in front of the stadium. 

All these renovations are just ways to make the stadium look better. And frankly speaking, Wrigley Field needs a lot of work. 

In 2004, the team had to install netting in the upper deck because pieces of concrete were falling into seats. 

The foundation of the park is fine, but it is not an attractive place on the outside. There are cracks around the walls and it is grimy in spots. Moving into the stadium, as great as it can be to watch a game there, just make sure you don't have a seat with an obstructed view.  

Two years ago when the New York Yankees played the Cubs in an interleague series, I went to the game in Chicago with a friend. 

We were driving and looking forward to this experience—I mean, this was Yankees vs. Cubs in Wrigley—only to discover on the drive that the seats we had were behind one of the many pillars in the park. 

So we had to debate whether to keep the seats and hope we could see enough of the field to figure out what was happening or look to buy seats without an obstructed view.

It worked out well for us even though we did have to pay a little more money, as we found bleacher seats and were able to exchange our bad tickets to get them. 

These renovations don't take care of that problem, as the only way to get rid of the pillars would be to build a new version of Wrigley Field, like what the Yankees did when they opened a new version of their old stadium in 2009. 

While the Cubs aren't going to build a new stadium—especially considering how impractical it would be to negotiate a $500-million renovation plan only to design a new building just a few years later—Wrigley is a place that needs help. 

There is nothing wrong with admitting a stadium isn't perfect. Saying that Wrigley Field or Fenway Park or, to use other sports cathedrals, Lambeau Field or Madison Square Garden have holes in their foundation is natural. 

Not every building looks as good or works as well for sporting events as when it was first constructed. 

Keeping the basic structure and ambience of Wrigley Field is the most important thing. Nothing that is being done will mess with that. But by making things a little more modern, the experience of going to watch the Cubs play will feel even more complete. 

Now all the franchise needs is a World Series to make everything worth it. 


If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 


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