'Before Wrigley Became Wrigley' Is Fascinating Historical Tale

Jacob KornhauserCorrespondent IIIMarch 25, 2014

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 25:  A general view of Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates for the final home game of the season on September 25, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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From the time Weeghman Park, the park that would eventually become Wrigley Field, opened and the time the Cubs played their first game there, two full years would pass. Even though Weeghman Park opened on April 23, 1914, it housed the Chicago Federals of the Federal League; the Cubs didn't play a game there until April 20, 1916. The unlikely story of how the Cubs became housed in what is now viewed as a baseball and national landmark is the subject of this book by The Sporting News writer Sean Deveney.

As Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday this season, it's only natural to look back at its long and storied history. Everyone knows about Babe Ruth's "Called Shot," "the Homer in the Gloamin," "The Sandberg Game" and the "Bartman Game." Those stories will forever live in Cubs lore. However, very few Cubs fans realize that Wrigley Field very nearly never existed. 

Deveney explores this issue in great depth while also providing in-depth analysis of the futile, yet thoroughly interesting Federal League. In fact, had it not been for the Federal League, Wrigley Field almost certainly wouldn't exist. How it all came to be truly is a baseball drama of epic proportions.

"With [Cubs' owner] Charles Murphy as the villain and [Chicago Federals' owner] Charlie Weeghman as the hero in Chicago, the story really is a classic drama," Deveney says.

Even though it's told from a historical perspective, the book really does read like a novel with the climax reached as the Cubs move into their eventual north-side home. For quite some time, it was unheard of for the Cubs to move from the west side to the north side of town with residents of the north side threatening lawsuits if a stadium was even built on the north side of Chicago. Sounds kind of like rooftop owners nowadays who aren't the biggest fans of video boards.

Furthering the drama, one story that was run by the Daily News actually claimed the entire situation that eventually led to Wrigley Field's existence "threatened to split baseball apart altogether." As fate would have it, the coming about of Weeghman Park coincided with a very tumultuous time in baseball history. It is that tumultuous time that many Cubs fans may be unaware of altogether.

From the very first day of the ballpark, there was foreshadowing of things to come. On April 23, 1914, the first-ever game was played at Weeghman Park, fans crowded rooftops of nearby apartments and children chased home run balls on Sheffield Avenue. Sounds an awful lot like the fan actions that have become norms in the modern day. 

Deveney, who has primarily lived in Chicago and Boston for most of his life, realizes that a park like Wrigley Field (or Boston's Fenway Park) has a way of impacting the city and residents that surround it.

"Parks like this are centrally important to each city and really impact the growth of the city as a whole. Aside from downtown, Wrigley Field is the top tourist attraction in Chicago," Deveney says.

Certainly, as Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday, it's a great time for Cubs fans and residents of Chicago in general to look back on what made the magical ballpark possible. Very few people have any knowledge of how Wrigley came into existence or what exactly took place in the first couple years of the famous ballpark. 

Before Wrigley Became Wrigley: The Inside Story of the First Years of the Cubs' Home Field examines exactly that and hits bookshelves everywhere April 1, just a day after the Cubs open the season in Pittsburgh.

Perhaps the Cubs organization realizes the importance of these first few years of the park's history as it will wear throwback 1914 Chicago Federals jerseys on April 23 of this year when it takes on the Diamondbacks on the exact 100th anniversary of the opening of the ballpark. As the 100th anniversary inches closer and closer, it's important to remember just how differently the Chicago baseball landscape could look today. Without knowing it, Weeghman foreshadowed this point when addressing Chicagoans before opening the ballpark.

This great park, dedicated to clean sport and the furtherance of our national game is yours, not ours. Its destiny is in your hands. Believing that Chicago Fans are champions of fair play, believing that the great North Side of this city needs a Big League Ball Park, believing that the baseball public will respond to a Chicago Ball Team Owned By Chicagoans, I have devoted my time, my energy and my money to help bring this project to the point where it stands today.

The two years that explore this process are truly fascinating. Boy, what a far way the historic park has come since then.