MLB

10 Things You Don't Know About the 100 Years of Wrigley Field

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterApril 23, 2014

10 Things You Don't Know About the 100 Years of Wrigley Field

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    Kiichiro Sato

    It's been 100 years to the day since Wrigley Field, the longtime home of the Chicago Cubs, first opened for business. That's our cue to celebrate.

    I can think of no better way to do so than by taking a look at 10 things you don't know about baseball's latest 100-year-old ballpark.

    Granted, this is assuming that you're not a Wrigley Field super-nerd who knows the size and weight of every brick at The Friendly Confines. Rather than said super-nerds, the following is more for fans whose Wrigley knowledge lies somewhere between "clueless" and "informed."

    While I'm clearing things up, I'll clarify that we're going to look at a whole lot more than just 10 things. What we're about to look at are more like 10 categories, with many things within.

    Thus concludes the ground rules portion of our program. On with the history!

     

    Note: Various sources will be cited along the way, but the two that guided the research for this project are MLB.com's Cubs timeline and the Chicago Tribune's countdown of the top 100 Wrigley Field moments.

Wrigley Field Wasn't Actually Built for the Cubs

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    You just heard me refer to Wrigley Field as "the longtime home of the Chicago Cubs." Which it is.

    It wasn't meant to be, though.

    No, when Charles Weeghman signed a deal to lease some property at Clark and Addison for a ballpark on New Year's Eve, 1913, his plan was to build a stadium for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

    According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Federal League was founded in 1913 as a six-team minor league, but officially "declared war" on the majors when it expanded to eight teams in 1914.

    That 1914 season was the first for the Whales—who had future Hall of Famer Joe Tinker at short—at their new ballpark, which was then called "Weeghman Stadium." They played there again in 1915.

    But in December of 1915, what The New York Times referred to as the "most disastrous war that the baseball game has ever experienced" ended when the Federal League and the major leagues agreed to a peace treaty, one that dissolved the Federal League.

    Weeghman, however, came out ahead in the agreement. Part of it involved him purchasing the Cubs from Charles P. Taft of Cincinnati. He moved the Cubs into Weeghman Park for the 1916 season.

    Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. was one of Weeghman's first business partners, and the club became his in 1920 when he bought out Weeghman's remaining shares. It was then that he changed Weeghman Park to "Cubs Park." In 1927, it finally became "Wrigley Field."

How World War II Robbed Wrigley of Lights

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    The lights finally went on in 1988...More than 40 years after they were supposed to.
    The lights finally went on in 1988...More than 40 years after they were supposed to.John Swart

    Want to know when Wrigley Field got its ivy? Easy: in 1937 when Bill Veeck had the bright idea. Wrigley also got its scoreboard and bleachers in 1937, and in 1941 became the first park to feature organ music.

    Boring stuff, if you ask me. But the history of Wrigley's lights? That's an interesting one.

    Though it was ultimately postponed by rain, the first night game in Wrigley history happened on August 8, 1988. According to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, the lights for the occasion had only gone up that year.

    But had things gone differently, lights could have been erected at Wrigley a lot earlier.

    In 1941, P.K. Wrigley had it in mind to schedule some twilight games so the Cubs could draw some after-work crowds. He even went so far as to purchase all the materials for the job.

    But on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the USA found itself joining World War II. The next day, Wrigley donated 165 tons of steel and 35,000 feet of copper wire that had been meant for new light standards at Wrigley Field for the war effort.

    "We felt that this material could be more useful in lighting flying fields, munitions plants or other war defense plants under construction," Wrigley said.

    Had he been less of a patriot, there probably would have been night games at Wrigley well before 1988.

Wrigley Has a Rich Tradition of (Football) Champions

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    The NFL Championship Game in 1967.
    The NFL Championship Game in 1967.Associated Press

    The only two World Series championships in Cubs history (1907 and 1908) were won before they moved into Wrigley, and the stadium hasn't hosted any World Series games since 1945.

    Thus, it's fair to say that Wrigley Field is synonymous with losing...but only with baseball.

    Maybe I'm underestimating everyone's knowledge on this matter, but Soldier Field is so ingrained in Chicago Bears history that it's easy to forget they called Wrigley Field home between 1921 and 1970.

    And those were 49 very good years for the Bears. They racked up a record of 383-205-39 and won a staggering eight NFL championships.

    Included among those was the first ever NFL championship game in 1933, which was hosted at Wrigley Field (see NFL.com). That was one of six NFL championships the Bears won as residents of Wrigley Field, and one of four that they won at Wrigley Field.

    The last of those came in 1963. So if you want to be technical about it, it's only been 51 years since a major championship was last clinched at Wrigley Field.

Wrigley Field: Not Just for Baseball and Football

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    Wrigley Field was the site of the 2009 Winter Classic.
    Wrigley Field was the site of the 2009 Winter Classic.M. Spencer Green

    When Wrigley Field hasn't been the grounds for baseball and football games, it's been the grounds for...well, a lot of other things, really.

    Wrigley was home to the Chicago Sting of the defunct North American Soccer League for a few years in the late 1970s and 80s. A couple years ago, it hosted its first NHL game when the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings hooked up at Wrigley for the second Winter Classic game in 2009.

    Over the years, Wrigley has also played host to the Harlem Globetrotters, rodeos, wrestling and boxing matches—the most notable probably being the knockout by Jake LaMotta, of Raging Bull fame, of Bob Satterfield in 1946—and, more recently, concerts. It actually wasn't until 2005 when Jimmy Buffett came to town that Wrigley Field started being used for big-time music shows.

    But the weirdest non-baseball, non-football event to ever take place at The Friendly Confines? How about a ski jump competition in 1944?

    Yup, it actually happened.

Some Baseball Odds and Ends

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    OK, let's switch gears and get into some actual baseball stuff, starting with notable performers and feats in Wrigley Field history.

    Using OPS as a measuring stick and setting the minimum at 500 plate appearances, Baseball-Reference.com says the two most productive hitters in Wrigley history are Willie Mays (1.077) and Mike Schmidt (1.048). Combined, of course, they played zero games for the Cubs.

    The record for the lowest career ERA (minimum 50 appearances) at Wrigley, however, is held by a Cubs player: James Leslie Vaughn at 2.18. Codename: "Hippo."

    The winningest pitcher in Wrigley history, if you're into such a thing, is Charlie Root with 115. He also happens to be the only pitcher with as many as 115 wins at a specific ballpark who's not a Hall of Famer.

    As for home runs, the two most prolific home run hitters in Wrigley history are, not surprisingly, Sammy Sosa with 293 and Ernie Banks with 290. It's also appropriate that Banks, Mr. Cub himself, is the only member of the 500 Home Runs Club (via Baseball-Almanac.com) to hit his 500th at Wrigley Field.

    Elsewhere in notable clubs, Stan Musial is the only member of the 3,000 Hits Club to collect his 3,000th hit at Wrigley Field, and Tom Glavine is the only member of the 300 Wins Club to collect his 300th there.

The Cubs and Phillies Like to Score a Lot at Wrigley

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    The video you see here is a highlight reel from a game at Wrigley on May 17, 1979, in which the Philadelphia Phillies outlasted the Cubs in a game that ended in a 23-22 final through 10 innings.

    The hell of it, though, is that said 1979 contest was not the highest-scoring game the Phillies and Cubs have ever played at Wrigley.

    Nope. Back on August 25, 1922, the Cubs beat the Phillies by a 26-23 final that featured 49 total runs. That's still an MLB record, as is the 51 total hits in the game.

    Charlie Hollocher and Hack Miller both had six RBI for the Cubs. Phillies starter Jimmy Ring took the loss after lasting only 3.2 innings, giving up 16 runs (only six earned!) on 12 hits and five walks. Cubs starter Tony Kaufmann "earned" the win with four innings of six-run (three earned) ball.

    The New York Times made sure to include a key word in its headline: “Chicago Team Wins Weird Game in Which 51 Hits Are Made, 26-23.”

    So watch out the next time the Phillies visit the Cubs at Wrigley Field. As former Cub Mick Kelleher put it to Tyler Kepner of The New York Times in 2009: “There’s something about the Phillies and the Cubs. Man, I’m telling you.”

Wrigley Has a Weird History of No-Hitters

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    There have been seven no-hitters thrown at Wrigley Field. At least three of them belong in the Hall of Super-Freakin'-Weird-No-Hitters.

    This includes the very first by Cincinnati Reds hurler Fred Toney on May 2, 1917. He earned his by going 10 innings, but he kinda-sorta wasn't the only pitcher to throw a no-hitter that day.

    The reason Toney had to pitch into the 10th was because Cubs starter Hippo Vaughn (he of the all-time low Wrigley ERA) held the Reds hitless through nine innings. In all the years MLB has been in existence, it's still the only time two teams have both been hitless through regulation.

    Another fun fact: The game-winning hit was delivered by none other than Jim Thorpe.

    Some 52 years later on August 19, 1969, Cubs hurler Ken Holtzman threw the fifth no-hitter in Wrigley history. What's notable about his is that he didn't strike anyone out, earning one of just two no-hitters in MLB history that featured zero strikeouts.

    But the most famous/infamous no-hitter in Wrigley history is also the most recent one: Milt Pappas on September 2, 1972. We remember it because Pappas was actually eyeing a perfect game right up until he walked the 27th man he faced that day: San Diego pinch-hitter Larry Stahl.

    To date, it's still the only perfect game ever broken up by a walk to hitter No. 27.

Attendance Record? Uh...Which One?

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    Hint: On one occasion, they came to see the man on the left.
    Hint: On one occasion, they came to see the man on the left.Associated Press

    What's the record for attendance for a Cubs game at Wrigley Field?

    Well, do you want paid attendance or any attendance?

    The record for the largest paid attendance for a Cubs game at Wrigley Field happened on May 18, 1947, when Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers came to town. The attendance is listed at 47,101 on Baseball-Reference.com, but supposedly there were only 46,572 paid attendees.

    But that's not the largest crowd ever for a Cubs game at Wrigley. That, oddly enough, came on a day when the paid attendance was only 19,748.

    The date was June 27, 1930, and the Cubs were having "Ladies Night" at the ballpark. Women were admitted free for a game against the Brooklyn Robins (later the Dodgers), and enough showed up to push the game's attendance to 51,556 (see No. 86 on Chicago Tribune countdown).

    Since that was more than the ballpark could hold, fans were allowed to stand on the warning track. According to The New York Times, any ball hit into the crowd on the field was a ground-rule double.

    This is where we make jokes about hitting it to the ladies and getting to second base.

The Longest Drive in Wrigley History Might Not Be a Home Run

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    What's the longest drive in Wrigley Field history? Good question.

    ESPN Stats and Information (via HitTrackerOnline.com) retrospectively tried to calculate the above bomb off the bat of Glenallen Hill in 2000 and came up with an estimate of an even 500 feet. That's a good distance.

    But the longest home run in Wrigley history was more likely hit by Dave Kingman on April 14, 1976. The story, per the Chicago Tribune, goes that he lifted a ball off New York Mets hurler Tom Dettore toward left-center that got up into the jet stream and didn't stop until it struck a house on Waveland Ave.

    One fan estimated it at 600 feet. William J. Jenkinson of SABR, however, noted in a Baseball-Almanac.com article that the house it struck lay 530 feet away from home plate. 

    Still, 530 or so feet is pretty good.

    Unless you want to compare it to the drive Sam Snead hit at Wrigley on April 15, 1951. He hit a ball so hard that it went over the scoreboard in center field, which, as The New York Times noted, lies about 50 feet beyond the 400-FT marker in center field. It therefore might have sailed well over 500 feet.

    One thing, though: This is the golfer we're talking about, and he used a two iron and a golf ball.

Babe Ruth Didn't Actually Call His Shot at Wrigley Field

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    Babe Ruth's called shot in the third game of the 1932 World Series is his most famous moment, and it's arguably the most famous moment in the history of Wrigley Field.

    And it's bogus.

    Having already hit a three-run homer in the first inning, legend says that Ruth came up in the fifth, pointed to where he was going to hit the ball, and then followed through with a home run to the exact spot.

    But as Ed Sherman outlined in his book Babe Ruth’s Called Shot: The Myth and Mystery of Baseball’s Greatest Home Run, the idea that Ruth was pointing to where he was going to hit the ball was very likely a media creation. There's more evidence that says Ruth was gesturing toward the Cubs dugout, where players were joining the fans in showering abuse on him.

    There's also the fact that Ruth himself denied calling his shot in a 1933 interview. Via the New York Post:

    Hell no. Only a damn fool would have done a thing like that. There was a lot of pretty rough ribbing going on . . . there was that second strike, and they let me have it again. So I held up that finger . . . and I said I still have one left. Now, kid, you know damn well I wasn’t pointing anywhere. If I had done that, [Cubs pitcher Charlie] Root would have stuck the ball in my ear. I never knew anybody who could tell you ahead of time where he was going to hit a baseball.

    Still, I don't think we should strike the story of Ruth's called shot from the Wrigley Field records. Though true stories are preferred, every legendary ballpark needs its myths too.

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