Take Me Out to the Ballpark: Wrigley Field

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Take Me Out to the Ballpark: Wrigley Field

Ivy covered walls.

 

Day baseball.

 

Ernie Banks and “Let’s play two.”

 

Harry Carey and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

 

All of these are Wrigley Field in Chicago, home of the Chicago Cubs for 94 years.

 

Wrigley Field was built in 1914 and is the second oldest baseball field in continuous existence, second only to Fenway Park in Boston.

 

On the north side of Chicago, this baseball venue has existed ever since, although at first it was not called “Wrigley Field,” and it was not the home of the Cubs.

 

Charles Weeghman first built the stadium here, and it was built in just over a month beginning in March 1914. But at that time, the Cubs were playing on a different field in west Chicago.

 

Originally called North Side Park, Weeghman would rename the place after himself, Weeghman Park. It was a simple design that had room for only about 14,000 spectators. A V-shaped, single level grandstand ran parallel to the foul lines, and there were bleachers in the outfield.

 

Weeghman bought the Cubs, and they played their first game at his new park on April 20, 1916.  The venue was renamed Cubs Field.

 

In 1920, Weeghman sold the team and the field to the chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley.

 

In 1922, Wrigley had changes made to the park, as the grandstand was moved back from the field and wooden bleachers were added in the outfield that increased seating to 20,000.

 

In 1926, a second-tier grandstand was added, the playing field was actually lowered, and the left field bleachers were taken out. Capacity increased to almost 40,000.

 

Ironically, there was a plan to install lights at the park in 1942. But America’s involvement in World War II stopped this plan, as the lights were donated to the government.

 

Lights would not be installed at Wrigley until 1988, when the baseball gods decreed that if the Cubs made the playoffs, they would not be allowed to play at Wrigley because night baseball was required to appease the television moguls.

 

The baseball franchise that is known as the Cubs has existed since 1876 when the National League was first formed. However, at that time, the team was known as the Chicago White Stockings.

 

For the first two years they were managed by Albert Goodwill Spalding, more famously known for the sporting goods company that he founded and which still bears his name.

 

In 1890, the team name was changed to the Chicago Colts. They would become the Chicago Orphans in 1898 and remained so until finally becoming the Cubs in 1903.

 

Although the despair of Boston Red Sox fans may be more chronicled, true Chicago Cubs fans have had more to suffer with their Cubbies (by any other name, the torment is just as bittersweet) more than fans of any other team.

 

The Cubs played in four World Series contests between 1906 and 1910 and actually won in 1907 and 1908.

 

They have never won since.

 

In fact, the team has only played in six other World Series since that time.

 

Their last appearance in the Fall Classic was in 1945 and, of course, they lost.

 

But Cubs fans have never stopped following this team. Columnist George Will was featured in Ken Burns’ epic documentary “Baseball” and said that most of the kids he grew up with became Democrats and Cardinals fans. He became a Republican and a Cubs fan, and he has suffered ever since.

 

But Will said it with love in his voice. No one can follow a team this long, with this much frustration, without loving them.

 

And for most of its existence and since 1940, the team has been really, really bad—seldom finishing among the top half of the teams in their league.

 

The team has played in six playoff series since 1984, but have come close to winning a pennant in only one season.

 

In 2003, the Cubbies were leading the Florida Marlins 3-2 in the NCLS and were up 3-0 in the top of the eighth inning in the sixth game at Wrigley.

 

With one out, the Cubs needed only five more outs to clinch their first pennant in 58 years. Luis Castillo of the Marlins lofted a fly ball down along the left field foul line near the wall. Cubs left fielder, Moises Alou, drifted over against the wall and was poised to make the catch.

 

But the ball never reached his glove.

 

A young fan named Steve Bartman wanted to catch a playoff souvenir and interfered with Alou.

 

The ball dropped safely and the floodgates opened.

 

Florida scored eight runs after Bartman’s interference and won the game to tie the series. In the final game the Marlins won again, denying the Cubbies a trip to the Series.

 

Could this be just the latest incarnation of the Curse of the Billy Goat?

 

This jinx was supposedly placed on the team in 1945, when the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in the Windy City was asked to leave a World Series game in Wrigley. Billy Sianis had brought his pet goat to the game, and fans sitting nearby were offended by the odor of the goat.

 

Sianis was asked to leave and he vowed, “Those Cubs, they aren’t going to win no more.”  There has never been another World Series played in Wrigley Field.

 

One of the best known personalities surrounding baseball in the past 60 years is Harry Caray. Although he broadcast games for the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics, and the White Sox on the south side of Chicago, Caray is best known as the fun loving broadcaster of Cubs games.

 

Caray came to the Cubs in 1981 at a time when WGN was just beginning to broadcast all Cubs game on the cable and satellite TV feeds. Caray became famous, as millions around the country saw him.

 

Caray was best known for his seventh inning stretch rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” when he would conduct using the microphone and scream (more than sing) the baseball tune to fans in the park and around the country.

 

And, of course, the park itself is probably best known for its ivy covered walls.

 

In 1937, team president, Bill Veeck, had the ivy planted at the base of the outfield walls. It has been there ever since. It adds a character to the old field, which is unique.

 

In the early season games in cold Chicago, the ivy has not recovered from its winter dormancy. But as the warmer days of late spring turn to the dog days of summer, the ivy covers the old brick walls with verdant growth.

 

Perhaps the most famous Cub of all time was Ernie Banks.

 

His love of the game has been captured for posterity by his favorite saying. Reportedly every day, Banks would come to the park, in sunshine or shadow, and declare, “Let’s play two,” meaning one game alone was not enough for Ernie.

 

Banks also coined another phrase which has been used ever since to describe Wrigley Field. Banks dubbed it, “The Friendly Confines.”

 

And indeed it is. Wrigley Field still beckons to baseball fans, regardless of which team they root for.

 

Fans make pilgrimages to this Mecca of baseball set in the business district in North Chicago. It seems as though this will always be a place where baseball is played on real grass and under the sun.

 

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