ALL STAR GAMES: 1947, 1962, 1990 WORLD SERIES: 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945 LIGHTS: 1988
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Cubs-Pirates game in 1963, visits in 1998 and 2008, and a Cubs-Marlins game on July 19, 2012.
With its ivy-covered brick walls, the "Friendly Confines" of Chicago's North Side are one of the last vestiges of the authentic experience of urban neighborhood baseball. Indeed, the folks who live across Waveland Avenue and Sheffield Street can see games for free, and one can spot distance markers on some of their buildings. This stadium was originally built for another team, the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, which opened for business in 1914 but shut down after two years. The Cubs were then bought by the Whales' owner and moved into "Weeghman Park" (the original name), which was thereafter called Cubs Park, and in 1926 renamed in honor of the new owner William Wrigley. Another bit of little-known trivia is that for several decades there was another Wrigley Field, in Los Angeles! The Angels played there in 1961.
The ballpark that was most similar to Wrigley Field was Crosley Field, where the grandstand was likewise curved behind home plate, with the upper decks set back a fair distance from the field, and with no upper decks extending into the outfield. The original stadium was single-decked, with 14,000 seats. In 1923 the entire third base side and middle (vertex) portions of the grandstand were moved back about 60 feet; that must have been quite an operation!) According to Hartel (1994), the first base side of the grandstand was left in place. After lengthy study and repeated attempts to reconcile the outfield dimension data with such a position, however, I have concluded that the first base side of the grandstand must have been pivoted at the southeast corner and rotated a few degrees. These changes gave the stadium a slightly asymmetric form, creating the odd angle that creases the visitors' dugout. In addition, the field was lowered three feet in order to create more space for additional seats and the diamond was rotated a few degrees counter-clockwise. Four years later (in 1927) bleachers were removed from left field and a second deck was added to the left side of the stadium. At some point in the mid-twenties, no later than 1925, a large scoreboard was added in center field. In 1928 the second deck was completed on the right side, bringing the total capacity up to 40,000. For the 1929, 1932, and 1935 World Series, extra temporary bleacher sections extending over the street were added in right and left field.
Wrigley Field assumed its more-or-less final form in 1938, as the exquisite tapered bleachers with the ivy-covered walls were added, along with the trademark scoreboard that towers above center field at the corner of Waveland and Sheffield. That scoreboard still operates manually, just as it did in 1938. The 400 foot "center field" marker is aligned with the scoreboard, and is about 25 feet right of dead center field, which is actually about 395 feet from home plate. In addition, the far end of the left field lower deck was rebuilt about that time, so that the seats out there pointed toward the infield rather than toward center field. The same modification was made to the far end of the right field lower deck several years later. (The "1938" diagram above actually represents the early 1950s.) For many years there was a triangular gap between the upper and lower sections of the lower deck in the right field corner, apparently an entryway for vehicles.
Even though the distances to the right and left field corners are above average, Wrigley's peculiar bleacher configuration makes for rather short distances in the power alleys. Depending on the wind (which can blow hard either in from Lake Michigan or out toward it), this can be a very friendly place for power hitters such as Sammy Sosa, who sadly fell out of favor with Chicago fans during the 2004 season and got traded to Baltimore. Wrigley Field's only real "shortcoming" (from my point of view) is the fact that the field layout is rather symmetrical, at least in terms of the marked distances. In contrast, foul territory is quite asymmetrical, with more room on the first base side than on the third base side.
CINEMA: Parts of Angels in the Outfield (the 1951 original version) were filmed in Wrigley Field, as was a scene from the movie A League of Their Own (1992), starring Gena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, and Rosie O'Donnell. There was also a scene from one episode of NBC's drama ER.
The Cubs being steeped in ancient tradition, there were no night games at Wrigley Field until August 1988. Lights had originally been planned for the 1942 season, but then Pearl Harbor changed everything. Opposition from neighborhood residents played a part in delaying the advent of night games, but the Iron Law of economic necessity could not be ignored forever. In 1989 a small mezzanine section with private boxes for wealthy patrons was added. One of the Cubs' latter-day hallowed traditions was broadcaster Harry Caray, known for his huge eyeglasses and big voice. He died in 1998, and the whole city mourned... One small blemish in this fine ballpark is that the exterior of the grandstand along the left and right sides looks a little worn, with rust on the screens and structural beams.
Prior to the 2004 season, three rows of box seats were added between the dugouts, and in 2005 a few rows of seats were added between the visitor's dugout (first base side) and the bullpen. Prior to the 2006 season, the Cubs completely rebuilt and expanded the bleachers, raising the seating capacity by nearly two thousand. There are now twelve rows in each corner, gradually increasing toward center field. They now hang over the adjoining sidewalks, like the temporary bleachers built during the World Series of 1929, 1932, and 1935. The section in the right field corner, now known as the "Bleacher Box Seats" because they are not benches, is several feet lower than the rest of the bleachers. The rear portion of the backdrop in center field is now an enclosed "Batter's Eye Suite," and only the front poriton is adorned with shrubs. For the benefit of those passing by on the sidewalk, there is now a small "knothole" vantage point near the right field corner. ("Keep moving, folks!") The bleachers expansion has partly obstructed the view of the field from the outside. This annoyed the neighborhood fans, but may have been part of the understanding that has apparently resolved the issue of "freeloaders" who built permanent rooftop bleacher sections across the street, much like Shibe Park in the 1930s. In any case, the civic love affair between the Cubs and Chicago lives on, as everyone agrees on the inestimable value of this shrine to the National Pastime. The Cubs' wise choise in preserving Wrigley Field may have influenced the Boston Red Sox to follow suit in preserving Fenway Park, but New York is another matter...
Further enhancements have been made in the past couple years, and more are planned for the future. Prior to the 2012 season, a video board was installed above the wall in the right field corner, and the seating rows there were replaced by a new dining section.
For some odd reason, the Chicago Bears played their home games at Wrigley Field for several decades, even though the much-bigger and more appropriate Soldier Field was available downtown. The Bears finally moved there in 1971. The football gridiron just barely fit Wrigley Field, and one corner of the end zone actually extended into the visitor's (right side) dugout!
SOURCES: Spink (1947); Kahn (1954); Lowry (1992); Gershman (1993); USA Today / Fodor's (1996); William Hartel, A Day at the Park: In Celebration of Wrigley Field (foreword by George Will), Sagamore Publishers, 1994.
RESEARCH ASSISTANCE: Bruce Orser (Special thanks!)