Wrigley Field is a sports stadium in Chicago, Illinois, which was built in 1914 for the Chicago Federal League baseball team, the Chicago Whales, and which became the home of the Chicago Cubs in 1916. It was also the home of the Chicago Bears of the National Football League from 1921-1970.
The ballpark was originally named Weeghman Park for the Whales' club owner, Charles Weeghman, who obtained a 99-year lease on the property from the city. The field became the home of the Cubs following the 1915 season when the Federal League was disbanded. Weeghman had gained part ownership of the Cubs, and moved the club to his new north side facility, abandoning legendary (and wooden) West Side Park.
Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. was part of that group of investors, led by Weeghman, which purchased the team. Wrigley gained full ownership in 1919 after Weeghman suffered financial setbacks and had to sell his shares. The field was then called Cubs Park from 1920 to 1925 before it was expanded and named after Wrigley in 1926; "Cubs Park" is still sometimes used as an alternate name. It is one of two parks that was named for William Wrigley; there was a Wrigley Field in Los Angeles that was home to the Los Angeles Angels, a Pacific Coast League team which Wrigley also owned.
Located in the residential neighborhood of Lakeview, Wrigley Field sits on an asymmetric block bounded by Clark and Addison Streets and Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. The area of close proximity to the ballpark containing bars, restaurants and other establishments is typically referred to as Wrigleyville. And, as every fan of the movie The Blues Brothers knows, the ballpark's mailing address is 1060 W. Addison Street. During Cubs games, Cub fans will stand on Waveland Avenue, waiting for home runs literally hit out of the park. (However, as a tradition, Cub fans—whether inside or outside the park—will promptly return any home run ball hit by an opposing player by throwing it back onto the field of play, a ritual depicted in the 1993 film Rookie of the Year.)
Wrigley Field is nicknamed The Friendly Confines, a phrase popularized by "Mr. Cub", Hall of Famer Ernie Banks. In 2006, its capacity will be 41,118 making Wrigley Field the fourth-smallest ballpark being used in 2006. It is the second oldest active major league ballpark (behind Fenway Park), and the only remaining Federal League park. Wrigley Field had an original seating capacity of 14,000 and cost $250,000 to build.
Ivy Covered Walls
Wrigley Field is known for the Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) planted against the outfield wall in 1937 by Bill Veeck, whose father had been team president until his 1933 death, and for the manual scoreboard Veeck also erected. No batted ball has ever hit the scoreboard, though Sam Snead did manage to hit it with a golf ball teed off from home plate.
For some time prior to 1937, though not initially, the Wrigley outfield was rather more spacious. The early history is explained well in A Day at the Park, by William Hartel, 1994. There were other buildings on the west side of the property in 1914, and this compelled the designers to squeeze the structure between those buildings, resulting in the ballpark having a short right field, some 298 feet to the outer wall. The only bleachers were in the left and center field areas. The stands were single-decked, and also narrower than they are now, with the box seat railing being some 7 or 8 feet above ground. This was the park's configuration for its first 9 seasons.
During the off-season between 1922 and 1923, with the extraneous buildings cleared off, engineers took the unusual move of slicing the single-deck grandstand in two places, and rolling those stands 60 feet to the west. The gap was filled in with more seating, resulting in the noticeable "dog leg" in the stands on the first base side, barely visible at the lower right of the "friendly confines" photo accompanying this article. The diamond and the foul lines were rotated 3 degrees counterclockwise, providing room for additional rows of box seats all around foul ground, but resulting in a shallower left field. The bleachers were removed from that area and re-installed across right field. It was then about 360 feet to the outer right field wall, but an inner fence was constructed to cut the distance to 321.
During the mid-1920s, the ballpark was upper-decked in two stages, the third-base (shady) side first, and then the first-base (sunny) side. But the bleachers were set. By the early 1930s, distance markers were posted: left field line, 364 feet; left-center against the outer wall, 372; left center, corner of bleachers, 364; deep center field, 440; right center, 354; right field line, 321.
In 1937, the Cubs announced plans to rebuild the bleachers in concrete instead of wood, to be fronted by brick that would soon be covered in ivy, and to build a new scoreboard. To make the outfield look more symmetrical and graceful, the plans called for extending the left field bleachers to a point closer to the corner. The gentle curves between the ends of the left and right field bleachers would become popularly known as the "wells". That summer, the Chicago Tribune ran a series of articles about major league ballparks, and the writer sharply criticized the Cubs for a remodeling that he suspected would result in too many "cheap" home runs. The writer later retracted when he saw that the final plan was somewhat more spacious than originally announced.
Be that as it may, construction went on behind a temporary fence during the summer, and the finished product was unveiled in time for the last month of the season. Bill Veeck's famous ivy was planted not long after, but it would be another year before it fully took hold. According to his own autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck, he planted Bittersweet, which would grow quickly, and also the more famous Boston ivy, which would eventually take over. Another part of the arboretum was to be a series of Chinese elms on the large "stairsteps" up to the scoreboard, as well as one apiece in the little triangle at the top of each "well". According to Veeck's biography, that plan did not fare so well as the winds kept blowing the leaves off. Management finally gave up "after about twenty tries," so the trees are long gone, leaving just the large bare steps and (until 2006) the little flat trianglular supports at the tops of the "wells". According to Veeck, the trees themselves were inexpensive, but the special construction for them in the bleachers cost about $200,000.
Another mistake was constructing bleachers in straightaway centerfield: The batters could easily lose sight of the ball in the white shirts worn by spectators on sunny days, because the wall was not high enough to provide a full batter's background by itself. Various methods were tried to get around this. At one time a flat canopy was extended over the area, to try to put the spectators in shadow, but that was ineffective. For awhile in the mid-1960s, a screen was attached to the top of the wall and the ivy twined its way up. Batters and bleacher fans disliked it, and it was removed after a couple of seasons. Later, for a number of years, a green tarp covered those seats.
After generally being closed to spectators sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, the last time those three problem sections were used for baseball was during the 1962 All-Star game. The seats continued to be used for other events such as football and soccer, during the years when the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Sting played their games here.
By the 1990s, the area was occupied by juniper plants, which nicely complemented the ivy. Also, the layout was tweaked a bit, to open up a few seats on either side of the straight centerfield area while still providing a rectangular background from the perspective of the batter.
After the 2005 season, the plants were temporarily removed during reconstruction (see below). Over the following winter, a lounge was constructed in the upper part of this area and new rows of juniper bushes were placed in the lower part.
By the end of 1937, the dimensions were set: 355 feet to the left field corner, a few feet behind where the corner wall tangents the foul pole; 368 to fairly deep left-center; 400 to the deepest part of center; 368 to right center; and 353 to the right field foul pole. There are other intriguing distances that have never been posted. In the original Encyclopedia of Baseball, by Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson, 1951, measurements of 357 feet to the left field "well" and 363 to the right field "well" were revealed. That would put the closest point of the left end of the bleachers no more than about 350 feet from home plate, a fact many pitchers have cursed over the years. Left-center in general is shallow. Straightaway center is probably about 390. Deep center and the right field area in general are better balanced. But the shallowness of the left-center power alley, really too cozy for major league standards, and the resultant increase in home runs in the decades since 1937, suggest that the Chicago Tribune's original skeptical assessment was correct.
Let there be lights!
Lights were scheduled to be added to Wrigley Field in 1942, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, then-owner Philip K. Wrigley (son of the late William) donated the materials intended for lighting Wrigley Field to the war effort. Baseball boomed after the war, allowing P.K. Wrigley to procrastinate on the issue. He eventually decided never to install lights for a variety of publicly stated reasons, so Wrigley Field remained a bastion of day baseball until the Chicago Tribune Company acquired the Cubs in 1981.
The Cubs had been run almost like a hobby by the Wrigleys, but the Tribune Company was interested in the Cubs strictly as a business. The new owners started talking about lights and began stirring debate on the matter. One of P.K.'s stated reasons for not installing lights was that it would upset the neighborhood, and initial reaction to the Trib intentions supported P.K.'s contention.
This debate continued for several years, especially as the Cubs returned to competitiveness during the 1980s. Lights were finally added to Wrigley Field in 1988 after Cubs management threatened to move the team and Major League Baseball announced that any playoff games would have to be held at Busch Stadium. The first major league night game at Wrigley was attempted on August 8 against the Philadelphia Phillies, but was rained out. The first official night game was achieved the following night, August 9 against the New York Mets, ending a streak of 5,687 consecutive home day games. In the 1940s, some AAGPBL night games were played in Wrigley Field using temporary lighting structures.
Wind's Blowin' Out, Wind's Blowin' In
At no other current major league ballpark does the weather affect game play as much as at Wrigley Field. In April and May the wind often comes off Lake Michigan (less than a mile to the east), which means a northeast wind "blowing in" to knock down potential home runs and turn them into outs. In the summer, however, the wind often comes from the south and the southwest, which means the wind is "blowing out" and has the potential to turn normally harmless fly balls into home runs. A third variety is the cross-wind, which typically runs from the left field corner to the right field corner and causes all sorts of interesting havoc.
Many Cubs fans check their nearest flag before heading to the park on game days for an indication of what the game might be like; this is less of a factor for night games, however, because the wind does not blow as hard after the sun goes down.
With the wind blowing in, pitchers can dominate, and no-hitters have been tossed from time to time, though none recently; the last two occurred near the beginning and the end of the 1972 season, by Burt Hooton and Milt Pappas respectively. In the seventh inning of Ken Holtzman's first no-hitter, on August 19, 1969, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hammered one that looked like it was headed for Waveland, but the wind caught it just enough for left fielder Billy Williams to leap up and snare it in "the well".
With the wind blowing out, some true tape-measure home runs have been hit by well-muscled batters. Sammy Sosa and Dave "Kong" Kingman broke windows in the apartment buildings across Waveland Avenue several times. Glenallen Hill put one on a rooftop. Batters have occasionally slugged it into, or to the side of, the first row or two of the "upper deck" of the center field bleachers. Sosa hit the roof of the center field camera booth on the fly during the NLCS against the Florida Marlins, some 450 feet away.
But the longest blast was probably the one that Kingman hit on a very windy day in 1976 while with the Mets. There is a north-south street called Kenmore Avenue that T's into Waveland. On that one day, Kingman launched one that landed on the third porch roof on the east (center field) side of Kenmore, a shot declared with only slight exaggeration to be 550 feet on the fly.
No matter the weather, many fans congregate during batting practice and games on Waveland Avenue, behind left field, and Sheffield Avenue, behind right field, for a chance to catch a home run ball. The Cubs still play the majority of their home games during the day, though they are scheduled to play as many as 30 of their 81 home games in 2005 at night.
The Chicago Bears of the National Football League played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970 before relocating to Soldier Field. The team had transferred from Decatur, and retained the name "Staleys" for the 1921 season. They renamed themselves the "Bears" in order to identify with the baseball team, a common practice in the NFL in those days.
Initially the Bears worked with the stands that were there. Eventually they acquired a large, portable bleacher section that spanned the right and center field areas. This "East Stand" raised Wrigley's football capacity to about 46,000. After the Bears left, it would live on for several years as the "North Stand" at Soldier Field, until it was replaced by permanent seating.
The football field ran north-to-south, i.e. from left field to the foul side of first base. The remodeling of the bleachers made for a very tight fit for the gridiron. In fact, the corner of the south end zone was literally in the visiting baseball team's dugout, which was filled with pads for safety, and required a special ground rule that sliced off that corner of the end zone. One corner of the north end line ran just inches short of the left field wall. There is a legend that Bronko Nagurski, the great Bears fullback, broke through the line, head down, and ran all the way through that end zone, smacking his leather-helmeted head on the bricks. He went back to the bench and told Coach "Papa Bear" George Halas, "That last guy gave me quite a lick!" That kind of incident prompted the Bears to hang some padding in front of the wall.
The Bears are second only to the Green Bay Packers in total NFL championships, and all but one of those came during their tenure at Wrigley. After a half-century, they found themselves compelled to move, because the NFL wanted every one of its stadiums to seat at least 50,000. The Bears had one experimental game at Dyche Stadium on the Northwestern University campus, but otherwise continued at Wrigley until they transferred to the lakefront, finally ending their long and glorious run on the north side.
In another brand of football, the professional soccer team called the Chicago Sting called Wrigley their home for awhile during the 1980s. Their games occurred during the baseball season, so there were no special stands in evidence, just added wear-and-tear on the field.
Up on the roof
Old-time ballparks were often surrounded by buildings that afforded a "freebie" look at the game for enterprising souls. In most venues, the clubs took steps to either extend the stands around, or to build "spite fences" to block the view. Perhaps the most notorious of these was the one at Shibe Park in Philadelphia, which caused a rift between the residents and the team that never healed. The Cubs themselves had built a high fence along right field at West Side Park, to hide the field from flats whose back porches were right next to the outer fence of the ballpark.
But at Wrigley it was different somehow. The flat rooftops of the apartment buildings across Waveland and Sheffield, which actually pre-date the ballpark, were often populated with a reasonable number of fans having cookouts while enjoying the game for free. The Cubs tolerated it quietly, until the 1990s, when some owners of those apartments got carried away: they began building little bleacher sections, and charging people to watch the games. That was a whole different ball game, and the Cubs management became very vocal in expressing their displeasure, threatening legal action. In 2003 they went so far as to line the screens that top the outer walls with opaque strips, to block the best exterior sight lines. That was the closest thing to a spite fence that Wrigley had seen.
This led to meetings and to a peaceful settlement among the various parties. The building owners agreed to share a portion of their proceeds with the Cubs, and the Cubs obtained permission from the city to expand the bleachers out over the sidewalks and do some additional construction on the open area of the property to the west, bordered by Clark and Waveland, and to close the remnant of Seminary Avenue that also existed on the property.
Amidst this debate, a potentially more serious problem arose. On at least two separate occasions during the summer of 2004, small chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck, nearly injuring spectators. The city ordered an inspection of the 90-year-old park, and there was much concern about whether the structure was falling apart. It turned out that the pieces that fell were merely shielding around wires, not part of the main structure. To improve safety, netting was strung under the upper deck to catch any more pieces that might fall.
Shades of 1937
After lengthy debate, the reconstruction and expansion of the bleachers (by some 1,900 seats) finally began after the close of the 2005 season. The first part of the process was to remove the outer brick wall, one of the last vestiges of the 1914 structure. Additionally, much of the 1937 construction behind the inner ivy-covered wall was removed (except for the steel supports and the center field upper tier) and the former sidewalk was excavated. The work progressed quickly throughout the winter, aided by the relatively mild midwestern January.
The original concept called for the bleachers to simply extend out over the sidewalks, supported by open steel columns in cantilevered design, connecting new steel to the existing steel that supported the old bleachers. That plan was altered somewhat when it was feared the area would become an impromptu homeless shelter. Thus the vertical part of the supporting structure for the new bleachers was encased in a wall constructed of new bricks, in a style reminiscent of the original wall, and the sidewalk (repaved in brick) became a few feet narrower. The only part hanging over the sidewalk is the flat walkway behind the bleachers. The upper part of the formerly vacant centerfield area is occupied by a restaurant, fronted by darkened, slanted windows so as not to interfere with the batters' sight lines, and the lower part by juniper plants that had been temporarily removed. Another notable change to the configuration was to replace the solid door in the right field corner with a chain-link fence gate, so passers-by can see part of the ballfield (an idea borrowed from &T Park.