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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Chicago’s Wrigley Field

Every baseball fan knows that Fenway Park and Wrigley Field are the two oldest stadiums in Major League Baseball. However, did you know that Wrigley Field was not the original name of the ballpark… or that it was not built to house the Chicago Cubs? These, and many more interesting facts, are found in Chicago’s Wrigley Field by Paul Michael Peterson.

Weeghman Park was built by Charlie Weeghman, a Chicago millionaire, to house his baseball team, the Chicago Federals, who played in the Federal League. The new stadium was built in an astounding two months and opened for business on April 23, 1914. Unfortunately, the Federal League failed financially just one season later, closing in 1915. Weeghman was not deterred, as he then purchased the Cubs of the National League and moved them to his new ballpark.

Weeghman was ahead of his time, as many of baseball’s longtime traditions were innovations introduced at his ballpark. He was the first owner to allow fans to keep foul balls that went into the stands, and the first to build concession stands in a ballpark. In 1919, Weeghman ran into financial difficulties and sold the Cubs to chewing gum millionaire William Wrigley, Jr. Wrigley then renamed the ballpark “Cubs Park."

The first few years of Wrigley’s ownership were lean, both on and off the field. In 1926, the ballpark was finally christened as “Wrigley Field.” He recruited some of the top players of the era, and the results on the field changed dramatically. By 1927 the team was drawing more than a million fans per season. By 1929 the team was playing in its first World Series.

The senior Wrigley died in 1932, and his son, P.K. Wrigley took over the team and the ballpark. He was responsible for one of the defining features at Wrigley Field, the planting of the ivy on the outfield walls. This was to protect the players from injury by running into the brick wall, but he also saw that it would be an amenity in making the park more fan-friendly.

Another feature that still stands today is Wrigley Field’s manual scoreboard. This was added to the park in 1937 by Cubs front office genius Bill Veeck. He also produced the concept of the “pennant race.” The Wrigleys were avid sailors on Lake Michigan. Their boats were often decorated with pennants won in races. Veeck added pennants to the top of the scoreboard, arranging each team’s flag in the order of the league standings.

In 1921 Wrigley Field became the first two-sport stadium in major league sports. Bill Veeck saw that the stadium sat empty after the baseball season and was not generating any income for more than half of the year. He reached an agreement with George Halas to have the Chicago Bears of the NFL play their home schedule at Wrigley Field. The shape of the field was not ideal for football but it was squeezed in between the first base dugout and the left field wall. The Bears would continue to play at Wrigley Field through the 1970 season.

One tradition that did end was Wrigley’s reluctance to add lights. P.K. Wrigley was agreeable to adding lights as early as 1941, but World War II was underway, and the steel in the light towers was required for the war effort. Stadiums throughout the country were also under orders to follow the “blackouts” required at night, as there was a fear that enemy bombers would find a lighted field an attractive target.

Later, the residents of the neighborhood surrounding Wrigley Field fought against lighting the field, as they did not want the noise and traffic created by night games to interfere with their lives. Finally, on August 8, 1988 the lights went on for good.

A more recent development is the creation of viewing areas atop the apartment buildings that surround the park. These areas often include bleachers, bars, and food service. The Cubs went to court to prevent these additions, arguing that it was stealing business away from the team. Eventually, an agreement was brokered, where the Cubs receive a licensing fee from each building that houses one of these structures.

We have chosen to focus on the structural and historical aspects of Wrigley Field in this book. However, readers will find that Chicago’s Wrigley Field is filled with the tales of the Billy Goat Curse, the exploits of famed announcer Harry Caray and the Bleacher Bums, as well as the records set by Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams. We know readers will enjoy this look at one of baseball’s most unique ballparks.

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