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Wrigley Field

 

Wrigley Field is known as "The Friendly Confines," and a more accurate adjective can not be imagined for this comfort food of ballparks.  Nestled in the Lakeview neighborhood on the near north side of Chicago, Wrigley Field has been the home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team since 1916.   For decades, the ballpark was a sleepy venue, as the Cubs struggled to be competitive.  But the Wrigley Field universe changed in 1984, and the community surrounding the ballpark became legendary.

 

Today, an entire generation of Cubs fans and Wrigley Field fans know only that the place to be on game days is within an eight-block radius of the Friendly Confines.  However, they don't know that Wrigley Field was not a choice destination for a very long time, but, rather, a nice place to rest.

 

Many young Cubs fans also probably don't know that Wrigley Field was home to the Chicago Bears National Football League team from the 1920s to 1970.  The Bears won the 1963 NFL championship over the Giants at Wrigley, disproving the theory that it is impossible to win a championship at Wrigley Field.  

 

Wrigley Field has hosted six World Series, the last one in 1945.  The 1918 World Series was held there when it was Wheegman Field, shortly after it was constructed.  The Cubs then made it a fairly regular practice of advancing to the World Series, before eventually losing, as they did in 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, and 1945.

 

The All-Star Game has been played at Wrigley Field three times, with the last such occurrence coming in 1990, two years after lights were added to the ballpark. 

 

The current dimensions at Wrigley Field are 355 feet to the left field foul pole and 353 feet to the right field pole.  It's 368 feet to left-center, 400 feet to straight-away center and 368 feet to right-center.

 

Although his playing career ended some 40 years ago, Ernie Banks remains the most popular Cub of all time.  He and former Cubs Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandburg have had their jersey numbers retired.

 

Wrigley Field was built in 1914 by Charles Weeghman, a restauranteur who had previously been unsuccessful in his attempt to purchase the Cubs.  Weeghman's ultimate goal was to bring a Federal League ball club to Chicago, which already served as home to the White Sox on the south side and the Cubs on the west side.  The stadium was built in just seven weeks, as Weeghman rushed to field the ChiFeds for the 1914 Federal League season.

 

The ballpark, initially known as Weeghman Park, was built on a vacant plot of land bordered by the streets of Clark, Addison, Sheffield and Waveland in the Lake View neighborhood north of downtown Chicago.  As originally constructed, the left field wall was 310 feet from home plate, which sat at the corner of Clark and Addison.  Meanwhile, the right field fence stood 345 feet from home plate, while the center field wall stood a distant 440 feet from home..

 

The stadium opened on April 23, 1914, and reportedly 21,000 fans crowded the 18,000-seat facility to see the ChiFeds play Kansas City in a game won by the home team 9-1. After a bevy of home runs were hit in the first three-game series, the right field wall was moved back another 25 feet.

 

At the conclusion of the 1914 season, Weeghman changed the seating in right and left field, constructing a much larger bleacher area in left.  The modifications pushed the left-center field fence to 340 feet from home plate.  For the 1915 season, Weeghman held a contest to rename the team, and eventually they became the Chicago Whales.  That season, Weeghman began the practice of holding vaudeville-style entertainment events at the ballpark while the team was on extended road trips, and he even had temporary electric lights installed to provide lighting for fans who came to witness the entertainment. 

 

The Whales won the 1915 Federal League title in a series against the Pittsburgh Rebels.  It was the last Federal League season.  The Federal League negotiated a deal with major league baseball, and part of that negotiation allowed Weeghman to buy the Cubs and move them from their poor West Side home to the palace that Weegham Park had become.  Weeghman paid $500,000 for the team.  Shortly thereafter, he convinced several businessmen to buy into the team, including William Wrigley of the Wrigley Gum Company.

 

The Cubs played their first game at Weeghman Park on April 20, 1916.  The following season, Weeghman Park served as host to the first and only double nine-inning no-hitter ever thrown, when Jim "Hippo" Vaughn of the Cubs and Fred Toney of Chicago stopped each opposing lineup cold for nine innings.  The Reds eventually won the game in the 10th inning.

 

During World War I, when baseball play was irregular on the field and suffering financially off the field, Weeghman sold many shares of the club to Wrigley, who had the wherewithal to help Weeghman with his other business ventures.  But Weeghman's financial woes finally caused him to step down as president of the Cubs, and he handed the reins over to Wrigley.

 

The change in ownership also produced a change in name and internal structure.  The ballpark itself became Cubs Park, and former sportswriter Bill Veeck Sr. became vice president in a move that produced unexpected changes for the ballpark and for baseball as a whole.

 

In 1922, Cubs Park became home to the National Football League franchise in Chicago, which had originally been called the Decatur Staleys but had gradually come to be known as the Chicago Bears.  A new scoreboard, with a clock for football purposes, was installed that year.

 

In 1924, William Wrigley bought the land that Cubs Park sat on, and the stadium's name was later changed to Wrigley Field in 1926.  That same year, Wrigley decided to put a second deck on the stands.  The work was done in two stages, from left field to home plate first in 1927, and then from home plate out past first base in 1928.  The new seating capacity was 45,000.

 

In 1929, in order to provide seating for the huge crowds expected for that year's World Series against the Philadelphia Athletics, the city of Chicago allowed the Cubs to build temporary bleachers on Sheffield St., which borders Wrigley in right field.    

 

Dating back to the time when Charley Weeghman owned them, the Cubs had always been big supporters of Ladies Day.  They typically allowed women into the park for free on their special day.  On June 27, 1930, the Cubs hosted their largest crowd ever, a throng of 51,556 people, more than half of whom were women who entered the game for free. Reportedly, more than 10,000 fans who had tickets to the game were denied entry because of all the free seats taken up by the women.

 

Soon after suffering a stroke, William Wrigley died of a heart attack in 1932, causing ownership of the Cubs to be transitioned over to his son Phil K. Wrigley.  While on his death bed, the elder Wrigley reportedly asked his son to promise never to sell the Cubs.  Wrigley's wish was honored by his family for the next six decades.

 

Bill Veeck Sr. passed away not long after William Wrigley, and Bill Veeck Jr. moved into a position in the team's front office.  The younger Veeck combined with Phil Wrigley in 1937 to put forth work on a new bleacher seating area, which was constructed just above a 10-foot high brick wall.  Later that year, Wrigley decided he wanted the outfield walls covered in ivy, and so another Wrigley Field tradition came to be.  Another alteration that was made to the face of Wrigley in 1937 was the installation of a new scoreboard above the bleacher seats in center field.  The board was 27 feet high and 75 feet wide, and it contained inning-by-inning run totals for all games being played in both the National and American Leagues.  Prior to the start of the 1938 season, a brick wall was installed from foul line to foul line, surrounding the area behind home plate. 

 

Wrigley Field established a new baseball tradition in 1941, when it became home to the first permanent ballpark organ.  But that year was important for many other reasons, and some of them even had to do with baseball.

 

The first night games were played in the major leagues in 1935, but Phil Wrigley was adamant that baseball should be played during the day. However, in an attempt to boost team revenue, he finally agreed to install lights in 1941.  Materials were purchased to begin installation at the end of the season, but work never got under way due to the December attack on Pearl Harbor.  Following the assault, Wrigley offered the materials designated for field lights to the war effort.  As a result, baseball remained a daytime affair at Wrigley Field until 1988.

 

The Cubs experienced a long period of mediocrity from 1945 to 1983, and their ballpark invariably suffered.  Both the team and Wrigley Field were sold to the Tribune Company in 1981.  Owners of the city's most successful newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, the company struck gold again in 1984 when the Cubs almost made it to the World Series for the first time in 40 yeas.

 

With a successful club, Wrigley Field hosted two million fans for the first time. At the same time, new establishments started popping up around the ballpark, as restaurants and bars filled in some of the vacant buildings in the area.  The Cubs won the first two games of the National League Championship Series against the San Diego Padres, but they fell just short of advancing to the World Series when they lost the final three contests.  Nevertheless, the renaissance had begun.  "Wrigleyville' became a destination.  People started going to the neighborhood bars to watch games on television if they did not have tickets.  The nightlife after games became legendary.

 

In 1988, after a long battle with baseball and the other clubs who complained about the day-only series in Chicago, Wrigley Field installed lights.  The Cubs played their first home game with lights on August 8, 1988 against the Philadelphia Phillies.  The contest ended in the fourth inning because of rain, and the next night became the first official night game at Wrigley, with the Cubs posting a 6-4 victory over the New York Mets.

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Tagged:
1918 World Series, 1929 World Series, 1932 World Series, 1935 World Series, 1938 World Series, 1945 World Series, All-Star Game, Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field

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