ALL STAR GAMES: 1947, 1962, 1990 WORLD SERIES: 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938, 1945, and 2016 (1 win, 6 losses) LIGHTS: 1988
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Aug. 20-22?, 1963 (PIT won all 3); visited in 1998 & 2008; July 19, 2012 (CHC 4, FLA 2); Aug. 5, 2017 (CHC 7, WSH 4).
With its ivy-covered brick walls and low profile, the "Friendly Confines" of Chicago's North Side are one of the last vestiges of the authentic experience of urban neighborhood baseball. Or at least it was until the last few years. Since 2006, the Cubs have been expanding the outfield bleacher section and adding big new scoreboards and billboards, blocking the view that the folks who live across Waveland Avenue and Sheffield Street used to get. Some of the neighboring buildings still feature distance markers from home plate.
Ironically, given the strong attachment of the team and its fans to their home field, "Weeghman Park" (the original name) was actually built for another team, the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. The upstart league opened for business in 1914 but shut down after two years. The Cubs were then bought by the Whales' owner, Charles Weeghman, and moved into the stadium which bore his name. After he sold out to William Wrigley in 1919, the name was changed to "Cubs Park," and in 1926 it was renamed Wrigley Field. Unbeknownst to many, for several decades there was another Wrigley Field -- in Los Angeles! The Angels played there in 1961.
Like Crosley Field, the grandstand Wrigley Field was 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. During the inaugural series in April 1914, so many home runs were hit that Weeghman ordered that the field be extended into land that had been occupied by residential buildings formerly associate with a seminary. These changes were completed by May. In 1915, after the demolition work had been finished, new bleachers were built in left field, with slightly longer dimensions on that side and significantly longer dimensions on the right side, where a section of bleachers was removed. Estimates on dimensions in the early years made by Ron Selter (2008) appear to be accurate, based on available photographs and blueprints, but are labeled in gray above due to the uncertainty.
In 1923, the entire third base side and middle (vertex) portions of the grandstand were moved back about 60 feet, which was quite an astounding engingeering feat. The first base side of the grandstand was left in place. 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). Film clips from real football games were used in Brian's Song (1971). Wrigley Field also appeared in It Happens Every Spring, The Blues Brothers, Rookie of the Year, Mr. 3000, The Babe, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and 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. This annoyed the neighborhood fans ("freeloaders"?) who over the years got carried away building permanent rooftop bleacher sections across the street. This took to an extreme degree what penny-pinching fans did at Shibe Park in the 1930s, and the Cubs tried to negotiate a deal to at least recoup some of the lost revenue. The expanded bleachers hung over the adjoining sidewalks, like the temporary bleachers built during the World Series of 1929, 1932, and 1935.
But wait, there was more! Further enhancements have been made in the past couple years, including a new video board that was installed above the wall in the right field corner prior to the 2012 season. In addition, the seating rows in that corner were replaced by a new terraced dining section. But the biggest change took place in 2015, with another complete overhaul of the bleachers and a second, even bigger video board in left center field. The bleachers in the "power alleys" now have twenty rows rather than sixteen rows, as was the case from 2006 until 2014. Besides diminishing the historic character of "The Friendly Confines," the view from the rooftops across Waveland and Sheffield is now severely obstructed, sparking another round of legal disputes. Construction of that phase of renovation was finished in June 2015. Prior to the 2017 season, the bullpens were moved under the bleachers in right-center and left-center field. This allowed for three additional rows of seats to be added along the foul lines, thereby reducing foul territory by about 2,000 square feet. During the following winter, most of the lower deck was demolished and then rebuilt, providing for new practice batting area and other enhanced amenities for players. Both dugouts were rebuilt about 20-30 feet farther from home plate. Next year it is expected that many upper deck seats will be converted into luxury suites. (Will that be all?) Other recent improvements include the new office building and Cubs team store on the west side of the stadium, as well as a new grass park on which fans can gather, and a new set of external staircases for easier fan access to the upper deck and rear portion of the lower deck. Finally, the exterior of the stadium has been embellished with green-painted wrought iron trimming, along with red tile. It is a vast improvement over the previous (rather shabby) chain link exterior. 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 the teams in New York did not follow suit.
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!
On January 1, 2009, the NHL Winter Classic was held in Wrigley Field, and the visiting Detroit Red Wings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-4. It was the first such hockey special event played at a Major League Baseball stadium.
In October 2015, the Cubs made it all the way to the National League Championship Series for the first time since 2003. One year later they not only won their first National League pennant since 1945 but their first World Series championship since 1908! With young heroes such as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs are truly a dynasty in the making.
SOURCES: Spink (1947); Kahn (1954); Lowry (1992); Gershman (1993); USA Today / Fodor's (1996); Ronald M. Selter, Ballparks of the Deadball Era (2008); William Hartel, A Day at the Park: In Celebration of Wrigley Field (foreword by George Will), Sagamore Publishers, 1994.
FAN TIPS: Jonathan Dobson
RESEARCH ASSISTANCE: Bruce Orser (Special thanks!)