Known as the “Friendly Confines,” Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois is Major League Baseball’s second oldest ballpark, behind only Boston’s Fenway Park. The ballpark has been the host to many historic moments, from Babe Ruth’s called shot in 1932 to the 2016 World Series, in which the Cubs finally broke the 108-year-old championship curse.
Prior to moving into the ballpark now known as Wrigley, the Cubs played in West Side Park. West Side was a double-decker park built with heavy timber, echoing the typical construction of baseball fields in the early twentieth century. It was actually another baseball team altogether that played at the Friendly Confines in its inaugural season.
When it was first erected, Wrigley Field was originally dubbed Weeghman Field, named after Charles Weeghman. The stadium was built for the Chi-Feds of the Federal League, also known as the Chicago Whales, who were owned by Mr. Weeghman. The stadium was designed by architects Zachary T. and Charles G. Davis, who also designed the original Comiskey Park in 1910, and construction took place on Weeghman Field from March 5 (I’ve also seen as early as February and as late as March 14) through April 23, 1914, finishing up just in time for the Whales’ Opening Day. The new ballpark only cost $250,000 to build.
When Weeghman Field was first built, it was just a one-level stadium — there was no upper deck — and it had a seating capacity of merely 14,000. The original scoreboard was built in 1915, lasting until its replacement was erected in 1938.
William Wrigley, Jr., the chewing gum industrialist, was a partner with Weeghman with the Whales. As the Federal League folded, and the Whales along with it, Wrigley and Weeghman were given the option to buy the Cubs in 1915, an opportunity they took. They moved the Cubs from West Side Park to Weeghman Field, renaming the stadium “Cubs Park.” The Cubs played their first game in their new home on April 20, 1916, beating the Cincinnati Reds in eleven innings. By 1919, William Wrigley bought out Weeghman’s shares in the team, and in 1926, the park became known as “Wrigley Field.”
In 1921, the newly-formed Bears of the National Football League moved to Chicago. The Bears managed to work out a deal with William Wrigley, through which they were able to play their games at Cubs Park/Wrigley Field as well. This agreement served as one of the motivating factors for increasing the size and the capacity of the stadium. Zachary Davis, one of the original architects in 1914, also designed the 1922 version of Wrigley Field. Davis expanded the size of the field by moving the grandstands towards the street so that it could also accommodate American football games. This meant that the Cubs’ playing field was moved about sixty feet southwest, and the seating capacity of the stadium grew to approximately 20,000. The Bears played at Wrigley Field from 1921 to 1970.
In 1927 to 1928, the upper deck was added to the stadium’s grandstands. The architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed this expansion, which increased the capacity of Wrigley Field to about 38,400.
The outfield had some bleachers, though they proved insufficient whenever the Cubs made the World Series, which happened more often in those days. Bleachers would be added using temporary scaffolding in these situations when additional seating proved necessary. In 1937, however, the decision was made that it was time for permanent bleachers to be added to the outfield, a project taken on by the firm Holabird and Root. This change boosted the stadium’s capacity to approximately 40,000. Along with this, the Cubs’ famous hand-operated scoreboard was built, and the clock was added in 1941. Also in 1937, the famous ivy was planted along the stadium’s outfield wall.
Minor changes were made to the stadium over the years. Some features were added, other features were removed, but for the most part, Wrigley Field has remained largely the same since 1938. The biggest change since that time took place in 1988.
A holdout from a bygone era, Wrigley Field was the last stadium in Major League Baseball to install a lighting system. When the lights were installed, this was done so in a way that ensured the lights fit into the feel of the rest of the stadium, rather than trying to install a modern-style system on a century-old ballpark. The Cubs’ first night game was played August 8, 1988, though it was cut short (ending after four innings) due to rain, getting postponed until the next day.
In 2006, the bleachers were expanded yet again. This increased the capacity of the stadium to approximately 41,000 seats. Then, after the 2007 season, the entire field was removed and replaced with a new drainage system and a bluegrass playing field.
Following the 2014 season, a $575 million project, named the 1060 project, began at the ballpark, which essentially entails a complete overhaul of the facility. The project is expected to be completed in 2019 and includes a widening of the concourse to add more concessions, the addition of a 95-foot x 42-foot HD videoboard in left field, moving the bullpens to under the bleachers in left (Cubs) and right (visiting team) fields, and the west side entrance between Clark Street and Wrigley Field now features a new plaza known as the Park at Wrigley, which allows fans to gather before games and provides a new entry into the ballpark.
In 2004, Wrigley Field was named an official city landmark in Chicago, and a number of its features are now legally protected. These features include all exterior elevations and roofs, the marquee sign at Clark and Addison Streets, the centerfield scoreboard, and the ballfield itself, including the brick wall and the famous ivy. In the face of ballparks being demolished, including Comiskey Park, and new ones being built, the people of Chicago saw this as a way to protect their beloved Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field remains the only Federal League ballpark still in existence.
If there was magic in this world, it happened within sight of the three bases and home plate. […] Wrigley [stadium] was a field of dreams. Dreams of eternal glory for the men who ran to the outfield, who took their respective bases, and prepared for battle against those who would dare enter their hallowed realm. Dreams for the kids in the stands, all wanting to don a uniform, kiss their moms goodbye, and wield their bats as enchanted weapons destined to knock the cover off the ball.
I certainly wouldn’t call this my favorite rendition of our pastime’s anthem, but it’s an entertaining one to watch all the same. Bill Murray at Wrigley Field during Game 3 of the 2016 World Series, singing like Daffy Duck (or Sylvester Cat?).
In a Chicago Tribune article on December 3, 1926, the Cubs mentioned that Weeghman Park would now be known as Wrigley Field, in honor of club owner William Wrigley, Jr. The north side ballpark was originally named after the previous owner of team, Charles H. Weeghman, who had built the steel-and-concrete ballpark for the Chicago Whales. Weeghman had moved the Cubs to the new venue after the two teams were merged under his ownership when the Federal League team folded.
Being a Cubs fan is tough, and this year is not any different. With their record currently sitting at 13-21, the Chicago Cubs occupy last place in the National League Central. The last time the Cubs won a World Series? 1908. The last time the Cubs went to the World Series? 1945.
Nevertheless, Cubs fans remain intensely loyal to their team, a quality that I cannot help but admire from afar. But why? Why root for a team that has not brought home a championship in over 100 years?
Some argue that it is a result of the aesthetics of Wrigley Field that keep fans coming back. I can understand this, for sure. On a spring break trip to Chicago one year, I was able to view Wrigley from the Sears Tower, and even from there, I was excited by the opportunity. It is a ballpark full of history, being home to the Cubs since 1916. Prior to that, it was known as Weeghman Park, built in 1914 on grounds once occupied by a seminary. For those first two years, the ballpark served as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. Wrigley is famous even today for its ivy-covered walls in the outfield and its old school scoreboard.
It could be that fans are drawn to the history of the team itself. Established in 1876, the Cubs are considered to be the oldest team in the Major League Baseball, having existed in the same city for the entire history of the franchise. The club has boasted of players such as Albert Spalding, Sammy Sosa, Greg Maddux, Cap Anson, and Ernie Banks (a wholly incomplete list, but you understand the brevity).
Some folks have pointed out that it could be the other forms of entertainment in Wrigleyville that keeps fans coming back. Surrounded by residential area and a lively bar scene, Wrigley Field is located within walking distance of a game day party for Chicagoans. After all, baseball and beer have a long history together as well. It kind of takes away from the romanticism of the die-hard Cubs fan, but it could very well be a contributing factor.
Or it could just be that Chicago is a town full of loyal baseball fans. The city does, after all, play host to two MLB teams, and has done so for a good chunk of its history. Even the White Sox experienced a World Series drought of its own from 1917 to 2005. But even if one is drawn to the notion of rooting for the underdog, why would one choose the Cubs over the White Sox?
Perhaps the answer lies in the sense of community that comes with being a Cubs fan. Their fan base arguably is far more outreaching than that of the White Sox. Somehow, the feeling of kinship between Cubs fans is stronger than it is with perhaps any other team in baseball. When one thinks of the Cubs, one does not merely think of the baseball team itself. The words “Chicago Cubs” also evoke thoughts of Wrigley Field, Harry Caray and the seventh-inning stretch, the curse of the Billy Goat, pinstripes, and the view of the Chicago skyline beyond the scoreboard. It helps that team’s games are often broadcast on WGN, thus allowing them to reach a larger audience and develop its fan base. The fact that many articles have been written about the loyalty of Cubs fans is a testament to the strength of this sense of community.
It is a sense of loyalty so strong, that even rock stars can’t help but express themselves about it.
Chroust, Kevin. “Bracketology: Best Players in Chicago Cubs History Determined By the Madness.” Yahoo! Contributor Network. Yahoo! Inc., 21 March 2013. Web. Accessed 10 May 2013. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/bracketology-best-players-chicago-cubs-history-determined-madness-202500198–mlb.html
“Cubs History.” The Official Site of the Chicago Cubs. MLB Advanced Media, LP, 2001-2013. Web. Accessed 10 May 2013. http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/chc/ballpark/information/index.jsp?content=history
Savage, Bill. “The Cubs Fan Paradox: Why Would Anyone Root for Losers?” Society for American Baseball Research. SABR, 2013. Web. Accessed 10 May 2013. http://sabr.org/research/cubs-fan-paradox-why-would-anyone-root-losers