Article byPosted Featured AuthorJune 2014
It’s long been thought of as the corner of Addison and Clark because home plate and the main entrance point there. Of late, Waveland and Sheffield behind left and right field, respectively, have been more in the news.
You still take the Red Line north to Howard.1 You board in the Loop, deep and dark beneath the Second City. You emerge into the light, even when the skies are grim. By the time the train reaches Fullerton, the people are packed in like sardines, as often as not with lots of fans wearing the colors of the visiting team. The L roars into Addison, and empties.
You know you’re in a special place.
Rooftop fans across Waveland Avenue behind left field “sort of scream that this is such a great place to be,” according to Andy McPhail, Cubs president a generation ago.
Elwood Blues chose 1060 West Addison — the most famous street number in Chicago — for his fake driver’s license address to show up the cops and dupe the neo-Nazis determined to do dastardly deeds to brother Jake and him for breaking up their parade.
Babe Ruth is said to have called his shot in the third game of the 1932 World Series and then turned a Charlie Root fast ball into a titanic home run over Wrigley’s center field wall.2
Roy Hobbs saw the “lady in white” rise in the light and the stands down the third base line and broke out of his slump.
But mostly it’s about summer days like the one “in the late 1950s, [when] on the way home from a punishing road trip, Ernie Banks turned to his teammate, Jerry Kindall, and said, ‘Jerry, we’re going home where people are friendly — back to the Friendly Confines.’
“Kindall smiled, ‘Ah, the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.’” 3
“Then the game starts, and it’s Paradise Lost.” 4
1919 is infamous on the South Side. On the North Side, 1919 was the year chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., gained controlling interest in the Cubs. When he died 13 years later, Grantland Rice said of Wrigley, “he was the type of owner baseball needs badly.”
By the early Depression days, fat cat Charles A. Comiskey’s less than admirable role in the Black Sox Scandal had become known, along with his duplicity and penuriousness in dealing with his players.5
For years baseball had attracted a rough crowd, and not just at Comiskey Park. Wrigley was determined to change that. Ladies Day was featured as nowhere else.
William Wrigley built a tradition of a wholesome family atmosphere befitting an established residential neighborhood, and his Wrigley descendants/successors kept the faith.
In 1937, the familiar ivy vines were planted along the outfield walls, and the hand operated scoreboard was erected behind and above center field. Both landmarks remain.
But the Wrigleys sold to the Tribune Company in the early 1980s, and new ownership began making big noises about breaking with the biggest of the Wrigley traditions — no night baseball. The courts said, No, you’ve committed to support the family oriented residential environs of Wrigley Field, and many residents have lived in the area for years, relying on relative peace and quiet on summer nights.
The ivy on the outfield walls had not yet budded. From The Road Lawyer’s [TRL] seat at the terrace level along the left field line, it wasn’t clear whether brown meant Spring had not yet come to Chicago, or that the vines had died over the brutal Winter just past.
We had walked around the ball park before the game. Not a leaf, not even a noticeable bud along Sheffield or Waveland until we reached the corner of Waveland and Clark. A light greening of a few limbs of a lone forlorn tree. Maybe a sign of hope.
The Cubs had eked out a 7–6 win over the Cardinals on Friday. There was a look of anticipation on the faces of so many of the 37,000 plus who filed into Wrigley Field that Saturday afternoon. In fairness the same could be said of the red clad fans who had come up from St. Louis for a weekend renewal of the National League’s best rivalry since the Dodgers and Giants moved west.
Still, the calendar insisted that May had arrived. It was Derby Day. The temperature eased into the 60s, though there was hardly a moment when fans were unaware why they call this the Windy City. As on earlier visits, it seemed as if the super structure of Wrigley had been engineered so as to funnel the winds from the West with reminders that life isn’t easy, only wonderful though full of fortuities.
TRL recalled a less hospitable May visit about six years ago. “Just another 53–53 game,” said the rough hewn fan in the next seat. “What’s a 53–53 game?” “ 53 degrees and 53 mile an hour winds!” And then with disdain, “You can always check out the Cubby Bear Lounge across the street.” Sage advice, TRL thought.
Chronic Cubs fan, bow tie wearing, so serious looking, political pundit (in order of priority) George F. Will has his moments. “Baseball—its beauty, its craftsmanship, its exactingness—is an activity to be loved,” Will begins.6 But he rejects Willie Stargell’s insight, “The umpire says ‘Play ball,’ not ‘Work ball.’” Will insists “professional baseball is work.” 7 He who has to work to smile.
So what is one to make of the top of the first , when Cardinals’ cleanup hitter Matt Adams’ major league fly ball drifts towards shallow left. An easy play for the Cubs’ young outfielder, Junior Lake, until the wind catches the ball, drives it back towards the infield, touching the tip of the lunging Lake’s desperately outstretched glove before falling to the grassy turf.
Work? Play? Luck? A home field advantage, except it was the home team fielder who didn’t know the winds. Or just a Wrigley Field single, as TRL learned they call it.
But no harm done. Yadier Molina struck out to end the inning. And Lake would redeem himself in the sixth.
And what of the memorable moment at the end of the birthday party some ten days earlier. A century ago to the day, the Chicago Federals took to this field in this ball park against the Kansas City Packers and christened an icon on any architectural tour of the Windy City.
A 400-pound birthday cake — a replica of Wrigley — had made the 12-hour trip from Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J. to the ballpark “infused with a century of stale beer and the collective longing and frustration of generations of Cubs fans.” 8
It was top of the ninth. The Cubs held a 5–4 lead over visiting Arizona, but the Diamondbacks had runners on first and third. Relief pitcher James Russell took the mound for the Cubs. Miguel Montero stepped to the plate for the D’Backs.
The television cameras caught an eight year old kid in the stands with his dad. Animated, pleading, cheering at the top of his young lungs, though you couldn’t hear him. Strike one to Montero. Strike two! A couple of balls interspersed, but the Cubs were still one strike, one pitch away from Happy Birthday!
The density of expectation hung in the air. A foul ball. Then slow motion, until Montero’s bat cracked the baseball which sped towards right and skipped in the grass a few steps ahead of Justin Ruggiano, the Cubs’ right fielder charging forward like he knew what was at stake.
The TV cameras cut back to the kid and his dad. The kid was crying. Dad was stoic. He had seen it before. Another change of pitchers, and Aaron Hill’s bloop triple that Ruggiano tried for so hard that he injured himself. The D’backs were ahead 7–5. Ruggiano’s two run home run in the sixth was a mere statistic.
The last of the ninth was mercifully quick, too quick for much but quiet.9
Is it work? Or play? Heartbreak? Luck? Or life itself?
However you slice it, the old ball park “withstood time and bad baseball to reach the 100th anniversary of its opening on Wednesday.” 10
The next milestone day was in June when the Cubs brought Lennie Merullo, 97, from his home in Reading, Massachusetts, back to Wrigley. Shortstop Merullo is the last of those who played in the 1945 World Series, “a seven-game [Cubs] defeat, and [he] has the scar to prove it.” 11
Detroit Tiger Joe Hoover was caught stealing second in the top of the twelfth inning in Game 6. “He was spikes-high as I was going down to get the tag,” Merullo still remembers.12
It began at Camden Yards on April 6, 1992. Brand spanking new “traditional” retro ball parks. Only two of the real thing are left: Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park, dating back to 1912. Houston’s Minute Maid Park copies the worst of Fenway’s quirky features. Most copy more from Wrigley.
Not a one TRL has visited 13 is without some of the most untraditional features you can imagine. Most take Wrigley’s family approach to the extreme of having added some sort of play ground for the kids, while dad watches the game. In fairness, this has the advantage of minimizing the mothers and kids climbing over others seated on their rows every other inning for assorted non-baseball related reasons.
All the new traditional ballparks have dozens of fru fru food offerings. Maryland crab cakes can be wonderful, but at a baseball game? Sushi rolls at AT&T Park in San Francisco and Safeco Field in Seattle. Not sure what’s happened to the Ichiroll TRL reported on, since Ichiro was traded to the Yankees in 2013.
Wrigley offers every kind of dog and brat and sausage you ever heard of, with competing but mouth watering bouquets as you stroll past the many dozens of concession stands on ground level. And of course there are pizza slices in Chicago. Only problem that Saturday was that the lines were so long at every stand that you’d better be prepared to miss an inning to get some of the real baseball food at Wrigley. TV monitors everywhere help you follow the game.
During the course of an eight and a half inning game, TRL saw one — exactly one — serving of nachos, which a young woman was sharing with her son, who was stuffing himself with enthusiasm.
“Beer man” patrolled the grand stands as is required at real baseball games. But you have to know some history to appreciate the sadness suffered by the real Cubs fans. Budweiser and Bud Light signs, logos, hawkers were everywhere.14 Never has a single food or beverage been so dominant at a ballpark.
An odd and out of place Toyota sign atop the left field wall broke the Bud monotony. By the fifth inning you became aware that United Airlines had a service to offer, a point of more interest than it might otherwise have been, since Southwest Airlines has shown its true colors by abandoning its many loyal patrons from the Greater Jackson Area. Just another disappointment and challenge for area Cubs fans to take in stride.
Back to beer. For starters, the Anheuser Busch company has long been the St. Louis brewery.15 The Cardinals are now playing in the second iteration of Busch Stadium. It was jarring to look around at “the Cubs and Budweiser welcome you,” “love you,” and other out of place inanities.
Heileman’s Old Style was Chicago’s beer, though the Heileman company originated in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Even in New York, everyone knew the Cubs’ “loyal fans have spilled quite a bit of Old Style beer over the years.” 16 On Saturday, May 3, Old Style draft beer was nowhere to be found in Wrigley’s confines which are not so friendly to everyone.
TRL didn’t even see a Miller beer.17 Didn’t even try to find a Coors.
The other offering from “Beer Man” was 312, a craft beer from Goose Island Brewery in Chicago. For the uninitiated, 312 is the Chicago area code.
Refusing to succumb to Bud’s market power,18 and in order to honor the traditions for which Wrigley Field stands in so many ways, TRL and son bought cans of Old Style, poured into cups.
In the Fall of 1945, while most of America’s able bodied young men were still finding their way home and back to normalcy after serving their Country, the Cubs played the Detroit Tigers in a World Series. Legend has it that, in a game at Wrigley, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern was evicted because of the said-to-have-been obnoxious odor emanating from his pet goat.
“The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more,” was the cry from tavern owner William (Billy Goat) Sianis as he was being escorted from the ballpark. And they haven’t.
Before and since, Wrigley Field has witnessed some historic and (for Cubs fans) heart breaking moments.
Of course, the Wrigley era story has to start with the insult that still stings on the North Side. The Cubs won the 1918 National League pennant and the right to play the Babe Ruth led Boston Red Sox in the World Series. But Wrigley’s grandstands didn’t have enough seats in those days, and the Cubs’ home games were moved to the South Side and double decked Comiskey Park, which could accommodate so many more paying customers.
In 1927, Wrigley added an upper deck and was ready in 1929, but the Cubs lost the World Series to the Philadelphia A’s, four games to one.
There was Ruth’s “called shot” in 1932. The Yankees swept the Series, 4–0.
The Detroit Tigers won four games to two, in 1935.
In 1938, Dizzy Dean and player manager Gabby Hartnett led the Cubs gallant stretch drive to win the National League pennant, but the Yankees took four straight in the Series. Dean was the 6–3 loser in Game Two.
The Cubs came close in 1945, but the Tigers won out, 4 games to 3.
The 1969 Cubs were in first place for the first 155 days of the season, led by Ernie Banks and Ron Santo. Donnie Kessinger was the wide ranging, slick fielding shortstop who led the team in runs scored and stolen bases. But the Miracle Mets surged at the end, and only the aging faithful in Chicago remember what might have been.
A mild panic ensued when the Cubs won the first two of the best of five NL playoff series in 1984. No lights in Wrigley; no megabuck revenues from a Cubs World Series appearance. The San Diego Padres won game three, and game four was tied 5–5 after eight innings. Steve Garvey’s walk off home run in the bottom of the ninth tied the series at two-two.
The Cubs held a 3–0 lead after five innings of Sunday’s decisive finale, but Rick Sutcliffe couldn’t hold the lead. Prayers went unanswered, but not those of MLB’s “mad men.” The Padres moved on to play the Detroit Tigers in the Series.
Nineteen year later, the lights were shining brightly in Wrigley on the evening of Oct. 14, 2003. The Cubs had a 3–0 lead over the makeshift Marlins and were five outs away from their first World Series in 58 years.
A lazy fly ball to left drifted over the foul line. Moises Alou was under it, albeit against the wall, and ready for the catch. But lifetime Cubs fan Steve Bartman sitting on the front row reached for and deflected the ball away from Alou. To this day, no one in Chicago is sure whether the reclusive Bartman is more deserving of enmity or pity.19
Some logic says it wouldn’t have mattered. The Marlins went on to score eight runs that inning, and win the next night, and then the World Series. After four hits in that fateful eighth inning, shortstop Alex Gonzalez did boot a potential inning ending double play ball.
But baseball fans know better. There is a difference between having the visiting team with two outs in the eighth, down by three runs, than with only one out, and the home team deflated by what might have been, no, what should have been. And the difference is as real as the air we breathe.
In short order, the restaurant group of the late Harry Caray paid $114,000 for the Bartman ball, and, in a well publicized ceremony, destroyed it; the remnants were used in a spaghetti sauce.
Two years later the knife was twisted to a more painful point when the White Sox won a World Series over the Astros and exorcized the demons of 1919 (and 1959).
Still, some call the Cubbies “loveable losers.” Former Cubs manager Lee Elia had a different take, back before the flood lights were installed, viz., “ 85 per cent of the world works during the day, and the other 15 percent goes to Wrigley to boo the Cubs.” 20
Last year, former Jackson General Lance Berkman told a reporter, “It’s mainly been a place for people to go and drink beer.” 21
Like the White Sox on the South Side, the Cubs have had their spate of unusual litigation. A big bone of contention for years was the Cubs holdout against night baseball.
In the mid-1960s, the Wrigley family still had an 80% controlling interest. Minority shareholders brought a derivative action, arguing that profits were being left on the table by refusing to install lights for night games at Wrigley Field.
The minority shareholders were sent packing. Shlensky v. Wrigley, 237 N.E. 2d 776 (Ill. App. 1968). Under the business judgment rule, the Cubs’ decision to forego night baseball should be made in the board room, not the court room. Besides, there was no danger of a Cubs stockholder having bought his shares not knowing of management’s preference for day baseball.
By the mid-1980s, the worm had turned. New management followed the Wrigley dynasty and wanted the big bucks. State law and a city ordinance effectively protected the Wrigley Family view.22 So management sued. And, in true Cub tradition, management lost.
The 64 page opinion of Circuit Judge Richard L. Curry issued on March 25, 1985 is a classic. “The game of baseball may be everybody’s business, but the business of baseball is greed,” announced Judge Curry. Much of his opinion defended the neighborhood and residential ambiance that had long enveloped Wrigley Field.
New Cubs owners “should have had a better scouting report before coming to court … What the Cubs’ book on justice failed to note is that she is a southpaw. Justice is a southpaw, and the Cubs just don’t hit lefties!” 23
But you can’t stop change, even if it isn’t progress. On August 8, 1988, the lights went on.24 That first night, it was fitting that the rains came after three innings and washed out the rest of the Cubs’ game with the Phillies.
Tom Ricketts grew up in Omaha, attended the University of Chicago, moved to an apartment on the corner of Sheffield and Addison, met his wife in the center field bleachers,25 became a billionaire, and in 2009, bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field. Ricketts wants to spend $300 million (or is it $500 million) on renovations.
The proposed 5,700 square foot video scoreboard and jumbotron alone would put an end to Wrigley Field as we have known it. And not just because rooftop building owners across Waveland and Sheffield are raising hell as somebody’s from-outside-the-park view is going to be blocked.
Rooftop fans have been a part of Wrigley’s uniqueness for decades. TRL remembers a game in the ‘90s with a large grill and kegs of beer on Waveland Avenue rooftops behind left field. A couple of dozen fans and a few chairs atop each of several three story residential buildings.
Soon the Cubs were marketing their rooftop spectators as evidence of the special experience to be had at West Addison and Clark. Harry Caray called it “one of the mystiques of Wrigley Field.” The Cubs website touted the rooftoppers — along with the ivy covered outfield wall and the hand-operated scoreboard — as proof Wrigley was “the Mecca of baseball.”
But the across-the-street building owners got greedy. “Grandstands” appeared atop these three story structures, first on Waveland and then on Sheffield. Hundreds of seats atop each. One on Waveland behind left center has an outfield fence style 460 foot sign.
In 1998, the City passed an ordinance imposing safety codes and requiring that the roof top proprietors be licensed. ADA handicap access was mandated. Building owners complied, and the fans kept coming.
On December 17, 2002, the Cubs sued Sky Box on Waveland, LLC, and twelve other roof top venues in federal court. Forget the ambiance and Wrigley mystique. Rooftops were taking profits from the Cubs franchise.
The parties struck a deal, a confidential settlement,26 which everyone knows says the rooftoppers will pay the Cubs 17% of gross rooftop revenues through 2023,27 in exchange for rooftoppers’ rights to have a say so in changes to Wrigley that might affect them. Like a giant jumbotron blocking views.
Without the Cubs, there would be no rooftops. But without the rooftops, Wrigley wouldn’t be as cool, nor the Cubs as profitable.
Meet George Loukas. He owns the Cubby Bear Lounge catty-cornered across the intersection of Addison and Clark from Wrigley’s home plate and front gate. Loukas owns three buildings with rooftops — at 1032 West Waveland, 3643 North Sheffield and 3609 North Sheffield. And he’s mad as hell at Tom Ricketts.
At press time, the jury was still out on the Ricketts-owned Wrigley Field of the future. Few in the Midwest are unaware of the classic design, vintage 1924, of Soldier Field, where the Bears play football, or of the monstrosity it has become since its 2003 “improvements.” Visitors driving down Michigan Avenue generally assume a space ship has landed on Soldier Field.
The Cubs were in last place in the NL Central. Collectively, 2011–13 was the worst three year stretch in Cubs history. TRL had never heard of $500,000 a year Jake Arrieta, who started on the mound for the Cubbies.
Nor of Junior Lake, another minimum salary guy who hadn’t learned how to play the wind currents in left field. Arrieta was history and the score was still 0–0 when Lake came to bat in the bottom of the sixth. TRL had a perfect view of the majestic arc of Lake’s two run home run to left center. And of Anthony Rizzo’s first pitch solo shot to right center in the bottom of the eighth.
Not long afterwards, Hector Rondon took the mound, gave the Cardinals two hits in the top of the ninth, but survived with the save. And sent Cubs fans home with a 3–0 win, wondering if this was the first ever six pitcher shutout!
At press time, the Cubs were in their familiar position — last place in the NL Central Division and competing for worst record in Major League Baseball.
In 2014, there are many “traditional” retro parks with men at work, and where owners make megabucks. But there’s only one other place where the past isn’t even past; at least, it wasn’t until 2004.
“Unlike Fenway, which backs up to an expressway, Wrigley is lodged in the bosom of a residential neighborhood.” 28
But for those who read tea leaves, maybe the Fenway and Boston connections are not so glibly dismissed. As the miracle of 2004 unfolded, every living member of Red Sox Nation knew that the Sox’ last World Series was in 1918, the Cubs their opponent, the Cubs that now have not been to a Series since 1945 (though the White Sox won and were champs in 2005).
Can one doubt what Tom Ricketts was thinking when he hired Theo Epstein as Cubs President, Baseball Operations?
A winner in Wrigley Field would be nice. It would be just, at least for fans who have paid their dues in loyalty and suffering, and in a world with less justice than we should have.
George Will reminded us of the wisdom of the late Renaissance literature scholar, A. Bartlett Giamatti, in time Commissioner of Baseball. “Ball parks exist, he said, because there is in humanity ‘a vestigial memory of an enclosed green space of freedom or play.’” 29
Giamatti spoke to those “who grow out of sports … I am not that grown up or up-to-date, I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the Sun.” 30
Ernie Banks has never been a Renaissance scholar but he understands the simple truths of one who was and became president of Yale University. “But Wrigley Field became mine,” Banks said recently. “I grew to love going there. I didn’t want to ever leave. That’s why I said, ‘Let’s play two!” 31
Reflecting on his mortality, Banks added, “I want my ashes to be spread over Wrigley Field, with the wind blowing out.” 32