Wrigley Field opened on April 23, 1914 and is one of America’s oldest stadiums. Many of its early elements are still in place today, giving it an old-fashioned feel. The manually operated scoreboard is still in active use; a flag atop the scoreboard indicate whether the Cubs won or lost the previous game; another flag indicates where they are in the standings. The neighborhood, known as Wrigleyville, still features buildings where fans can go and sit on rooftops to see the game. Players remember it for special aspects of play including the unusual wind patterns off Lake Michigan.
When it opened in 1914 it was known as Weeghman Park for its owner Charles Weeghman (1874-1938). Initially, it was home to the Chicago Whales, a team that played in the short-lived Federal League that existed briefly as an attempt to establish a third major league in baseball. When the Federal League disbanded in 1915, Weeghman purchased the Chicago Cubs and moved them into his park in 1916 where they have been playing ever since.
Weeghman only owned the Cubs for two years but during his brief tenure, he brought about several changes in the stadium experience: Weeghman came from a food service background, so when fans complained that the food vendors disrupted the view of the game as they hawked their wares around the stadium, Weeghman added concession stands behind the seats–a baseball stadium first. While vendors were still permitted to circulate, the option for fans to buy food elsewhere helped change the atmosphere in the stadium.
Another first at Weeghman Park was a new rule about baseballs that were hit into the stands. Weeghman opted to permit spectators to keep the balls, which formerly were to be returned to an usher by any fan who caught one.
In 1918 Weeghman sold the Cubs and the ballpark to William Wrigley, who made his fortune in chewing gum. After owning the stadium for several years, Wrigley decided the park needed to be enlarged and he brought back the original architect Zachary Taylor Davis who came up with a plan to slice the grandstand into three pieces, place them on rollers and slide the grandstand seats back to make for a broader stadium view. With the more open expanse, additional seats were added, boosting capacity from 18,000 to 31,000. (It now seats about 41,000.) In 1926 the name was changed from Cub Park to Wrigley Field.
Features of Wrigley
Two notable features from the 1930s are still a part of the Wrigley of today. As noted, Wrigley still has its hand-turned scoreboard just as Fenway does. In addition, the ivy that covers the brick wall in the outfield–first planted by the Veeck family who owned the team at the time–has necessitated special rules as it presents a field hazard of sorts. If the ball is hit into the lush greenery, it can be hard to see and extract, so if the outfielder sees the ball going into the ivy, he is to raise his hand to signify that finding the ball will be a lost cause. The play is then deemed a ground rule double (two bases awarded for an unplayable ball). If, however, the player starts searching for the ball, the play is considered live and no ground rule double is ruled.
Some of the seats at Wrigley have also been problematic. The bleachers were originally constructed beyond center field, and teams soon learned that they often couldn’t follow the ball amidst a sea of people, many of whom inevitably wore white shirts. Numerous remedies have been tried, including a canopy to see if the ball was more visible if spectators were in shadow. That didn’t work, so for a number of years the seats were closed off for baseball games, though they could be made available if the stadium was rented out for soccer or football. In 2005 the area was altered again with a lounge built in the upper part of the area and new rows of juniper bushes placed in the lower section.
Wrigley is widely known as the last ballpark to add lights for night games, which it finally did in 1988. When one first hears this, the logical conclusion is that the owner’s decision was swayed by those who believe that baseball is a pastoral game that should be played in the purity of natural light. On closer reading, however, it turns out that Philip K. Wrigley (son of William Wrigley) actually intended to add lights in 1942. Instead, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Wrigley opted to donate the materials for the lighting to the war effort.
After the war, baseball boomed and because business was so good, Philip Wrigley decided against the expense of adding lights, and he kept Wrigley a daytime baseball stadium. This decision was just fine with the people of Wrigleyville who were delighted to have a guarantee of calm in the evening hours.
In 1981 the Chicago Tribune Company bought the Cubs and began exploring ways to make more money from the team and the stadium. They were also receiving pressure from the commissioner of baseball who announced that the Cubs would have to play all postseason games at another park because the stadium lacked lights; this would result in a loss of any home field advantage. By this time, the neighbors felt there was no sense in changing the neighborhood, but their stance against lights was followed by an announcement from the team president that the club might move if the neighbors rallied against lights. Finally in 1988, lights were installed with the initial promise to neighbors that the night schedule would be limited.
The Tribune was still looking to bring down their debt, and they discussed selling naming rights to the field, but this, too, was controversial. Fortunately for those who love Wrigley as Wrigley, the team and stadium were sold to Thomas S. Ricketts in 2009. (Ricketts’ father grew a company called First Omaha Securities into Ameritrade.) Ricketts said at the time he expects to maintain the name of Wrigley Field, and two years later, there is no indication of change–something that pleases Chicagoans greatly.