Do they still play the blues in ChicagoSteve Goodman – A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request 1
When baseball season rolls around?
When the snow melts away, do the Cubbies still play
In their ivy-covered burial ground?
I’ve always wanted to go to Wrigley Field and couldn’t consider my baseball life complete without at least one visit. This summer was my chance.
I was ten or so when I first learned of Wrigley Field. I saw a Sports Illustrated cover with a player and beautiful ivy walls behind him. How can a baseball stadium have ivy-covered walls, I wondered. What is this place that is so much different than others?
Later, as a teenager, I lived in New York and saw many Mets games televised from Wrigley. This enchanting, quaint ballpark on Chicago’s Northside was not like any other I’d seen. I loved that fans sat on roofs across the street to watch the games. Furthering my intrigue was the unfortunate team that played there. The Cubs hadn’t won a World Series since 1918 and a pennant since 1945.
He told his friends, “You know, the law of averages saysSteve Goodman – A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request 2
Anything will happen that can” that’s what it says
“But the last time the Cubs won a National League pennant
Was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan
Balls would fly out of the little stadium, especially when the wind was blowing out. When they did, fans would run after balls in the streets behind the outfield walls. Occasionally balls would hit houses across the street from the park, I especially remember one of those long balls by Dave Kingman vividly.
Wrigley intrigued me for decades
Occasionally I’d go to Chicago for business but could never find the opportunity to see Wrigley.
My latest attempt prior to this year, was over the July 4th holiday in 2015. My nephew planned to drive up from Indianapolis and join Mrs. Nomad and me for the fun. Additionally, Mrs. Nomad and I were going to include our first visit to Citi Field in the trip. The plan was to see the Mets play the Cubs at Citi on Thursday afternoon. That night we’d fly to Chicago to see the Cubs play a day game on Friday at Wrigley. We planned to go to at least one of the weekend games as well.
Unfortunately, my old friends, the Grateful Dead, got in the way. That weekend, the remaining members of the band scheduled concerts to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of their last gig with Jerry Garcia. Since the shows were planned for Chicago’s Soldier Field, hotel rooms and flights were scarce and expensive.
Thus we changed our plans and stayed in New York. That weekend we saw the game at Citi Field and then spent July 4th at Yankee Stadium.
What can I say? I’d seen so many Dead shows when Jerry was alive and have hundreds of shows on my computer and phone. I tried not to take it personally that they spoiled my chances of going to Wrigley in 2015.
Now that I was finally going to get my chance to visit Wrigley, I wanted to celebrate! I’d like to take a tour, see a day game, and sit on a rooftop – I had to do it all. So I planned three days over a weekend. Nomad the Younger, Mrs. Nomad, and the Nomad’s sister would travel in for the fun.
Each day of that special weekend, I’d leave my downtown hotel and find my way to the Red Line on Grand Street. Heading north, the train would change to the elevated tracks when it passed the “North/Clybourn” underground station. As it traveled past Fullerton and Belmont, I saw DePaul University’s Wish Field, where the Cubs used to play. The next stop was Addison, where Wrigley Field looms across the street.
Leaving the station, and walking down the stairs would take me to the corner of West Addison and Sheffield. I could walk in one direction up Sheffield and end up behind the park. Instead, I chose to walk up Addison past the statues of Cubs greats Ron Santo and Billy Williams.
The famous “Wrigley Field” red marquee is located at the corner of Addison and Clark. Taking a right and traveling past the stadium on Clark Street, I walked through the new Triangle Plaza with seating and a statue of Ernie Banks. At the end of the plaza is a building that houses bars, restaurants, a team store, and offices. The plaza was part of a five-year renovation. It is reminiscent of other entertainment areas outside ballparks inspired by Baltimore’s Eutaw Street.
At the end of Triangle Plaza is Waveland Avenue, where fans queue to get into the bleachers. Waveland Avenue is also famous for fans chasing home run balls that leave the ballpark.
The individual entrances to the buildings that house the Wrigley Rooftops line Waveland and Sheffield Avenues. At the intersection of the two avenues is the Bleacher Gate behind a statue of the great broadcaster Harry Carey.
Each day I’d linger around these areas and absorb the fun atmosphere of Wrigley that is unlike any other.
Learning Wrigley’s History via The Tour
I started the week in Minnesota watching the Twins playing two games against the Mets. I planned to leave Minneapolis on Thursday morning, so I could be in Chicago in time to take the “Ivy Tour” at Wrigley on Thursday afternoon.
If you tour Wrigley on non-game days, you can visit the press box, Cubs dugout, and visitor’s locker room. For an extra $10, you can take the “Ivy Tour” so you can stand on the warning track, touch the ivy and have your picture taken in front of these unique walls.
Unfortunately, I woke up in Minneapolis to a veritable light show outside my hotel window caused by dramatic lightning.
The lightning delayed my flight in Minneapolis until early afternoon. Luckily they rebooked my tour for Friday morning. I’d miss the Ivy Tour and other non-game-day perks but would still see a lot of the park.
On Friday morning, the tour started w/ opportunities to get pictures taken in front of a projection of the ivy wall.
After some introductions, our guide took us into the hallowed ballpark. The guide was a young baseball fan who worked at the park and also conducted tours. He provided an excellent combination of humor and information.
At our first stop, we stood on the field, near the third-base dugout and watched workers prep the ground in the morning dew. The ivy walls and antique scoreboard were in the distance. The empty stands rose behind us. This Baseball Nomad had made it to baseball’s Mecca.
Back to Back Championships?
After leaving the field, we sat in a section of field boxes on the first base side of the field and listened to some stories.
Our guide began by explaining the Cubs’ century of futility. He explained that after the Cubs won the 1908 championship, they played 107 years of exhibition games before winning their second straight championship in 2016. I thought that was as good an explanation of the Cubs’ century of frustration as any I’d heard.
Jackie Robinson Played at Wrigley
The guide then directed our attention to the retired numbers on white flags that hang from the foul poles on either side of the field. Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, and Ferguson Jenkins’ numbers are in left field. Billy Williams, Ryne Sandburg, Greg Maddox, and Jackie Robinson’s numbers are in right. I thought that was a good number of retired numbers, just Hall of Fame members.
He made special mention of Robinson. Wrigley Field is now the only remaining ballpark where Jackie Robinson played. New stadiums replace all the others. He explained that the only other current stadium that existed in the late forties and fifties was Boston’s, Fenway Park. Since Fenway is an American League park, Jackie never played there.
I ruefully remembered that this was just another reason why the old Yankee Stadium should still be standing. That’s where Robinson played so many World Series games. I have the iconic picture of Jackie stealing home in Yankee Stadium in 1955, hanging on my office wall. The image is one of my favorites.
Why the Name “Cubs?”
Our guide continued with his history lesson. After compiling these notes, I checked his stories with written sources to add some things and confirm his points.
The Cubs began to play in the nineteenth century as – believe it or not – the Chicago White Stockings. The guide didn’t mention this, but Adrian Constantine (Cap) Anson led the White Stockings. Anson had a Hall of Fame career, spending 22 years with the team as first baseman, manager and minority owner. However, Anson also infamously instigated the Gentleman’s Agreement that kept black players from Major League Baseball for about seven decades.3 He did so, in the mid-1880s by declaring the team would not play against teams that included black players. Others followed his lead, and soon the ban was universal.
The White Stockings won six pennants between 1876 and 1886 and became known as the “Chicago Colts” (or “Anson’s Colts”). In 1897, when the team floundered, and they fired Anson, newspaper reporters started to refer to the Colts as the “Orphans.” Beginning in 1903, they became known as the “Cubs” because of all the young players on the team. 4
Meanwhile, the American Baseball League started in 1901, and the Chicago franchise took the “White Stocking” name. They later shortened it to the “White Sox” 5
The Federal League and Wrigley Field
The Cubs played in a series of ballparks during these years. You pass one of them, West Side Park (now DePaul University’s Wish Field), when you ride on the red line train To Wrigley from downtown.
Wrigley Field was built in 1914 but was initially known as “Weeghman Park” after owner Charles Weeghman. Weeghman built the stadium for his Federal League franchise, the “Chicago Whales.” 6
The Federal League was a short-lived initiative organized in 1914 by owners who wanted to invest in the increasingly popular sport. They lured current American and National League stars to their teams by offering them higher salaries and other benefits. Since the players were unhappy with their existing situation, many moved to the new league. 7
Part of the new league’s allure was new fan-friendly stadiums. Thus Weeghman built his ballpark on Chicago’s north side, about two miles up North Sheffield Ave from West Side Park, where the Cubs played.8
When the league folded in 1916, Weeghman became an owner of the Cubs and moved them to his new ballpark. However, Weeghman’s businesses were failing, and he gradually sold his shares to chewing gum magnate, William Wrigley, Jr. By 1921, Wrigley was the majority owner, and Weeghman Park was renamed Wrigley Field. 9
7th Inning Stretch
Our guide told a story about how the Cubs and Wrigley have a lot to do with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner before all sports events. However, I can’t find support for the story in my albeit brief research.
His story is that during World War I, Weeghman was worried that his German ancestry would make him seem disloyal. To indicate his support for America, he hired bands to play the Star Spangled Anthem at his ballpark. He recounted (as I remember it) that a band played the song when President Taft stood during the seventh inning.
However, this story runs counter to the numerous stories about how the seventh inning stretch started. The most famous is that President Taft stood up in the middle of the seventh inning during opening day at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1910. Fans saw him do so and also stood up as a sign of respect for the president. Thus the tradition started.10 Other stories point to the tradition starting in 1869 in Cincinnati. There is a letter from Red Stockings manager Harry Wright that describes the practice. 11 Moreover, Woodrow Wilson was president during World War I, not Taft.
In any event, in 1918, the Cubs and Red Sox faced each other in game one of the World Series at Comiskey Park – not Weeghman Field, which was deemed too small. During the seventh inning stretch, a band played the Star Spangled Banner. Players took off their hats and turned to face the music. Others followed, and the fans started singing.
After that, Boston owner Harry Frazee opened each game when the series returned to Boston by having the band play the song. It’s been a tradition ever since. 12
First Concession Stand – The Marquee Grill
Then the stories returned to food. Initially, vendors served food in the aisle that bisects Wrigley’s lower boxes. However, the smoke and steam would rise from the grills and spoil the patrons’ view from above. In a move of sheer brilliance or at least originality, Mr. Wrigley built the first permanent grill in a stadium. It’s called the Marquee Grill and is still in use. It stands right behind where we are sitting.
Stories about the origination of Wrigley’s distinctive ivy-covered outfield walls vary. The story the guide told is roughly similar to most of them.
His story was that owner P.K. Wrigley, did not appreciate the original, bare red brick walls. He wanted the park to have a garden atmosphere that would give fans a sense “sunshine, recreation and pleasure.” 13
The story goes that during a renovation in 1937, Wrigley suggested adding the ivy. His assistant, Bill Veeck, Jr. quickly complied by planting the ivy with help from groundskeepers in one night. I’ve found articles that support the guide’s story. These stories suggest that the ivy-covered outfield walls Wrigley saw in Indianapolis’s Perry Field, inspired him to do the same.14 However, I’ve found other stories that say Veeck was the one inspired by ballparks with ivy-covered walls he’d seen. In these stories, Veeck planted the ivy without seeking Wrigley’s input. 15
Alternatively, some stories say that Veeck did not supervise the secret planting one night. The ivy was purchased well in advance, and the team had announced that they would plant it in the outfield. 16
Regardless of the ivy’s distinctive beauty and origin, it interferes with the game when balls get lost in it. Our guide recounted that outfielders have “accidentally” retrieved lost balls from previous seasons while chasing a hit ball in play. To avoid confusion, Wrigley has unique rules that award the hitter second base when the ball lands in the ivy.
Finally, Wrigley is the grandfathered exception to the league rule requiring padded outfield walls to protect the outfielders from injury. 17 However, the red brick is exceptionally unforgiving, and the ivy does not provide padding. Instead, the warning track in front of the wall is much wider than others and offers some protection.
The tour continues as we follow the guide to the bleachers and listen to more stories.
He says that the bleachers are the largest general admission section in sports and hold 5,000 or so fans. To get the best seats, fans line up one Waveland and Sheffield Avenues as early as possible. The Bleacher Gate is at the corner of the two avenues, right behind a statue of broadcaster Harry Carey.
The guide explains that the team started to televise its games in the 1960s. Writers began to notice that the same fans were in the bleachers day after day. Since the Cubs only played day games, they assumed they were unemployed. As such, they described them as “bums” or “bleacher bums.” However, these fans did not consider the name disparaging. Instead, they accepted it with pride.
The story goes that since the Cubs of the 1960s were awful, the bleacher bums tended to get bored. The boredom, combined with the Wrigley classic, Heinemann’s Old Style Beer, resulted in a sense of reckless abandon. Thus the start of the famous bleacher bum races.
Bleacher Bum Races
Back in the day, a Bleacher Bum Race started with two – likely inebriated – “bums” on top of each end of the centerfield wall.
It’s important to note that Wrigley’s outfield has a unique shape. Recessed areas in right and left field give Wrigley the most extended dimensions (355 feet) down the line of any ballpark. These recessed areas end as the outfield wall juts back into centerfield. The bums began the race at the point where each of the recesses ends.
Fans enlisted a female usher to stand in the center of the section and start the race. She held a handkerchief in one hand and an Old Style in the other. When she dropped the cloth, the bums ran forward, trying to maintain their balance on top of the wall. The one who reached the usher first won the race and was awarded the beer.
Of course, since too much beer can negatively effect a “bum’s” balance, many accidents occurred. Moreover, the railing they tried to balance on was not terribly wide, and so they were not very stable. Many a bum fell off the wall, and dropped the eleven feet to the clay warning track, hurting themselves and interrupting the game.
The races ended In 1970 when the Cubs transformed the wall, so the top was slanted and very difficult to stand on. They also added the famous outfield baskets to the top of the wall. The baskets prevented many types of fan interference including falling into the field of play. 18
Returned Home Runs
The guide confirms that the Wrigley bleacher tradition of throwing home runs hit by visitors back onto the field continues. That leads to the discussion of fans outside the park chasing balls that leave the stadium. Once caught, visitors’ home run balls are also thrown back onto the field from the street. Thus, the game can be interrupted when a ball comes soaring over the bleachers and lands in the outfield.
The Longest Home Run and the “Kingman House”
The natural next subject is about the longest ball hit out of Wrigley. My ears perk up when the guide describes a home run, Mets slugger Dave Kingman hit at Wrigley. He confirms a memory that I’ve described for years but could never find a video to prove it. Later research shows that the event happened on Wednesday, April 14th, 1976. 19 At the time, I was near the end of my freshman year in Syracuse. I assume that I was home from school when I saw it on television, possibly as a replay on the news.
My memory is of Kingman hitting a ball that went out of Wrigley. The ball went over the bleachers, passed Waveland Avenue and down what I now know is North Kenmore Avenue. I remember the ball hitting against the front door and a woman answering the door to find a baseball.
The guide repeats the story and points to the third house down North Kenmore Avenue off Waveland. He says this is where Kingman’s home run landed. The only difference between his story and my memory is that the woman saw the ball hit the house because she was watching the game on television. She went outside to pick the ball up.
I was so happy to have some sort of confirmation that this had actually happened and that the woman subsequently opened her door. For the record, there is some controversy if the ball went 530 felt or 600 ft.20 On Sunday, Nomad the Younger, took my picture in front of the house. It is a treasured item from the summer.
Scoreboard, Pennants, W & L Flags
Now we’re up on the second level of the park and discussing the famous scoreboard.
Interestingly, although there are 30 teams in the major leagues, the scoreboard only reports the games for 24 teams. That can’t change. The scoreboard is a declared landmark and can’t be changed.
Then there are the pennants that hang above the scoreboard. They are ordered based on the standings in each National League Division. Observers can watch them move up or down the order, in the form of a race. In short, the term “Pennant Race” originated with this practice at Wrigley.
Possibly my favorite story is about the flags they raise after a Cubs game. The flag is white with a blue “W” when the Cubs win. When the team loses, they fly a blue one with a white “L.” In the days before the internet and smartphones, when the Cubs only played day games, the flags were how people learned the games’ result. They could see the flags from the Red Line as they rode home from work. It’s a quaint story about the baseball days that are long gone.
Maybe its Wrigley mystique, or perhaps it’s real, but the fans seem to appreciate the game differently than others. They seem to know they are in a special place, and that inspires reverence for what goes on there.
I was able to have good conversations with the people around me. They were friendly and accommodating. For example, at the game on Saturday, some of my view was blocked by a pole. I imagine that an obstructed view is likely not a rare occurrence. The young guy sitting to my right was a local. He and his wife, who was sitting to his right, live close and come often. He said, “if this is your first visit to Wrigley, it has to be good, let’s change seats.” He amazed me with the offer, but I declined.
As we talked, I tried to learn more about the fans. My new friend agreed that they tend to be knowledgeable and into the game. I also noticed that they weren’t doing the wave. I asked if it was something they do there. After all, Wrigley is an excellent place to do the wave. A wave of fans can flow around the park, through the outfield bleachers and back around. Other stadiums have more of a break between sections that don’t accommodate the wave as well.
My neighbor said that the wave is “frowned upon.” My kind of place.
Standing Ovation for the Wind
It was a hot weekend. On Friday it was 92 degrees, and on Saturday it was 94. Luckily, we were under the overhang and not in the direct sun. What wind there was blew in from behind us and out to the outfield. Luckily Mrs. Nomad brought cooling towels. When you get these towels wet and “snap” them, a reaction starts, and they get cold. We wore them around our necks to try and survive the heat.
During the top of the sixth inning of Saturday’s game, everything changed. Instead of breeze from behind us heading out toward the outfield, a strong wind started to blow in from the field. This wind was clearly off the lake, as it was cool and had a fresh lake smell. It was so much different than the stagnant, hot city air that we endured for two days.
As the wind blew and cooled down the crowd, the fans stood and cheered. It was my first standing ovation for the wind!
The Rooftops – “Closer to Heaven”
Oh memories of yesterdays broken dreamsEdward Holland Jr. / Lamont Dozier / Brian Holland – Up The Ladder To The Roof 21
Don’t you know they’ll all fade away
If you’ll come
up the ladder to the roof where we can see heaven much better.
Go up the ladder to the roof where we can be oh closer to heaven.
Almost from the time that Wrigley opened, fans would watch games from the rooftops of buildings behind the outfield. At the time, it was a very casual thing, a perk for the people who lived in the buildings and their friends.
In the 1980s, owners of the building started to set up bleachers and other seats and charged admission. Not surprisingly, the Cubs owners didn’t appreciate the fact that others were profiting from their product. Legal hijinks ensued. Finally, in 2004, 11 of 13 roofs settled out of court. The agreement included the Cubs receiving 17% of the gross revenue in exchange for official endorsements.
Tensions increased as improvements that Cubs made to the park blocked some sightlines from the rooftops. The rooftop owners sued in 2015. In response, the Ricketts family began buying the properties and currently own or control through agreement 11 of the locations. 22
I had to experience the rooftops. After all, I had been enchanted by the experience since I was young. I was impressed that there was a website that allowed me to compare locations and choose the one I wanted. The level of coordination made more sense once I realized that the Rickets family owned most of the sites.
The Rooftop Experience
We picked a good day for the rooftops since Sunday was overcast and rainy. We stood in light rain. waiting on line to get into the building at 3639 Sheffield. After a security procedure, we received passes on necklaces and proceeded up the stairs. On the third and fourth floors, there were seating areas and bars where we could hang out until it stopped raining. When the skies cleared, we moved up to the rooftop’s bleacher seating on the fifth level.
The ticket price includes all food and drink (soda, beer, and wine). I chose to tip heavily when I got my beers. I thought it was only fair. The food was okay, nothing phenomenal, but certainly not bad. The menu included steaks, burgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, and Italian beef sandwiches. Accompanying these choices were nachos, chips, pasta salad, and fruit.
The view was good, and we could see most of the action. The rooftop next door had a loudspeaker tuned to the radio broadcast of the game, which I found to be a bit annoying at first.
My reaction to the rooftop experience is that it’s okay, but only for larger groups. We were a group of three, likely too small to take advantage of what the rooftops offer. I’ll probably stick to the ballpark when I go back. On the other hand, Nomad the Younger thought it was the “coolest sports experience” of her life.
Wu=ith that said, the rooftops seem perfect for weddings and other similar events. The owners market the rooftops for corporate events and outings, which are also a good idea.
Monday morning, Mrs. Nomad and I rented a car and drove an hour north to Milwaukee with fond memories of our Wrigley weekend. I’ll go back to “The Friendly Confines” anytime!