A Day In Wrigley Field History: April 20, 1952

Jonathan Daniel

Wrigley Field seating hasn't been the same since this day.

The Cardinals defeated the Cubs 2-1 on this Sunday afternoon before 29,235 fans, but that wasn't the story of the game. Instead, as Irving Vaughn wrote in the Tribune, this was the big news of the day at Wrigley Field:

... before the game, the Cubs' front office agreed to a request that four center field sections of the bleacher be roped off so as to remain vacant. The request for a better background was made by the Cards' manager who seemingly had developed distress over the failure of his athletes to capture either of the first two matches.

* NOTE: "bleacher" was in the original article rather than "bleachers", as we would say today.

It wasn't just Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky who complained about the lack of a hitters' background at Wrigley Field; comments had been made about the "white shirts" -- which was pretty much what everyone wore to games in those days -- in that part of the bleachers almost since they had been completed in 1937. The Cubs attempted to do something about this in the late 1940s by installing a "shade" over portions of the center-field bleachers. You can see that in this BCB post, which has a photo of the "shade" in 1949.

It didn't work well enough and so the Cubs acquiesced to blocking off a significant number of seats, as reported in the Tribune a week later:

Jim Gallagher, business manager of the Cubs, yesterday announced the 1,200 bleacher seats roped off at the demand of Manager Eddie Stanky of the Cardinals last Sunday, will be closed for the remainder of the season.

They comprise three sections directly opposite the batter's box and for some time have been the subject of attack by visiting batsmen, who claimed they were unable to follow the flight of pitches when the sections were filled by shirt-sleeved customers.

Closing the sections will mean a sacrifice of $750 on days when the bleachers ordinarily would be jammed. Gallagher, however, managed to be quite philosophical about the loss.

"If it's going to help visiting batters that much," he said, "It ought to help the Cubs. The visitors are here only 11 times per year and the Cubs face the bleachers 77 times, so who do they think they are hurting with their demands?"

Right there, I think you can see a big problem in the way Cubs management analyzed things. Sure, each team was at Wrigley "only 11 times per year", but of course, that added up to 77 visits by road teams. The change would make visibility better for the Cubs and their opponents, obviously.

It didn't help the Cubs that much; they hit 45 home runs at Wrigley in 1951, 51 in 1952. It seemed to hurt their opponents, who hit 59 home runs at Wrigley in 1951, 40 in 1952. Or maybe the pitching staff was just better -- Cubs pitchers allowed 750 runs in 1951, 631 in 1952, when the team had its only non-losing record (77-77) between 1946 and 1963.

The center-field sections have remained a hitters' background ever since, except for the 1962 All-Star Game, when fans were allowed to sit there. At first it was empty benches; in 1966 a green AstroTurf cover was placed over the seats, which was removed in the 1980s. Juniper bushes were planted in 1997, and the current Batter's Eye suite constructed in 2009.

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