SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- I'm a long way from Wrigley Field right now (over 1,700 miles), but this proposal for the Cubs' home from Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens caught my attention:
"If it doesn’t work out with the negotiations they have going on right now [in Chicago], Mayor Stephens wants the Cubs to know they have an option and Rosemont could be that option should they decide to look elsewhere," [Rosemont spokesperson Gary] Mack said. "What he does is put deals together. That’s what Rosemont has always been known for: a place where a business could go and find a friendly environment. He sees a situation that hasn’t been working and it’s in his nature to say, ‘We could make that happen in Rosemont.’" Mack acknowledged that Stephens has met with Cubs underlings, but never directly with Ricketts. But, he said, "There are 25 acres of land that Rosemont is willing to give to the Ricketts family to build a stadium. It’s the last piece of land of any size at the intersection of Balmoral and the Tri-State Tollway."
Pardon me a moment while I stop laughing.
All right, I'm done, so let's give this a more serious look. There have been some who have said -- and Fran Spielman's Sun-Times article repeats this old canard in its very first paragraph -- that the Cubs should use the threat of leaving Wrigley Field as a "trump card" to get what they want from the city of Chicago. Not only is this unnecessary -- negotiations are ongoing and my feeling is that eventually, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will put the tinpot dictator Ald. Tom Tunney in his place and get a deal done -- but there are a number of reasons building any sort of stadium for the Cubs outside of exactly where they already have one won't work.
The article suggests a "replica" of Wrigley Field could be built elsewhere. I've heard this suggestion before. What those who suggest this fail to realize is that a significant part of what makes Wrigley Field an iconic ballpark and national treasure is its location. Sticking something that vaguely looks like it into a suburban area surrounded by a sea of parking lots... well, that's not Wrigley Field, no matter how much brick and ivy you'd put there or what you'd call it. A view of the Tri-State Tollway beyond the Wrigley Replica Bleachers -- not really the same thing as what we already have.
Further, the idea of moving a baseball team from a city to an expanse of suburban land is pretty much a non-starter, or at least it has been for the 21 teams/cities that have built stadiums in the retro-ballpark era that began with Camden Yards in Baltimore in 1992. (In fact, many of these teams visited Wrigley Field before they built, to try to replicate artificially some of the charm that Wrigley has in its natural environment.)
Here are all the stadiums built since 1992, and their location. Note: only new stadiums are in this list, specifically excluding renovated parks such as Kauffman Stadium and Angel Stadium, since the point is the location, and those, obviously, didn't move. "Downtown" is used as a generic term for at or near the center of the given city.
|Team||Stadium, year opened ||Location|
|Orioles||Camden Yards, 1992
|Indians||Progressive Field, 1994
|Rangers||Rangers Ballpark, 1994
||Suburb; parking lot of former stadium|
|Rockies||Coors Field, 1995
|Braves||Turner Field, 1997
|Diamondbacks||Chase Field, 1998
|Mariners||Safeco Field, 1999
|Giants||AT&T Park, 2000
|Tigers||Comerica Park, 2000
|Astros||Minute Maid Park, 2000
|Brewers||Miller Park, 2001
||Parking lot of former stadium|
|Pirates||PNC Park, 2001
|Reds||Great American Ballpark, 2003
|Phillies||Citizens Bank Park, 2004
||South of center city|
|Padres||PETCO Park, 2004
|Cardinals||Busch Stadium, 2006
||Downtown; adjacent to former stadium|
|Nationals||Nationals Park, 2008
||South of downtown|
|Mets||Citi Field, 2009
||Parking lot of former stadium|
|Yankees||Yankee Stadium, 2009
||Adjacent to former stadium|
|Twins||Target Field, 2010
|Marlins||Marlins Park, 2012
||Near downtown, on site of former Orange Bowl|
Created with the HTML Table Generator
That's 21 stadiums built since 1992 (the list is in chronological order). Of those 21, just four -- Miller Park, Rangers Ballpark, Citi Field and Citizens Bank Park -- could be considered suburban-type stadiums, sitting in a sea of parking lots. And the first three of those were built essentially where the previous stadium was; there was a conscious decision to remain at a location with large parking lots that had been chosen 40 years ago (Rangers), 50 years ago (Mets) or 60 years ago (Brewers). There's not one single example of a team moving from a city location to a suburban location -- in fact, four teams listed here moved from outlying (though still within the city limits) locations to downtown (Astros, from the Astrodome; Orioles, from Memorial Stadium; Padres, from Qualcomm Stadium; Giants, from Candlestick Park). Another moved from a suburban stadium to a city location -- the Marlins. The Twins did the same thing 30 years ago, moving from Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minnesota, to the Metrodome, which is located about 10 blocks from Target Field.
Two other proposed stadiums -- for the Rays in Tampa, and for the Athletics in San Jose (if they can ever get that deal done), also have downtown locations. The point of all this is: city locations are always better. They're more lively and more accessible.
To me, the idea of moving a baseball team with a ballpark in a perfect location to somewhere in the concrete jungle of tollways and fast-food chains, not close to public transportation, borders on ridiculous. The Mayor of Rosemont might have had the right idea -- if we were talking about an arena... and they already have one there... or maybe a football stadium. By my count, at least nine NFL stadiums are located in suburban areas. That makes sense, due to NFL stadiums' larger capacity (and thus their need for larger parking lots), and the facts that the NFL plays just once a week and is more of a made-for-TV sport, where the surrounding area isn't as important as it is in baseball, where a lively neighborhood atmosphere 81 times a year can help draw fans.
The Wrigley renovation project will be approved, likely begin this October, and get done. When it is, the Cubs will have the best of both worlds: top-notch facilities for players, modern amenities for fans, and the best location in the major leagues for atmosphere. The Mayor of Rosemont should have just stayed out of it.