Let's get this out of the way right now.
I love Wrigley Field. And I love the Cubs. And I want the Cubs to win a World Series (many of them, in fact).
Those things are not mutually exclusive, no matter what some would have you think. I love Wrigley because of where it is -- in a residential city neighborhood. I love Wrigley for its size and intimacy and the lifelong friends I have made there.
I love the Cubs because... well, like most of you here, I was introduced to them as a child and they are in my DNA. I've suffered through all the losses and the close calls and the purpose of this post is not to rehash those; we've done that enough.
The reason I'm writing this right now is that it has become fashionable in the national media to bash Wrigley Field and call it a "dump", say it's time to "get rid of it", or quote some unnamed sources as saying "it's in brutal shape" and won't even "survive for five years".
None of those things is true. In fact, I didn't hear any of these things being said just three years ago when the Cubs won 97 games and had the best record in the National League during the regular season and won 55 of the 81 games they played at Wrigley Field. The Cubs aren't a very good team in 2011 and suddenly, only three years later and after parts of the infrastructure are spruced up, the ballpark is suddenly obsolete? Further, Cubs officials tell me the park is "safe and stable for the foreseeable future".
That's just national writers trying to get some attention, and I see I've given them some, and probably shouldn't have, because frankly, none of them know what they're talking about. Follow me past the jump and I'll tell you why Wrigley Field, a national treasure, can not only be rehabbed and renovated, but how it can be and what's going to happen over the next several years. (Yes, this is long. There's a lot to say about this topic.)
Let's examine some of the things that people claim are problems with Wrigley Field and what can and should be done about them.
"Wrigley Field is a dump."
Well, no, no it's not. The Cubs put money into the ballpark every offseason. It is, according to Cubs officials, in good shape -- far better than Fenway Park was when Red Sox management began renovations there several years ago. People claim there is "falling concrete". This has not happened since 2004, and at least one of the reported claims of falling concrete was false, a chunk of concrete brought in from outside the ballpark. The lower deck bowl was completely redone in 1968 -- only a little over 40 years ago. The press box and suites date from 1989; the bleachers were remodeled in 2006. Yes, the upper deck needs work; the press box and suites, only 20 years old, are dated and need refurbishment. The clubhouses are small. There aren't many modern amenities for players or fans. These facts do not make Wrigley Field a "dump" -- they make it a baseball park in need of improvement.
Which it will get when the Cubs are able to build the structure on the triangle property west of Wrigley Field. The purpose of this post is not to delve into all of the various intrigues regarding how that will be financed -- so let's not go that way, please. When this building is constructed, one of its purposes will be to get the team offices and storage areas out of Wrigley Field itself.
Walk around the concourse and look around the next time you are in Wrigley. The offices and storage areas take up a tremendous amount of space. Free up that space and you can put in a larger Stadium Club, more premium seating, gift shops, and make the concourse itself wider. And even as crowded as Wrigley's concourse can get at times, Fenway's is still smaller. So are the concourses at AT&T Park in San Francisco, where there are bottlenecks everywhere.
The fact is, when you cram 40,000 people into a relatively small space, or even a somewhat larger space like US Cellular Field is, it's going to get crowded at times. It gets crowded getting out of the Cell when there's a full house -- that happens pretty much everywhere.
"The Cubs can't win at Wrigley Field."
One word: nonsense.
OK, more words: as I have written many times, the ballpark isn't the problem. It's not having good enough players, or choking at the worst possible time. It has nothing to do with the park or the times of games or anything except being not quite good enough. The 1984 Cubs won 96 games while playing all day home games. They failed on the road in the playoffs after winning both home playoff games -- during the day. The 2008 Cubs won 97 games and 55 at home and just failed when it counted.
Some of the criticisms of Wrigley facilities -- which do affect players -- are valid. What I've written elsewhere in this post about improvements address these issues.
"Wrigley Field doesn't have enough seats and the sightlines are bad."
False and false. Wrigley Field's listed seating capacity is 41,160. This is 20th-ranked in MLB, but about what the optimum capacity of most new parks is -- about 42,000. The reason for this is that if you put more seats in, you get more... bad seats. Try traipsing up to the top rows in the upper deck at Chase Field or Dodger Stadium -- you might as well be watching from a spaceship in orbit around the Earth. It is true that there are some obstructed views in Wrigley. There aren't as many as some would have you believe and perhaps a renovation can fix this.
"Wrigley Field doesn't have a Jumbotron."
This is controversial, I know. Personally, I'm not against having a video board at Wrigley Field. They've got 'em at Fenway Park and they don't go overboard with loud music and scoreboard games there. What they do have at Fenway is tons of advertising everywhere, which I neither want nor do I think the Cubs need at Wrigley. That gives the Red Sox a revenue stream of about $35 million a year -- not chump change. The Cubs aren't going to do that with Wrigley, nor should they. The biggest issue is that there really isn't a place for a video board at Wrigley Field. The current scoreboard is landmarked and I do not want to see it replaced. Could the Cubs put video "wings" on the current board? Maybe. What would probably work better, and give the Cubs some ad revenue, is a ribbon board on the facade of the upper deck. There's already advertising there -- why not open it up to more advertisers? Plus, you could get more useful information about the game on such a board. For a good example of how this would work, the ribbon board at Miller Park does a good job of this without being too "in your face".
The Cubs will probably have to look to other sources for revenue, such as selling naming rights to the Triangle Building when it's built (that could be worth a lot of money, given that the company's name would face busy Clark Street 24/7/365), and naming of areas inside the park, as they have done with the PNC Club, the bleachers for Bud Light, and the renaming of the Stadium Club the "United Club". I can't see why anyone would have a problem with this.
"Wrigley Field doesn't have good enough player facilities to attract free agents."
As of now, this is absolutely true. The home clubhouse, redone in 1984, is small by modern standards. There is just one batting cage, and it's under the bleachers and cramped, not to mention that if it's raining before the game, players have to slog through wet weather to get there.
This would also be addressed by the Triangle Building. A larger clubhouse could even be located there; building a tunnel underground between the building and the field would still be a shorter walk than players have from field to clubhouse in some modern stadiums. Batting cages and other training facilities would be located in the building as well. Moving offices and other things out of Wrigley to the Triangle Building would allow for a larger clubhouse to be built for visiting players -- if you have been on a tour of Wrigley, you know how small the visitors' clubhouse is.
And the fact is, many free agents want to come here anyway. They like the atmosphere. They like the idea of possibly living in the neighborhood and walking to work. And they know that if they are part of the team that does eventually bring a World Championship to the North Side, they will be remembered forever.
"The brick wall is dangerous".
Tell that to Sam Fuld, who regularly disregarded personal safety while crashing into it to make catches.
Realistically, yes, this is a disadvantage; all other parks have pads on the outfield walls. But for this one thing, I don't think it's necessary to blow up everything else the Cubs have with Wrigley. Some more padding could be put on the side walls in left and right field, near the bullpens, and near the dugouts. Players simply have to adjust. Some Cubs have turned this into a home field advantage. Alfonso Soriano's fear of the wall notwithstanding, I don't think this should be a major issue.
"There's no parking at Wrigley Field."
To which I say, "So what?" There's no parking at Fenway and people flock there. There's very limited parking at Yankee Stadium and people go there in large numbers. There's limited parking at AT&T Park in San Francisco and they have drawn well even in down years.
No one complains about transportation problems in coming to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs when they're making a playoff run.
"We need a new ballpark to start fresh."
Some have floated the idea of building a new stadium in Schaumburg (or some similar suburb). This would be a colossal mistake. First of all, the "Schaumburg" idea was floated for a Chicago-area stadium 40 years ago when there was a lot of open space in those areas. It's pretty much all built up now. Where's the land going to be found? (The same is true for building a ballpark in the city. Where? Besides that, land acquisition costs would be astronomical.)
Second, the idea of building a stadium or arena on the outskirts of a metropolitan area has pretty much been thoroughly discredited. Look at all the new stadiums being built in baseball. Where are they located? In downtown or other near-downtown urban areas -- centrally located. The Phoenix Coyotes, to their dismay, found that by locating their stadium in the northwestern part of that area, they made hockey fans in the East Valley say, "Too far -- we're not going to Glendale."
There's plenty of public transportation to Wrigley Field. People do it all the time. There's no reason to move elsewhere -- and if you're going to build new, further, it's going to cost probably two to three times what renovations (plus the Triangle Building) are going to cost. Where's that money coming from?
Further, what do we see with virtually every new baseball stadium built in America? The effort to construct artificially what Wrigley Field has naturally -- an intimate ballpark in a lively neighborhood.
Finally, despite the fact that the Cubs have not won a World Series in Wrigley Field, they have played five of them there and made the postseason six more times in the divisional play era. Hall of Famers like Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg and many other star players have graced the field. It connects grandparents and parents and kids; families have grown there, traditions have been handed down there, and dozens if not hundreds of memorable games have been played there.
You're going to throw that away? Why? Just so you can say "we have a new park"? Cubs fans, players and management is lucky that, almost by happenstance, they play in a ballpark beloved by millions and that does attract tourists who come in just to see it. Right now, because the team is playing poorly, that may not be happening, and clearly, unless the team becomes a winner, the current ticket price structure is too high and must be adjusted downward if management wants to see the full houses they thought they'd be getting just by opening the doors. That's not going to happen any more -- the Cubs need to win to fill Wrigley. That's why the Red Sox fill Fenway every day -- because they win. It really is that simple.
And when the Cubs do win, I want it to be in Wrigley Field. Then the celebration can be not just for the team's title, but for doing it in the best ballpark in America.
It's not a dump. It needs fixing up. The Cubs are committed to doing this; it may take several years, but when it's done, they'll have a jewel of a park with modern facilities that can last at least another 50-75 years.