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Book Review: 'Wrigley Field: The Long Life & Contentious Times Of The Friendly Confines'

Looking for a complete history of the Cubs' 100-year-old ballpark? This one's as comprehensive as they come.

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If you've read Stuart Shea's 2004 book "Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography," then you are familiar with Shea's style of writing -- breezy and anecdotal, which suits the Cubs' 100-year-old ballpark quite well.

In fact, truth be told, that book was invaluable to me in writing the Cubs and Wrigley Field history series that I've posted here over the last two winters, and there were a few entries in that series in which I quoted directly from Shea's book.

10 years later, Shea has updated, revised and added to his original history in "Wrigley Field: The Long Life & Contentious Times Of The Friendly Confines". Which is a really long title, but it reflects the long life of its title subject that continues as we speak, and there have indeed been many contentious times, well arranged in this chronological history.

The book begins with a history of Lakeview (then called Lake View) and the area we now know as Wrigleyville, though the latter name didn't exist until comparatively recent times. Shea tells of what was in and around Wrigley Field before there was a major-league stadium there, and in so doing you'll understand the reasons why the park was built where it was, the reasons the Cubs moved there, and how that was a significant factor of the rise of the North Side and the decline of the West Side of Chicago; the latter was, through most of the era the Cubs played there (1893-1915) was thought of as quite a bit more important than the area they now play in.

There's quite a bit about rooftops. At one time, Shea writes, it was illegal for anyone to go onto a rooftop to watch a baseball game at Wrigley Field. (Something about it being unsafe.) Obviously, that's changed. The book details the current situation in the book's last chapter (which includes new material on the Ricketts family ownership), and it's sobering to realize that though this book was likely completed late last summer (it includes details of the city council's approval of the Cubs' restoration project), not much has changed or moved forward since then. Shea notes:

Some neighborhood residents and community groups, whose property values have expanded because of the development and the housing scarcity resulting from Wrigley Field's popularity, complain about their gift horse, looking for concessions from the Cubs rather than thanking their lucky stars that they live in such a desirable area.

Lake View once was working class, a neighborhood of small houses, three-flats, factories, a few bars and a big ballpark that people came to when they had free time. When the Cubs were good, the fans came; when they weren't, the fans didn't come nearly as often. At times, the area was seedy. But even when the club wasn't good, the park was at least clean, safe, and -- aside from some sections full of gamblers -- family oriented, so generations of Cubs fans were raised on the idea of fun at the ballpark rather than on the expectation of watching a winning team. It was an inexpensive place to spend an afternoon and watch baseball, and the combination of sunshine, baseball, green grass and fun was unmatched, even at Comiskey on the South Side.

But now Wrigley Field is an industry unto itself. It is no longer inexpensive. Baseball often seems to be the last thing on the minds of many of the park's patrons. In fact, the Cubs seem to thrill in making baseball a momentary distraction from their true, if unstated, purpose: milking fans out of as much money as possible.

That's an accurate summary, I believe, of where we've come from and where we are now in the history of Wrigley Field, particularly with the "party of the century" being the focus of the team's marketing plans for 2014.

But that's not why you should read this book. You should read this book because of the history of wonderful stories and anecdotes about the team's and the ballpark's history, some of which is "contentious," as Shea's title states, some of which is just colorful and fun, just as is the history of the neighborhood and city in which it resides. You'll learn, for example, how long it took for beer to be sold at the park at Clark & Addison (it wasn't in 1914!), and that P.K. Wrigley considered other uses for artificial turf beyond what he did in carpeting the dugouts and the hitter's background in the 1960s.

You'll recognize some of the stories not only from Shea's original Wrigley history, but also from the history series I've written here, as he and I generally consulted the same primary source -- the Chicago Tribune archive. Using direct quotes from the writers of the time give a great view of exactly how the Cubs and the park were viewed by those who lived the history we now read about.

If you already own Shea's 2004 book, get this one, too, as there's plenty of new material presented in an enjoyable format. Highly recommended reading in Wrigley's centennial year.