When the Ricketts family officially took over the Cubs in October 2009, one of their three stated goals was to preserve and improve Wrigley Field.
Over the nine years since the Wrigley Field renovation project was first proposed, 620 BCB stories, all in this StoryStream have been written about the plans, fights with the city of Chicago and rooftop owners, along with thousands of photos of the actual construction once it began in the fall of 2014.
Feel free to peruse those 620 posts at your leisure; this will be post number 621. When I began this look back at the 2010s, I knew the renovation of Wrigley would be one of the top stories. At that time I didn’t think I’d have much more to say about the 1060 Project after those 620 articles... but here are 900 more words on it!
For our beautiful ballpark at the corner of Clark & Addison, we have to thank not just the Ricketts family for financing the renovation itself, but also P.K. Wrigley.
Yes, that’s right. The benign neglect of the Cubs franchise from around 1945 until the time the Wrigleys sold to Tribune Company in 1981 is the primary reason we’ve got Wrigley Field still around for us to enjoy. Wrigley Field was built as Weeghman Park in 1914, and the Cubs moved in two years later. This was part of a “golden age” of ballparks built in the decade before World War I: Forbes Field (Pittsburgh), Crosley Field (Cincinnati), Comiskey Park (south side of Chicago), Ebbets Field (Brooklyn), Tiger Stadium (originally Briggs Stadium, Detroit) and Fenway Park (Boston).
One by one nearly all of those were replaced in the 1960s by what later got termed “concrete ashtrays.” There was a proposal made like that in Chicago, too, in the mid-1960s; the baseball park shown there would have hosted both the Cubs and White Sox. But the owners of those teams weren’t interested.
And so Wrigley continued. P.K. Wrigley didn’t install lights, as all other team owners had done by 1948. Mike Bojanowski and I have discussed this many times; he believes that if the 1942 installation of lights at Wrigley had gone ahead as scheduled, the buildings on Waveland and Sheffield would have been torn down for parking, and the neighborhood we now know as “Wrigleyville” would not exist now, or at least not in the form it does in 2019.
Lights came in 1988, bringing Wrigley up to that standard, though the Cubs are still prohibited by ordinance from playing on Friday nights and from playing more than 35 home night games a season (plus a few if national TV requests them). As I have written many times here, both those restrictions are antiquated and need to be repealed.
By the early 2000s, a second wave of new stadiums across MLB were beginning to be constructed, and Wrigley Field, now beloved even though a bit threadbare, was used as a template for many of the new parks. Many have brick walls behind home plate. Almost all have smaller capacities than the “concrete ashtrays” and more intimate sightlines. Oriole Park at Camden Yards actually has ivy on a bullpen wall that was grown from clippings taken from Wrigley:
In the space of about 25 years, Wrigley had moved from being perceived as “a dump” to the ballpark everyone else wanted to emulate.
And so the Ricketts family went about putting together a plan to “restore and expand” Wrigley Field. The terminology is important. Beyond renovating various areas in Wrigley to bring them up to 21st Century standards, the avowed goal was to “restore” the ballpark to what were considered its “glory years.” That was defined as the 1920s and 1930s, when the Cubs won four National League pennants. In this, they succeeded beyond anyone’s dreams. The terra cotta on the exterior and the steel mimicking the old ironwork on the facade are beautiful, and you can see in this film taken on the first day of the 1938 World Series how much the current facade resembles the one from more than 80 years ago:
Rare Color, Special Series-The 1938 World Series (Episode 1 of 16) Exterior of Wrigley Field before Game 1 (from the Flagstaff Films baseball home movie archive) pic.twitter.com/A5RkCbqZIh— Flagstaff Films (@flagstafffilms) December 20, 2018
Inside, two video boards give useful information and provide ad space without being intrusive. They match the style of the iconic center-field scoreboard without overwhelming it with silly things like kiss cams. Granted, the CF scoreboard looks a bit small and could probably use better lighting, but it allows all of us to have that look into the past. Other new ballparks (Minute Maid Park in Houston in particular) have built manually-operated boards with inning-by-inning scores, copying Wrigley’s now 82-year-old gem.
I mentioned “expansion” above. That terminology was key because the Cubs were going to wind up blocking some rooftop views with the video boards. Their 2003 deal with rooftop owners allowed them to do this if changes “expanded” the park, and indeed, that happened, with about 1,600 new seats in the bleachers and some other seats added elsewhere, bringing Wrigley’s current seating capacity to 41,649. A court challenge to this by rooftop owners failed and in the end, the Ricketts family bought up 11 of the 16 rooftop clubs.
The last things to be added to Wrigley were four high-end clubs, one in the upper deck and three underground, with seats in the seating bowl assigned to them. The clubs are well-thought-out and bring lots of extra revenue to the ballclub. (If only they’d spend that on adding players for 2020!) The press box is being renovated this winter. Eventually, LED lighting will make the place much brighter for night games.
I miss having bullpens on the field, but that’s the way of baseball in this era. Beyond the safety issues noted when the pens were moved under the bleachers, the Cubs were able to install about 500 more high-priced seats where the bullpens used to exist.
In the end, the project was pulled off almost perfectly, even if, as Tom Ricketts mentioned earlier this month, they overshot their original budget by a lot:
Give the Ricketts credit. They did the right thing. Wrigley Field is the most beautiful ballpark in MLB and everyone else tried to imitate parts of it when they built new ones. That’s the best praise anyone can give. The renovation and restoration have made Wrigley Field up-to-date, to be the Cubs’ home for another century.