Wrigley Field at the Century Mark

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By Kevin Robbie, Thursday Review contributor

(Originally published June 7, 2014)  2014 marks the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, also known as “The Friendly Confines.” Only Fenway Park in Boston is older than Wrigley Field. Of course, the team ownership has been marketing the stadium’s anniversary and Cubs fans have been turning out in impressive numbers as they typically do in any given season.

And, as in a typical season, the Cubs are struggling to field a competitive team. As of the middle of May, they are in last place and show little indication of significant improvement this season. However, the season is still young and hope springs eternal in baseball. The Cubs don’t have a very good team but they have a jewel of a stadium.

Wrigley Field, located at 1060 West Addison Street, opened on April 23, 1914. The stadium was constructed at a cost of $250,000. To put that cost in perspective, there is a current plan to renovate Wrigley at a cost of $500 million dollars. Team ownership would foot most of the bill.

Wrigley Field is a unique and iconic structure. It is known for the ivy growing on the walls of its outfield. The ivy factors into the ground rules for the field. If a batted ball is hit into the ivy and the outfielder signals with his hands that he cannot find the ball, the umpire can rule the play a ground-rule double. However, if the outfielder tries to find the ball or pull it out of the growth, the ball remains in play and the batter can advance along the bases. Other features are a red marquee over the stadium’s front entrance and unpredictable winds blowing in from Lake Michigan.

Wrigley Field has the distinction of being the last of the major league baseball parks to add additional, modern lighting. At a cost of $5 million, and after a protracted political fracas over the question of whether the new lights would ruin the iconic stadium, high-intensity lighting was installed in the spring of 1988. On August 8, Chicago Cubs fans packed the stadium to watch their beloved Cubs play the Phillies in improved lighting, but ironically the game was rained out after only a few innings. The first complete game under the new lighting was played the next night.

The stadium also is known for its quirky outfield dimensions, which are essentially unchanged from 1937 when the outfield bleachers were renovated. These dimensions give Wrigley the deepest foul lines in the major leagues but a relatively small ground foul area. These characteristics, along with the winds from Lake Michigan, have given Wrigley the distinction of being a hitters’ park, meaning it tends to be easier on hitters and harder on pitchers.

One extreme example of this tendency was a game between the Cubs and Phillies on May 17, 1979. Considered to be the wildest game in modern baseball history and the holy grail of high-scoring games, the Phillies defeated the Cubs by the football score of 23-22. The combined forty-five runs are a modern record and haven’t been approached since.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Crash Landing: The 1969 Seattle Pilots; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; March 5, 2014.

Remembering Tony C and the Impossible Dream; Kevin Robbie; Thursday Review; October 26, 2013.

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