The Ultimate Guide to Wrigley Field
We’ve waited 108 years, but we’re finally hanging a brand-new World Champions banner in Wrigley Field.
Now that we have the curse off of our backs, the long history of the “Friendly Confines” isn’t quite so bittersweet. What better time for us to sit down and really explore the history of one of America’s most treasured cathedrals of sport?
Join us as one historic Chicago institution delves into the history of another.
Before It Was Wrigley
While there may be a handful of Chicagoans born before Wrigley was built, for the vast majority of us, Wrigley Field has always sat there in the middle of Wrigleyville.
The truth is that North Side Chicago neighborhood looked a lot different before construction began.
The site that was to become Wrigley Field was originally a Lutheran Seminary. However, when the seminary relocated to Maywood, the site became available for development. DePaul University’s athletic director encouraged baseball owner Charles Weeghman to invest in the site.
However, Weeghman wasn’t the owner of the Cubs but instead the Chicago Federals, or Chi-Feds, of the now-defunct Federal League. Similarly, the park wasn’t initially called Wrigley Field but instead Weeghman Park. For many, it seems strange that this historic landmark actually began its life as the home to the Feds in 1914. The Feds changed their name to the Whales and won the Federal League championship in 1915 in the league’s final season.
When the Whales disbanded, Weeghman joined forces with J. Ogden Armour and William Wrigley to purchase the Chicago Cubs, who then moved into the park. It continued to be known as Weeghman Park until 1920, at which point it changed its name to Cubs Park. However, when Wrigley took complete control of the Cubs, he changed the name to Wrigley Field in 1927.
Foul Balls as Souvenirs
Every kid who goes to a ball game anywhere in the country goes with the dream of catching a foul ball and going home with a souvenir.
But during the earliest days of professional baseball, it was expected that spectators return foul balls. This wasn’t surprising considering the relative expense of baseballs and the measly budgets of baseball franchises.
However, in 1915 Charles Weegham decided that it would be good press for the team — and especially its owner — if the Whales became the first team to let fans keep the balls they caught. We won’t speculate about whether this policy contributed to the folding of the Whales and its Federal League.
Equally ironic, fans of the Cubs — despite playing in the home of the innovation of the souvenir ball — have come to be known for their ritual of throwing home run balls hit by the away team back on the field.
And maybe now that we’ve finally won a World Series, we can finally start to forgive the famous Steve Bartman, who in 2003 reached into the field of play in an attempt to catch a souvenir foul ball and subsequently interfered with outfielder Moisés Alou. Many speculate that had Bartman not interfered, the Cubs would have maintained their lead in that game and therefore advanced to what would have been their first World Series since 1945.
The Famous Ivy
One of Wrigley’s most iconic features is its ivy-covered outfield walls. The ivy was originally planted in 1937 by general manager Bill Veeck at the request of owner P. K. Wrigley.
The ivy is a combination of Boston Ivy and Japanese Bittersweet. The more traditional English Ivy cannot tolerate the cold as well, and considering the harshness of the Chicago winter, this is a good thing.
Wrigley also has specific ground rules for dealing with balls that get lost in the ivy. If an outfielder decides he cannot retrieve a ball stuck in the ivy, he can raise both of his arms, at which point the umpire will call time and award bases to the runners as he sees fit — usually in the form of a ground-rule double.
While the ivy may appear to provide cushioning for players chasing after a ball into the wall, the truth is many outfielders have come to regret their eagerness when trying to make a play. Some have even suffered injuries.
The Original Bleacher Bums
Another defining feature of Wrigley is the outfield bleachers. Originally constructed in 1937, these so-called cheap seats have come to be the home of some of the most rabid and at times rowdy fans in all of baseball.
The devotion and antics of these fans have earned them the nickname Bleacher Bums. While it isn’t a very welcoming place for visiting fans wearing another team’s colors, the camaraderie and familiarity that has developed among regulars in this section of the park make it a great place for diehard Cubs fans.
The Rooftop Seats
There is yet another unique feature of Wrigley Field. While most parks go to great lengths to prevent non-paying fans from catching a game without entering through the gates, the rooftops overlooking Wrigley have provided fans with a view of the action since the park opened.
For the majority of Wrigley’s existence, the rooftop fans were sparse and generally informal. However, in the 1990s, owners of these apartment rooftops started to build their own bleachers and charging admission. This annoyed the ownership, eventually leading to an agreement in which the owners of the rooftops shared 17% of their revenue. This became another quirky feature of Wrigley.
In 2013, the team owners decided to make some drastic renovations, including the installation of a modern scoreboard. This made the rooftop owners nervous as they feared the new scoreboard would obscure their view. As a result, they threatened to sue.
Ownership decided to go ahead with the renovations and simultaneously started buying out the rooftop owners. Considering ownership also provided fans with a World Series championship in 2016, perhaps some of the tensions have receded for a time.
Wrigley also still maintains a hand-turned scoreboard. They aren’t unique in this, as Fenway Park — the only park older than Wrigley still in use in the Major Leagues — also has a hand-turned scoreboard. A person sits behind the scoreboard watching scores come in on a computer and changes the scores from inside.
Wrigley’s iconic scoreboard is located above the center field bleachers. In fact, up to this point, no home run has managed to hit the scoreboard, although some have come close.
Atop the scoreboard are three flagpoles, each one representing one of the three divisions of the National League. There is a separate flag for each team, five per division, which are arranged according to the standings. In addition, the iconic “W” for a win flag is also flown over the scoreboard.
Because the scoreboard is a historic landmark, it cannot be changed. As a result, there are actually not enough score slots to display every out-of-town score. It was last expanded in 1969 in order to reflect the number of teams at the time, 24. Now that there are 30 teams in the league, three games a day cannot be displayed.
Chicago didn’t earn the nickname “Windy City” for nothing. And because of where Wrigley is situated, it has come to be known to players for its unusual and extreme wind patterns.
In the spring, the wind comes in from Lake Michigan and blows northeast towards home plate. That means would-be home runs suddenly turn into outs. However, in the summer, the breeze comes from the opposite direction, meaning a harmless pop fly suddenly becomes a home run. Sometimes, there’s even a strong cross-wind that moves from the left field corner towards the right, which can make fielding in the outfield very challenging.
When the wind is blowing in, Wrigley can be a very pitcher-friendly park. However, if the wind is blowing out, be prepared for some monster home runs. Sluggers Sammy Sosa and David “Kong” Kingman have both broken windows in the apartment buildings across the street from the outfield bleachers.
The Last to Light the Night
Because Chicago fans and ownership have taken tradition so seriously, Wrigley was the last ballpark to install lights and therefore make night games possible. In fact, it was not until 1988 that the first night game was played.
Maybe it was due to baseball mystics’ distaste for letting go of traditions, but the first attempt — in a game on August 8 against the Phillies — was rained out after 3 1/2 innings.
Not Just Baseball
While Soldier Field — the home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears — has reached an almost-equal level of renown, some might forget that Wrigley was the home of the Bears from 1921 to 1970. In fact, the team changed their name to the Bears from their previous name, the Staley’s, after relocating to Wrigley from Decatur in order to reflect their cohabitation with the Cubs. As the story goes, they chose the name Bears since football players are bigger than baseball players and bears are bigger than their cubs.
The last football game to be played in Wrigley was held in 2010 between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Illinois Fighting Illini.
Other sports have been played in the “Friendly Confines” as well, including professional soccer and even an NHL hockey game, pitting the Chicago Blackhawks against the Detroit Redwings during the 2009 Winter Classic.
In addition to sports, Wrigley has also hosted many live music events, including Chicago legends Pearl Jam as well as Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen.
Getting to Wrigley Field
Because Wrigley Field is found in a neighborhood as opposed to a city’s suburbs or downtown, it can be tricky getting to a game.
However, if you are comfortable working the L system, you can get to the park via the Addison stop on the Red Line, which is only a block away.
Additionally, bus service makes frequent stops in the area, using the CTA bus routes #22 Clark, #152 Addison and #154 Wrigley Field Express. Pace operates lines including the #779 Yorktown-Wrigley Field Express from Yorktown Shopping Center in Lombard and the #282 Schaumburg-Wrigley Field Express from Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall.
Biking is also a popular way to get to the game, as the neighborhood has a number of designated bike lanes, and there is a complimentary bike check service at the park.
More than anything, it is best to avoid trying to drive to the game. Because the park was built in the midst of a dense neighborhood, parking is incredibly scarce, with spots running the cost of about $100 a space. The park does offer a shuttle from the DeVry University Campus parking lots at Belmont and Western.
Because Wrigley Field is so iconic, the surrounding neighborhood has come to bear its name. Wrigleyville is part of the larger Lake View area, and the culture has come to reflect the neighborhood’s most famous tenant. That means this a great place for grabbing food or a drink before or after a game.
In fact, the bar scene in Wrigleyville is a popular destination for Chicagoans even when the Cubs are out of town or even out of season.
It is a unique experience, as much of the neighborhood is still very much residential. Unlike most ballpark neighborhoods, which are surrounded by commercial development, Wrigleyville still bears much of the organic charm of older American city neighborhoods.
Staying Near Wrigley
Again, because the area is a true neighborhood, it can be hard to get a hotel within walking distance of the park. There are certainly hotels in the area, but their prices reflect the demand and are often booked during baseball season well in advance.
If you are coming from out of town and are committed to staying in the neighborhood, make sure to plan your trip well in advance. However, as there is so much more to Chicago than just the Cubbies, you would also do well to stay elsewhere in the city and take public transportation to the game.
Grabbing Deep Dish before a Game
If you are coming into the city for an authentic Chicago experience, or if you are a local who simply knows what you like, you will definitely want to combine your Cubs game with some authentic Chicago deep dish.
Luckily for you, there is a Giordano’s just blocks from Wrigley Field.
If you are ready to take in a game at one of the most hallowed baseball grounds in this country, make sure to bring your appetite. Our thick, buttery deep dish is something to behold and an essential part of what makes Chicago great.
In fact, check out any of our locations to ensure you can always find deep dish when you need it. And if you have loved ones who are missing their taste of the city, why not ship a pizza to them? You can even follow the Cubs when they go out of town for road games and still have that loaded pizza that you simply can’t live without.
Regardless, know that with Giordano’s, you can always have great Chicago-style deep dish pizza. And GO CUBS!