The association of Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs is so firmly established in the minds of baseball fans that many people will be surprised to learn that, one, Wrigley Field has not always been called Wrigley Field, and, two, the Chicago Cubs have not always played at Wrigley Field.
In 1909, potential expansion team owners representing the American Association bought land on Chicago’s North Side to build a ballpark. Chicago was already represented in the National League by the Cubs (who played at West Side Park) and in the fledgling American League by the White Sox (who played at South Side Park), but the American Association had visions of becoming a third major baseball league. However, before the Chicago ballpark could be build, the American Association ran into difficulties and their dream ended.
But then Charles A. Weeghman, owner of the Chicago Chi-Feds of the Federal League, which had just come into existence in 1913, bought that land and decided to move ahead with the plans to build a ballpark there. The Chi-Feds played their 1913 home games at DePaul University, but by 1914 the new stadium was ready for them.
At a construction cost of $250,000, and taking well under two months to build, the new ballpark was dubbed “Weeghman Park.”
Made of steel and concrete in what has since been dubbed the “Jewel Box” style typical of ballparks of the time, Weeghman Park had a single-deck grandstand all the way from right field, around home plate, and nearly to the left field corner. Capacity was just 14,000, and the park’s dimensions were so small that it was the ultimate hitter’s park for home runs.
Weeghman was an innovative owner for his time. He held a “Ladies Day” promotion every Friday. He emphasized keeping a clean ballpark that fans would enjoy coming to. He made Weeghman Park the first ballpark where fans were allowed to keep any foul balls or home runs they caught as souvenirs.
Weeghman Park itself underwent many early changes. The fences were pushed back to reduce the too easy chances of hitting a home run. Capacity was raised from 14,000 to 18,000.
The history of the Chi-Feds (renamed the Chicago Whales) was quite brief however, with the team, and the Federal League itself, folding after the 1915 season.
Weeghman was able, though, to purchase the National League’s Cubs, as the dominant partner in a group of buyers that included chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, for $500,000. He merged the rosters of the defunct Chi-Feds/Whales and the Cubs, and moved the Cubs to Weeghman Park for the 1916 season.
Weeghman then fell upon hard times and had to sell off chunks of his ownership interest in the Cubs, primarily to Wrigley. By 1918 Weeghman was out completely, and by 1921 Wrigley had bought out enough of the other owners to put himself in full control of the team. With Weeghman gone, Weeghman Park came to be known as “Cubs Park” starting with the 1919 season.
Wrigley put Cubs Park through a major renovation in 1922 and 1923, boosting the capacity from 18,000 to over 30,000. Part of the grandstand was placed on rollers and moved back, making room for more seating. Foul territory was reduced down the lines by the addition of new box seats. The configuration of the outfield was changed to allow for more bleachers.
In 1926, the ballpark was renamed “Wrigley Field” after Mr. Wrigley.
In 1927 and 1928, a second deck was added to the grandstand. In 1937, the outfield wooden bleachers were replaced with concrete seats, and a unique brick outfield wall covered in ivy was added. A large manual scoreboard was placed in centerfield, which is still in use today.
As noteworthy as anything in the history of Wrigley Field is the steadfast refusal of the Wrigley family that owned the Cubs and the stadium to install lights. The first Major League Baseball night game under artificial lights was played in 1935, yet decades later the Cubs remained the one holdout team that played exclusively daytime home games.
Wrigley Field is located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and most of the local residents strongly opposed holding night games there. So even though the Wrigleys had toyed with the idea of adding lights as far back as the 1940s, they decided Wrigley Field would never install lights. The Chicago city government assisted them by passing certain ordinances forbidding lights at Wrigley Field, so the Cubs could tell MLB “Our hands are tied.”
Many baseball fans, and many people who supported non-conformity and longed for baseball’s simpler pastoral past, supported the Cubs’ stand against modernity. But economics was ultimately more powerful than sentiment (isn’t it always?). The Wrigleys were bought out in 1981 by the Chicago Tribune Company. In 1985 new MLB Commissioner Peter Ueberroth decreed that as long as there were no lights at Wrigley Field, the Cubs would not be allowed to play any postseason home games there. Ultimately a compromise was worked out with the Chicago government to install lights and play a limited number of night games per season at Wrigley Field.
The long-awaited first ever game under the lights at Wrigley Field, on August 8, 1988, was rained out. Disgusted traditionalists chuckled. But the new era was simply put off for 24 hours.
In 2005 and 2006, the Wrigley Field outfield bleachers were reconstructed and expanded. That and other more minor renovations brought the capacity of the park up to more than 41,000.
With the demolition of Yankee Stadium (replaced by a new Yankee Stadium), Wrigley Field is now one of only two surviving MLB stadiums built before 1962. (The other is Boston’s Fenway Park, built in 1912). How long can it last? Time and economics ultimately rob us of all the great old stadiums, so one has to assume even Wrigley Field and Fenway Park will not house the Cubs and Red Sox forever.
The question becomes, then, will Wrigley Field ever experience a World Series Championship for its Cubs? The Cubs have won two MLB Championships, but the last was in 1908, before Wrigley Field (Weeghman Park) even existed.
“Next year” finally came for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the White Sox finally won a World Series 86 years after the Black Sox curse of throwing the 1919 Series, and even the Red Sox finally overcame the “Curse of the Bambino” to bring a Championship home to Fenway Park. Will it one day be Wrigley Field’s turn?