By Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer
June 9, 2013
Amid all the wrangling over renovations and increased signage at Wrigley Field, we'd like to explode a few myths about the 99-year-old ballpark. As Ernie Banks might put it, let's play 10:
1 The ballpark you know as Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, used to be Weeghman Park, home of a Federal League team known variously as the Feds, ChiFeds, Tinx, Buns and Whales. "Tinx" was a reference to manager Joe Tinker. "Buns" was a nod to owner Charles Weeghman's quick-lunch eateries. The inspiration for "Whales" is unclear — perhaps it suggested that the team was a big deal. In any case, the Whales went belly up after 1915, and the Cubs moved in.
2 The Wrigley Field scoreboard was originally reddish-brown but was repainted green a few years after its installation in 1937. Likewise, the iconic marquee at Clark and Addison wasn't always red — it was once fern green.
3 For a ballpark considered traditional, Wrigley has been the scene of much innovation. The tradition of letting fans keep foul balls started there, as did the permanent ballpark concession stand. Two experiments that didn't work: rows of Chinese elms planted on either side of the scoreboard (they were damaged by high winds and removed in the early '40s), and a "speedwalk" moving walkway in the grandstand (plagued by maintenance problems and pulled out around 1960).
4 Fans are close to the action at Wrigley, but they used to be even closer. During high-turnout games before 1937, fans stood on the field ringing the outfield. Balls that went into the crowd were counted as ground-rule doubles.
5 Perhaps the most legendary event at Wrigley Field was Babe Ruth's "called shot" during the 1932 World Series. Or it's the alleged called shot, because it's disputed whether the Yankees slugger was pointing to center field or just waving his fingers around before he hit his home run. In attendance were at least 15 future Baseball Hall of Famers*, sportswriters Grantland Rice and Westbrook Pegler, tap dancer Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak and New York Gov. Franklin Roosevelt, who was just a month away from being elected president. Two not-yet-famous people said they were there, too: John Paul Stevens, then age 12 and later a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and Ray Kroc, then a 30-year-old paper cup salesman and later head of McDonald's.
6 Some describe Wrigley as the world's largest beer garden, but the first suds weren't served there until 1933 — 19 years after the park opened. (Prohibition was in force for most, but not all, of that time.)
7 Wrigley Field hosted a ski-jumping contest in January 1944, with a ramp set up in the upper deck and jumpers landing around second base.
8 Soldier Field is the longtime home of the Bears, but Wrigley Field was their home field longer, from 1921 to 1970. Soldier Field will take over the honors in 2021, if the Bears stay there.
9 Wrigley looked ridiculously lopsided during the 1927 season. The upper deck already had been constructed along the third-base line, but it wasn't built along the first-base line until after the season.
10 In 1951, a mighty hitter smashed a ball that bounced off the Wrigley center field scoreboard. Then he hit another ball that flew over it. He was Sam Snead, using a 4-iron, a 2-iron and two golf balls.
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor. Jacob is co-author of the 2003 book "Wrigley Field: A Tribute to the Friendly Confines."
SOURCES: "Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography" by Stuart Shea with George Castle; "Mr. Wrigley's Ball Club: Chicago and the Cubs During the Jazz Age" by Roberts Ehrgott; Society of American Baseball Research; baseball-reference.com; baseball-almanac.com; laist.com; Tribune archives.
*The Hall of Famers at Wrigley on Oct. 1, 1932, included the Yankees' Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Lefty Gomez, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Herb Pennock, Joe Sewell and manager Joe McCarthy; the Cubs' Gabby Hartnett, Burleigh Grimes, Billy Herman and Kiki Cuyler; and umpire Bill Klem.
IN TWO WEEKS: This is the first of a two-part series — next we'll look at "10 Things" about the home of the White Sox.
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