Happy Birthday Wrigley Field!

April 23, 2014

While my heart belongs to the South Side of the Great City of Chicago, I am a baseball fan, and when something big happens, it happens, no matter which team it happens to …

… today marked the 100th anniversary of the first baseball game played at Wrigley Field.  The last remaining relic of the short lived Federal League, the last league to challenge the monopoly of Major League Baseball, the Chicago Whales won the Federal League championship in the park’s second year of existence;  the last time any baseball team that called the stadium home won a league championship.  Ah, the good ol’ days.  As a part of the settlement stemming from the anti-trust lawsuit filed by the Federal League owners against Major League Baseball, the owner of the Whales was allowed to purchase the Cubs, and move them from Chicago’s West Side to the North Side.

A hundred years is, as Cubs fans will tell you, a long time.  Here are some of my favorite historic highlights from the World’s Largest Beer Garden.

2 May 1917 … While the White Sox were on their way to a World Series championship, the Cubs had a unique occurrence of their own.  After nine innings, the game is tied at zero, and neither team has collected a safe hit.  Fred Toney of the Reds and Hippo Vaughn of the Cubs have both pitched no-hitters;  the only nine inning double no hitter in Major League history.  Jim Thorpe of Olympic fame collects the second hit of of Vaughn in the tenth, batting in the winning run for Cincinnati.

21 April 1926 … starting a trend that would not really take off until the 1990s, the Cubs officially change the name of their stadium to “Wrigley Field” in order to begin the march of corporate advertising into stadium names.

1 October 1932 … Game 3 of the World Series;  Yankees v. Cubs.  The Yankees are up 2 games-love, and are tied in the fifth inning when George Herman Ruth comes to the plate. Ruth already had a home run that day, and the Cubs players were razzing him.  Ruth was chatting right back at them, and after taking two pitches, Ruth gestured out to the outfield.  The next pitch went over the center field wall (which was followed by Lou Gehrig’s second home run of the game).  Ruth generally remained non-committal about calling his shot, though Lou Gehrig, considered an honest guy, was quick to confirm that Ruth was indeed calling his shot. Among the attendees that day is young Ray Kroc who would one day found McDonalds, buy the San Diego Padres, and die just months before the Padres beat the Cubs in one of the most dramatic come-from-behind playoff series in baseball history.  Ruth famously described playing at Wrigley: “I would play for half my salary to hit in this dump.”  The park was 18 years old, and was already being called a dump by a baseball luminary.

6 October1945 …. The Cubs are up in the World Series 2 games to 1 as Game 4 prepares to get underway.  Local restaurateur Bill Sianis tries to enter Wrigley Field with his pet goat.  The Cubs owners refuse to allow the creature into their family and fan friendly environment know for the TV cameras focusing in on the few hot women who show up and the drunken frat boys from Northwestern trying to gulp beer.  A small dark cloud appears over the park as Sianis invokes Zeus and the Olympian gods (maybe even Percy Jackson, who knows, the guy was chanting in Greek) and curses the Cubs to never again win the World Series.  As curses go, it has been very successful, and Sianis is later seen hawking “Bill Sianis home curse kits” out on Waveland Avenue.  Sianis’s goat becomes the world’s most famous goat until the goat that gets eaten by the Tyrannosaur with stealth abilities in the film version of Jurassic Park.

17 May 1979 … The Cubs score 22 runs against the Phillies powered by three home runs by Dave Kingman … and in true Cubs fashion manage to lose.  Mike Schmidt blasts four home runs and leads the Phillies to a 23-22 win.

29 April 1983 … Cubs manager Lee Elia entertains the media in his cramped office after another Cubs loss when the Dodgers push a run across in the 8th inning for a 3-2 win.  The Cubs are now mired in last place, 5-19 on the season.  One of the reporters opens with “Tough way to lose a game, huh?”  Elia then goes on a (roughly) three minute long explanation of how much he loves Cubs fans (he really didn’t).  61 of the words were not printable in the newspaper the next day.  Local reporter Les “the Grobber” Grobstein quietly tape records one of the greatest rants in sports history.  “Honest Elia” was fired the next day because the Cubs were worried that attendance might slip (the Cubs were averaging about 12,000 fans a game at the time).

13 April 1984 … Supernatural irony is part of working with the Cubs.  Prior to 1984, die hard Cubs fan and winder/songwriter Steve Goodman had written a warm if not melancholoy ballad “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request”.  Cubs management, appalled that anyone make fun of their little team bans the song.  Realizing that they were coming off as dickish to one of their few real fans, the Cubs commission him to write a new song, and that song, “Go Cubs Go” premiers today on Opening Day.  Sox fans were quick to catch the double meaning (a happy fan wanting the team to win/ a frustrated team wanting the Cubs to leave town and never return”.  1984 would be a magical year for the Cubs as they ended 39 year wait to return to the post season.  Goodman died days before he would have sung the National Anthem at that first playoff game;  likely the good Lord punishing him for raising the hopes of Cub Nation too much.

8 August, 1988 … A maelstrom of media are caught up in what is to be the first home night game in Cubs history … the Cubs are the last team to install the new invention called “the electric light”.  The good Lord, reminding Cubs fans that he does like to toy with them allows the lights to be ceremonially turned on before raining out the game.

3 May 1994 … ala the ban on Steve Goodman back in 1984, the Cubs management reverse a decision that they realize was hurting fans:  Cubs fans are once again permitted to wear paper bags over their heads to avoid watching baseball while getting as drunk as they want to be.  The Cubs rally to show their fans that they can still be good, and only lose to the Reds by three runs.

5 July 1998 … To be fair to the Iron One, he was running late and just barely made it to the booth as the middle of the seventh inning started … what followed was not only another piece to the breathing legend that is the immortal C. Michael Ditka, but a crime against music.  Guinness certified it the fastest rendition of any song in history.

13 September 1998 … Slammin’ Sammy Sosa momentarily ties Mark McGwire by hitting two home runs, his 61st and 62nd of the season.  No one suspects that Sosa is using steroids, despite the first home run landing just over the fence of County Stadium in Milwaukee, and the second home run forcing the International Space Station to change orbits to avoid a collision.  Cubs fans being planning Sosa’s inevitable enshrinement at Cooperstown (note:  Sammy Sosa will only get into the Baseball Hall of Fame if he pays the $10.25 entry fee at the door).

7 August 2001 … Bears legend/celebrity Steve “Mongo” McMichael leads the herd in “Take Me Out To the Ballgame”.  Mongo uses his microphone time to call out home plate umpire Angel Hernandez for a close play that went against the Cubs, and is promptly ejected by the umpire from the premises.

3 June 2003 … 2003 was a great year for the Cubs:  the team was heading toward the post season with a good chance to go to the World Series (SPOILER ALERT: They didn’t make it).  And the whole time, Sox fans fumed as Sammy “The Fraud” Sosa was being greeted after every home run by woman toasting him with beers and guys throwing their girlfriends’ panties at him on the field.  Today however, the first chinks in Sosa’s steroidal armor break off.  In the bottom of the first against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Sosa grounds out, but his bat explodes into 6.02 x 10^23rd pieces, over half of which appear to be a cork-like substance later identified as cork.  Sosa is ejected for cheating, and to placate the fans, Sosa brings out his “poor dumb foreigner” character and apologizes for not knowing the difference between his “Game Bat” and his “sexy bat for hitting home runs during batting practice to thrill the fans bat”.  It was the beginning of the end for Sosa.

17 August 2003 … the Cubs and people named Ozzy don’t really see eye-to-eye on things.  Tonight Ozzy Osbourne leads the assembled faithful in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” … we think.  He still was more coherent than 35% of the fans.

14 October 2003 … Game 6 of the National League Championship Series … the Cubs were a mere five outs away when the good Lord decided that he had toyed with Cubs Nation long enough, and sent his servant, the blessed Steve Bartman to end their hope of a World Series appearance.  Bartman, like a Cubs World Series appearance, remains in hiding.  The chant of the Friendly Confines faithful chanting “Kill Him!!  Kill Him!!” told you all you needed to know.

4 September 2005 … both sides of town are working hard to change their image.  The White Sox are on their way to winning the World Series, and the Cubs are being turned into the sideshow at a concert venue.  Getting sick of Wrigley Field’s image as a place where people come to get drunk while a baseball game happens around them, the Cubs bring in Jimmy Buffet to perform a concert.  “Wasting away in Margaritaville” had never had so many double meanings.

1 June 2007 … Crazy Carlos Zambrano gets into a verbal altercation with his own catcher, Michael “Sucker Punch” Barrett.  Between the fifth and sixth inning, Punch and Judy decide to go at it as the Cubs demonstrate the timeless virtues of unity trying to separate the pair, but not before Zambrano lands a punch, sending Barrett to the hospital.  The Cubs choose sides, and decide to demote Barrett and sign Zambrano to a $91 million contract, which he never earns by opting to lose and do crazy things instead of win ball games.

31 March 2008 … the Cubs decide to take a page from the White Sox (and Bulls and Blackhawks) playbook by honoring some former personalities in bronze.  The statue of the beloved Ernie Banks is unveiled.  Engraved on the base is Banks’ immortal motto “Lets Play Two”.   It was a few hours before someone noticed that the apostrophe in “Let’s” was missing, and it was added two days later.

1 October 2008 … prior to the start of the Cubs-Dodgers playoff series, the Cubs invite a Greek Orthodox priest to come in and bless the Cubs dugout.  The Cubs are swept in three games, proving Eastern Orthodox may be the one true religion.

25 May 2009 … Two words often associated with Wrigley Field:  fools and pity.  On Memorial Day 2009, the Cubs bring out legendary Chicago bouncer and pitier of fools, Mr. T, decked out in star spangled Zubas.  His rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is a little slower than Coach Ditka’s, and also includes some extra words.  Many foo’s were pitied that day.

20 November 2010 … While Wrigley has not been a great home for Chicago baseball, football is another story.  The Bears were very successful at Wrigley back when Wrigley was black-and-white.  Today, the resurgent Northwestern Wildcats are going to play the University of Illinois in football.  For Illinois, any crowd over 20,000 in the state will be the largest in-state crowd they will have seen in years.  Unfortunately, the day before the game is to be played, the game is in jeopardy when the officials from the Big 10ish decide that the one end zone is too close to the brick outfield wall (too close meaning 6.5 inches), and if one Northwestern player gets hurt, they will likely make a big deal out of it like threaten to form a union and sue.  So to the utter embarrassment of all, the game is played one way:  as soon as the ball passe the 50 yard line, the teams switch sides.  Everyone who had end zone seats in the one end zone really got screwed,and only get to see an interception return (gently) returned by the Wildcats.  True ot the park’s form, Northwestern somehow loses to the worst football program in bot the Big 10ish and the Park Ridge Youth Football League.

The Cubs hosted the worst team in Major League Baseball today … who then came from behind to beat the Cubs.  In an era where the uneducated run education, the scientific skeptics control the purse strings of scientific research, and walking into a school in Georgia with a gun is now legal … at least some semblance of normalcy remains.