The History of Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field is an American icon in sports that is recognized all around the world. But the history of the current home of the Chicago Cubs is long and storied reaching back to before the Cubbies inhabited the ivy covered walls. From a seminary to Weeghman Field to Wrigley Field, the site is historic and a part of the fabric of America’s Pastime – Major League Baseball.
The location that current day Wrigley Field sits upon was once home to the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, with the Hildebrandt Coal Factory across the street. The block that contained Clark, Addison, Waveland and Sheffield Streets had been inherited by William Passavant, a prominent Lutheran missionary. Passavant began to develop the land as early as 1868, including building St. Mark’s Church in 1874. He helped establish the Chicago Lutheran Seminary on the site in 1891.
Unfortunately, the seminary wasn’t very successful and as early as 1905 rumors were hot that the minor league American Association of Baseball was looking to put a team in Chicago and the seminary was the best spot in town. Chicago was one of the hottest markets in the country at the time, and was already home to the American League’s White Sox and the National League’s Cubs. The Cubs were playing at West Side Park at the time. Three minor league owners saw an opportunity to snap up some prime real estate just in case the American Association decided to place a team in Chicago. In 1909 the seminary was eager to move and sold the property to Charles Havenor and Mike Cantillon for $175,000.
Professional baseball once first played on the site in 1914 when the Federal League’s Chicago Chifeds moved from DePaul University to the newly constructed Weeghman Field. Weeghman Field was a modern steel and concrete baseball park that featured a single-decked grandstand roof behind home plate and around to left field. The original dimensions were quite cozy — 300 feet to a brick wall in right field and a left field that featured two old seminary buildings at about the same depth with wood fencing. The stadium sat a total of 14,000 fan but it was not unusual for there to be thousands of fans on their feet in the outfield. In 1915, the team’s name was changed to the Chicago Whales who won the championship. Today’s Wrigley Field is the last remaining Federal League stadium in existence.
The Chicago Cubs moved to Weeghman Park in April of 1916 and beat the Cincinnati Reds in their first game. That first season was rather unremarkable, but the Cubs went on to win the National League pennant in 1918. The Cubs, however, did not play the World Series at Weeghman. Because they were strapped for cash, Cubs owner Weeghman gambles and rented the larger venue of Comiskey Park. He hoped that the larger venue would attract more fans and generate more revenue for the team. Unfortunately, the Cubs lost the series in six games to Boston and failed to attract large crowds — losing money on the gamble. This increased the cash flow problems in Cubbie-land and the team took on additional investors, including chewing gum mastermind William Wrigley. By the end of 1918, Weeghman sold his share of the team and Wrigley became the majority owner. By the 1919 season, it was known as Cubs Park.
By 1922 Cubs Park was in need of renovations and Wrigley recognized the need for expansion. He brought back the original park architect to expand the grandstand and playing field area. The foul area was enlarged, outfield fences were pushed back to 320 feet in left field, 318 in right and 446 to center field. The expansion of the outfield grandstand increased seating from 18,000 to 31,000 fans. In 1927, Cubs Park was expanded once again with the addition of a double-deck upper deck area, renamed Wrigley Field and drew over one million fans for the first time. In the early 1930’s the outfield dimensions were re-worked again to 364 feet in left, 321 in right and 440 feet to center field.
In 1937 the famous Boston Ivy was planted along the outfield walls by Bill Veeck. Field rules state that if a ball is hit into the ivy and does not come out, the outfielder is to raise his hands and the batter receives a ground rule double. If the outfielder searches for the ball, it is live and the batter can run as long as he wishes. Another feature added by Veeck was the manual scoreboard. Another improvement in 1937 was the reconstruction of the outfield bleachers with concrete, instead of wood.
There was a plan in place to erect lights at Wrigley Field in 1942, but the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor derailed those plans when then owner Philip Wrigley (William’s son) donated the materials to the war effort. After the war, Wrigley abandoned plans to erect lights at Wrigley, and they were not put up at the stadium until 1981 — and the first night game was not played at Wrigley until 1988. Part of the reason that lights took until 1981, and a night game did not happen until 1988 was the city of Chicago itself. An ordinance was passed that prohibited night events at Wrigley Field because of its residential location. This ordinance stood until the 1984 when the Cubs were in the playoffs and then Commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that the Cubs would lose home-field advantage if they reached the World Series and could not host a night game. The Cubs failed to reach the World Series that year, but the following year team president Dallas Green said, “if there are no lights in Wrigley, there will be no Wrigley Field.” Green intended to move the Cubs to Comiskey Park for a year as a threat to the city of Chicago. The Cubs investigated moving to Arlington Heights or maybe building a new stadium outside of Rosemont. They even discussed selling Wrigley to DePaul University.
Over the years the Cubs aren’t the only professional sports team to play at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Bears (NFL – 1921-1970), Chicago Tigers (APFA – 1920), Chicago Cardinals (NFL – 1931-1939) and Chicago Sting (NASL – 1977-1982 and 1984) played a number of seasons at Wrigley.
With the recent sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family, Wrigley Field is undergoing another renovation that includes a major Jumbotron installation, seating expansion and new luxury boxes being installed. There is also currently a debate about the rooftop bars across the street in right field. Previous ownership (Tribune) had rented the rights to those bar owners allowing them to sell tickets to watch the games, however new renovations will block that site-line into the field.
The current dimensions of the “friendly confines” stand at 355 feet to left field, 400 feet to dead center and 353 feet to right field and it remains one of the most famous sports venues in all the world.