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Friday, July 19

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Q: Who were Wrigley and Comiskey and what are their legacies?

This week I'm taking on the Cubs in the first installment of a two-part column looking at the men behind the names of Chicago's ballparks (past and present). Next week I'll be off to the South Side to battle the White Sox. Special thanks to Naz for submitting the question.

Chicago's professional baseball team was known by several names before settling on the Cubs by 1908. The Cubs were World Champions that year and played at the West Side Grounds on Taylor Street, near what is now the location of the UIC Medical Center. Meanwhile, in 1913 restauranteur Charles Weeghman bought the ChiFeds (a.k.a. the Whales), Chicago's team in the newly created Federal Baseball League, and he immediately began work on building a Federal League ballpark on land acquired at the intersection of Clark and Addison.

Weeghman Park, as it was called, opened on April 23, 1914 and was home to the ChiFeds until the Federal League went bankrupt at the end of the 1915 season. As part of his settlement, Weeghman was able to buy a controlling interest in the Cubs along with several other investors, including William Wrigley, Jr., founder of the Wrigley chewing gum company. Charles Weeghman promply moved the team from the West Side Grounds to Weeghman Park.

Yet, due to personal financial difficulties, by 1918 Weeghman was forced to sell his interest in the Cubs to William Wrigley. As the new owner, Wrigley made several major renovations to the park, and it was offically renamed Wrigley Field in 1924. Wrigley passed away in 1932, the same year Babe Ruth allegedly called his legendary home run shot at Wrigley Field during the 1932 World Series against the Cubs.

Ownership of the Cubs then passed to William Wrigley's son, Phillip K. Wrigley, who is memorable in his own right. Besides being owner of the Cubs from 1932 until his death in 1977, P.K. Wrigley was also the founder of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Formed in 1943 and ending in 1954, the AAGPBL consisted of 10 teams around the Midwest at its peak. Wrigley created the League ostensibly to do his part for the war effort and "build morale." Ironically, though today the All-American Girls are championed as early examples of liberated women, teams were specifically established in Midwestern cities with war industries to provide some sex appeal for the men on the homefront stuck in factory jobs.

Also among Phillip Wrigley's legacy is the fact that the uproar over installing lights at Wrigley Field was nearly rendered moot in 1941. Wrigley had lights ready to be installed in the ballpark that winter, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he donated the steel for the light towers to the war effort. After the war, Wrigley resisted installing lights as day games became part of the Cubs mystique. It would be another 47 years before the first night game was played at Wrigley Field.

More Trivia:

Wrigley Field is the last surviving Federal League ballpark.

In 1929, in part thanks to William Wrigley's savvy promotional efforts, the Cubs broke attendance records, becoming the first major league team to attract more than a million fans in a season.

Got a question? Go on. Ask me. I dare you. Send your questions to librarian@gapersblock.com and it may be featured in a future column.

Next week: A tale of two ballparks, part 2

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Comments

Naz / September 17, 2003 11:26 PM

Excellent. I had chewed Wrigley's gum for years in both London and Kuala Lumpur and when I first arrived in Chicago, I never made the connection until much later that Wrigley Field and the Wrigley Building were the same person/company. While Wrigley is a little more famous, I'm looking forward to Comiskey's story.

Wiz of Odds / September 18, 2003 5:52 PM

So, since Wrigley was a company, too...could Wrigley Field be called the first corporate-named stadium? By any stretch of the imagination? Because that would amusing.

Andrew / September 18, 2003 8:29 PM

I don't think it takes much of a stretch of the imagination at all. It's just been so long that people generally don't make that connection.

YL / September 18, 2003 9:09 PM

But it also was one of the first corporate-built and -owned stadiums. U.S. Cellular didn't build the Sox' stadium, for example, nor did Bank One build the Bears'. You and I did (with some help from a few million other Chicago taxpayers).

Some funny corporate-stadium history: August Busch, in an effort to save the Cardinals from being moved out of St. Louis, acquired the team and its stadium, Sportsman's Park, in 1953, putting up additional money to renovate the old place.

In return, he asked that it be named "Budweiser Stadium," to promote his famous lager, but the National League refused to sully the game's sanctity with such a craven, commercial name. It's a stadium, after all, and not a billboard.

Very well, Augie said, let's name the place "Busch Stadium" instead, and thus it was.

One year later, Anheuser-Busch rolled out a new brew. Its name?

Busch Beer.

How times have changed.

Alice / September 19, 2003 7:47 AM

I'm not sure about William Wrigley, but I know PK Wrigley absolutely refused to use any money from the Wrigley company to invest in the Cubs, which goes a long ways towards explaining why they never had a winning team. Wrigley simply didn't want to put up the money for it, and, heck, he was drawing in record crowds anyways, so why bother, right?

Phineas / September 19, 2003 11:50 AM

What? An item on Cubs history and not a mention of the dreadful Curse of the Billy Goat?

May it's grim hold finally be broken this year...

Luke / September 19, 2003 12:23 PM

Well, sort of. According to Peter Goldenback's "Wrigleyville," PK loved tradition more than winning, and saw Wrigley Field as a canvas with which to honor his father.

"When PK Wrigley took over control of the Cubs after his father's death in January 1932, PK Wrigley made it clear that his first priority in running the Cubs was to make his father's ballpark a monument, and he set about refurbishing it and making it the most beautiful ballpark in America.

"The reason he did this, he told Bill Veeck ... was that 'a team that isn't winning a pennant has to sell something in addition to its won-and-lost record to fill in those low points on the attendance chart.' ...

"(Assistant Charles) Drake mentioned to Wrigley that 'the public had been conditioned to demand a winning team.' According to Drake, Wrigley wanted to shift the emphasis.

"'The fun, the game, the sunshine, the relaxation. Our idea is to get the public to go to see a ball game, win or lose.

"His father, William Wrigley, never would have conjured a strategy built around the anticipation of a losing team. But Phil Wrigley did just that, and his direction became prophecy." (1996, 267)

It's a tack that the Tribune company continued when it bought the club in 1981 (for $20 million!). It took awhile to gain traction (1.2 million fans in 1982, ~ 2 million from 1984-1997, 2.6+ million ever since, and it'll probably hit 3 million this year) but with help from WGN, it was able to fill the seats with the same win-or-lose-but-probably-lose formula, "the fun, the game, the sunshine, the relaxation" -- and two guys named Sammy and Harry. Fans for the most part had been reconditioned out of demanding a winning team.

Until 2001, TRB had like PK Wrigley always shown much more enthusiasm for investing in the Friendly Confines than in the players. Wrigley and Veeck, after all, installed ivy and the scoreboard. TRB brought in lights, made massive improvements in the walkways and maintained such traditions as the organ and strolling musicians. Only recently did management decide to toss complaining fans and media a bone by picking up expensive players like McGriff and Hundley (neither of whom worked out to well) and Simon, Ramirez and Remlinger (who have). Unfortunately, I expect fans will pay the price next year. I'll be shocked if there's still a seat anywhere for under $18.

Go! Woo! Cubs! Woo!

Alice / September 19, 2003 12:46 PM

Thanks, Luke, for contributing to the conversation. Additions, omissions and corrections are most welcome! I knew there had to be folks out there who could provide more analysis than I on this subject.

Phineas Jones / September 20, 2003 10:07 AM

I still think you're underestimating the Billy Goat...

Jeff / September 21, 2003 2:01 AM

Did you know that, at first, Weeghman Park was a tiny bandbox of a place, with such a short distance to right field there was no room for bleachers there and right field home runs were easier to hit than just about any park in baseball?

How did they fix this? After a few years of play, they uprooted the entire third base side grandstand (then only a single deck structure), placed it on rollers and moved it back 60 feet into the parking lot.

The pitcher's mound in Wrigley Field is approximately where home plate used to be.

Seriously.

Also of note, though much more widely known: the Bears played their first 50 seasons in Wrigley. The gridiron was laid out from left field to first base, with the visitor's dugout having to be removed to allow enough clearance. The empty right field area was stuffed with extra bleachers.

 

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