Second-oldest MLB park commemorates date with giveaways, Hall of Fame guests
CHICAGO -- One hundred years ago, on April 23, 1914, Weeghman Park hosted its first game as the Chi-Feds played the Kansas City Packers. It was the eighth game of the Federal League season, and 21,000 fans filled the new ballpark at Clark and Addison Streets.
Catcher Art Wilson hit two home runs to back pitcher Claude Hendrix, who went the distance in a 9-1 win. Chi-Feds manager Joe Tinker also was the No. 3 hitter, going 1-for-3 and scoring a run.
Weeghman Park cost $250,000 to build, and it was completed in two months. It was a single-story grandstand that stretched from the left-field foul pole around home plate to the right-field pole. There was a small bleacher section in right.
Today, that park, now known as Wrigley Field, celebrated its 100th anniversary. The event was part of a year-long "Party of the Century," and it was a chance for fans to salute the Friendly Confines.
The Cubs played host to the D-backs -- whose home state had been admitted to the union just two years earlier in 1912 -- and wore throwback uniforms. Commissioner Bud Selig attended, along with several former Cubs players, including Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins and Andre Dawson. The first 30,000 fans to enter received a replica 1914 Chicago Federals jersey, and the first 10,000 fans got a birthday cupcake.
If you look at some of the photos included in the book, "A Century of Wrigley Field: The Official History of the Friendly Confines," you'll see the neighborhood around the ballpark hasn't changed much over a century. Built on land that once was the site of a seminary, Wrigley has gone through several renovations since it was first built, but there is still some 100-year-old concrete and steel left from the original structure, located primarily near the dugouts. Most of the ballpark has been refinished or resurfaced.
A quick history: Weeghman Park and the Chi-Feds team were owned by Charles Weeghman, and when the Federal League folded after the 1915 season, he purchased the Cubs and moved them to the ballpark at Clark and Addison. It was renamed Cubs Park in 1919, and it didn't become Wrigley Field until 1926 after owner William Wrigley Jr. bought the team.
Banks hit his 500th home run at Wrigley, and Babe Ruth allegedly called his home run there during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series. Hack Wilson drove in his 190th and 191st runs of the season there in 1930, and Pete Rose notched his 4,191st career hit. Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros and Sammy Sosa hit his 60th home run in three separate seasons. Greg Maddux recorded his 3,000th strikeout there.
The Chicago Cardinals and Chicago Bears football teams also called Wrigley home. So did the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and the Chicago Sting soccer team. The Norge Ski Club held its 38th annual ski-jump tournament at Wrigley in 1944; the Harlem Globetrotters played there in 1954.
The ballpark has evolved. The vines were purchased and planted in 1937 by Bill Veeck. The bleachers and scoreboard were constructed that year, as well. In 1941, it became the first ballpark to have an organist. The first televised baseball game was broadcast from Wrigley on July 13, 1946, as the Cubs played the Dodgers, but it was the last to add lights, finally doing so in August 1988. A $14 million renovation project in 1989 included the addition of 67 private mezzanine-level sky boxes.
More changes are coming. The Wrigley family sold the Cubs and the ballpark to the Tribune Co. in June 1981 for a reported $21.1 million, and the Ricketts family took over in October 2009 for $845 million. Next up: the Ricketts have a $500 million renovation plan for Wrigley and the surrounding area, which they hope to begin this offseason.
Today was a day to celebrate the past. Sue Quigg, grand-niece of former Cubs owner Charles Weeghman, threw out the ceremonial first pitch with a 100-year-old ball her grandmother, Dessa Weeghman, threw at a Chi-Feds game.
The second-oldest ballpark in the Major Leagues behind Fenway Park, Wrigley Field has been host to players from David Aardsma to Dutch Zwilling, from managers Phil Cavarretta to Don Zimmer. It's tucked in a neighborhood about six miles north of downtown Chicago. Games can be as unpredictable as the weather, depending on which way the wind is blowing off Lake Michigan.
And it's a special place.
"I didn't want to leave," Banks told "A Century of Wrigley Field" author Alan Solomon. "I was always the first one there and the last one to leave. I just loved that place."
Banks even tried to convince ownership to let him live in the small house located just outside left field, now used by food-service groups and vendors. The groundskeeper used to live there before traveling secretary Bob Lewis made it his home.
"I wanted to talk to Mr. Wrigley about, 'I don't want to go on the road. I want to stay here,'" Banks said.
Wrigley most likely means more to you than a timeline. Maybe this is where you saw your first big league game. Remember walking up the steps from the concourse to the seating bowl and seeing the bright green field with the thick ivy on the outfield walls and that towering scoreboard in center? It's a goosebump moment.
Sure, Wrigley is dated. The center-field scoreboard isn't big enough to handle all 30 teams' games. There is no video scoreboard to watch replays. The cramped clubhouses are legendary. If Cubs players want to take a few swings during the game, they have to drop a net in their clubhouse and use a batting tee. The visitors have nowhere to go.
"It's tough, because the amenities aren't quite up with some of the other ballparks," said former Cubs pitcher Sean Marshall, "but once you go on the field, that stuff is all forgotten. It's definitely one of the most beautiful ballparks I've ever played at. It's one of the most beautiful ballparks in the world.
"There's a lot of history there, and a lot of players have stepped on that field. To be part of that and part of the Cubs tradition for six years or so was pretty cool."
If you caught a foul ball today, take a close look at it. The balls feature an "April 23, 2014" timestamp. It's a special date in Wrigley Field history.