JAY DAVIS: Happy 100th birthday, Wrigley Field

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As you read this, they have just celebrated a big birthday in Chicago. April 23 is the 100th birthday of Wrigley Field.

A century is one long time for a major sports venue. It speaks of incredible endurance.

On April 23, 1914, Wrigley Field was Weeghan Park and the Cubs were not on the field. The first game was played between the Chi-Feds and the Kansas City Packers.

Weegham Park was built for $250,000. The state-of-the-art video screen and Cowboys Stadium was $40 million alone while the cost of building the stadium was around $1.3 billion. In fact, the Cubs and the Ricketts family (the owners) are planning a renovation, which will cost $500 million.

Weegham bought the Cubs and moved them into the Friendly Confines in 1919 It was called Cubs Park from 1920 until 1926 when William Wrigley bought the team. Before that year, the Cubs, who began in 1876 at the Chicago White Stockings (officially became Cubs in 1907), had played on a few fields before spending 1893 through 1915 at the West Side Grounds.

The stadium, with all of its rich history has done and been through a lot of things, but one thing the field has never done in 100 years is be the home of a World Series champion. The Cubs were world champions in 1907 and again in 1908, eight years before the club stepped foot in Wrigley Field.

From the first Cubs greats, Cap Anson and King Kelly to Mordeci “Three Fingers” Brown, Tinker (Joe), Evers (Johnny) and Chance (Frank), to Gabby Hartnett and Hack Wilson, to Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Fergie Jenkins, to Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson and Greg Maddux, some of the greatest players in Major League history have spent the majority of their careers with the Cubs.

There have been some amazing moments in Wrigley Field over the last 100 years and not all of them have to do with baseball.

The Bears played at Wrigley until 1970 and won eight titles there. Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns in one game at Wrigley. Banks hit his 500th homer, Stan Musial got his 3,000th hit and Babe Ruth hit his legendary “called shot” there. The Cubs beat the Phillies 26-23 there in 1922. With Mike Schmidt hitting four home runs (including the game winner), the Phillies beat the Cubs 23-22 there in 1979. The home of the “Bleacher Bums” saw Hack Wilson hit 56 home runs and drive in a still-record 191 RBIs in 1930. The “Bums” have been sitting behind the fabled ivy walls of the outfield since 1939. Hartnett hit the Homer in the Glomin there in 1938. Jake LaMotta boxed there. Michael Jordan played baseball there. The Blackhawks played hockey there. A goat was banned from the place and its owner put a curse on the team there. The All-American Girls’ Professional Baseball League and the Chicago Sting hockey team played there. The Harlem Globetrotters performed at Wrigley. President Ronald Reagan did play-by-play with Harry Caray and Ferris Bueller spent part of his day off there. Pete Rose got his 4,191st hit, Kerry Wood struck out 20 Astros, Sammy Sosa hit his 60th home run and Maddux notched his 3,000th strikeout there. Bartman sat down the left field line there. The Northwestern Wildcats and Fighting Illini of Illinois played a college football game there.

The Cubs may have more female fans than any other team and that is because of June 27, 1930. That day Wrigley Field hosted the first-ever Ladies Day. Ladies got in free. The record for attendance was set that day at 51,556. The paid attendance was only 19,748.

Starting with Jimmy Buffett in 2005, the Friendly Confines have been rock and roll hosts. Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and the Police have all played there as have country stars Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and Rascal Flatts.

But through all this, there has never been a World Series championship parade that got to have its start at the corner of Clark and Addison.

Not that there haven’t been chances. The first World Series game played in Wrigley Field came in 1929. The Athletics won that series. Not the Oakland A’s or the Kansas City A’s, but the Philadelphia A’s. There were three World Series there in the ‘30s. The Cubs lost to the Yankees in ’32 and the Tigers in ’35. The 1938 series loss to the Yankees was the year Ruth pointed (allegedly) to the right field bleachers and then hit his prodigious clout.

The Cubs were beaten four games to three by the Tigers in 1945. It was during that series that Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, and his pet goat were expelled from the field because the goat’s odor was bothering the other baseball fans. An irate Sianas placed his curse on the Cubs by declaring, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more!” They haven’t played in a World Series since.

Those chances have come too, but it took a while. The next time the Cubs reached the postseason was 1984. They had the NL championship series won until a ball went through the legs of first baseman (no, not Bill Buckner) Leon “Bull” Duhram. The Padres won that series and went on to the World Series. The Cubs lost to the Giants in the 1989 NL championship series. Had they beaten the Giants, the famous “Earthquake Game” of the 1989 World Series would not have happened. The team would have been in Wrigley Field. Although, the earthquake would have still shaken the United States and the series would most probably been postponed.

In 2003 the Cubs lost 4-3 to the Florida Marlins. Yup, that was the year of the Bartman game.

There were three other chances. The Cubs made the playoffs but bowed out early in 1998, 2007 and 2008.

You can bet many of the old stories were told and retold by the folks in and around Wrigley Field today. The stories run the gamut from happy to sad to ironic to downright morbid. But they will all be told with affection for a true sports palace.

If you have never gone there, go there. You will have 35,000 friends. Trust me on this one. I am one of the needles in the historical haystack that is Wrigley Field.

Happy Birthday, old friend.

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