Friday, July 31, 2015
The First Time I Saw Wrigley Field
I first became a Cub fan in August of 1963. Prior to that, as a kid, I had been a Milwaukee Braves fan beginning at the very end of the 1956 season when they blew the pennant to the Brooklyn Dodgers. I didn't like the Dodgers because every year (almost) it was the Dodgers vs the Yankees in the World Series. (Remember the old Gillette commercials?) Of course, the next year, the Braves went all the way beating the Yanks in the World Series. Somewhere around 1960 or 61, I lost interest in the Braves. Then, in 1963. I suddenly became a Cub fan. I was about to go to Chicago and spend a week or so with my aunt and uncle, and they were going to take me to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs. My uncle was an executive with the Curtiss Candy Company, whose HQs were located just around the corner from the ballpark. They (Curtiss) had a box behind the Cubs dugout, and my uncle had arranged the tickets. Funny thing: Days before I left, I saw a picture in the paper of Willy Mays being picked off at a game at Wrigley with Cub shortstop Andre Rodgers applying the tag. I don't know what it was; maybe I liked the Cubs' home uniform, but I was getting into the Cubs. (What a mistake that was.)
The clincher was the game at Wrigley. We had great seats and you could hear the players talking on the field. The atmosphere was so different from Dodgers Stadium (which had opened the year before). I felt like I was back in the 1930s. There was old Pat Pieper, the public address announcer and ball boy rolled into one. Pat had been with the Cubs from the very beginning of their time in Wrigley Field in 1916! He wasn't in the press box rather was seated behind home plate in a little chair holding a microphone and minding a bag of balls. There was no national anthem, nobody introducing YOUR Chicago Cubs, just Pat reading the lineups and giving the players' names and positions when they came to bat. They didn't even play the National Anthem in those days before the game. Of course, there were no lights, Wrigley being the last remaining park in the big leagues with no lights. The combination of weekday games and bad teams meant sparse crowds in those days. (This game was on a Tuesday afternoon in front of 15,000.) Wrigley may have been unique to me coming from LA, but you have to remember that at that time, all the other teams were playing in those old ballparks as well. Wrigley's distinguishing features were the absence of lights and the ivy on the walls. Now, of course, Wrigley and Fenway Park are icons.
Incidentally, we had a Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, which had been the home of the Pacific Coast League LA Angels prior to the move of the Dodgers to LA. The Cubs were the parent club of the Angels, and the Wrigley family built the ballpark in the early 1920s. I actually played there in the 1960s in a semi-pro city championship game. The major league Angels played their first season there in 1961. Below, you can see the similarity to the park in Chicago. LA is on the left and Chicago (1920s) on the right
The Cubs, at any rate, were seemingly on the rise. They would finish 82-80 that year after getting rid of the idiotic "College of Coaches", by which they rotated their managers. They had the big 3 of Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks. In addition, they had Ken Hubbs, a smooth fielding second baseman and rookie of the year from 1962. They also had a young right-fielder named Lou Brock, who had yet to have that break out year. He was very fast and quite promising.
That day, they were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, so I was able to see the great Roberto Clemente. I remember he took away an extra base hit by catching a fly ball in the vines.
Unfortunately, the Pirates won that game 5-3. Watching Hubbs in the field, I became a fan of him as well as Lou Brock. I recall he hit an easy comeback to the pitcher and almost beat it out with what looked like a blur going down the first base line.
I was hooked and have been to this day.
A couple of days later, my cousin and I rode the El to Wrigley Field, and we saw the Cubs play the expansion Mets under Casey Stengel. That game they won 6-5 as Billy Williams hit two homers and narrowly missed a third.
Later that season, I saw the Cubs play the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, a game they won 2-1.
Of course, old-time Cub fans know that after that season, Hubbs lost his life in a private plane crash in Utah, and during the 1964 season, there was the infamous Lou Brock trade for Ernie Broglio. Brock went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals (as I could have predicted) while Broglio was a bust for the Cubs. The team sank back into mediocrity until the Leo Durocher years (which, unfortunately, brought us heartbreak).
I was able to get back to Chicago again the next year and took in a couple of games against the Phillies. (I actually saw Broglio throw a complete game with 9 strikeouts.) It was still possible to find a parking place within a block or two of ball park. Of course those days are gone.
I have to confess I don't much like the electronic message boards that the Cubs have put up in the ballpark. The one in left field especially mars the feel of Wrigley. It's too big, dwarfs the old center field scoreboard, and just looks out of place. Certain renovations are needed within the infrastructure. The concourse and the club houses need to be upgraded, and that can be done without destroying the effect. I know the Ricketts family is trying to bring in revenue to build a stronger team, but I don't ever want Wrigley to lose that feel it had for me the first time I saw it 1963. It had a lot to do with me becoming a Cub fan.