While John Barleycorn’s, Moody’s Pub and Charlie’s on Webster all have large outdoor seating areas, the biggest beer garden in the city is beautiful Wrigley Field. Also known as “the Friendly Confines,” Wrigley is the most beautiful place to see a baseball game in the world. Even the farthest seats offer a great view of the game and the beer flows like the mighty Mississippi. Other parks have come and gone, but Wrigley remains a living piece of Chicago history and culture.
Built upon an old brick yard, Wrigley Field first came into existence in 1914 as Northside Ball Park (not to be confused with Wicker Park’s Northside). The park was designed by Zachary Taylor Davis, which is the same man who designed Old Comiskey, formerly the oldest baseball park in the country (built in 1910) until it was torn down in 1990. In its early days, Wrigley was home to the Whales of the Federal League and remains the only ballpark in existence that belonged at one time to the Federal League. When the Federal League folded after the 1915 season, Charles Weeghman purchased the Cubs from the Taft family of Cincinnati, moved the club from the West Side Grounds to its present location at Clark and Addison, and renamed the field Weeghman Park. A bear cub was in attendance at the first National League Cubs game where the Cubs beat the Reds 5-4. Weeghman Park became known as Cubs Park in 1920 after the Wrigley family purchased the team from Weeghman, and then Wrigley Field in 1926 named after owner and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr. The Cubs were then purchased by the Tribune Company in 1981. Over the years, Wrigley Field has hosted one World Series (1945), three All-Star Games, and has also games by the Chicago Bears and the now defunct Chicago Sting. Today, Wrigley Field is the second oldest ball park in the country, behind only Fenway Park built in 1912.
The Legend of Bill Veeck (1914-1986)
Part of Wrigley Field’s notoriety comes from the ivy growing on the outfield walls. The original vines were planted in 1937 by Bill Veeck, Jr. (rhymes with “wreck”), along with Chinese elms. While the elms have since died the ivy remains, which can occasionally be troublesome. Sometimes when a ball is hit to the wall, it will get lost in the vines and has to be ruled a ground rule double when the outfielder throws up his hands. Few people have had a greater love for the game than Veeck. At different times, Bill owned the Milwaukee Brewers (then a minor league team), Cleveland Indians, St. Louis Browns, and Chicago White Sox. Veeck loved the fans and invented new ways of attracting them to the ballpark, including promotional giveaways, the exploding scoreboard, numbers on jerseys, and showers in the bleachers. Veeck was also known for breaking the American League color barrier by signing such Negro League heroes as Larry Doby (the same year as Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson) and later, Satchel Paige who became the oldest MLB rookie at 42. Veeck also sent a midget named Eddie Gaedel to the plate with the number 1/8. Gaedel was walked on four consecutive pitches. Veeck warned Gaedel that if he swung, a sniper using a high-powered rifle would take him out from the stands.
Bill Veeck is also responsible for the construction of the manually-operated scoreboard and outfield bleachers. The original scoreboard is still in use today, and continues to fly a flag bearing a “W” or an “L” to indicate whether the Cubs have won or lost to El commuters on game days. While many home runs have been hit out onto Waveland (left field) and Sheffield (right field), no home run has ever hit the scoreboard, although Bill Nicholson (1948) and Roberto Clemente (1959) have come the closest. The left field foul pole carries “Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks‘ retired uniform number (14), along with the right field pole carrying Billy Williams‘ No. 26. The outfield walls themselves are 11½ feet high and the basket was added in 1970. It is always a special treat when a drunken fan falls into the basket when attempting to catch a batted ball.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Seventy-four years after the park’s inception, lights were constructed in Wrigley Field in 1988. The last park to add lights previously was Tiger Stadium in 1948. The first night game at Wrigley took place on 8-8-88 against the Philadelphia Phillies and was rained out after 3½ innings. The first official night game came the next day when the Cubs beat the lowly Mets 6-4. Part of the reason the lights went up, much to the chagrin of baseball purists and neighborhood dwellers, was that Major League Baseball threatened to make the Cubs play postseason games at Busch Stadium in St. Louis unless games could be played at night. Lights had actually been placed in the ballpark for installation in 1941, but Wrigley instead donated them to a shipyard for the war effort the day after Pearl Harbor. Nowadays, the Cubs are allowed to play 18 night games per season until 2002.
Wrigley Field has been the site of such historic moments as:
- The 1917 nine inning no-hitter duel between the Cubs’ Jim “Hippo” Vaughn and the Reds’ Fred Toney (won by Cincinnati’s Jim Thorpe in the 10th)
- Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in the 1932 World Series off of the Cubs’ Charlie Root
- Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin'” in 1938 off of Pittsburgh’s Mace Brown
- Ernie Banks’ 500th career home run in 1970 off of Atlanta’s Pat Jarvis
- Pete Rose’s 4,191st career hit in 1985 that tied him with Ty Cobb for the most hits in baseball history
The Bleachers and the Ranting of Lee Elia
While virtually every seat offers a good view of the game, I suggest sitting in the bleachers. Here you will find the most entertaining fans in baseball. Shirtless Bleacher Bums (even in April) and bikini-clad women drink vats of beer and heckle the players to a degree that would make even Denis Leary blush. Such bleacher traditions include chanting “left field sucks” while sitting in right field (and vice versa), pouring beer on opposing players with less-than-desirable personalities (usually Mets players), and throwing back home runs hit by the opposition (this includes home runs hit out of the park and recovered from congregating fans on Waveland and Sheffield). Fans refusing to throw one of these home runs back are likely to be jeered from their seats by other fans, literally. The intensity of the fans has been known to fluster not just the opposition, but also Cubs players and management that do not perform up to expectation. A good example of what can happen is outlined in former manager Lee Elia’s 1983 press conference tirade that came following a game in which the struggling Cubs were booed.
If you want a seat in the front row of the bleachers, get there before 10:00 a.m. and be prepared to run as the bleachers are first come, first serve. Right field has always been my favorite as you can still watch 1998 National League MVP winner Sammy Sosa run out and salute the fans. It wasn’t too long ago when the 1978 Rookie of the Year and 1987 National League MVP winner Andre Dawson also graced right field with his presence with fans bowing in homage to the “Hawk.” Instead of out-of-work bleacher bums, the bleachers are now packed with yuppies, which has caused ticket prices to skyrocket – especially when they’re scalped on the street for $40 each in the summer and as much as $100 each when the Cardinals come to town with Mark McGwire.
Go! Woo! Cubs! Woo!
Legendary fan Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers is also commonly found in the bleachers chanting, “Go! Woo! Cubs! Woo! Sammy! Woo! Sosa! Woo!” This used to sound interesting through Ronnie’s two front teeth, which have since been pulled and replaced with falsies, thanks to an anonymous fan. While his teeth have been fixed, Ronnie is still decked out in his yellowed Cubs jersey and occasional stuffed blue bear or hula hoop. I have seen Ronnie not only in the bleachers, but also on the street, at Wrigleysville Dogs, numerous bars, and even at HoHoKam Park where the Cubs play during Spring Training.
What could be better than an Old Style in a waxed-paper cup?
For hungry Bleacher Creatures, I recommend bypassing the counter just below the scoreboard and instead descend the ramp. Get yourself an Old Style from the smallish beer stand (it’s small put they just keep pouring the beer), and then descend the ramp further to get yourself a hot dog that is grilled with onions (all other dogs in the park are steamed).
Nothing goes better with a dog than an Old Style. The secret is the wax paper cup it is served in (I find Old Style actually tastes bad in a bottle). When the Old Style comes in contact with the wax paper, there is a magical chemical reaction which causes the beer to retain its head, stay cold, and taste phenomenally good. One must be forewarned: Old Style comes in 16 ounce cups, so be careful. Too many Old Styles can prevent you from seeing the game (even when staring straight at it), and may cause you to do strange things (please do not pee in peoples’ yards around the park; wait until you’re down in Lincoln Park). Additionally, if you’ve been drinking Old Style all day, I recommend avoiding the vodka lemonades. While they are good, I once left a game in the eighth inning thinking the game was over. Only when I saw the ninth inning on TV and asked someone why WGN was replaying the game did I realize my error (and the several other errors in judgment that preceded it). For those visiting the Cubs during Spring Training, HoHoKam does sell Old Style but bring your own wax paper cup as they serve theirs in clear plastic (amateurs).
“We’re livin’ old-style,
Old Style is here,
My friends are old-style
Old Style beer
“So have another Old Style,
all our friends are here,
We’re livin Old Style
Old Style beer”– Old Style Beer Polka by the Polkaholics
While Wrigley Field holds up to 39,000 fans, additional seating can be found on rooftops along Waveland and Sheffield. Over the years, these rooftop decks have become more sophisticated. They now offer packages, where $75 to $100 per person includes all the beer and food you can consume along with multilevel bleacher seating. Some of these rooftops are known for their advertising like the building that advertised Torco Dodge since I was a kid (now advertising Sears), and the one with the red Budweiser-painted roof (formerly Old Style). In 1993, Tom Browning was actually fined $500 for leaving the Cincinnati dugout during the Reds’ 4-3 win over the Cubs, and watching the rest of the game from one of these rooftops.
One of the buildings is owned by the Lakeview Baseball Club. This particular rooftop has the enigmatic “EAMUS CATULI” sign, meaning “Go Cubs” in Latin. Below it is what looks almost like a license plate number: “AC036199”. AC stands for “Anno Catuli” or “Year of our Cubs”, followed by two numbers standing for the number of years since the Cubs have been in the playoffs (2008), then the number of years since they were in the World Series (1945), and number of years since they’ve won a World Series (1908). An Australian friend of mine used to live in another of these buildings, on the corner of Waveland and Seminary. One day while shaving in his boxers, a home run hit by Sammy Sosa crashed through his window. As he picked it up, he glanced over at the TV only to see himself, half shaven, on TV with the ball in his hand. Fortunately, the ball was not hit by the opposition, as he would have had a difficult time throwing it back into the park.
Cooler by the Lake
Regarding the weather, take note: it is cooler by the lake. Dress warmly up until mid-June, especially if you are sitting on the third base side where you will be shaded by the sun; it can be up to 10 degrees cooler there than in the bleachers. One can often see their breath in April, which is before the ivy has even started to grow and the cold, unforgiving winds continue to blow off Lake Michigan until July. At these times, hot chocolate flows more than even Old Style.
For those of you crazy enough to drive to a Cubs game, expect to pay $7 to $20 for parking within two miles of the park. If you park in one of these private lots, don’t expect to get out right after the game as the likelihood is high that you will be boxed in by cars that parked after you. Expect to find street parking? The Cubs have a better chance of winning the World Series this year. All parking in the neighborhood is permit-only and you will be towed. Additionally, traffic gets incredibly snarled up due to drunken fans, cars driven by panicking suburbanites, buses from Iowa and Wisconsin, meandering CTA buses, and disturbed cab drivers (more insane on game days). My recommendation: take the El. Nothing will get you in and out faster, even if you arrive and leave hours before and after the game. Don’t have tickets? There are several ticket brokers on Addison, between the Addison Red Line El stop and Sheffield. There are also dozens of street scalpers. Although illegal, the cops generally look the other way – but be discreet to be on the safe side.
Since the park opened, the area around the field has become known as Wrigleyville. This area is a vibrant neighborhood with plenty of great restaurants, theaters, boutiques, and of course, bars. Following the game, Murphy’s Bleachers, Cubby Bear, Casey Moran’s, Bernie’s, and Sports Corner are usually packed, so try nearby Hi-Tops, Yak-Zies, the Piano Man, Slugger’s, Goose Island rigleyville, Bar Louie, or John Barleycorn’s Wrigleyville if you can’t get in. Bars in the area are not just sports bars, but also great live venues like Metro and the Underground Lounge, great neighborhood joints like Redmond’s and the Gingerman, and Irish pubs like the Irish Oak and Johnny O’Hagan’s.
Before you head out to the bars after the game, check out the Harry Caray memorial statue near the corner of Sheffield and Addison, just outside of the park. As much as Harry Caray drove me nuts for thirteen years as WGN’s Cubs color commentator, he truly is a Cubs legend and is greatly missed. Along with singing, “Take Me out to the Ballgame,” every seventh inning stretch and yelling “Holy Cow” after Cub home runs, I’ll always remember him for his thick, black-framed glasses, pronouncing players’ names backwards, complaining of being “thirsty” and getting people to buy him beers, commenting on what a “handsome ballplayer” so-and-so is, announcing every Tom, Dick and Harry from small town USA that attended the game, getting the guys from Nuts on Clark to send him munchies, commenting on bikini-clad fans that Arne Harris would single out in the stands, calling infield flies as “going way back,” and slurring through the second half of games.
Together with Harry, former Cy Young winner and former Cub, Steve Stone was and is the best play-by-play man the Cubs have ever had and one of the best of all time. Stoney deserves a medal for putting up with Harry’s inebriated antics and malapropisms in the booth. Together, Harry and Stoney comprised the best announcing team a Cubs fan could hope for. Sadly, while Harry passed away in 1998, Stoney returned as a television broadcaster for the Cubs in 2003 after a two year hiatus. As a result, the wholly uninsightful and horrifyingly bland banter of Chip Caray has even become palatable. Things were getting pretty bad indeed when we had to put up with both Chip and the pointless blathering of Joe Carter. Steve! Woo! Stone! Woo! [Editor’s note: after some constructive criticism was offered by Stoney following the collapse of the Cubs’ season in 2004, when they were swept by the last place Pirates and second-to-last place Reds to lose their shot at the wild card, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker both launched personal attacks on him and Stoney resigned. While Bob Brenly and Len Kasper are pretty good, all Cub fans can thank Hendry and Baker for driving Stoney out of town. Fortunately, Chip Caray also moved on as well, and now tortures Atlanta Braves fans.
Cub Fan, Bud Man
As for Harry, the original “Cub fan, Bud man,” I hope he’s enjoying a giant, ice-cold Budweiser in the sky. However, according to Ursula Bielski in her book More Chicago Haunts, some believe that Harry’s spirit has taken up residence in the Friendly Confines. These people point to the Cubs’ unlikely winning streak in 1998, the year after he died. If this is true, not even the heavenly spirit of Harry Caray could prevent the Cubs’ ultimate flop during the second half of the season. Bielski also points out that some ghost hunters have discovered a large degree of electromagnetic energy surrounding a spot in the bleachers across from the press booth where Harry provided color commentary all those years. Although some may view this as further evidence of Harry’s presence, others feel that it may be the spirit of musician Steve Goodman. Goodman is known for writing the Cubs’ unofficial anthem, “Go, Cubs, Go,” and “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” and his last request was that his ashes be buried at Wrigley Field – and they are, right under home plate.
The Curse of the Billy Goat
The Cubs haven’t been in the World Series since 1945, and haven’t won one since 1908. This is particularly unfortunate considering such recent playoff runs as 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, and 2007. While similar to the “Curse of the Bambino” endured by the Boston Red Sox because of selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees, the Cubs suffer from an even stronger “Curse of the Billy Goat.” The curse was placed on the Cubs in 1945 by William “Billy Goat” Sianis, then owner of the Lincoln Tavern, as part of a publicity stunt. Billy Goat was a Greek immigrant and went on to open the world famous Billy Goat Tavern. Sianis also happened to be a rabid Cubs fan and attempted to bring his goat, “Murphy,” into game four of the 1945 World Series against the Detroit Tigers. Murphy even had his own ticket and had successfully gotten into the Stadium earlier in the year to watch a Blackhawks game. As Sianis walked into Wrigley Field, the ushers prevented his entry, telling him no goats were allowed. When Billy Goat asked for an appeal directly to owner P.K. Wrigley, P.K. told them to allow Billy Goat in but not Murphy. When Billy Goat asked why, they said, “Because the goat smells.” In retaliation, Sianis cast a “goat curse” over the Cubs by saying, “Cubs, they not gonna win anymore.” Subsequently, the Tigers won the series and the Cubs have never been back (for more information on the Tigers’ connection with the curse click here). The Cubs’ loss prompted Billy Goat to send a telegram to P.K. Wrigley asking, “Who smells now?” Billy Goat supposedly lifted the curse in 1969, a year before he passed away, but the Cubs blew a nine game lead that year to the lowly Mets causing some to believe that the curse remains in place.
“You have to look at it this way,..P.K.Wrigley with all he had,..Didn’t have the wisdom to understand the ‘little guy’,…It would have took nothing to let the Goat in,.The effect on the field by the Goat’s presence would have not only spiked the sales of gum,..It might have put the crowd into the game in such a manner,. that it would have made a quantum difference,..It also,..might have shown a softer benevolence to his character,. This would have left him with the appearance of humanity,.. that obviously,..he did not have and is still paying for,. But in the face of eternity,.. his suffering will be short.. Even with the party atmosphere of the end of the war,.made it look like he could have been invited to that party,.. and be accepted,..His mightier than thou attitude,…and posture condemned him even to the most minuscule of kids on the block,. who couldn’t afford to get into the park,.and listened to the cheers from outside on Sheffield,..They opted for a Clark bar that week,.. ”– Pete Callas (September 27, 2003)
Pete is a longtime Chicagoan and artist now living in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Billy’s nephew, Sam Sianis, now owns the Billy Goat Tavern. To lift the “remnants” of the curse, Sam twice pulled up to Wrigley Field in 1972 and 1983 in a white limousine with a red carpet, a goat descended from Murphy, and a sign reading, “All is forgiven. Let me lead the Cubs to the pennant. Billy Goat.” Sam was denied entry by Cubs management on both occasions. The curse was then supposedly lifted in 1984, when Cubs management finally relented and Sam brought a goat named “Socrates” to opening day. The Cubs won the division, but lost to the Padres in the playoffs after leading the five game series 2-0. Leon Durham let a ball go through his legs, in very uncharacteristic fashion, just as Bill Buckner would do while playing for the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series against the lowly Mets (which the Red Sox blew). Sam again brought the goat to Wrigley in 1994 after the Cubs lost their first 12 home games. The Cubs won their next game, but the season was cut short due to the players’ strike. The goat made its last appearance in 1998, a year that saw the Cubs win a wild card berth in the playoffs but then lose to former Cub Greg Maddux and the Braves. Prior to the debacle with Bartman in 2003, many believed that because the Cubs would continue to show occasional promise but always lose in the end, the hex remains. There was even an Old Style television commercial in the late 1990’s, in which the stuffed goat head mounted above the bar in the Billy Goat Tavern offers to lift the curse if a patron gives him a sip of his Old Style. With Bartman’s interference with a foul ball that Moises Alou surely would have caught in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series against the Marlins, followed by a wild pitch from Mark Prior, and an egregious error by Alex Gonzalez, many now know that there is something to this curse business after all. The Cubs came within five outs of making the 2003 World Series, which the Marlins wound up winning against the Yankees.
- At the Jimmy Buffet concert in 2006
- The only game I saw at Wrigley in 2005
(which was one too many, that season…)
A Cross-Town Classic
After successfully procuring tickets to the second day of the Police concert in 2007 (only the second band to ever play at Wrigley Field, with Jimmy Buffet being the first), I invited a friend from out-of-town who is originally from the Chicago area. I’m not sure where he went wrong in life, but he is a White Sox fan. Since the concert started at 7:00pm, he suggested that we get tickets for the first game of the White Sox double-header. The “game was on,” as it were. We jumped on the Red Line to begin our own Cross-Town Classic. The White Sox wound up taking a drubbing at the hands of the Minnesota Twins. The final score: 20-14. It’s not often a team can score 14 runs and lose. Adding insult to injury, the Sox lost the second game 12-0. Go Sox! Sadly, they closed down the Bullpen Sports Bar early so they could clean it out before the second game of the double-header, which probably took some doing, considering the fan base… After jumping back on the Red Line, and a side-trip to Justin’s for nourishment, it was off to see the Police at Wrigley Field. I had heard grumbling from those that went to earlier concerts on the reunion tour that the band sounded rusty or outright bad. Their concert at Wrigley was fantastic. They played my favorite Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” even though Sting messed up the second chorus (the band quickly and smoothly recovered, which was great). Upon reflection, I realized that half the audience probably knows these songs better than the Police, as they haven’t played those songs for 20 years. Even the Miller Lite sign (that replaced the long running Torco sign) got into the spirit by displaying, “Every little sip you take is magic,” and Ronnie Woo-Woo was out front: “Go! Woo! Police! Woo!” On the other hand, I did have to take a bathroom break when “Roxanne” came on as it is my least favorite Police song. The Sox game and the Police Concert was an opportunity to go to both Comiskey and Wrigley Field on the same day; luckily no Sox fans did the same, for surely they would have tried to jump onto the stage to tackle Sting (after this happened during the second game of the Cub-Sox double-header a few years back, they do not schedule a game at each stadium on the same day anymore). What a great day it was. It prompted us also to consider who would play at Wrigley Field next year… a Smashing Pumpkins reunion, perhaps? Billy Corgan, I’m talking to you!
The Police at Wrigley Field on July 6, 2007
Wait Until Next Year
Even though the Cubs struggle year after year, curse or no curse, seeing games at Wrigley Field is one of the most best things you can do in the city. The ivy-covered outfield walls, lack of advertising signage, endless supply of Old Style, and close proximity to the action, all makes a day at Wrigley a day in urban paradise. Even seeing a bad game at Wrigley is still better than a good day at work. Wrigley Field is a place where baseball was meant to be played and where baseball itself continues to be the National Pastime. And since hope springs eternal, perhaps this will be the year for the Cubs as long as we never again see the likes of Goose Gossage, Mitch Williams, Felix Heredia, Jeff Fassero, or Randy Hundley. Otherwise, we’ll have to yet again wait until next year. For further information on the Cubs or Wrigley Field, check out the Chicago Cubs website or take a Virtual Tour. Eamus catuli!
“Wrigley Field is a Peter Pan of a ball park. It has never grown up and it has never grown old. Let the world race on — they’ll still be playing day baseball in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field, outfielders will still leap up against the vines and the Cubs … well, it’s the season of hope. This could be the Cubbies’ year.”
– E.M. Swift
The curse remains