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100 Years of Wrigley Field: A Love-Hate Relationship

Felipe Melecio thinks it’s time to let Wrigley Field go and build a new stadium for the Chicago Cubs.

wrigley field
wrigley field

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Birthday, Wrigley Field

One of the perks of being a Chicago Cubs’ fan is that your favorite team plays in what could be the best ballpark in America. The stadium is full of charm and nostalgia as generations of Cubs’ fans and numerous eras of Cubs’ baseball can be felt all over the park. The ballpark is full of iconic images and symbols from the slow infield grass, to the outfield wall covered in ivy — and the manually operated scoreboard.

The flags that sit atop the scoreboard not only act as a modified windsock, but also as an indicator of what to expect from the upcoming ballgame. Before advanced statistics came up with predictive metrics, the flags would inform the fans the type of baseball game to expect that day: if the flags were wavering inward towards the field of play, fans were prepared to watch a pitching duel; if the flags were being blown in the opposite direction, it would be a high-scoring affair. A good example of the latter occurring was way back in 1979, when the Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies engaged in one of the craziest games in the history of Major League Baseball. The Phillies would end up winning that game, 23-22.

There’s many other things to like about the Cubs and Wrigley Field, but being a Cubs’ fan is not all fun and games (and beer). Matter of fact, the worst thing about being a Cubs’ fan might actually be Wrigley Field itself. Is this borderline blasphemy? Well, to accuse me of such a thing would have one assume that baseball is a religion. Baseball is many things, but a religion it is not and Wrigley Field is not one of its cathedrals. It’s just a stadium where the team plays out its scheduled games. So let’s get that out of the way.

Oh, but how can you say that? Wrigley is such a beautiful ballpark! It’s a true treasure!

True, but just like humans, beauty eventually begins to fade and one can’t help but seek substance. At this point, Wrigley is one of the dirtiest ballparks in the majors and the facilities used by players are also subpar. Upon walking into Wrigley, the first thing you will notice is that it smells like beer, urine, and vomit (many other fellow Cubs’ fans have agreed with me on this). They can scrub and clean all they want, but that musk won’t ever go away, just like the team’s reputation for losing. It’s part of the Wrigley experience. Also a rite of passage at the old park is the men’s restrooms which still uses the trough system as opposed to individual urinals; the kind you see at modern sports stadiums — venues like U.S. Cellular Field. But we’re not here to compare the more state-of-the-art, but equally charming Chicago White Sox ballpark with the vintage Wrigley. However, all of these examples truly show Wrigley’s age, all 100 years of its existence, as a decaying structure, not as a venue that has withstood the test of time.

But what about the history, the tradition that the Cubs have had at Wrigley Field?

What history or tradition? Only the entity that is the Chicago Cubs can make it ok to be “lovable losers.” This is the only team in Major League Baseball where wins and losses don’t matter because the Cubs play at Wrigley Field. In the 100 years of Wrigley’s existence, the Cubs have brought home a total of zero championships. Zilch … nada … nothing! Yet people talk about Wrigley Field as if it were the Midwest’s version of Yankee Stadium. This isn’t a field of dreams, but a shop of horrors. We don’t have a Monument Park, but we have monuments to our obscure past. A past that involves goats, black cats, priests, fans that can’t catch foul balls, dopey songs, and plenty of likable, but highly replaceable players.

The object of sports, especially American sports, is to win. This isn’t Europe: we don’t do ties unless it’s part of our company’s dress code. Anything outside of winning and losing is just a byproduct of a team’s performance. And it’s safe to say, for the most part, the Cubs’ performance at Wrigley Field has absolutely been dreadful for about a century.

Why are you such a party-pooper?

Don’t get me wrong, I still get goosebumps every time I go to the old ballpark. I still feel this surge of nostalgia and peacefulness when I watch a game there; call it “Baseball Nirvana” (ok, so maybe baseball is not a religion, but it sure can be a spiritual experience). I was in my early 20s when I finally saw Wrigley. Not talking about attending a game, but just literally seeing the structure from the outside. I almost began to cry as I was overcome with joy and emotion. When I finally did attend a game the following year, I was grinning from ear to ear the entire night. I felt right at home as if I was visiting an old friend and we were catching up on lost time.

But as precious as those happy moments can be, Wrigley can sure be a cruel friend. Since becoming a fan of the team in the early 1990s, the Cubs have won only two playoff games at Wrigley and have accumulated eight losses. Their last home playoff win was back in 2003. During Game Six of the National League Championship Series against the then Florida Marlins, I felt what true heartbreak felt like as the Cubs blew their chance to advance to the World Series. That night, something inside me had decided to leave my being and told me that it wasn’t coming back until I started making some major changes in my life. Whatever that thing was, it has yet to come back.

The last World Series that Wrigley hosted was way back in 1945. It was Game Seven of the World Series between the Cubs and the Tigers. Usually the home team has the advantage in these scenarios. But not the Cubs. They went on to lose 9-3.

So here’s to 100 years of mixed results and feelings. Here’s to a long past. And here’s to the end of a chapter in Cubs’ baseball. As Theo Epstein and company (THEOlogy?) attempt to build a winner the “right way” and lead the organization towards a bright future, I’m ready to move on and leave the past behind me. However long Wrigley has left on this Earth, may that time bring us better results than the first 100 years of its bittersweet existence.

If anything, there’s always the Chicago White Sox and U.S. Cellular Field.

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