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Baseball only part of the story at Wrigley Field

Updated: June 24, 2014 6:14AM

Ed Hartig doesn’t hesitate picking the event he would have loved to see most at Wrigley Field, and it has nothing to do with baseball.

“I would have loved to have seen the ski jumping,’’ the Cubs historian said of the novel event held by the Norge Ski Club of Fox River Grove in 1944. “It was on again, off again so many times because ice was considered a wartime essential.

“Because travel was difficult, they thought holding it in the city would be more convenient. They trucked in the ice and held the event on consecutive weekends.”

If anything describes the uniqueness of Wrigley as it turns 100, surely that event does.

But so much about Wrigley is and remains unique, not only in sports, but in the history of the nation.

Baseball at every level — and by both genders — has been played at Clark and Addison through the decades. But so has football, both professional and collegiate.

And soccer.

And track and field.

And lacrosse.

And ice hockey.

And boxing.

And basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters.

And wrestling.

And, yes, ski jumping.

There’s more:

◆ Concerts have been staged there, and not just the rock concerts of recent years. Operatic concerts used to be held after games.

◆ Movies have been filmed there, with the park itself as much a star as the actors.

◆ Military drill shows raised funds for World War I.

◆ Fourth of July fireworks displays used to be annual.

◆ Rallies for political candidate were staged. In pre-radio and TV days, the park displayed giant tote boards giving election results.

◆ Rodeos, including some starring Duncan Renaldo of “The Cisco Kid,” were held.

◆ And circuses.

Still, sports have been the centerpiece of the park, which was built to be the home of the Chicago Federals of the Federal League, run by restaurateur Charles Weeghman.

The Chicago National League Ball Club didn’t move in until 1916, and though baseball has been its centerpiece, each major sport has penned a chapter at Wrigley.

“Three professional football teams played here. The Tigers in 1920 of the American Professional Football League were first,” Hartig said. “The Bears played here from 1921 to 1970.

“And the Chicago Cardinals [who long called old Comiskey Park home] were here from 1931 to ’39.

“College football played here before Northwestern and Illinois played in 2010. Loyola and DePaul played games here — and DePaul was the last college team to play football here in 1938.’’

Daytime was the only time games were played for almost 75 years, except for an All-American Girls Professional Baseball League All-Star Game on July 1, 1943. Temporary lights were used as a benefit for the Women’s Army Corps.

In fact, World War II was the reason it took another 45 years for lights to return.

Bill Veeck — then a junior executive with the Cubs — had convinced a reluctant P.K. Wrigley to invest in lights, and they arrived in late November 1941. But as the lights were being assembled, the nation entered the war Dec. 7.

On Dec. 8, Wrigley donated the lights to the War Department.

For a time, the Cubs thought they would rent Comiskey Park to play some night games during the war, Hartig said.

“There was a limit of seven night games for teams, but commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis said the Sox would have to subtract a game of theirs for every Cubs game. So the deal was off,” Hartig said.

Playing only day baseball never bothered the player who became Wrigley Field’s favorite son.

Ernie Banks not only became Mr. Cub, he gave his beloved park its second name — the Friendly Confines.

“Every player that came to Chicago, they all thought they would be playing in the World Series,” he said on March 31, 2008, when he became the first player to have a statue of himself erected outside Wrigley Field (broadcaster Harry Caray was the first immortalized with a statue). “I always thought to myself, ‘I’m here at Wrigley Field, playing day games for the best fans in the world,’ and I was satisfied.

“One owner, P.K. Wrigley. One park, Wrigley Field. And I played all my home games under one light, God’s light.”

Hartig, 49, is a South Side native raised in a family of Sox fans. But like many of his generation, he became a Cubs fan through WGN TV.

“My mom would make me lunch, and I’d watch games on the color television in the basement,” he said.

Hartig is a professional statistician, but the history buff in him relishes Wrigley’s monumental events — such as Jackie Robinson’s debut May 18, 1947, drawing 46,572, still the largest paid crowd in the park’s history.

The baseball fan in him thinks about the two games he would have wanted to see in person.

“The first would be Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’, ” he said of the ninth-inning, game-winning homer by the Cubs catcher off the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Mace Brown on Sept. 28, 1938. “That had playoff implications and Hall of Fame players.

“The other would be Kerry Wood’s 20 strikeout game on May 6, 1998, against the Houston Astros. Wood made grown men look like boys that day. I saw Milt Pappas’ no hitter [Sept. 2, 1972], but Wood was incredible that day.

“When I went to Fenway Park [which is two years older than Wrigley], I saw it as history. I don’t see [Wrigley] as history per se.

“I look at center field, and I can tell you where Hack Wilson played. I can point to where Ernie Banks played shortstop. I can point to where Jackie Robinson played first base. There’s no other park that exists now that Jackie Robinson played in.’’

And it continues into a second century.


Twitter: @toniginnetti

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