Memories Wrigley evokes are special, but the old ballyard is the real star
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist April 22, 2014 11:16PM
Updated: June 24, 2014 6:14AM
When I think of Wrigley Field being 100 years old, a few things jump to mind.
First, bizarrely, there is Ronnie ‘‘Woo’’ Wickers. This must be because I was sitting in the left-field bleachers many years ago — like, 43 years ago — and there was this insane ‘‘Woo!’’ coming from some wandering dude after every Cubs player’s name he hollered.
‘‘Santo, woo!’’ ‘‘Beckert, woo!’’ ‘‘Hundley, Woo!’’
Stuck in there like a bat splinter.
Next, there’s the 2003 Bartman Game, a horror about which I will say no more.
Next is Ernie Banks, the player, and Billy Williams, the player. Ernie, the righty, would send his missiles out to Waveland Avenue and Billy, the lefty, out to Sheffield Avenue.
In those moments, I discerned everything that is wonderful and wacky about Wrigley Field.
A ballpark smack in the middle of a big-city neighborhood? With almost no parking around it? With apartment buildings everywhere whose windows break when Ernie and Billy (and, yes, Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt and other enemy hammers) attack them?
How cool is that?
In fact, the thing about Wrigley is that it’s not so much what the park is made of or what amenities it contains (which are so few as to make ‘‘spartan’’ sound luxurious); it’s what isn’t there. And those things are boundless: a dome, fancy seats, wide concourses, plush skyboxes, spacious locker rooms, modern food courts, authentic bullpens, escalators, space behind home plate, normal foul territory and anything resembling a JumboTron or 21st-century scoreboard.
But that’s the charm. That’s what’s unique. The world is modern; Wrigley isn’t. Every day that goes by and Wrigley stays old and tiny, the place becomes more special. I won’t mention the lack of World Series titles. That is special in its way, but so is a root canal every year for a century.
Wrigley started out seating only 14,000, and it’s still a compact place with a capacity of about 41,000. Of course, that’s not counting the rooftop folks across Waveland and Sheffield, those partiers in bleachers arrayed incongruously atop the flat apartment roofs like so many salmon ladders. Those fans watch the game from about 450 feet from home plate, and they also can view TV monitors as they drink their beers. Thus, they can have the surreal experience of watching a home-run ball grow larger as it comes toward them while also watching it grow smaller as it disappears from the park.
Naturally, great animosity has flared between the rooftop owners and the Cubs. Of course. The little ballpark itself is based on contradictions. It’s lovely, and it’s a dump. It’s the Friendly Confines, and it’s the graveyard of dreams.
Build a new park somewhere else, critics say, a nice one in the suburbs. But a new park with all the niceties would destroy the legacy of the franchise. It’s where the park is that’s as significant as what it is.
Last memory: On April 14, 1976, the Mets’ Dave Kingman took advantage of a spring gale blowing toward Canada and launched a ridiculous, towering homer against Cubs pitcher Tom Dettore that exited the park like a missile before finally descending and hitting the porch of the third house down Kenmore Avenue north of Waveland.
I seem to recall some hope flying out that day, too.