It’s time for fans to recognize that Wrigley Field really IS a dump
RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com June 13, 2011 9:46PM
The deadline for striking a deal between the Chicago Cubs and the city for $300 million in Wrigley Field renovations was Monday, but a spokesman said late Monday that talks would continue Tuesday. | File photo
Updated: September 21, 2011 12:34AM
It was an interesting word choice. A “dump” is what MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons called Wrigley Field last week.
The description seemed vaguely familiar. Maybe it seemed vaguely familiar because of the scorch marks I still have from using that very word to describe the ballpark.
This was how I started a column on July 23, 2004, seven years and one newspaper ago:
“Wrigley Field is a dump. It’s a dump with great views, lots of liquid refreshment and sporadic professional baseball, but it’s still a dump.’’
Those words were written after chunks of concrete had fallen from underneath the upper deck and mezzanine levels at the park, but as I pointed out, it was a dump well before that. And even after the Cubs put up netting to keep the concrete in place, making it look like the rigging of a pirate ship, it was still a dump.
The reaction resembled a flamethrower. Wrigley was a shrine, Wrigley was a cathedral and Morrissey was a jerk. All of that might have been true. But none of it could change the fact that Wrigley was a cathedral masquerading as a dump. There were narrow concourses, rust and odors that hinted of things better left unconsidered.
Seven years later, not much has changed. The netting is still there. It’s a cleaner ballpark than it was in 2004. The bathrooms are nicer than they used to be, or, in the case of the men’s room, as nice as troughs can be. But there’s still rust, the concourses still resemble dark alleys and people still have to elbow their way to their seats.
A few coats of paint can’t change any of that.
Fans are catching on
Oh, there’s at least one big change: Public opinion seems to be shifting. More people appear to be coming around to the idea that Wrigley is a crumbling mausoleum where baseball dreams go to die. Go online to some of the message boards about the Cubs, and you’ll see a healthy discussion about the 97-year-old ballpark. There’s as much talk about uncomfortable seats and tight quarters as there is about fond memories.
Season after season of disappointment have opened fans’ eyes to the emperor’s buck nakedness. No one can be sure exactly when the epiphany arrived, but it might have started in 2003, when the Cubs were five outs away from going to the World Series and — stop me if you’ve heard this — fell apart.
Anger began replacing cheery acceptance. Fans started slathering themselves in high expectations rather than suntan lotion. And what had been considered a graceful building began to be viewed more soberly, despite the heavy intake of booze.
The best thing about Wrigley is the ivy on the outfield walls and the hand-operated scoreboard towering over center field. You can have the rest of it. It’s a great park when you’re looking at the field from your seat. It’s not so great on the way to and from your seat.
Gammons turns on spotlight
That Gammons is saying it now has grabbed the attention of a lot of people, including White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who has taken great pleasure over the years in ripping the park’s small clubhouses and tweaking Cubs fans while he was at it.
Gammons wasn’t necessarily speaking for Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts, but what he said is something any reasonable owner would be thinking. Publicly, a reasonable owner would say Wrigley is a charming ballpark in need of loving renovations. Privately, you might hear a reasonable owner utter the word “dump” now and then.
“Obviously, we love Wrigley Field,’’ general manager Jim Hendry said Monday before the Cubs faced the Brewers. “Nobody wants the field to be any different, or the ambiance of the great atmosphere here.
“But I don’t think it’s any secret the plans that Tom and his family have to enlighten the facilities and make it better for fans, but also make it better for the players and more productive for the players. I think that’s going to be taken care of the next few years.’’
The Ricketts family didn’t get many favors from the previous owners, who put about as much effort into keeping up Wrigley as they did into keeping up Stonehenge. There is plenty of work to be done and revenue streams to be explored.
But that’s all secondary now.
The Cubs have bigger problems on the field, though Hendry said Monday he sees a bright future for the team. People aren’t buying it. The attendance has been shrinking, a stunning development at a place used to sellouts. The team’s fan base has become much more demanding. No matter how uncomfortable the seats at Wrigley might be, the lack of a winning product is a bigger burr in fans’ saddle.
Wrigley Field is a dump. The baseball played on it is an eyesore. The latter is the real shame.