Posted: Friday June 17, 2011 11:07AM ; Updated: Friday June 17, 2011 1:11PM
Richard Rothschild
Richard Rothschild>SPORTS HISTORY

It's time to get rid of Wrigley

Story Highlights

Chicago's Wrigley Field has history, but 97-year-old park has seen better days

A new Wrigley could combine features of old park and include modern amenities

Cubs haven't been good lately and attendance at Wrigley this season is dwindling

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A new Wrigley Field could have all the best features of the old park, such as the hand-changed scoreboard and ivy-covered walls, and also be modern.
A new Wrigley Field could have all the best features of the old park, such as the hand-changed scoreboard and ivy-covered walls, and also be modern.
Stephen Green/SI

Babe Ruth and Peter Gammons share little in common beyond baseball and beginning their careers in Boston but, 79 years apart, the two came up with the same description of Wrigley Field: "A dump."

Ruth made his observation during the 1932 World Series, when the New York Yankees played at Wrigley for the first time. Gammons spoke last week in his role as an analyst for MLB Network.

As the Yankees prepare for an interleague series with the Cubs at Wrigley Field this weekend, a fan can ask if, from very different perspectives and very different eras, Ruth and Gammons were both right.

Maybe dump is a tad harsh, but the 97-year-old ballpark has seen better days --and decades.

As Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Morrissey noted this week, "There's still rust, the concourses still resemble dark alleys and people still have to elbow their way to their seats. ... It's a great park when you look at the field from your seat. It's not so great on the way to and from your seat."

Yes, it's time.

The Chicago Cubs should start seriously thinking about a new ballpark and prepare a fond farewell to Wrigley Field, their historic but cramped and crumbling home since 1916 (Wrigley opened as Weeghman Park in 1914 for the Chicago Whales of the Federal League).

The Ricketts family, owners of the Cubs, can study proposals for a state-of-the-art facility. The new Wrigley would combine distinct features of the old place, like the ivy-covered outfield walls and a hand-operated scoreboard, but add modern comforts, such as wider concourses, more leg room between seats, no poles to block views of the field and, hopefully, more parking.

It should also include a bigger clubhouse and weight room that will please future Cubs players and help attract potential free agents. Obviously, there would be more luxury suites, but that's the price of doing business in modern baseball.

Now before you threaten to toss me into Lake Michigan, I am far from the first to suggest a new ballpark for the Cubbies. Late last fall, after city and state officials turned down the team's request to use 35 years' worth of amusement tax increases to finance a $210 million renovation of Wrigley, online and print commentators in Chicago began advocating a different direction for the Cubs. Don't renovate Wrigley, they argued, especially if this would entail the sale of the dreaded personal seat licenses. Start from scratch and build a new ballpark.

Sure, it will be hard to say goodbye to an old friend. For nearly a century, the beloved North Side playground has served as an easy-on-the-eyes stage for 10 generations of fans to cheer and groan (mostly groan) as they followed the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the Cubs.

Not that there's been much to cheer. The Cubs haven't won a National League pennant since 1945. Their only World Series championships, in 1907 and '08, took place before Wrigley existed.

On those few occasions the Cubs have reached October, their play at home has been awful: a 7-20 postseason record at Wrigley.

There's plenty of history at Wrigley but much of it hurts. Instead of locating the seat where a historic home run landed, visitors point to where star-crossed fan Steve Bartman reached atop the wall during the fateful Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS.

It's hard to develop any kind of home-field advantage when your ballpark's nickname is "The Friendly Confines." Opposing teams enjoy playing at Wrigley, always have. It's not an intimidating arena -- at least not for baseball.

Football was another matter.

Through the 1960s, Wrigley Field was best known nationally for the Chicago Bears, a team whose demeanor was decidedly unfriendly. Unlike the Cubs, the Bears won. The Monsters of the Midway, led by stalwarts such as Bronco Nagurski, Bulldog Turner, Sid Luckman, Doug Atkins and Ed O'Bradovich, captured eight NFL championships as Wrigley residents before moving to Soldier Field in 1971.

As for baseball, during most of Wrigley's first seven decades it was just another old ballpark -- and not a popular one, particularly in the '50s, '60s, '70s and early '80s.

National League ball yards such as the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Crosley Field in Cincinnati, Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the Polo Grounds in New York and Ebbets Field in Brooklyn were older than Wrigley and provided better baseball.

Between 1953 and 1967 the Cubs failed to draw one million fans a season. The crosstown White Sox consistently outdrew the Cubs. In 1982 the Cubs finished 10th in National League attendance, averaging only 15,000 fans per game. By the mid-1980s, however, Wrigley had become a go-to destination for the nation's baseball fans,thanks to four developments.

 
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