SBJ/March 24-30, 2014/Wrigley Field at 100

Baseball is only part of Wrigley’s story

During its first 100 years of operation, Wrigley Field has played host to NFL and college football games, soccer, ice hockey, boxing, rodeo, the Harlem Globetrotters, the circus, opera, movie nights, rock concerts and even ski jumping.

“There’s so much more to it than just baseball,” said Cubs historian Ed Hartig. “My favorite still is in the 1940s, when they had a ski jumping event. The ski slope was in back of home plate.”

The ski jumping event occurred over two weekends in January 1944, according to SportsBusiness Journal research. The Norge Ski Club, a northwest suburban Chicago group dating to 1905, held two weekends of its annual ski jumping competition at the Cubs’ ballpark.

Ski jumping took place at Wrigley over two weekends in January 1944.
Photo by: Library of Congress
A variety of events was the goal from the start of the ballpark. Wrigley Field was designed by Chicago architect Zachary Taylor Davis as a multipurpose facility, Hartig said.

For more than 50 years, the Cubs shared Wrigley Field with the Chicago Bears. The old Decatur Staleys played one year in downstate Illinois before team owner and NFL co-founder George Halas moved the team to Chicago. They were renamed the Bears and played 51 seasons at Wrigley before moving to

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MLB writer Eric Fisher and facilities reporter Don Muret on Wrigley Field's first 100 years, what the park means to Chicago and what its future holds

Soldier Field in 1971.

All told, the Bears played 365 regular-season games at Wrigley, an NFL record for a venue that stood until 2003, when it was broken by old Giants Stadium, which was shared by the New York Jets and Giants. Of the Bears’ nine NFL titles, eight were won during their tenure at Wrigley, including the 1963 championship, their last at the ballpark.

During boxing’s golden years, Chicago was a mecca for the sport. Jake LaMotta, the “Raging Bull,” knocked out Bob Satterfield in the seventh round of a middleweight fight on Sept. 12, 1946, at Wrigley.

In 1943, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, founded by Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley to provide more entertainment options during World War II, had its tryouts at Wrigley. The league was profiled in the 1992 motion picture “A League of Their Own.”

The Cubs would bring in lights for the opera and would set up a stage production behind the pitcher’s mound, as
The first NFL Championship game featured the Bears and the Giants playing at Wrigley in 1933.
Photo by: Getty Images
well, Hartig said.

In the days before television, if Chicago residents wanted to know election results, they could head over to Wrigley Field. The Cubs would set up large tote boards to keep a running tally and would update them on the fly. “They had bands playing and sold food,” Hartig said.

After the Bears left Wrigley Field, there was a period of about 30 years when it was mostly baseball played at the ballpark. That has changed over the past 10 years, as more leagues and college conferences look to nontraditional venues for showcasing high-profile events, and as teams look for new ways to generate revenue.

One example is the NHL Winter Classic. On New Year’s Day 2009, the NHL staged its second Winter Classic outdoor game at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, a sold-out event that drew 40,818 frigid fans.

In November 2010, Northwestern played host to Illinois in Wrigley’s first college football game since DePaul University played there in 1938. Last-minute issues with tight field dimensions forced both teams to play offense in the same direction and use one end zone. Despite the quirky nature of the game, Northwestern signed a deal in 2013 to play five football games at Wrigley in the coming years, among other varsity sports.

The Cubs’ pending $300 million-plus ballpark renovation will resolve pinch points for football by shifting the field layout and making adjustments to the west end zone behind third base, “much like they had to do with Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl,” said Carl Rice, the Cubs’ vice president of stadium operations. “We’re fully anticipating to make it so we can have a regulation football game whenever we need to at the ballpark. Northwestern has first rights.”

After the initial agreement expires, the Cubs will look to renew their deal with Northwestern or find other schools to play football at Wrigley, Rice said. The Cubs also are interested in booking a college bowl game after the renovation is completed, he said.

In recent years, Wrigley Field has played host to a few concerts every summer when the Cubs are playing on the road. Since 2005, Jimmy Buffett, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, the Police, Pearl Jam, Elton John, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, the Dave Matthews Band, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean have all performed at the Friendly Confines. This summer, Billy Joel returns for a repeat performance. Under MLB’s revenue-sharing agreement, the Cubs do not have to share their portion of concert revenue with other clubs.

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Wrigley Field at 100, Facilities

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