The History Behind Wrigley Field

A panoramic photo of the first year at Wrigley Field – originally named Weeghman Park – in 1914
photo via Chicagology (Twitter)

Wrigley Field is one of the oldest and most historic and iconic Major League ballparks in the country. With historic moments like Babe Ruth’s “called shot” to the first night game in 1988, I’m going to cover some of the history of Wrigley Field.


Different Name, Same Place

Built in 1914, Wrigley Field (originally named Weeghman Park) is the second oldest ballpark in America. Boston’s Fenway Park was built in 1912.

Weeghman Park was the home of Chicago’s entry to the Federal League. The club was known as both the Federals and the Whales.

The stadium was designed by brothers Zachary Taylor Davis and Charles G. Davis. The steel and concrete structure was built in 1914 on the site of a former seminary at the corner of Addison and Clark streets on the north side of Chicago. It reportedly cost $250,000 and took two months to complete. The single-deck stadium was named Weeghman Park, after its owner, Charles Weeghman, and had a seating capacity of 14,000.

The park hosted its first major-league baseball game on April 23, 1914, with the Federals (of the Federal League) defeating the Kansas City Packers. The league folded in 1915, and Weeghman led a group that purchased the Cubs, and the team made their Weeghman Park debut on April 20, 1916.

Four years later, William Wrigley, Jr. bought the Cubs and renamed the stadium Cubs Park. In 1926, the current name, Wrigley Field, was adopted. The team and stadium were later bought (1981) by the Tribune Company.

Throughout much of its history, the stadium was renovated. The first being just days after the opening game in 1914: the outfield walls were moved back to decrease the number of home runs hit. More notably, in 1927 – 28, an upper deck was added. In 1937-38, the firm of Holabird & Root created a boomerang-shaped bleacher section. With the latter renovations, there were two features that became iconic and well-known: a hand-operated scoreboard (which is still used to the day) and the ivy on the outfield brick walls. Additionally, the stadium’s Art Deco marquee, located outside the home-plate entrance, was added in 1934. Originally green in color, it was painted the iconic red in 1965.

Meet Me at the Marquee

The great big red sign that greets fans at the corner of Addison and Clark. The marquee hasn’t always been a part of Wrigley’s entire history. It’s only been part of the Wrigley Field makeup for 86 seasons.

Commissioned by the Federal Sign Company of Chicago and installed in 1934, the marquee’s initial purpose was advertising. The Cubs relied on day-of-game ticket sales and used the marquee to promote that day’s game.

The marquee, at first colored fern green, originally read, “Wrigley Field, Home of the Cubs,” and featured the same cascading soft curved lines still seen today.

Although the elegant marquee at the main entrance makes sense, the sign did not fit the corner of Clark and Addison in 1934. A coal yard sat across Clark Street, sending smoke and dust in the air. Train tracks were also across from the ballpark, making the area surrounding Wrigley Field’s main entrance anything but distinguished.

The intersection was loud with pedestrian traffic, automobile traffic, and trains. There needed to be something because it was the main entrance to the ballpark, but putting something so beautiful was a surprising choice.

The marquee was painted dark blue for a couple years after its installation, and by 1939, “the” was swapped for “Chicago” and the marquee’s message has since read the same; except in the autumns through 1970, when Chicago’s NFL team called Wrigley home and “Cubs” was swapped for “Bears.”

The marquee received its now familiar red paint in the mid-1960’s. and it has seen other changes throughout the years. The electronic message board was added in the early 1980s, the Budweiser logo appeared beneath it for a few season in the late 80s, and other banners have surrounded it over the past few years. It has also read “National League champions” following the Cubs’ pennant-winning seasons; and for about a week in 2010, it was painted purple when Northwestern hosted a football game at Wrigley Field.

At its core, the marquee has remained nearly constant. As the corner of Clark and Addison grew from industrial to modern and the area around the ballpark evolved, the marquee became a more alluring piece of Wrigley Field. It’s one of the most memorable parts of an arena in American sports. Amid the thousands of fans bustling around the ballpark before a game, the must-have picture at Wrigley Field is in front of the marquee. Whether it’s before an afternoon matinee or a blustery, winter day in January, there are fans posing in front of the sign.

It’s something that’s uniquely identifiable to Wrigley Field. A lot of the ballpark has been changed, but the marquee – despite having minor changes and modifications – is the same marquee that has always been there. It’s part of the fabric of being a Cub fan.

“Fly The W”

The W flag flying over the old scoreboard after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series.

One of my favorite stories around Wrigley is the story of the “W” Flag.

When the Cubs win a game, the main sight around the ballpark, and the neighborhood, is a storm of white flags with a plain blue “W” on it. Of course, the flag flying is accompanied by a loud chorus of “Go Cubs Go,” the Cubs’ victory song.

The origin of the “W” Flag has simple roots, becoming a staple in the late 1930’s. Beginning between 1937 and 1938, a flag bearing the “W” would be raised over the scoreboard following a Cubs win. On the other hand, if the Cubs lost, a flag with the letter “L” would fly.

It began as a way for Wrigley Field staff to let Chicagoans know the result of that day’s game, whether they were passing by the stadium on foot or traveling on the El, the public transit train whose tracks run just a block from the ballpark. Before the current technologies like the internet, social media, or the radio, the raised flag was the public’s way of knowing how the Cubs fared that day. Right after the game, one of the flags fly above the center field scoreboard. The next morning, the flag is taken down during morning commute hours.

Much like the marquee, the “W” Flag has become a central symbol for Cubs fans. It’s still used in the traditional sense – flown over the center field scoreboard, on cars or front porches of Cubs fans after a win – but has transcended its original meaning to become an insignia of the Chicago Cubs fandom.

Lights on for the First Night Game

8/8/88. The day the lights came on at Wrigley for the first ever night game.

If you’ve seen Field of Dreams, you may remember the conversation Ray and Shoeless Joe have when Joe first visits the field and asks about the lights. Joe says the lights make it harder to see the ball. Ray responds with “Well, the owners found that more people can attend night games.”

In 1942, then-owner Phillip K. Wrigley had planned to install lights, but instead, the lights and stands were scrapped for World War II efforts. In the late 80’s, however, Cubs management insisted that the team was in danger of leaving if lights weren’t installed, and MLB threatened to make the Cubs play any “home” games at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

After 5, 687 consecutive day games played by the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the lights were finally lit on August 8, 1988, for a game with the Philadelphia Phillies. The game was rained out after 3 1/2 innings, and the first official night game took place the following night against the New York Mets – which the Cubs won 6-4.

The AAGPBL’s first All-Star game during the 1943 midseason was played under temporary lights at Wrigley Field. It was also the first night game ever played in the historic ballpark.

Hand-Operated Scoreboard

Along with Fenway’s scoreboard and Minute Maid Park and Oracle Park’s out of town scoreboards, Wrigley is one of the last parks to maintain a hand-turned scoreboard. Unlike Fenway, the scoreboard at Wrigley is mounted above the center field bleachers, rather than at ground level – making it harder to hit during play. No players have hit the current scoreboard, though at least three have come close.

The scoreboard was installed in 1937, when Bill Veeck installed the new bleachers. The scoreboard has remained there since, and has faced minor modifications. The clock was added in 1941, a fifth row of scores was added to each side in 1961, and a sixth by 1969. A set of light stands facing onto the scoreboard was added in 1988 with the introduction of night games.

The scoreboard is still manually operated, with scores coming in through a computer; a number turner watches the score changes closely and updates scores by manually replacing the numbers from within the scoreboard. The scoreboard is made of sheet steel. The numbers that are placed into the inning windows are also steel, painted the same forest green with white numbers. The box for the game played at Wrigley uses yellow numbers for the current inning.

The clock, which sits center atop the scoreboard, has never lost time in its 79-year existence. Above the clock are three flagpoles, one for each division in the National League. There are 15 flags, one for each of the National League teams, and their order on the flagpoles reflects the current standings.

To this date, there is a third-generation scoreboard operator whose grandfather began working in the hand-turned scoreboard at its creation.

Hoist the Flags

If you’ve taken a trip to Wrigley lately, you may notice a number of flags flying around the stadium; and not just the ones on the scoreboard. From foul poles to the rooftop, each flag has meaning behind it.

On the foul poles are retired uniform numbers. On the left foul pole is 14 for Ernie Banks, 10 for Ron Santo, and 31 for Fergie Jenkins. The right foul pole hosts 26 for Billy Williams, 23 for Ryne Sandberg, and 31 for Greg Maddux. The Cubs also honor Jackie Robinson by flying a flag with the number 42 on it – Robinson’s uniform number. This flag stands out among the rest because it doesn’t have the Cubs’ signature pinstripes.

Along the upper deck roof, there are even more flags, with the flags on the different sides of the roof having different significance. On the left-field side, the flags represent playoff (NLDS/NLCS) appearances, as well as all World Series Appearances. On the right field side, player achievements are memorialized. Included are Kerry Wood’s 20K game on May 6, 1998, Sammy Sosa’s 66 home runs in 1998, Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI in 1930, and Andre Dawson’s 8 All-Star Game appearances from 1987-1992.

Bricks and Ivy

The ivy grows thick and green in center field.

In the first few weeks of the season, the ivy hasn’t leafed out – so all that’s visible are the vines against the bricks. As the season progresses, the ivy begins to come in thick and green, covering the hard brick surface of the wall. In the autumn, and into the post-season, the ivy turns red.

In 1937, the stadium was renovated and P.K. Wrigley discussed beautification with then Cubs president William Veeck Sr. Veeck suggested planting ivy on the outfield walls. The ivy was originally English Ivy, but was later changed to Boston Ivy or Japanese Bittersweet; it can endure the harsh Chicago winters better than its English counterpart.

Following a later change to MLB rules which require all outfield walls to be padded, Wrigley has been “grandfathered” into the rules, meaning it is the only MLB stadium without padded walls – due to the ivy. In 2004, the ivy was included in Wrigley Field’s Landmark Designation by the Chicago City Council. Though the ivy appears to “pad” the bricks, it is of little practical use in the way. There have been occasions of fielders hurting themselves while running down a fly ball and crashing into the wall.

Under the ground rules of Wrigley Field, if a ball gets hit into the ivy and gets stuck, the batter is awarded a ground rule double. Outfielders will raise their arms up when the ball goes into the ivy to signal to an umpire to rule on the play. However, if the ball becomes dislodged or the player reaches into the ivy to try and retrieve it, the ball is still considered live and the runners can advance.

1932 World Series – “The Shot”

One of the most known things around Ruth is his “called shot” in the 1932 World Series, when the Yankees played the Chicago Cubs. It was Game 3, and it was a roller coaster of a game. Ruth hit a three-run home run off Charlie Root in the the first inning, but the Cubs tied the score 4-4 in the fourth inning – partly due to a fielding error by Ruth in the outfield. When Ruth stepped to the plate in the fifth inning, he was heckled by many crowd members, as well as players. Ruth’s count came to two balls and one strike. Ruth gestured in the general area of center field, and after the next pitch (which was a strike), may have pointed there with one hand. Ruth hit the fifth pitch of his at-bat over the center field fence. Whether Ruth meant to show where he planned to (and did) hit the ball, this went down in the history books as Babe Ruth’s called shot.

Billy Goat Curse

Actor and Chicago native Bill Murray at the 2016 NLDS

The Cubs and the Billy Goat Curse. It’s a curse that was (supposedly) placed on the Chicago Cubs in 1945, by Billy Goat Tavern owner William Sianis. The curse lasted 71 years, from 1945 to 2016.

Because the odor of his pet goat, Murphy, was bothering other fans, Sianis was asked to leave Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series. Outraged, Sianis allegedly declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.” It was interpreted as the Cubs would never win another NL pennant, at least for the remainder of Sianis’s life.

The Cubs went on to lose the 1945 World Series to the Detroit Tigers, and did not win a World Series again until 2016. The Cubs had last won the World Series in 1908. After the incident with Sianis in 1945, the Cubs didn’t play in the World Series for 71 years until, on the 46th anniversary of William Sianis’s death, the curse was broken. The Cubs had defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in Game 6 of the 2016 National League Championship Series to win the NL pennant. The Cubs would then go to defeat the AL champion Cleveland Indians 8-7 in 10 innings in Game 7 to win the 2016 World Series, 108 years after their last win.


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