Interview with Stuart Shea, author of Wrigley Field: The Long Life & Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines

Randy: There are many books out there about Wrigley Field. Why write another? Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write it?

Stuart: I first chose to write this book in 2002, at which point there was no serious book actually about the park or its neighborhood or concerning what Wrigley’s prolonged life means in the context of baseball and Chicago history. This fully updated second edition comes amid more competition, but is still doing something the others aren’t.

Randy: What were you hoping to achieve with your book, and do you think you succeeded?Wrigley-Field-Book-Cover

Stuart: I wanted to paint Wrigley Field and its neighborhood as constantly evolving entities with their own personalities. I also wanted to chart their growth in the context of the 20th century.

Randy: The book is packed with historical and anecdotal nuggets.  How long did it take you to research and write it?

Stuart: Once I decided to write the book, it took about 18 solid months of research and writing. The second edition took just about as long to do new research, follow up on old loose ends, and record what had happened from 2004 through today. University of Chicago Press, however, didn’t have nearly as much time as that to produce the book and had to perform miracles to get the book through its process and onto the shelves, for which I am very thankful.

Randy: What was the biggest surprise for you that came out of your research?

Stuart: Great question. I suppose the thing that surprised me most was how Wrigley Field—contrary to its reputation as some sort of museum piece that only now is being vandalized—has been constantly altered, refurbished, and re-imagined, all the way back to its first weekend as a working park in 1914.

Randy: After writing the book, do you see Wrigley differently? How do you think you’ll feel when you walk through the turnstile that first time this season?

Stuart: Oh, I always feel that when I walk into the park, I’m turning off the outside world. While the business of baseball often makes me uncomfortable, that feeling doesn’t destroy the love I have for the game.

Randy: The ivy covered walls and the hand-operated scoreboard are a big part of Wrigley Field’s identity and the nostalgia surrounding it. What was the critical reaction to them at the time that P.K. Wrigley made these renovations in 1937-1938?

Stuart: The universal feeling was that Wrigley Field was now the best-looking ballpark in the country, and that nothing could really compare to it. The design of the outfield alone raised writers of the time into near-ecstasy. And they were right—it was a completely mind-bending, forward-thinking design, one for which P.K. Wrigley, Bill Veeck Jr., and Otis Sheppard (Wrigley’s top designer) merit credit.

Randy: From reading your book, it becomes evident that Wrigley Field has been in a state of perpetual renovation.  What are your thoughts on the current renovation plans?

Stuart: I haven’t really digested the plans aesthetically or how they relate to my own private feelings about the park. I’m still too close to it all on a simply analytical, editorial level. Eventually I’ll probably feel sad about some of the changes.

Randy: What are your feelings about the rooftop owners? Do they have a right to their views inside the park?

Stuart: I find it problematic to give a few wealthy rooftop owners disproportionate power; that kind of poison is manifest in our electoral politics. But I also feel that Wrigley and the Cubs have for many years benefitted from the architecture, feel, and logistical benefits of the neighborhood, so some give and take is merited.

Randy: From where did the nickname The Friendly Confines derive? Is it a deserving moniker, given that in 100 years not one World Series has been won at Wrigley?

Stuart: The first documented use of the term is from 1922, when it was used to describe Ebbets Field. I’m told that Jack Brickhouse—who was my first conduit into baseball—began describing Wrigley that way in the 1950s. Maybe it’s especially friendly to opponents. I have always found it a thoroughly wonderful place to spend a day.

Randy: How much, if any, of the team’s futility can be blamed on Wrigley?

Stuart: I don’t buy the “day baseball wears the Cubs out” stuff. The Cubs didn’t win in 1969 not because of day baseball but because Leo Durocher didn’t know how to use his bench or his bullpen to rest his regulars. Every team has to play under the same conditions—isn’t it just as likely that teams coming into Wrigley have been freaked out by having to suddenly play during the day? I’ve seen no research that holds day baseball responsible for the team’s futility.

Randy: What’s on tap next for Stuart Shea? Is there another book in the works?

Stuart: I have completed a book on baseball broadcasting which focuses on how each MLB franchise has used radio, TV, and the internet. Some forward-thinking teams have used broadcasting (like Bill Wrigley and the Cubs did back in the 1920s and 1930s) to grow their franchises, while others have been well behind the curve on both innovation and using it to improve their financial position.

Please take a look at this book on Amazon: Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines


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