Bleacher bungling

The story of Wrigley Field’s bleachers has long been romanticized. Heck, the Cubs owner Tom Ricketts met his wife Cecilia in those bleachers. How much more romantic can you get?
Which makes it seem all the more tragic when Cubs’ executives break the news to their fan base – at the team’s annual winter convention of all places – that there would be no bleachers on Opening Day this season, that they would be under construction until May 11 at the earliest.

That’s at least 15 home games during which no fans will be rooting for the home team from the bleachers. There will be no one there to throw back the opponents’ home run balls. There will be no competing chants of “Right field sucks” versus “Left field sucks.” There will be no place for the old “Bleacher Bums” like Jerry Pritikin (aka the Bleacher Preacher) and Ronnie “Woo Woo” Wickers. There will be no life in the bleacher sections. Just a new video board in the left field bleachers, which, Cubs officials tell us, will be operational by the start of the season.

For all the right moves the Cubs have made in the offseason this seems like a major misstep. Just last season, the Cubs celebrated Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday. They called it “The Party of the Century.” Well, the party’s over. A ballpark that changed little in a century is starting its second century with a long overdue makeover. One major miscalculation: When the Cubs signed off on the bleacher demolition, they apparently didn’t consider that winters in Chicago can get rather cold, making it impossible to do the needed rebuilding work. Now the baseball world will watch a nationally televised Cardinals-Cubs season opener April 5 with an empty bleacher seating area.

“I can’t think of another time in which there were no outfield seats,” said Stuart Shea, author of Wrigley Field: The Long Life and Contentious Times of the Friendly Confines. “They purposely did the 1937 rebuild around a road trip. It’s kind of ridiculous to think that it will take more than an entire off-season to do this rebuild. The whole park was put up in just part of a nasty Chicago winter in early 1914.”

Some of the changes are no doubt needed. Parts of the Friendly Confines are crumbling or simply outdated and inadequate for a modern professional baseball team. Other changes are about nothing but money – and those are the ones that the purists have trouble digesting.
“What is especially amazing is that anyone transported from 1914 to the present day would recognize Wrigley,” Shea wrote in his Wrigley Field biography.

Will that be true when the current modernization of Wrigley Field is complete? Perhaps that time traveler would be scratching his head at some of the alterations to it. But he would still see the basic shape of the ballpark as it existed at that very same spot back in 1914. It’s not as if this is the first time that Wrigley Field has been forced to change with the times. Remember: it wasn’t until 1988 that The Friendly Confines came out of the dark and added lights. Many of the traditionalists grumbled then but it’s hard to imagine today the Cubs not playing night games at their home ballpark. One day in the future it will likely be just has hard to imagine Wrigley Field without a Jumbotron.

There seems but one certainty to come of this. Cubs’ fans will easily forgive and forget if one day they can see three words on that Jumbotron that have never been associated with Wrigley Field: World Series Champions!

Photo: “W”. Cue Steve Goodman! / BluEyedA73 / CC BY 2.0 / Alteration: cropped