Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
Opening day is time to reflect on historic baseball milestones at Wrigley
Whether you bleed blue and red for the Cubs or are a White Sox fan all the way, there is no denying the fact that Wrigley Field has been iconic piece of Chicago history for the past 100 years. Built in 1914, Wrigley Field – originally named Weeghman Park – is the second oldest professional baseball field in the country following only Fenway Park in Boston.
The park was built to the tune of $250,000 and originally seated 14,000 fans who would visit to root for the park’s first team, the Chicago Federals (or Chicago Whales). In 1915, after the Federals dissolved as a team, Weeghman bought the Chicago Cubs, which he sold to William Wrigley Jr., along with the park itself, in 1920. According to Sports Traveler Chicago by Anbritt Stengele with Lydia Rypcinski.
Besides the giant, red scoreboard outside the stadium, which was installed in 1937, Wrigley is perhaps best known for its ivy-covered outfield walls. Planting the ivy, the work of former Major League Baseball franchise owner Bill Veeck Jr., was the idea of former Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley as part of a bleacher beautification project, also in 1937.
A number of memorable baseball moments have taken place in Chicago’s oldest ballpark, including these highlighted memories.
Babe Ruth’s “called shot”
As far as iconic moments in history go, Babe Ruth’s “called shot” is one of the most famous. The day was October 1 and Game 3 of the 1932 World Series and there was a considerable amount of heckling between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs. In the fifth inning, Ruth got up to bat with one out, no men on base. Journalist Westbrook Pegler described the Babe’s infamous at bat in a column published in the Chicago Daily Tribune on October 2, the day following the game:
Guy Bush, the Cubs’ pitcher, was up on top of the dugout, jawing back at him [Ruth] as he took his turn at bat this time. Bush pushed back his big ears, funneled his hands to his mouth, and yelled raspingly at the great man to upset him. The Babe laughed derisively and gestured at him, “Wait, mugg; I’m going to hit one out of the yard.” Root threw a strike past him and he held up a finger to Bush, whose ears flapped excitedly as he renewed his insults. Another strike passed him and Bush crawled almost out of the hole to extend his remarks.
The Babe held up two fingers this time. Root wasted two balls and the Babe put up two fingers on his other hand. Then, with a warning gesture of his hand to Bush, he sent him the signal for the customers to see.
“Now,” it said, “this is the one. Look!” And that one went riding in the longest home run ever hit in the park.
He licked the Chicago ball club, but he left the people laughing when he said good-by, and it was a privilege to be present because it is not likely that the scene will ever be repeated in all its elements. Many a hitter may make two home runs, or possibly three in world series play in years to come, but not the way Babe Ruth hit these two. Nor will you ever see an artist call his shot before hitting one of the longest drives ever made on the grounds, in a world series game, laughing and mocking the enemy with two strikes gone.
Today, there is some controversy over whether Ruth’s gesture was actually him calling his shot – some say he was pointing at Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher, while others argue it was a gesture made at the Cubs bench – and the pictures and footage that exist from the game can’t confirm that actual direction. Even still, the legend of the “called shot” remains alive and well.
Gabby Harnett’s “Homer at the Gloamin’”
On September 28, 1938, Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett hit one of the most well-known walk-off homeruns in baseball history. The highlight of his career came in the second game of a three game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, whom the Cubs had already defeated in the first game. The Cubs and Pirates were tied, 5–5, in the ninth inning and it was getting almost too dark outside to continue playing when Harnett got up to the plate. Edward Burns of the Chicago Daily Tribune described the chaos in an article published the day after the game:
…never, never was there a game like that one Gabby Hartnett won with a homer yesterday to put his team in first place as the Pirates went down, 6–5, seconds before the contest was to be called a tie, on account of darkness…You have seen them rush out to greet a hero after he touched the plate to terminate a great contest. Well, you never saw nothin’. The mob started to gather around Gabby before he had reached first base. By the time he had rounded second he couldn’t have been recognized in the mass of Cub players, frenzied fans and excited ushers but for that red face, which shone out even in the gray shadows.
The Curse of the Billy Goat
As local legend has it, an outraged former owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, placed a curse on the Chicago Cubs on October 6, 1945 after being asked to leave Wrigley field because his pet goat’s offensive odor. Although the exact words that Sianis said are unclear, the sentiment was something along the lines of, “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.” Whether or not you believe in the curse, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908.
Sam Jones pitches a no-hitter
On May 12, 1955, Chicago Cub Sam “Toothpick” Jones became the first African American player to pitch a no-hitter in Major League Baseball. The no-hitter against the Pittsburgh Pirates culminated in the ninth inning after Jones walked the bases loaded and the Cubs won the game 4–0. Jones’ no-hitter was also the first no-hitter thrown at Wrigley field since 1917.
Ernie Banks’ 500th career homerun
Ernie Banks, also known as “Mr. Cub” hit his 500th career homerun at Wrigley on May 12, 1970. A Chicago Tribune article described the event:
It was just great in Wrigley field yesterday. Ernie Banks hit his 500th homerun, the ninth player to do so, and the Cubs beat the Braves 4 to 3, in 11 innings.
As for the Banks’ blow: Tribune Reporter Richard Dozer wrote: “Pat Jarvis went one-and-one on Ernie, then served a fast ball chest high and a little bit in. Banks swung, and when Rico Carty, the Braves’ left fielder, turned toward the seats, Banks knew he had the coveted home run.”
Pete Rose ties Ty Cobb for most hits in baseball history
On September 8, 1985, Cincinnati Red Pete Rose made history at Wrigley Field, getting his 4,191st hit to tie with (then leader) Ty Cobb for most career hits in baseball. Craig Neff set the scene in this September 16, 1985 article in Sports Illustrated:
The Tying hit came on a wacky day, off a substitute pitcher who threw—what else?—a screwball. Pete Rose lined it hard and clean Sunday afternoon in Chicago, and the ball dropped 30 feet in front of Cub rightfielder Keith Moreland, who scooped up the nugget of baseball history, tossed it in and immediately began to applaud. With his opponents, his Reds teammates and 28,269 Wrigley Field fans all on their feet clapping and cheering madly, Rose took his usual wide turn at first and flashed a grin. That’s 4,191 down, Mr. Cobb, and one to go.
First night game at Wrigley Field
After six years of arguing and push back from the neighborhood residents, Wrigley Field finally got lights in 1988. On April 8, 1988, the Cubs played their first-ever night game at Wrigley against the Phillies. The Cubs were winning 3–1 going into the bottom of the third inning when the game was cut short on account of rain. Their first completed night game came the following night against the New York Mets with the Cubs winning 6–4.
Ronald Reagan in the Wrigley press box
Baseball fans who bought tickets for a seemingly normal late September game in 1988 got a whole lot more than they bargained for when President Ronald Reagan made a surprise appearance. Alan Solomon documented the event, play-by-play style, in a Chicago Tribune article published October 2, 1988:
At about 10 a.m., the club was told President Reagan, indeed, was coming, and staffers went to work. By noon, old tarps and canvas windbreaks were rigged on ramps to screen the President on the route from the Cub dugout to Harry Caray’s booth on the press box level.
At 1:35 p.m., the world`s biggest dog was marched through the press box, sniffing for whatever those dogs sniff for. Not one sportswriter petted the dog.
At 1:42 p.m., as the organist played “Hail to the Chief,” the President emerged from the dugout to cheers. A very few voices made a noise that sounded a lot like “Goose.”
At 1:44 p.m., the President, wearing a shiny blue Cub jacket, was led to the mound by ballgirl Mary Ellen Kopp. Reagan, who in a former life played Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in a film, probably could’ve found it himself.
At 1:45 p.m., the President of the United States threw a pitch to Cub catcher Damon Berryhill, who was squatting about 10 feet in front of home plate. It was a pretty decent fastball that, if there had been a right-handed batter, would’ve sent him sprawling to the dirt.
“I think it was a spitter,” said Berryhill. “I think he loaded it up.”
At 1:51 p.m., the first four rooftop fans of the day appeared beyond the right-field wall. They were in civilian clothes.
If they weren’t police, they will be thrilled to read that they probably had, at that moment, 20 SWAT-squad rifles aimed at their vital organs.
At 1:53, about a half-hour after the scheduled game time, the Cubs took the field.
Minutes later, the President was in the television booth with Harry. Within a couple of innings, he was gone.
Not long after, so was Rick Sutcliffe, the Cubs’ starting pitcher.
“He should’ve stuck around,” said Sutcliffe. “Some of the guys said he had better stuff than I did.”
October 1, 1988 wasn’t Reagan’s first foray into doing Cubs color commentary. Right out of college in the 1930s, he was actually a radio announcer in Davenport, IA for WOC and then WHO in De Moines. He would recreate Cubs games using telegraphed reports.
Sammy Sosa’s 61st and 62nd homeruns
During the 1988 season, Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa was given the nickname “Slammin’ Sammy,” and for good reason. On September 13, Sosa hit his 61st and 62nd homeruns at Wrigley Field. Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times documented the monumental hits:
On a blessed Sunday at Wrigley Field, a day so perfect it almost made 90 years of Cubs suffering worthwhile, Sammy Peralta Sosa found his dream. It was wilder than he or anyone else ever imagined. With one swing, he tied Roger Maris. With another, he passed him.
While Sosa finished the season behind Mark McGwire in homeruns that season (Sosa: 66, McGwire: 70), he was the first Major League baseball player to hit 66 homeruns in a single season.
“Steve Bartman incident”
In 2003, the Chicago Cubs were having an unusually good season before a single incident allegedly ruined everything. The Cubs were leading 3 games to 2 in a best of seven National League Championship Series against the Florida Marlins. Things were looking promising for the Cubs into Game 6 – they were up 3–0 in the eighth inning – when Marlin Luis Castillo hit the ball towards the stands in foul territory. Cubs outfielder Moisés Alou was attempting to catch the ball for the second out of the inning when a Cubs fan in the stands by the name of Steve Bartman reached out to catch the foul and ended up deflecting it from Alou’s reach. The Cubs went on to give up eight runs, lose the game and, later, lose the National League pennant. While the amount of blame and vitriol aimed at Bartman is absolutely shameful, the incident at Wrigley remains memorable nonetheless.
Wrigley Field hosts a Minor League game
On July 29, 2008, Wrigley Field hosted a minor league baseball game for the first time ever. A crowd of over 32,000 people showed up for the game to see Single-A Peoria Chiefs (coached by beloved former Chicago Cub and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg) play the Kane County Cougars. Due to threatening weather, the game had to be called in the 9th inning while the Chiefs and Cougars were tied at 6. The Chiefs won the following day, 9–8.
StreetWise Editorial Intern