Thursday, May 22, 2014

To Create You Must Destroy: The Ricketts' Plan to Save Wrigley Field By Drastically Changing It

The charm of Wrigley Field has been a marketing tool for decades, well before I was born. Phillip K. Wrigley knew there was something different and he made it a selling point for his team.

Of course, considering how the Cubs performed after the late '30s, the ballpark was often the only thing worth coming for during a long stretch of lean years. It became even a larger factor when the Cubs games started to go national over WGN-TV. In the early '80s, the Cubs snagged Harry Caray after the White Sox dumped him. Say what you will about Caray, but he was one of the greatest salesman for baseball ever, and The Friendly Confines were perfect for his pitches. Caray extolled the charms of Wrigley. And one of those charms was that fans could sit and watch the games from the rooftops of the apartment buildings along Sheffield and Waveland Avenues.

With the TV exposure, the rooftop owners began commercializing their operations and suddenly small bleachers sprang up on the various roofs. This commercialization led to a battle between Cub ownership (the Chicago Tribune at the time) and the rooftop owners, which ultimately led to the contract where the Cubs got a share of the rooftop profits.

Now,the Ricketts family has cast these owners as the villains who are trying to prevent the Cubs from making money so they can go out and get better players. On Thursday, the Cubs announced that they weren't going to let those owners stop them from renovating and monetizing Wrigley. Moreover, they announced plans for additional signage and advertising, beyond what the city had approved, some other changes in the clubhouses and, the big one, moving the bullpens underneath the bleachers.

If the narrative description of the signage is correct, it appears that nearly the entirety of the park, from the left field foul pole to the right field pole, would have either scoreboards, videoboards or advertising signage. And the new bullpens would require cutting into the brick wall and removing ivy, leaving some sort of screen that would allow the players in the bullpen to see the field.

Looking at Cubs blogs, fans just want the Ricketts to stick it to the rooftop owners. And if you think that these changes will help propel the Cubs to a championship, I understand.

Indeed, the performance of the team should come first. But there are a lot of folks who extol the virtues of Wrigley to the point of deifying the ballpark. And I'm wondering how they feel about what will end up, if approved, being pretty drastic changes to the ballpark.

Now, I'm not a Cubs fan, and while I appreciate Wrigley at one level, I think it's a bit overrated. It's not a comfortable place to watch a game, the concessions suck and I prefer my ballparks monolithic, like the old Comiskey Park. Still, I appreciate as much as anyone the fact that when you watch a game at Wrigley and look anywhere, the view is pretty similar to how it was years and years ago -- a ballpark smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood. With ivy on the walls.

The Ricketts' new plan seems intent upon blowing this continuity up to the fullest extent possible. The wall-to-wall signage will be wholly incongruous with the old structure housing it. And breaking up the ivy on the outfield walls will really affect the look...though it will later allow for advertising down the lines where it can't be put now.

It seems like the Ricketts are on a mission to suck out as much charm as possible from Wrigley in order to save it. How Cubs fans respond to these efforts will be very telling about how they really feel about the park.

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