Wrigley Field: Dump or jewel?

I fell behind on my RSS feed reading last week, but I’d like to belatedly point readers to my old BP colleague Christina Kahrl’s column for ESPN.com on the latest iteration of the Wrigley Field controversy. For those who missed it, earlier this month baseball eminence blanc Peter Gammons went on the radio in Chicago and called Wrigley Field, the near-century-old home of the Chicago Cubs, a “dump,” setting off a round of blog chatter on whether Cubs owner Tom Ricketts would, or should, consider tearing it down, moving out, or other blasphemous notions.

Christina’s response was, sensibly enough, to actually go to the ballpark, where she filed this report:

Looking around, the wear and tear of long service doesn’t seem especially grimy, certainly not relative to years past. Where a decade ago you might run afoul of the stench of stale beer and urine as soon as temps top 80, things on the Ricketts’ watch seem much tidier. We didn’t have all that far to go — our seats are in section 224, just a little to the right of home plate. The sun hadn’t quite settled into that space between the upper and lower deck, when dusk goes gold and the sun bathes right field and the rooftops beyond in warm light. But it will, and it does, because this cold spring gives us a perfect night for baseball.

From our vantage, only a few square feet of the right-field corner were out of view, so the sightlines were exquisite. … And we sang the anthem — a low-key instrumental version, so we got the unusual pleasure of hearing the voices of the thousands of people around us, all singing. There’s something a lot more inspiring about this than being drowned out by the speakers. In general, Wrigley’s not as noisy as most parks, thanks to the absence of a Jumbotron, meaning that the ambient noise of the game and of the crowd has more opportunity to register — but also more opportunity to actually have a conversation or two during the course of the ballgame, about the game itself. …

So where does dumping on Wrigley come from? From the people who work there, and who are used to something better these days. Certainly, those are the people most likely to say something about working in Wrigley and have it become “news.” Maybe the Ricketts can punch up the amenities for the players or the press by adding a building on the northwest corner of their block, up on the corner of Clark and Waveland, an idea that has been discussed in the past.

There are two main points here, and they’re both ones worth remembering: One, when you hear sportswriters or athletes calling a stadium “outmoded,” they’re almost certainly referring to the quality of the weight rooms or the postgame buffet — older stadiums can often provide a better fan experience than new ones, especially if you’re the kind of fan who prefers seats close to the action and anthem singalongs to cupholders and hi-def video boards. (And, to be fair, some fans do legitimately prefer the latter.) And two, cushy surroundings for those who work at stadiums can be provided without spending half a billion dollars on a new building.

Of course, Gammons himself noted this in his original statement, saying, “They’re going to have to spent $200-and-something million on re-renovating Wrigley Field, do what the Boston owners did with Fenway Park.” But all anybody hears these days are the four-letter words.

7 comments on “Wrigley Field: Dump or jewel?

  1. It’s a dump, but it could be a jewel again if it got some treatment like Fenway from the team’s owners.

  2. Beauty may well be in the eye of the beholder, but Wrigley is not a dump at all. While Mr. Gammons suggested that it is, and that it might benefit from the Fenway method of renovation, it must be noted that he also labeled Fenway a dump in 2000 when we were fighting to save it. No mention of renovation then, just criticism of the place and the neighborhood that surrounds it. Coincidentally, the ownership at the time was lobbying for hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for a new stadium. While current comments in the blogoshpere hover between thinking his words irrelevant to being pure hucksterism from a Boston guy, I would caution Cubs fans about complacency. Mr. Gammons may indeed be championing a renovation for Wrigley but some people believe the only way to clean up bathrooms or offer more food options is to knock down your ballpark. This is a warning shot across the bow for either creative, respectful renovation a la Fenway Park or the loss of a beautiful building. We’ve seen this movie before. Something will happen in Chicago and if you believe in renovation for Wrigley Field then you must speak up now.

    Erika Tarlin
    Save Fenway Park!

  3. I thought Christina did an excellent job describing Wrigley Field. It has some rougher infrastructure but there are so many unexpected beauties there that simple minded (4 letter) comments are not helpful or accurate.

  4. i was there last homestand. And I can honestly say YES IT IS A DUMP!!! the beer was hot and food was cold.and this was in the bud lite party area. The food selection is poor. (the mallpark on 35th st has better food)
    and to top it off: the seats I had where not swept from the game before..
    It was scary to use the bathrooms too..

    I hope the place is bulldozed soon… im done with wrigley, bad experience

  5. Saw the Giants lose to the Cubs on June 30th at Wrigley. It’s the real deal, the restrooms are great, with no waits like at AT&T, and the beer and food a few dollars less than at home of the Giants.
    I love it that seats are close to the action, there are no bells and whistles, which I find annoying, and the fans really belted out “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. AT&T is kinda like Wrigley, but when you consider how high it is (the top of the third deck is as high as the lights at Wrigley) and how far up and away from the action one is sitting up there, I’d have to put Wrigley up there ahead of AT&T, and Fenway as well, as I’ve seen a game there too. Perhaps having some poles “blocking” a few seats’ views isn’t such a bad thing, as the old architecture of parks like Wrigley and Fenway allow grandstand seating, upper or lower deck, to be much closer to the action on the field. Perhaps in the future Wrigley will have its upper deck replaced with a new one (something they should have done with the two upper decks at Yankee Stadium), and I’d hope that the old-style architecture is used, meaning support poles and an upper deck without a nose bleed section!