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.