Ask another architecture critic: Why do Wrigley Field bleachers suck, and how can we fix them?

The assembled architecture critics of Chicago are really not happy with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts’ renovations of Wrigley Field, and they’re going to let him know about it. First we had Edward Keegan harshing on the blocked views and ugly steel beams in Crain’s Chicago, and now the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin has gone after the new video boards and what they’ve meant for the old hand-operated scoreboard in center field:

At night, Wrigley Field’s new video boards overshadow the old scoreboard, disrupting the carefully calibrated sense of place that makes the ballpark a national treasure.

In the darkness, the new boards project while the old one seems to recede. Much brighter than the old scoreboard and bursting with statistics as well as brightly colored ads that appear between innings, the new boards invariably draw the eye. The replays on the left-field board, a welcome concession to modernity, give fans another reason to turn away from the old focal point in center.

Together, the new features render the center-field scoreboard more ceremonial than useful, like an old clock on a fireplace mantle.

Ouch. But good point: Video boards are way more garish and in-your-face at night, and after all are designed to distract your attention away from other things (the center-field scoreboard, the game itself, your phone) to get you to look at their ads.

Cubs president Crane Kenney told Kamin that he’s looking at ways of lighting the old scoreboard better at night so that it’s not overwhelmed; Kamin suggests just using a darker green on the video boards at night and turning down their brightness. It’s all very reasonable, and hopefully the Cubs will make some adjustments. But it’s all a reminder that the whole reason for the new video boards isn’t to let fans see batters’ OPS against lefties during home night games, but rather to get fans to look at advertising during games at Wrigley. And if that’s not what you think Wrigley is supposed to be about, you should have gotten elected mayor of Chicago and appointed different people to the landmarks commission.


4 comments on “Ask another architecture critic: Why do Wrigley Field bleachers suck, and how can we fix them?

  1. I agree with Mr. Kamen.I watched Sunday Night baseball last week and was thinking the same thing.Very sad for the friendly confines.The new boards do look great though.

  2. Sadly, this is not that unusual for “new” video boards in old stadia. When the Jays ownership decided that the outfield fences were the perfect place for video (score) boards a few years ago, they made them waaaaay too bright. Net effect, fans watching (on tv especially) outfielders tracking fly balls often lost not only the ball but the outfielder as well. (Even though he was mainly a DH for the Jays and not for very long, there has to be a Frank Thomas joke in there somewhere…)

    Eventually, the execs who thought the boards should be very bright “retired”, and the brightness and contrast was reduced. End of problem, apart from the fact that they are still video boards and can be distracting.

    Ricketts banked on the boards generating more revenue in adverting than they drove away in seat sales and tv viewers. If people really don’t like what he did, the answer is obvious – stop going/watching.

    I, for one, miss the cheesy old plywood club logos attached to the outfield wall that several 60s/70s era parks had. And the chicken wire on the fences adjacent to the foul lines at Fulton County stadium… but I suspect I may be alone on that count…

  3. “I, for one, miss the cheesy old plywood club logos attached to the outfield wall that several 60s/70s era parks had. And the chicken wire on the fences adjacent to the foul lines at Fulton County stadium… but I suspect I may be alone on that count…”
    You’re not, but I’m a product of my generation. I’d rather see blank walls, chain link fences & team logos than ugly advertising or lit scoreboards. I still despise cookie-cutter & dome stadiums and Astroturf. I’d like to see a return to real retro stadiums – quirky dimensions, seats close to the field, open air; 2 decks with the press & luxury suites on the roof like in Pittsburgh. Oh and no LED boards.

  4. With performers getting a minimum of $500K
    for a full season of “service time”, ways to offset
    that and salaries much larger will grow more
    and more intrusive. As long as the sheep keep
    buying in this trend will escalate and the subtleties
    of a by-gone era are meaningless.

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