By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Happy 100th birthday, Wrigley Field.
Here’s to 100 more – and how about at least one World Series championship this time around, OK?
One century ago today, at the corner of Clark and Addison, Chicago restaurateur Charles Weeghman opened the gates to the brand new ballpark that would eventually be named Wrigley Field.
Originally, the place was built for Weegham’s Federal League team, the Whales, but after the Chicago Cubs moved in for the 1916 season, it’s been best known for producing tales of the “The One That Got Away.”
Since calling Wrigley home, the Cubs have seen World Series championships wriggle away in 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945, while failing to ever hook a title as a tenant of the Friendly Confines.
That famous championship drought, however, hardly means that the old ballpark hasn’t produced its share of memorable moments – some of which I’ve been blessed to witness in person. And so today, in honor of Wrigley becoming a centenarian, I thought I’d share five of my favorite memories of games that I’ve attended.
Fergie’s Final Masterpiece
In May 1944, when he was a 10-year-old growing up in Milwaukee, future Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig traveled south to Chicago for his first big league baseball game experience.
“Wrigley Field, when I walked in there, I’ll never forget the thrill,” Selig told Phil Rogers of MLB.com this week. “The green grass, the ivy, everything. It was exactly like I thought it would be. That’s always my feeling about Wrigley Field. You know?”
I do know, as that was pretty much my experience back on June 10, 1983, when as a 7-year-old my dad took me to Wrigley for the first time. Beyond the spectacle of seeing the ballpark, however, I also was treated to a historic game as my dad and I were among the crowd of 37,024 that watched 39-year-old Ferguson Jenkins turn in the last great pitching performance of his Hall of Fame career. For the day, Fergie he twirled a masterful four-hit complete game 7-0 shutout against the Cardinals.
Later that season, Jenkins was demoted to the bullpen and was released the following spring with 284 career victories — and one great memory for me.
Dawson vs. Show
On July 7, 1987, my father and I, along with my Little League manager and his son made the trek up from Bourbonnais to Wrigley to watch the Cubs take on the San Diego Padres in a Tuesday matinee.
I don’t think we were expecting to see much from the team, for the Cubs were without injured stars Shawon Dunston and Ryne Sandberg and already well on their way to a last-place finish. However, we were hoping to see something from slugger Andre Dawson, who conversely was well on his way to a 49-home run MVP season.
And we certainly saw something, all right.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Cubs had already hit three home runs off of unstable San Diego starter Eric Show – including a solo shot by Dawson – when the “Hawk” strolled back up to the plate. After Dawson dug in, Show proceeded to throw a pitch directly at his head, which struck him flush in the cheek and knocked Dawson unconscious.
I can still recall Rick Sutcliffe barreling out of the dugout as a brawl erupted on the mound while Dawson lay prone at home. Adding to the madness was that it was “Seat Cushion Day” at Wrigley, and as the melee unfolded on the infield, hundreds of the white cushions distributed among the Bleacher Bums were sent flipping and flying like Frisbees across the outfield grass. It was as wild of a scene at a ballpark as you can imagine.
And to the best of my knowledge, Wrigley Field hasn’t had a Seat Cushion Day since.
In one of the craziest games that I’ve ever witnessed first hand, the Cubs led the Colorado Rockies 8-3 in the top of the ninth inning at Wrigley on June 26, 2007,.
Cubs reliever Scott Eyre allowed an RBI double to Todd Helton with no outs that cut the lead to 8-4 before being replaced by closer Bobby Howry, who was filling the role for the injured Ryan Dempster. Howry, however, couldn’t close anything as he gave up consecutive RBI singles before serving up a three-run homer to Troy Tulowitzki that gave the Rockies an improbable 9-8 lead.
And then things got really crazy. After Tulowitzki’s bomb, a fan jumped on the field – barefoot, I recall – and charged at Howry shouting, “What are you doing?” with his arms extended. The angry (and surely drunken) fan was just a few feet away from the mound when suddenly he was clotheslined by one of the Wrigley security guards.
That WWE-worthy blow was actually the best of the game until the bottom of the ninth when Alfonso Soriano rapped a two-run single to give the Cubs a truly wild 10-9 victory.
After the game, Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said, “Just when you think you’ve seen about everything, you haven’t seen everything.”
The Bartman Game
A few hours before Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field, I was walking along Southport Avenue a few blocks from the ballpark when I spied a black cat creeping out from the yard of a townhouse just ahead of me.
All too leery of bad omens in Wrigleyville during October, I wasn’t about to let that thing cross my path. So, I picked up my pace (OK, I ran) and beat the cat to the spot before shooing him back into the yard and continuing on my way. A minute later, some guy in a Cubs cap and blue sweatshirt walked past me in the opposite direction – he wasn’t wearing glasses or a sweatshirt, so it wasn’t Steve Bartman – and I told him to watch out, there’s a black cat down there.
Turned out it was our last one, as a few hours later I was sitting in the auxiliary media seats outside the press box in Wrigley’s upper deck as I watched in horror and awe as the foul ball bounced off poor Bartman’s palms and the Cubs collapsed five outs away from the World Series.
One night after the Game 6 meltdown in the 2003 NLCS, I was back at Wrigley hoping for the best but expecting the worst. And then in the second inning, I thought I perhaps saw a glimpse of the former when Cubs starting pitcher Kerry Wood launched a two-run home run into the left field bleachers to tie the Florida Marlins at 3-3.
Wood’s unexpected blast sent the massive crowds standing along Waveland and Sheffield into such a tizzy that I can still envision the treetops along the streets swaying as the fans shook their trunks in wild celebration. Those celebratory feelings would fade soon enough, however, as the Cubs lost the game 9-6 and haven’t been back to the NLCS since.
But, hey, there’s always next year, right?
And perhaps on its birthday, Wrigley Field can use its 100-year wish to help the Cubs. But, then again, that’s probably just wishful thinking.