By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The stage had been set since the Chicago Cubs walked out of Cleveland and Progressive Field with their first championship in 108 seasons. From that fateful Nov. 2 night, the hoisting of the first World Championship banner ever at Wrigley field was in the planning.
Never in the history of this 103-year-old iconic ballpark had any event, outside of the World Series games themselves, been more anticipated. Home openers of seasons past have been memorable and glorious, but this one is without comparison. The pregame salute to the reigning champion Cubs on Monday night and the ensuing banner raising highlighted the anticipation of another golden era on the North Side.
“I am a banner guy,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They are there every day and seen by everybody. I like the idea that kids see that and are told it had not been done in 108 years. When they see that and are five or six years of age, they can grow to be Cub fan even more. I love the idea — this is the first banner ever at Wrigley. This is something you will see every day at the ballpark.”
The last time the Cubs had a championship to celebrate was in 1909, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and the first Ford Model T automobile had just been available for American to purchase. Back then, those festivities took place at West Side Park. It took about $1.50 for a grandstand ticket, and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” had just been written the year before.
West Side grounds held just 16,000 people at capacity, and that was about the average size of ballparks until 1923, when the old Yankee Stadium was built with a second deck that previously hadn’t existed in ballparks. West Side Park was the home of the Cubs from 1885 to 1915.
The most-talked about opener at Wrigley Field in the past 50 years took place in 1969, when the Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Phillies’ Don Money each homered twice in an extra-inning game. On a day with a wind chill of 28 degrees at its conclusion, journeyman outfielder Willie Smith hit a walk-off homer to give the Cubs a win.
The 1971 opener was played in 1 hour 58 minutes. In a matchup of future Hall of Famers, Cubs outfielder Bily Williams hit a ball onto Waveland Avenue off of the Cardinals ace Bob Gibson as Chicago won 2-1 in 10 innings. Cubs ace Fergie Jenkins and Gibson each pitched the entire game.
In 1994, journeyman outfielder Tuffy Rhodes stole the show, homering three times in his Cubs debut off Mets ace Dwight Gooden. As was the Cubs’ fate in those days, they still lost 12-8.
For as memorable as those were, Monday’s opener and banner was something entirely different, as it marked a historic occasion and represented a beginning as well as a culmination in the minds of some of these young Chicago players.
“This is certainly a historic night and our fans deserve to love it,” third baseman Kris Bryant said. “It is important to really enjoy this night, mainly because it has never happened here before.”
After Monday’s banner raising, the Cubs will receive their championship rings ahead of Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers. Shortstop Addison Russell wants to savor this first title and progress from there.
“It would be nice to do it again and again,” Russell said. “It would be great to make this whole organization into a dynasty. I believe the players we have and the direction we are going, we have an opportunity to do that. These guys in this room have a sense of ownership. This is something we really have worked hard for.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.