Book Review: A Wrigley Wrapup

As groundbreaking ceremonies go, this was a doozy. The parcel of land at Clark and Addison Streets, where a seminary stood on the North Side of Chicago, attracted more than 2,000 people on an early March day in 1914. When Charles Weeghman--the Chicago Federal League owner who built what would eventually become Wrigley Field--stepped out of his car, the band played ''Hail to the Chief.''

A Nice Little Place on the North Side

The park, originally named Weeghman Park, which cost $250,000 to build, was a shell of what would become Wrigley Field. There was no upper deck, limited bleacher seating and of course, no lights. It was built to seat 14,000-18,000 fans.

But it was built in a hurry. Workers hustled for seven weeks to have the ballpark ready for the Chicago Federal League team's home opener at Weeghman Park on April 23. The Federal League disbanded in 1915, so Weeghman purchased a controlling interest in the Cubs for $500,000.

The cozy ballpark with the ivy draped over the outfield walls would become known as Wrigley Field in 1927. The marquee was added in 1934 and the iconic scoreboard was installed until 1937.

The “friendly confines," is celebrating 100 years at Clark and Addison and although its tenants haven't won a World Series since 1908, it remains the National League's green cathedral. The players and characters that have come through the turnstiles are highlighted in a variety of books commemorating the anniversary.

In “A Nice Little Place on the North Side" (224pg, $25, Crown Archetype) George Will argues that Wrigley Field is full of metaphors for life, religion and happiness. He points out that new ballparks have weight-training and exercise machines with multiple batting cages in tunnels beneath the stands, but Wrigley lacks those amenities.

“Wrigley Field has none of these things," Will writes. “It is simply more difficult for Cubs players than for any of their National League rivals to get their work in."

There is little about the construction or chronological history of Wrigley Field, but there are some interesting anecdotes. Will notes that Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, was once a vendor at Wrigley and he details the relationship between beer and attendance at games.

If the reader can get past Will's long-winded and pithy prose, “A Nice Little Place on the North Side" is a nice little read.

Similar to what the Red Sox published when Fenway Park turned 100 two years ago, the Cubs teamed up with MLB Publications to produce “A Century of Wrigley Field: The Official History of the Friendly Confines." The coffee table volumes includes hundreds of photos and sections on notable Cubs such as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Sammy Sosa and Ferguson Jenkins.

Celebrities such as Jim Belushi and Jimmy Buffett check in on what it's like to be a Cubs fan. The book, written by Alan Solomon, who worked as a vendor at Wrigley to help pay for his college education, also details when the Bears played there and when the field was transformed for boxing matches.

“Wrigley Field Year by Year," (362 ppg, $35, Sports Publishing) covers the Cubs, the Federal League team that predated them, the Bears, political rallies and track and field events. Sam Pathy's year-by-year coverage includes a game of the year, a description of the unusual and interesting happenings at Wrigley and a quote from each season that best captures its essence.

“He (Pathy) tells you everything you ever wanted to know about the Cubs' cozy old home and a good deal more that you could not have known you wanted to know," John Thorn writes in the foreword.

Sports Publishing also distributed “Before Wrigley Became Wrigley" (288 ppg, $24.95). Before there was Wrigley Field there was Weeghman Field, named after the owner of Chicago's Federal League franchise. Weeghman was a flamboyant Chicago restaurateur who eventually lost everything, including his beloved baseball team.

“Before Wrigley Became Wrigley" reads more like a novel with colorful characters such as Weeghman, Charles Murphy, the Cubs' early 20th century tight-wad owner and devious politicians such as Chicago mayor “Big Bill" Thompson. Murphy kept promising Cubs' fans that a new ballpark would be built on the west side of the city, but it never happened.

Sean Deveney writes that if Murphy, “had been more willing to provide his west side patrons with every modern convenience and a new ballpark, who knows where the Chicago Cubs would be playing their home games more than a century later?"

Politicians, musicians and bar owners share their recollections of the Cubs and the ballpark in “Wrigley Field: An Oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Chicago Cubs," (224 ppg. $45, Stewart, Tabori & Chang). What separates this coffee table book from the one MLB published is the wide-ranging personalities that were interviewed by one of the authors, Josh Noel.

There's former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich discussing the time he got treated for a torn hamstring in the Cubs locker room. “Dr. (Stephen) Adams (Cubs trainer) had treated me before, so I called him and got treated on the same table where (Alfonso) Soriano gets his hamstring treated," Blagojevich said. “I loved it. It was thrilling to be in the locker room. I remember thinking that I’d take the injury just for the experience.”

Billy Corgan, the lead singer of “Smashing Pumpkins," a Chicago-based alternative rock band, had given up on the Cubs after high school.

“When I got out of school and got weird and gothic and dyed my hair black and gave up on everything that wasn’t cool, that was the end of baseball for me for awhile," he said. “But I remember being in a car with friends and fishing around on the radio in ’84. The Cubs were in the playoffs, and I couldn’t resist checking the score. I still couldn’t put it down, even though I tried. My friends were shocked. They were like, ‘You like baseball?’ It was so uncool.”

It's not the type of book you read cover to cover. Much like the Cubs, you take a break from it, then glance at it from time to time.