A Modest Proposal for Wrigley Field

Landmarks Illinois has just issued its annual list of most endangered historic places in the state. This year, for the first time, the list was expanded from 10 to 11 sites to accommodate the newly endangered Wrigley Field. Sam Zell, the temporary and reluctant owner of the Cubs and their home park, wants to sell Wrigley to something called the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, a city-state agency created specifically to ruin the last appealing major sports venue in Chicago. David Bahlman, the president of Landmarks Illinois, warns that if Wrigley "becomes an urban country club like Soldier Field with $300,000 skyboxes, it’s not going to have the same character."

But I have a solution: Instead of renovating Wrigley, tear it down. That’s right–tear it down. Then let all the past Driehaus Prize winners compete to design an exact replica of Wrigley to be built in River North, somewhere between the Rock and Roll McDonalds and the Rainforest Café. The replica Wrigley will be called Macy’s Park at Wrigley Field. (In view of Macy’s troubles in the Chicago market since buying out Marhsall Fields, I recommend getting payment in advance for the naming rights.) Rescue the new Ernie Banks statue, then erect more statues commemorating events in recent Cubs’ history: Sammy Sosa circa 1998, during his steroid-inflated, whiff at every slider period; Moises Alou screaming in rage at Steve Bartman (alternate statute: Alou rubbing urine on his bat); and a drunken Harry Caray nearly falling out of the WGN booth while singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." All the rooftop decks could be rebuilt on top of the highrise condo buildings–with no compensation paid to the current rooftop deck owners, as payback for their reluctance to split their revenue with the Cubs. I’m assuming that the phony Irish bars will take care of themselves. They tend to grow like mold in gentrifying neighborhoods, anyway.

I make this admittedly heretical proposal as a lifelong Cub fan.  One of my fondest childhood memories was my first visit to Wrigley Field. I must have been about six years old. The shock of stepping out of the tunnel and seeing the dazzling green field and the lush ivy is still seared in my memory. As I write I’m negotiating to buy tickets so that I can take my son to Wrigley. I’m acquiring them about the only practical way one can get Cubs’ tickets these days: buying them from a season ticket holder.

Once upon a time you could decide around 11:00 AM that you’d already had it with your day and you could head down to Wrigley to catch an afternoon game. Prime box seats were sold out by then, but usually you could get decent grandstand seats up to game time. If you wanted to get a little rowdy or sunburned, you bought bleacher seats. Otherwise, you relaxed, drank a few Old Styles, and watched the Cubs blow it again. It was summer in Chicago.

Wrigley Field is now a holy shrine given almost entirely over to post-fraternity mobs and middle management types spending the entire game on their cell phones telling everyone they know how close they’re sitting to third base. Meanwhile, everyone is fiercely protective of every brick in this giant saloon–as if Wrigley had any other purpose except spending a lot of money and getting very drunk. Real Chicago baseball fans migrated to the White Sox and their Brutalist stadium long ago. A night game at Wrigley doesn’t make the top 200 cool things to do in Chicago during the summer.

So build a replica with more luxury boxes, larger beer stands, and restrooms that don’t smell like they haven’t been cleaned since 1945. Freed of the burden of preserving the Friendly Confines the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority or Mark Cuban or a faceless bunch of hedge fund managers–whoever ends up owning Wrigley Field and the Cubs–can tinker with the stadium with a clear conscience (assuming they have one to begin with). Cramming still more high-priced box seats behind the Cubs’ dugout would be like swapping out a few booths at the Hard Rock Café. No more pesky preservationists to swat away.  The ivy would still be there, steel beams would block some views, bars would be within staggering distance outside. Everything would be the same as it is now. Because everything has changed already.


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