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Wrigley Field's centenniel spurs flood of books on Old Chicago ballpark

Tuesday, July 8, 2014 - 12:01 am

The 100th birthday of Wrigley Field has resulted in a flood of books about one of America’s oldest ballparks. While I have enjoyed many of them, this column highlights the four that I consider the best of the lot.

Political and baseball writer George Will’s contribution is “A Nice Little Place on the North Side.” His book includes lots of information about Wrigley Field. His unique approach puts much of it in the context of Chicago history including political tidbits.

For example, next to the billy goat that gets blamed for the Cubs’ long absence from postseason competition, a man named Steve Bartman is a prime target.

Bartman grabbed a ball in foul territory, as many fans instinctively would have done, that might have been caught. Had it been caught, the Cubs might have gotten the last three outs and gone to the World Series instead of falling apart and blaming Bartman.

Will notes: “A famous fan said to a reporter: ‘If someone ever convicts that guy of a crime, he’ll never get a pardon out of this governor.’ ” Of course, Gov. Blagojevich is still serving his prison term for a later sentence for corruption.

For the details about the ballpark itself and its history, “Wrigley Field: The Unauthorized Biography” by Stuart Shea is the best. In fact, it is among the best books ever written about a ballpark. Its weakness is that it doesn’t have pictures.

Of the many books stressing photographs, I felt “Wrigley Field: The Centennial” was a great combination of photos with good supportive writing. It also includes a CD with the book. It is not as long as some of the tabletop-style books, and thus has fewer pictures, but the CD makes up for that.

“Before Wrigley Became Wrigley: The Inside Story of the First Years of the Cubs’ Home Field” by Sean Deveney is a thorough history of the original ballpark before the improvements done later by William Wrigley. It was only then named Wrigley Field.

The Cubs actually were a Chicago west-side team, with the White Sox anchoring the south side. There were no teams on the north side, and not as many people.

Charlie Wheegman, a lunch-counter man and early fast-food pioneer, was key in developing the Federal League. His brand-new ballpark, Wheegman Field, was home to his Chicago Whales. After a battle for Chicago, ending eventually in the final settlement folding the Federal League, Wheegman purchased the National League Cubs. He dropped the Whales name but moved the Cubs to his ballpark.

When one studies the history of Wrigley Field, it becomes apparent that it is not a museum piece but rather something that has constantly evolved. Adaptations have always been part of is history, and ownership blockage of rooftop views as the ballpark has been re-shaped have long been a source of conflict. The current efforts of the Ricketts family to modernize Wrigley are not unusual, but typical. Survival requires adaptation.

Mark Souder is a former 3rd District representative.