I got a little carried away when I put together my list of the ten greatest games in Wrigley Field history for the old ballpark’s 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014, spilling more than 600 words on the early history of the ballpark before getting to my list. I couldn’t argue when that was excised from the published piece, but still think the fact-heavy intro is worth sharing here.
Commissioned by Charles Weeghman, the proprietor of the Chicago lunchroom chain Weeghman’s Cafés, the ballpark now known as Wrigley Field opened on April 23, 1914 as the home of Chicago’s entry into the new Federal League, a rival league created to challenge the National and American, the latter then entering just its 14th season. Weeghman owned the Chicago Federals and gave his own name to the ballpark at the corner of West Addison and North Clark Streets, which upon its inauguration had a single-decked grandstand and an official capacity of just 14,000 people.
For Weeghman’s Park’s first game, the eighth game of the 1914 season for Chicago, which opened on the road, roughly 21,000 people squeezed into the new ballpark to watch the Joe Tinker-managed Chi-Feds beat the Kansas City Packers 9-1 on a Thursday afternoon behind a complete game by ace Claude Hendrix, a former Pirate who would be the new league’s best pitcher that season. The Chi-Feds finished a close second in the final standings in 1914 and, rechristened the Whales, claimed the Federal League pennant in 1915. That December, the two established leagues bought out the Federal League and, as part of the settlement, allowed Weeghman to purchase the Cubs for $500,000 from former congressman Charles Taft, half-brother of the former president, who had been the team’s caretaker for the previous two seasons.
Weeghman effectively merged the Whales into the Cubs, naming Tinker the team’s new manager, adding several Whales players, including Hendrix, to the Cubs’ roster, and moving the team into his new concrete and steel ballpark from the old, wooden West Side Grounds that had housed the Cubs since 1893. Over the next century, the ballpark would undergo numerous updated and renovations, not to mention name changes.
After Weeghman sold his majority share of the Cubs to minority partner and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. following the 1918 season, the ballpark was rechristened Cubs Park before ultimately taking Wrigley’s name in 1926. The upper deck was added in 1927. The marquee was installed in 1934. The bleachers and manual scoreboard were installed and the ivy on the outfield walls was planted in 1937, the latter in part by future Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck, who was then the son of club president William Veeck Sr. The clock atop the scoreboard came along in 1941. Originally reddish-brown, the scoreboard and clock were painted green in 1944. Lights, famously, didn’t bring night baseball to the ballpark until August of 1988.
For fifty years, from 1921 to 1970, the ballpark was home to the National Football League’s Chicago Bears, who derived their nickname from the association with the Cubs after moving into Wrigley (they had previously been the Staleys, after the food-starch company that founded the team). During that time, the ballpark hosted six NFL title games (five won by the Bears), the last coming in 1963. In fact, until 2003, more NFL games had been played at Wrigley Field than at any other venue. Outside of the title games, the most notable football game in Wrigley Field history may have been the Bears’ 61-20 win over the 49ers on December 12, 1965, in which Bears running back Gale Sayers tied a still-standing NFL record with six touchdowns.