In a sadly ironic case of art imitating life, the Chicago Cubs recently commissioned an old-timey mural as part of the Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday celebration. It was a worthy gesture, but a baseball historian later outed the art as a scene from Comiskey Park – the former home of the team’s hated Southside neighbors. Then a 400-pound cake version of the Friendly Confines, specially baked by the Cake Boss guys, was ingloriously dumped in the trash uneaten. A picture of the frosted carcass soon ended up making the rounds on social media and sports blogs. Yep, the Cubs’ management committed more errors during the historic baseball stadium’s centennial festivities than the team’s struggling infielders. You can almost hear Harry Carey turning in his grave and popping open an Old Style.
Soon, the House that Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Ferris Bueller Built will be fundamentally changed, and that’s a big problem.
In addition to providing more punchlines about a punching bag of a baseball franchise, “Cakegate” accidentally served as a metaphor for Cubs ownership’s heinous master plan for their aging home. The Ricketts family continues to strong-arm the city of Chicago into fully embracing a $500 million redevelopment of the place. The blueprints call for an obnoxiously large 6,000-square-foot Jumbotron video screen in left field that threatens to block the view of spectators watching from the roofs of apartments across the street. They plan to cloud the scenery further with a see-through ad in right field and advertising space in the currently unmarked outfield. The Ricketts are also set on adding more luxury suites, an upscale dining area, and an outdoor plaza with—you guessed it—more advertising. Also in the works: a parking garage, an office building with a clocktower and a boutique hotel across the street.
Why? Well, the Cubs’ billionaire bosses say they need more revenue to field a competitive team,which is laughable because they’re sitting on the third most valuable franchise in the league, according to Forbes, and are in reportedly in line for a $200 million television deal. It’s hard to take the cries of “poor us!” seriously when Joe Ricketts also spent $10 million funding a loser way less lovable than the Cubs in 2012: Mitt Romney. The Ricketts, of course, call their Wrigley plan a preservation effort, but it sounds less like a minor nip-and-tuck for Wrigley and more like a drastic Joan Rivers-style facelift that threatens to alter the unique character of the oldest ballpark in the National League and the surrounding neighborhood.
The vintage scoreboard: Threatened by death by Jumbotron (Photo: Jenny Solomon/Shutterstock)
To see an afternoon matinee at the Friendly Confines in 2014 is like walking into a living museum of America’s pastime. There’s a distinct lack of video boards and advertising, the scoreboards are hand-operated, and the brick outfield walls are covered in that thick green ivy. Sitting in the creaky bleachers, you can almost imagine witnessing Babe Ruth’s “called shot” during the 1932 World Series or almost any moment the past century—well, that is if you can pretend half the fans around you aren’t staring into their iPhones.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Wrigley Field could use a little TLC (especially the urine-caked hellholes known as public restrooms), and perhaps we should count our lucky pennants that the Ricketts didn’t decide to bulldoze the whole thing and turn it into, well, whatever that ridiculous thing in Miami is.
Still, soon the House that Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Ferris Bueller Built will be fundamentally changed, and that’s a big problem because the Cubs are overestimating how much money fans will be willing to shell out to see the worst team in America in a park that will more closely mimic the kind of contrived, cookie-cutter facility you can see anywhere else in the country. It’s a sense of nostalgic charm that helps drive millions annually to the North Side of Chicago to pay premium prices to see the Cubs. It’s not to watch Darwin Barney ground into another double play, and it definitely won’t be a goddamn Kiss Cam.
(Main photo: Shutterstock)