The smell of freshly cut grass, the warm burst of the summer sun, and Cracker Jacks: baseball is here. We like our baseball drenched in nostalgic Americana. We call franchises "storied." We remember lineups and stats from our favorite teams in childhood. We pass on our team loyalties from one generation of fans to the next. And we feel the same way about the baseball parks that house these legendary teams.
Today, Chicago's Wrigley Field—home of the Chicago Cubs—celebrates its 100th anniversary. The park is an active field and a monument, ensconced in the dense neighborhood of Lakeview on Chicago's north side. This is the baseball park where, in 1932, Babe Ruth hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. Ruth "called his shot" during the Yankees-Cubs World Series. At the time, John Drebinger of New York Times wrote, "A single lemon rolled out to the plate…and in no mistaken motions Babe notified the crowd that the nature of his retaliation would be a wallop right out of the confines of the park."
Wrigley Field is the National League's oldest baseball park and Major League Baseball's second oldest park. It still boasts hand-operated scoreboards and limited advertisements. The outfield walls themselves are a thing of beauty, made of brick and covered in ivy—no cushy foam padding here. These outfield walls reflect a time in sports and society when safety was an afterthought, if it even was a thought.
But the history brings with it wear and tear, and much of the last decade has been spent figuring out what to do with Wrigley Field: keep it? Change it? Build a new one? As facilities age, team owners often argue they can't remain economically viable or competitive without new revenue streams and updated facilities. Wrigley Field is no exception. The fate of Wrigley Field has been a source of vigorous debate in the Windy City. The Ricketts family, which owns the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, argues the franchise cannot be profitable without a $500 million renovation to update the park and create new revenue streams. Die hard Cubs fans, Lakeview residents, and some Lakeview business owners would like it left as is. The City Councilarrived at a compromise late last year, approving a preservation and renovation effort.
Wrigley Field wears its hundred years like a badge of honor: those hand operated scoreboards, those limited advertisements, and those brick and ivy covered outfield walls. And new baseball parks have, over the last two decades, tried to repeat that history, aiming for smaller, more urban parks with turn of the century flair. Baltimore's Camden Yards, Cleveland's Progressive Field (formerly Jacob's Field), Denver's Coors Field, Seattle's Safeco Field, San Diego's Petco Park—all of these parks sought to replicate the same qualities Wrigley Field has by virtue of its years.
Most recently, ballpark owners have taken this effort one step further by preserving historic parks where possible, rather than bulldozing them and rebuilding from the ground up. The recent renovations of Boston's Fenway Park and Los Angeles's Dodger Stadium offer lessons in baseball park preservation and a glimpse at how Wrigley Field will fare when its own renovation is done.