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The Sad Demise of Wrigley’s Identity

Article and photo by Kurt Smith, author of the Ballpark E-Guide series

When I’ve been asked what my favorite ballpark is, for years Wrigley Field was always part of my answer. If it wasn’t my favorite, it was always in my top three.

Like Fenway, but even more so, Wrigley was special because it was stubborn in its appreciation for baseball. The same scoreboard, the same eye-catching ivy, the rooftop bleachers, the same organ music. Wrigley seemed to recognize that baseball is a great game without mascot races, blaring at-bat music or flashing strobes accompanying home team dingers. They just did baseball with dogs and beer there, and that was always enough to fill the place.

I am hoping the finished product from the current renovation will be better than I’m expecting it to be now, but I’m not optimistic. I really don’t know how else to say it…the new Wrigley is a very different animal, and it has lost a great deal of its charm.

When I learned that the Cubs were going to renovate Wrigley, the first thought that popped into my head was this: if they don’t hire Janet Marie Smith for this job, they could screw it up badly.

Janet Marie Smith is the architect behind the great innovations that made Camden Yards special, and she was also responsible for the brilliant Fenway Park renovation. She works for the Dodgers now, so apparently the Cubs couldn’t hire her away.

Janet Marie would have fixed the Friendly Confines right.

As I write this, Wrigley Field has a huge hi-def videoboard in left field. There are two things I can tell you about it…it’s extremely bright at night, and the Cubs put a lot of ads on it. Which is why it is there to begin with.

It also looks completely out of place in a hundred year old brick and steel ballpark with ivy on the outfield walls.

It’s not too bad during the day, but at night, with this monstrosity in left field—and the equally bright ribbon board next to it—it seems as though the Cubs don’t want anyone to pay attention to the comparatively poorly lit hand operated out-of-town scoreboard. The scoreboard that was once as signature a feature in the Friendly Confines as the ivy is almost inconsequential now.

When I saw it for the first time at night, I was looking at this and thinking, the Cubs liked this? The Ricketts family, two of whom once lived across the street from Wrigley, looked at this and approved of it? No one said, I’m not sure this fits in very well? Maybe we should lessen the intensity of the screen? Or light up the center field scoreboard better?

I don’t know how much better it will be when the bleachers return and there are fans in the outfield again. But if the coming right field video board is just as bright…and there’s no reason to believe it won’t be…the out-of-town scoreboard is just going to look ridiculous. It would be as if the Yankees planted a hand-operated scoreboard in the new Yankee Stadium next to their monstrous video boards. It wouldn’t make any sense.

The Red Sox got it right at Fenway. They put large video boards in the outfield, but they made them look like the hand-operated classic, same background color and all…and more importantly, they’re at the same level of brightness. In other words, they didn’t overdo trying to modernize a century-old ballpark.

If the Cubs have two scoreboards in the outfield that are bright enough to play a game by…and I’m not exaggerating when I think it’s possible…then they might as well get rid of the center field scoreboard, because it no longer has a place in the modernized Wrigley.

“What??” You say, “The out-of-town scoreboard has no place at Wrigley Field?”

Exactly my point.

But that’s what the new super bright, ultra high definition video boards have done.

Sorry to say that Wrigley Field is no longer in my top five ballparks, or even my top ten. The new Wrigley Field seems like it doesn’t know if it’s classic or modern anymore, and so it’s neither. It’s like watching a colorized version of It’s A Wonderful Life.

Should have waited until Janet was available.