Esther Cepeda: Wrigley Field is baseball’s sacred temple
CHICAGO -- Call it a character defect, but I don’t like baseball. And I especially don’t like the Chicago Cubs—losers I never found lovable.
I grew up less than a mile west of Wrigley Field, and games there represented summer-long inconveniences such as midday parades of drunken fans who thought nothing of littering your lawn with empty beer cups or using our tree as a restroom.
As such, I was not the ideal candidate for enjoying the book “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred,” written by the columnist George F. Will. But the tribute only grazes the underperforming Cubs as it honors the shrine that keeps the club afloat.
Like all good history books, this is not just about a pitiful team, or a temple to America’s national pastime, or the hard-knuckled town that rings its Friendly Confines, or the “unhinged enthusiasts” and their blind adoration for the Cubs. Rather, it illustrates how the world develops around a microcosm of humanity.
Covering topics as diverse as the actual beginnings of the game in this country—it was in no small part a post-Civil War vehicle for healing the wounds of that conflict—and the bold names that gave the stadium some atmosphere (Al Capone, Babe Ruth, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens), Will gives us a compact retelling of everything from The Great Migration to prohibition, baseball and Wrigley Field’s desegregation, along with a nod to the reviled Steve Bartman, who was blamed for the Cubs losing a playoff game in 2003 by reflexively reaching for a ball headed into the stands.
Will really does cover practically everything. Who would’ve thought I’d run across a women’s history lesson? It turns out that the Cubs’ outreach to women was so successful that “the number of women who were admitted free in the 1920s and early 1930s probably did … exceed some teams’ paid attendance each season,” Will writes. “There were, however, occasions when people needed protection from the ladies, who could be disorderly in their rush for admission to the ballpark and for choice seats.”
Will quotes Cubs owner and chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., who said, “It is easier to control a crowd of 100,000 men than of 10,000 women,” and told a story about an elderly woman who he found weeping because she had inadvertently been swept inside the park by a “terrible mob” of women.
Similarly, I never would have understood beer’s seminal role in shaping the whole of Western civilization had Will not meticulously chronicled how the beverage—in addition to the beauty and Williamsburg-like historic bona fides of Wrigley Field itself—enables the losers in question to be so lovable.
According to Will’s calculations, Cubs ticket prices are the third highest in all of baseball, but beer at Wrigley is the third cheapest in the major leagues. Coincidence? Not a chance.
The book closes with a meditation on the nature of both our human desire to belong to a tribe and to have leisure. No less important: making memories with loved ones. And despite my practically un-American lack of interest in baseball, even I have a favorite memory of Wrigley Field.
When I was about 5, my beloved Uncle Juan took me to the stadium, where I got a hot dog, a soft drink, a cap and was impressed by the behavior of the inebriated young women sitting behind us, slurring and protesting their way through the contest, which I recall absolutely nothing about.
After leaving the park, we drove off to pick my mom up from work. Sitting in the passenger seat of Juan’s brown Pontiac Catalina, I turned to the person idling next to us in traffic. Through the open window I jutted out my arm, made an obscene gesture and repeated the choice expletive the girls had been chanting during the game.
My uncle, horrified, begged me to never do either of those things again or else my mom would kill him. I happily complied.
Will does a beautiful job of making Wrigley Field an object of affection for fans and even those of us for whom—in the words of legendary sportscaster Red Barber—baseball is dull only because of the dullness of our own minds.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.