By Rick Firfer
The Chicago Cubs had another rough year on the diamond in 2014, but it was still a year of great celebration because it marked the 100th anniversary of the team’s iconic stadium, Wrigley Field.
Known as Weeghman Park when it opened on April 23, 1914, the new stadium originally served as the home of the Chicago Whales of the old Federal League. When the Federal League folded several years later, the team’s owner and stadium’s namesake, Charles Weeghman, purchased the already existing Chicago Cubs franchise and moved it from Chicago’s West Side Park to his own stadium.
When Weeghman sold the team and the stadium to chewing gum magnate William Wrigley in 1926, the stadium was promptly renamed in honor of Wrigley’s family, and that name has remained attached to the stadium ever since.
Through all the years of its existence, Wrigley Field has been host to thousands of regular season baseball games, and even a few postseason games. While few, if any, people remain on this planet who are likely to have witnessed the Cubs win their last world championship in person, there are still some people around who have actually attended World Series games at Wrigley Field.
One of those is former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a native of Chicago and a rabid Cubs fan who enjoys telling people about the time his father took him to a Cubs/Yankees World Series game in 1932. While Stevens may not have seen Babe Ruth’s famous “called shot” home run, the former Justice, now in his 90s, still points to that World Series experience as one of his fondest childhood memories.
Then, of course, there are members of the Greatest Generation who are still with us who personally witnessed the Cubs lose to the Detroit Tigers and their future Hall of Fame pitcher, Hal Newhouser, in the 1945 World Series. The hope in Chicago is that at least some of those folks will get to attend another World Series at Wrigley Field while it is still possible.
In addition to World Series games, Wrigley Field has also hosted several MLB All-Star Games, the latest of which was played in 1990. Wrigley was also, for many years, the home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears franchise, before the Bears finally scored a much larger venue at Soldier Field.
The Bears were still in residence at Wrigley Field in 1963, however, when they won their last pre-Super Bowl era championship. Wrigley has also hosted a number of Major League Soccer games, as well as Big Ten football games and concerts by Jimmy Buffet and other A-list musicians. And who can forget all those Hollywood movies in which Wrigley Field has made an appearance, including the ever-popular Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
Party of the Century
To get the centennial celebration rolling, the Cubs’ marketing department created a task force to brainstorm ways in which the organization could provide added value for the many fans who would be coming to the park in 2014.
Headed by Allison Miller, and including Brian Garza and Kevin Saghy, the guys behind the Topps cards “that never were” that appeared on the 2013 Cubs season ticket stock, the team got right down to work and decided that the theme for 2014 would be the “Party of the Century.” They also decided to focus their marketing efforts on the many unique products and events that Wrigley Field had become known for during the years.
To make things manageable, however, the members of the task force realized they would have to break their efforts down into smaller segments to keep from being overwhelmed by 100 years of history. Thus, they decided to research and analyze the stadium’s history on a decade-by-decade basis. The point was to identify specific areas of interest from each prior decade that could be used to enhance the fans’ enjoyment of the centennial season.
The task force keyed its research to the players, events, programs, food items and promotional giveaways of each decade, with the idea that they would try to re-create as much of Wrigley Field’s past as they could to give the celebration a distinctly nostalgic feel.
To give each decade its proper due, it was further decided to tie specific prior decades to each of the team’s homestands throughout the 2014 season. That way when a fan attended a game during a particular homestand, the fan might feel like he or she was walking into a game being played in a prior decade because the food at the concession stands and the promotional giveaways handed out at the gate would be the same as those at an actual game played in that prior decade.
The task force also decided to present the various decades in chronological order, so that the earliest homestands of the 2014 season would feature promotions and events relating to the earliest decades of the stadium’s existence, and the later homestands would be tied to more recent decades.
The easiest way to illustrate how the system worked would be to focus on items being sold at the concession stands. In addition to modern fare, you could also purchase throwback food items such as the Reuben Dogs that were popular in the 1910s. Those were for sale at the opening homestand. The concessions then progressed at subsequent homestands from the Chicago Dogs popular in the 1920s to the Cheese Steak Dogs of the 1930s, the Corn Dog Nibbles of the 1940s, the Dinner Dogs of the 1950s and so on. The same was true of the various libations offered, beginning with the Weeghman Park Old Fashioneds available in the 1910s and ending with the Playoff Punch sold in the 2000s.
For those more interested in promotional giveaways, attention may have been focused on the limited-edition Joe Tinker bobbleheads given away on April 18 or on the Chicago Federal League jerseys, the fedora hats, the yo-yos, the Babe Ruth “called shot” bobbleheads and the Viewmasters given away on various dates later in the season. All-American Girls Professional League bobbleheads, Mr. Potato Head keychains, Rubiks Cubes, Beanie Babies and plush dolls also made the list of throwback giveaways in 2014.
For most collectors, however, the biggest prize was again the ticket package provided to the season ticket holders. In 2013, the season ticket stock featured images of revered Cubs players on imaginary Topps baseball cards. That promotion was so successful that the 2014 task force felt compelled to revisit the idea for the Party of the Century. The result was another very attractive set of season tickets, this time focusing on Cubs game programs of the past, as well as images evoking major events held at Wrigley during the prior 100 years.
The tickets that reproduced covers from past game programs were particularly attractive to collectors because of their nostalgic feel. The task force was careful in its research and able to find samples from each of the prior decades to copy for the ticket stock, including the beautiful art deco covers of the 1950s and 1960s.
According to Garza, however, a lot of man hours also went into tracking down actual samples of the original programs that were used to make the reproductions printed on the tickets. Many of the original programs were still in the team’s archives, so those were easy to come by. But with respect to those programs not in the archives, time had to be spent communicating with collectors who might be persuaded to loan their programs to the task force so that reproductions could be made for the ticket stock.
At the end of the day, the team came up with most of what it wanted in regard to game programs. However, any gaps that remained proved not to be an impediment because a number of the tickets were going to show images of things other than the programs anyway. For example, several tickets showed photos of the ballpark as it changed through the years, including one that showed the park as it looked in 1914, the year it opened.
In addition, there were tickets that employed images relating to a Jimmy Buffet concert, as well as the All-American Girls Professional League and the Chicago Sting professional soccer team, both of which staged games at Wrigley Field in the past.
Missing from this roster, however, were images relating to the Chicago Bears because the NFL evidently has a policy in place that discourages cross-marketing with other professional sports leagues. Garza also noted that because MLB controls the artwork and design of tickets used for post-eason games, the Cubs throwback ticket images would not have been carried into the playoffs had the Cubs qualified for any of those games.
As proof of the ultimate popularity of the 2014 season ticket program, Garza noted that once again, as in 2013, ticket takers at the gates reported that many season ticket holders refused to detach their tickets from the season ticket booklets, but instead brought the booklets with them to each game and had the tickets scanned while still attached. That way they could preserve the integrity of the entire booklet as a collectible, rather than dividing it up into separate tickets. Only the ticket for April 23 had to be handled differently, because the game played that day was played on the actual 100th anniversary of the stadium and the team decided that the April 23 ticket would be in the form of a special plastic commemorative piece to be worn on a lanyard around the neck.
That ticket, along with several commemorative pins and other goodies, was included in the full ticket package delivered to the season ticket holders before the season began. Thus, anyone wanting to own a full collectible package from the Party of the Century will have to negotiate with those season ticket holders who were smart enough to keep their booklets intact and to preserve the rest of the package as it was delivered to them.
Tickets in 2015
With the 2015 season about to kick off the form of this year’s Cubs tickets will soon be apparent to everyone. While season ticket holders eagerly await their new packages to see what surprise the team may have in store for them, there are many worthy events the team might contemplate commemorating on its ticket stock in the future. With that in mind, perhaps a few suggestions are in order.
There was the planting of the ivy on Wrigley Field’s outfield walls by Bill Veeck in 1937, as well as the installation of the manually-operated scoreboard that same year. The serving of the first beer occurred at Wrigley Field in 1933. That would seem worthy of commemoration all on its own, as would the playing of the first game under the lights at Wrigley Field. Of course, the latter might have to be commemorated on two different tickets because the game that began on the evening of 8/8/88 had to be postponed due to rain, and the first official game under the lights did not take place until the evening of 8/9/88.
Other events worthy of commemoration might include Babe Ruth’s called home run shot in the 1932 World Series, the double no-hitter that took place on May 2, 1917 (which, naturally, the Cubs lost in the 10th inning) and, of course, the day that Michael Jordan faced real major league pitching in an exhibition game at Wrigley Field.
Whatever the challenge, though, you can be certain the Cubs will rise to the occasion, and you can be equally certain that those hobby enthusiasts who collect Cubs tickets and promotional giveaway items will again find something worth adding to their collections.
Rick Firfer is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.