Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?
You enter under the marquee at Clark and Addison. As you make your way through the concourse, a sliver of bright blue sky is visible through one of the walkways that lead to the seating area. As you climb the stairs, the green hand-operated scoreboard in center field comes into view. As you reach the top of the steps, you look to the outfield and see...nothing but a plain old wall?
For fans entering Wrigley Field prior to 1937, that was the view for those seated in the grandstands looking onto the field. No lush green ivy running from foul pole to foul pole. Just a wall, like every other stadium in the league.
Part of what makes the Wrigley Field experience so special is having an outfield that looks different than the 29 other major league ballparks. So, how did it get there? For that, Cubs fans have a former White Sox owner to thank.
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The origins of the ivy go back almost 90 years. William Veeck was the Cubs president from 1919 until his death in October 1933. During that time, he hired his son, William Jr., who started as a gopher but quickly moved his way up the Cubs organization. Veeck Jr, whom Chicagoans know better as Bill, would go on to buy the White Sox in 1975. He was behind infamous baseball moments like sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat in 1951 and Disco Demolition Night in 1979.
In 1937, Veeck gave Cubs fans an early glimpse of his ability to make a splash.
That season, team owner P.K. Wrigley decided to renovate the ballpark that bears his family’s name and make it more of a destination rather than just another baseball stadium. A big part of the upgrade was the addition of the bleachers and the center field scoreboard, which has remained in its spot for the past 83 years.
Wrigley turned to Veeck, tasking him with marketing Wrigley Field with something a little more colorful in front of the bricks supporting the bleachers.
As for the inspiration for the ivy, Veeck credits the home of the Indianapolis Indians, Perry Stadium, which opened in 1931 and had ivy climbing its outfield walls. In his autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck”, Veeck wrote:
Since I had always admired the ivy-covered...walls at Perry Stadium in Indianapolis
I suggested we appropriate the idea for ourselves.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
The ivy remained at Perry Stadium (which was renamed Victory Stadium and Bush Stadium over the years) until the ballpark closed in 1996. The Indians tried to replicate the ivy covered walls at their new park, but team officials were told professional baseball standards now required padded walls
Wrigley’s walls have been grandfathered into the rules, so they can remain as is. And any attempts to change them requires the approval of the City of Chicago, which added the ivy to part of Wrigley Field’s Landmark Designation.
The ivy also has a special set of rules. If a batted ball goes into it and disappears, the batter (and all runners) are awarded two bases. However, if an outfielder makes an attempt to get the ball out of the ivy, the ball is live (and the outfielder runs the risk of finding not only the ball in play, but others hit there previously).
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But what if Veeck never planted the ivy?
What if in 1937, Mr. Wrigley decided a brick wall was enough. Would the team have kept the walls at their current height and just added pads to them when the league required they do so? Without landmark status, the Cubs could have decided during subsequent bleacher renovations to lower the height of the walls a couple of feet to allow outfielders to attempt home run-saving catches.
In that case, there would be no need for a basket at the top of the walls. And without one, Javier Baez’ eighth inning shot into the left field basket in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants isn’t a homer, but a long fly out. And instead of winning that game 1-0, maybe the Cubs lose it.
Maybe that gives San Francisco the momentum they need in the series and they go on and beat the Cubs in the NLDS. Then there is no World Series title and the championship drought is at 111 years and counting.
And that’s a world I just don’t want to live in. And it makes me appreciate the ivy on the walls that much more.
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