Cubs

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

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.

How boring.

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).

RELATED: Ever wonder how "Chelsea Dagger" became the Blackhawks' goal song?

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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Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

Yu Darvish: If Cubs didn't take COVID-19 seriously, 'I was ready to go home'

If Yu Darvish thinks baseball can pull off this high-risk, three-month season during a pandemic, maybe there’s reason to dream on the long shot coming in.

Then, again, the Cubs’ potential Opening Day starter has not ruled out changing his mind about playing — which underscores the daily fragility of the thread holding this 30-team, 30-site process together.

“Definitely, I came here to make sure everybody’s doing the right thing,” Darvish said through a translator. “I had in my mind if they’re not, I was ready to go home.”

Darvish was the first player in the majors last spring to publicly express fear of the COVID-19 spread and lethality of a virus that was blamed for fewer than 10 American deaths at the time — weeks before major sports were shut down across the country.

Four months and more than 130,000 U.S. coronavirus-related deaths later, he made the “tough” decision to play — with plenty of reservations.

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“Yes, definitely, I still have concerns,” he said Sunday, two days after Giants star Buster Posey became one of 11 players without a pre-existing, high-risk condition to decline to play this season.

MORE: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play in 2020

Under rules in the COVID-19 health and safety Operations Manual, players with high-risk conditions are allowed to change their minds in either direction when it comes to the opt-out decision. And they earn full service time for the year and prorated salary for the 60-game season if they don’t play.

Those such as Darvish who are not in that category don’t get service time or pay for the year if they decline to play and are not allowed to return once that decision is made official.

Asked if he still is leaving open the possibility of opting out of the season, he said, “Maybe. But at this point no, I don’t think so.”

In a baseball vacuum, Darvish offers the Cubs’ their best chance to have success during a 60-game season and any playoffs that might follow.

“The way he finished the season last year, how good he was for us, that’s the guy we’re counting on,” manager David Ross said, referring to a second half that included a 2.76 ERA and a 118-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13 starts.

But Darvish, a native of Japan, hasn’t viewed baseball in a vacuum since the year began — approaching Cubs officials upon his arrival for informal work before spring training began in February to address concerns about reporters who might travel from possible virus hot spots in Asia to cover him.

“I’m really worried about it,” he said then.

And then on March 5 he left the Cubs’ spring facility to see a doctor for a test after experiencing a cough, out of a fear he might expose teammates if he had the virus.

By the time MLB and the union agreed last month to terms for a season, the thought of playing during a pandemic had only become more serious for Darvish and many others throughout the game.

“It was tough because I have small children,” Darvish said of the decision. “During the spring we had a lot of thoughts about that, and it was tough decision.”

He said seeing teammates with similar family dynamics and concerns choose to play made it “a little easier to make the decision to play.”

But it’s a discussion among players and their families across the majors that isn’t going to go away — and figures to only intensify every time another batch of test results shows up late or another player tests positive somewhere.

MORE: Cubs COVID-19 tests return negative, Theo Epstein cautions against complacency

Not to mention continued spikes in new cases and deaths in cities and states across the major-league map.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. Nobody wants to get this thing,” Cubs veteran Jon Lester said. “You have to just believe in the testing process; you have to believe in kind of the bubble community we’re trying to create here; you have to believe in these things.”

That’s when Lester held up a mask during the Zoom session with reporters.

The Cubs — the only team in the league without a player testing positive through the first two weeks of intake and monitoring testing — have shown a commitment to safety protocols from top to bottom in the organization. Third baseman Kris Bryant wore his mask again while taking ground balls at third base Sunday, despite plenty of safe distance from the nearest player or coach.

“I know that some of the players are uncomfortable wearing it, but they do wear it,” Darvish said. “So it’s nice to see. I used to wear [masks] all the time in Japan so I’m very comfortable with this.”

Getting comfortable with the larger experiment, especially when teams begin to travel and inherent risks increase, could be an ongoing adjustment — for everyone from
Darvish, Lester and Bryant to Angels superstar Mike Trout, who continues to express concerns with his first child due next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff where you’re putting yourself out there and just kind of hoping,” said Lester, whose successful battle with cancer more than a decade ago qualifies him for a high-risk exemption to opt out.

“My own personal health really wasn’t my concern,” said Lester, who said the team doctor consulted with his oncologist in Chicago on the issue. “We do have some family stuff we’re trying to stay away from. But I think you just have to dive into this head-first and go with the protocols and wash your hands and be careful.

“You really have to concentrate on that and hopefully everything else kind of takes care of itself.”

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Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

Why David Ross is 'excited' about umpire crew joining Cubs Summer Camp

The days of Cubs mental skills coach John Baker holding an armchair cushion between him and the catcher as he calls balls and strikes may be over.

Professional umpires will soon take over the responsibility of calling the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmages. Crew chief Tony Randazzo and his umpire crew will embed themselves at Cubs Summer Camp, manager David Ross announced Sunday.

“I think it’s going to affect the mental skills department too,” Ross said, laughing. “Yeah, I’m excited about getting real umpires up here. Bake’s been doing a good job for us, but every chance we get an opportunity to turn up the dial and make it as game-like as possible, the better.”

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From his playing days as a catcher, Ross is familiar with Randazzo. Ross said he’s excited about using the umpires as a “sounding board" for questions. 

The introduction of MLB umpires, which is expected to be implemented across the league, is also set up to give umpires practice before the regular season.

The Cubs’ earliest scrimmages, as well as Sunday’s intrasquad game, featured catchers calling balls and strikes, which Ross called, “fun and unique.”

“Being in that situation in the past,” the former catcher said, laughing, “you’re not going to make anybody happy when you punch them out.”

In the middle of the week, Baker took over umpiring duties. Baker has Tier 1 clearance – the Cubs deemed his role a priority, especially in the midst of a pandemic – so he has on-field access.

“Well, after umpiring 5 ½ (innings) tonight,” Baker posted to Twitter on Thursday, “I can say that that job is much harder than it looks on TV. I’m exhausted.”

 

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