(originally published June 2013)
I never imagined a 7th-inning interview with Arsenio Hall would expose a Cubs conspiracy. During the June visit, the talk show host unwittingly asked Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies if they’d had the pleasure of broadcasting from a rooftop this season. Len and J.D. eschewed the idea, instead highlighting their recent trip to the bleachers before abruptly changing the subject. The circumvention of rooftop talk was slightly awkward and opened my eyes to the fact that they rarely, if ever, feature the rooftops on TV this season. The broadcasting team’s unwillingness to engage in conversation about the Wrigley tradition reeked of a corporate mandate with respect to the ongoing feud. Arsenio was dead right. The rooftops are a major part of what makes Wrigley special. Harry Caray delighted in talking about the rooftop parties and viewers across the country marveled at the party surrounding the park. It’s a major tourist attraction. As a Cubs fan, I take great pride in that unique aspect of Wrigleyville. Sure, the rooftop parties are less organic and all corporate nowadays, but they remain a crucial part of the atmosphere. Ignoring them does Wrigley and Chicago a disservice. It also speaks to Tom Ricketts’ values.
First let me say how much I respect the fact that Ricketts isn’t leaning on the city to renovate the ballpark. Unlike the poor, needy folks over at DePaul University (25,000 students X $30,000 tuition= build your own fucking arena), Ricketts is footing his own bill. It’s admirable and he should be commended for his initiative. I also don’t care what Tom Tunney or the neighborhood residents think. Anyone that lives there either knew what they were getting into or profited greatly off their proximity to the field. As Steve Dahl says, “If Wrigley wasn’t in your neighborhood, it would just be called ‘Ville’”. Also, I don’t pity the rooftop owners or fear that the lack of free advertising will lead to their demise.
I do have one North Side concern, however. Allow me to go all W.P. Kinsella on you for a second:
Walking into Wrigley Field is a portal into the past. You take a seat where someone once watched Gabby Harnett hit the Homer in the Gloamin’. The old scoreboard keeps balls and strikes and fits comfortably in the background above the ivy-covered walls. Watching a game at this one-of-a-kind ballpark offers a level of tranquility impossible to match in this era. Where else can you pass through a gate and have virtually the same experience your grandfather had 60 years ago?
This winter, Ricketts will affix an enormous electronic scoreboard in left field. The impending change will have a far greater impact than the 1988 addition of lights. The iconic bleachers will be forever altered, as will the view of (and from) the Waveland rooftops. It’ll provide a backstop costing Waveland ball hawks some souvenirs and denying TV viewers magic moments like when the mailman caught Andre Dawson’s homer in 1989 or Sammy Sosa moonshots bouncing down Kenmore.
The old scoreboard will still stand, ignored. Kids will no longer ask their dads to explain why the numbers change from yellow to white. “NITE GAME” won’t need to be spelled out incorrectly and diagonally across the out-of-town games. (In fact, with the continued loss of day baseball, the letters might not have had as much use anyhow.)
The death sentence for the old scoreboard isn’t even the worst part. Here’s the worst part:
Ricketts sold the idea of the electronic scoreboard as a way to enrich the fan experience and increase revenue to invest in the on-field product. Before you take his word, remember that his family fortune came from online stock brokering. Do you normally trust billionaire Wall Street types? Remember, the Cubs were the most profitable MLB team last season and Ricketts isn’t hurting for walking around money.
Worst case scenario: We get a giant eyesore in left and a never-ending barrage of loud, obnoxious advertisements. Bye, bye serenity. Hello, peace-killing Dunkin’ Donuts ad. Your Wrigley experience becomes comparable to attending a Clippers game. The prospect of hearing “Y’all Ready For This?” at 115 decibels while Travis Wood warms up doesn’t feel right for the Friendly Confines.
Best Case Scenario: It blends into the background and causes the aforementioned changes for the bleachers, manual scoreboard and Waveland tradition. It will still light up with many advertisements, but at a quieter volume.
We’re hit by so many commercials on TV, laptops and at gas pumps, we hardly realize we’re under attack. Until we step foot somewhere without a screen in our face, like the current Wrigley Field. Sure, it has the little LED screens. But they don’t command your attention like the Ad Monster in left will next year. I’d wager it won’t show many replays, to avoid cup-throwing protests from drunk fans. Like US Cellular, it’ll be mostly stats and ads.
I understand that it’s part of progress and that Ricketts has grand plans to improve player facilities. I also believe he wants to bring a winner to Wrigley, which is the ultimate goal, and rightfully so. I honestly think he will succeed in the near future. I’m obviously no businessman, just a fan. I can’t help but feel he could accomplish his goal without the additional scoreboard revenue. Let’s hope he treads lightly on tradition.