Dallas Green was almost right when, during his fight for lights in the 1980s, he said, "People do come [to Wrigley] to see the place, but we can't depend on that." Maybe not depend on it, but since Green turned on the switch, the Wrigley experience has been as much a draw as some of the park's tenant teams.
Most ballparks -- Municipal Stadium in Cleveland and Toronto's Exhibition Stadium were notable exceptions for years -- do attract fans at some point regardless of the quality of baseball played within their boundaries. New parks are said to maintain a sense of novelty for five years. But Wrigley remains an attraction even now that the Cubs are without a World Series appearance since 1945 and living in last place in 2014 after enduring a last-place finish (2013) and a 101-loss season (2012) in the last two years.
It isn't only the ivy or the wonderful seventh-inning stretch gimmick started by Harry Caray that makes Wrigley such an attraction. Or the folks watching from rooftops, or the proximity of the bullpens, or the hand-operated scoreboard, or the flags that update the standings. Or its intimacy. Or Wrigleyville. Or any one thing. It's everything. It's charm. Fenway is a close second. Wrigley is a close first. It has charm and an element precious few parks have anymore -- a sense of the romance of the game.
Even in April with the wind coming in off the lake, Wrigley provides a degree of warmth.
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The shelf life of a big league facility these days is such that no other park, stadium, field or yard has a remote chance of reaching a centennial celebration unless that beauty in Chavez Ravine can avoid/withstand the "big one" for another 48 summers. Turner Field already is scheduled for big league mothballs, and it opened for baseball in 1997. The Twins let the air out of the Metrodome after merely 27 years (and 2,128 unseen or misjudged fly balls.)
When (and if) The House O'Malley built makes it to 2062, we ought to have replacements for a few current parks -- Tropicana Field (hope so), U.S. Cellular (at least change the name) and cleverly named Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (please, please). Hopefully no replacement for Vin Scully, though.
Parks built between now and then won't have enough years to have found their ways into our hearts. So which of the current ballparks will have a chance in, say 50 years, to become what Wrigley is now at 100?
My personal choice is the Giants' park, whatever they're calling it this year -- Pacific Bell Park, SBC or AT&T. It has charm, personality and McCovey Cove. Good, bad or indifferent, it was the site of Barry Bonds' bashing of Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron. That gave the place history, and history helps to create charm. "I remember, I was sitting over there when Bonds hit No. 700-something."
Moreover, Bay Area fans are uncommonly proud of their park. And don't overlook or oversniff the scent of garlic fries -- even though the taste is a disappointment. It enhances the experience.
The statute of Willie Mays, outside and behind the plate, is a proper salute that adds to AT&T's allure.
PNC Park in Pittsburgh is a favorite, too. That the press box is located on the cumulus nimbus level bothers only the television and print media folks not armed with binoculars. The surroundings, with all the illuminated bridges, make for after-dark beauty, and the interior feels like a ballpark. If the Pirates ever get around to properly saluting the late Ralph Kiner with a statue comparable to those they have for Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, PNC will move up in my eyes.
Coors Field is a handsome place, too, and when the Rockies -- the mountains, not the players -- are visible, there is purple mountains majesty that is nowhere else in the game.
The Padres' Petco Park is terrific, well designed. Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the first of the retro parks, remains a cool place to watch a game, and it has the distinction of the warehouse and the Cal Moment. It ranks second to the Giants' place on my list. It would rank closer to AT&T if they called it simply Camden Yard.
Target Field in Minneapolis and Citi Field in New York feel good, though the latter has too much neon. And neither has history yet.
But then, what compelling history does Wrigley have? Kerry Wood's 20 K's? Ernie Banks MVPs? Zim squeezing with the bases loaded? Ferguson Jenkins' 20-win seasons? Steve Bartman? The homer in the gloamin'? Babe's called shot? Hawk being commercially pulled from the vine? Nothing really special, but no matter. Wrigley's the best now and might still be when another 100 years pass.
So happy birthday, you beautiful old lady.