Wrigley A Dump? Not Even Close.
In June of 2011, longtime baseball analyst (and New England native, I think is important to note) Peter Gammons called one of the greatest ballparks in America “a dump”, saying that it needs revitalizing like Fenway Park in Boston.
Here is Gammons quote, in a radio interview: “They have to make that ballpark livable. It’s a dump, Wrigley Field. They’re going to have to spend $200-and-something million on re-renovating Wrigley Field, do what the Boston owners did with Fenway Park.”
I have a lot of respect for Gammons as an analyst, which makes this blog-comment-level assertion really surprising. What bothers me about it, as with many assertions from analyst types, is that Gammons didn’t say what about the Friendly Confines needs renovating. More concourse space? A new scoreboard? More seats? I don’t know Peter Gammons, but I’d like to ask him, what do you think the Cubs should do?
I happened to have visited Wrigley Field just days before Peter Gammons made himself known as a Fenway partisan in the statement comparing the two oldest major league ballparks. Folks, take it from me, because I examined and inspected the place from as many angles as I could. Wrigley Field is not only anything but a dump, it’s still one of the best ballparks in America, even with all of the spectacular new ones out there.
The Red Sox did an outstanding job renovating Fenway Park, turning it almost into a new ballpark without sacrificing anything that made Fenway Fenway. Architect Janet Marie Smith, a key player in the design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, also directed much of the brilliant renovations in Boston. Between the seats on top of the Green Monster, to the newly added Big Concourse in right field, to the closing off of Yawkey Way before games, the Red Sox got everything absolutely right.
Now, I say this as a big fan of Fenway, so try not to be offended if you’re a Red Sox fan: the renovations at Fenway, while very well executed, fixed a great deal of problems that Wrigley didn’t have.
The reason opening up Yawkey Way and adding the Big Concourse worked so well is because Fenway truly did have a problem with concourse space and limited concessions stands. It’s as if everyone has room to breathe now.
I am speaking from personal experience, but I went to a Red Sox game in 2001 and missed almost two innings just getting a hot dog. If you see the crowds in the Big Concourse and on Yawkey Way before games today, it’s hard to imagine that space not being there. But that’s the way it was.
Wrigley does not have this problem on the scale that Fenway did. The concourse on the lower level is wide enough that traffic isn’t much heavier than it is at many new ballparks. It gets crowded, without doubt, but it isn’t nearly as bad—probably partially because the bleachers patrons are relegated to a separate area of the ballpark. There are certainly enough concessions stands to choose from, and in fact Wrigley’s food stands and selections are arranged a bit better than Fenway’s are even today.
Yes, the upper level at Wrigley could stand some concourse space, and it isn’t as conducive to getting a dog as the lower level…but it isn’t as difficult as Fenway used to be. At Wrigley, however, the upper level seats are the cheaper seats; in Fenway the cheapest seats are in the outfield.
Even with the Fenway renovations, parking is still as blasted expensive and difficult as it has always been, and unlike at Wrigley, the train station that most people use instead isn’t right on top of the ballpark (it is only a block and a half away, but I’m just saying). Both ballparks could use a large parking garage next to them. And both still fill up with fans without one and will continue to.
And even with the renovations, Fenway still has a problem with obstructed view seats behind support poles, as Wrigley does. But the Terrace seats behind the poles at Wrigley are more spacious and have more leg room than the Grandstand seats behind the poles at Fenway.
That isn’t something that needs to be fixed, either. Fenway is one of my favorite ballparks, and the struggles one endures to see a game there are part of the charm. But if Peter Gammons isn’t going to be specific about what’s wrong with Wrigley Field, he could call Fenway a dump based on whatever criteria he might be using to impart such an insult about Wrigley.
Would I love to see Wrigley get a face lift? Absolutely. The old girl deserves it. Certainly the ballpark should be structurally sound. I would like to see an upper level concourse added. I’d like to see a few rows of bleacher seats added. The Sheffield Station where the elevated train drops off fans could be modernized and more spacious.
More parking would be nice, but not at the expense of anything that contributes to the atmosphere outside Wrigley that is like no other in baseball. I do love the Ashburn Alleys and Eutaw Streets and Yawkey Ways at other ballparks, and closing off Sheffield Avenue like Yawkey Way might be an improvement.
But none of these are serious concerns to me. I had a wonderful time at Wrigley Field in my last visit, as I always have whenever I’ve visited the place. When you’re sitting in that dark green seat eating a hot dog with neon green relish, seeing the ivy and the classic scoreboard and the people sitting in the bleachers and on rooftops watching the game, you realize a game at the Friendly Confines isn’t just a game. It’s a celebration.
Sure Cubs fans want their team to win as badly as any other team’s fans do, probably more so, but how is being able to park at a game going to make that more likely?
It’s taken a century to build up the kind of ambience Wrigley has. Whatever warts Wrigley shows because of its age are minor in comparison. It’s really surprising and disappointing that someone who has been around the game as long as Gammons has doesn’t appreciate that.
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