Wrigley Field: home to more than just baseball

    Wrigley Field decked out for the NHL Winter Classic. Photo courtesy of j.clark on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons.

    In all of the excitement surrounding the latest Iowa upset and the most recent updates on Persa’s Achilles, it’s likely that many have forgotten the headlining event of the season: The Wildcats are playing at Wrigley Field this Saturday.

    I’m sure you’re well aware by now that this is the first football game at Wrigley since 1970, and the first college football game there since 1938. But where does the Nov. 20 showdown stack up on the historic list of non-baseball events held at Wrigley?

    Jan. 23 and Jan. 30, 1944: Norge Ski Jump Competition

    The Norge Ski Jump club was founded in 1905 to spread a love of skiing in Chicago. In late 1943, the club asked Cubs owner P. K. Wrigley if it could hold its annual mid-winter ski-jumping competition at Wrigley Field due to the mandated gasoline rationing during World War II. Wrigley agreed, needing the profits from concessions sales. After issues with the Illinois War Production Board – it considered the use of materials for a “non-essential event” wasteful – the 90-foot slide was built. Contestants slid down towards home plate and launched into the air towards the center-field scoreboard. Current Cubs president Crane Kenney said they landed on second base, and that there are pictures in the Cubs press box. The winner of the Class A Division was Army Sgt. Torger Tokle, then serving at Camp Hale, Colo. The event took place on consecutive Sundays and drew about 11,000 total fans.

    1946, 1947, 1952: rodeos

    Wrigley Field hosted three rodeos in six years. The 1952 rodeo featured steer wrestling and bronco riding under portable lights, as it took place at night before lights were installed at Wrigley (which, amazingly, didn’t happen until 1988). One Brahma bull named Big Sid was noted for destroying Wrigley turf. Predictably, rodeos were troublesome for the grounds crew at Wrigley. Ray “Cotton” Bogren, part of the grounds crew at the 1952 rodeo, said the animals were kept under the bleachers until they were ready. “After the rodeo, we had to do a lot of sodding,” recalled Bogren. “The animals had ‘gone’ all over the infield. It was rough.”

    Sep. 12, 1946: Jake LaMotta vs. Bob Satterfield

    Up-and-coming middleweight Jake LaMotta, nicknamed “The Raging Bull,” made his Wrigley Field boxing debut on September 12. A crowd of 9,950 came to watch LaMotta, who moved up a weight class to take on light heavyweight Bob Satterfield. LaMotta knocked Satterfield out in seven rounds, earned himself $13,000 and went on to be a middleweight champion.

    Aug. 21, 1954: Harlem Globetrotters defeat U.S. All-Stars

    The portable lights returned to Wrigley for a night basketball game, pitting the Harlem Globetrotters against the U.S. All-Stars in the final game of a month-long summer “baseball park tour.” A portable court was brought in, bordered on one side by the pitcher’s mound and on the other by second base. Abe Saperstein created the Globetrotters in Chicago in 1926 and was thrilled to see them play in his hometown stadium. NBA legend George Mikan, playing for the opposing U.S. All-Stars, said it was “a real festive affair.” That Saturday night was “Goose Tatum Night,” and Tatum was presented with a Cadillac before the game. Over 14,000 fans watched as the Globetrotters defeated the All-Stars 57-51, and Tatum scored 23 points.

    Sep. 4 and Sep. 5, 2005: Jimmy Buffett

    Buffett’s two Labor Day weekend concerts were the first concerts ever to be held at Wrigley Field. The occasion was somewhat soured by the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and Buffett had to be respectful – but still entertaining.  He joked that if he could play at Wrigley Field, New Orleans could be rebuilt. He also signed a pinstriped Cubs jersey for an auction to benefit the Red Cross and dedicated his performance of “City of New Orleans” to those affected by the tragedy. He played at center field for about two and a half hours, playing songs like “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “Last Man Standing” and “License to Chill.”

    Jan. 1, 2009: NHL Winter Classic

    On July 16, 2008, the NHL confirmed that Wrigley Field would host its first hockey game: the 2009 Winter Classic. The Chicago Blackhawks faced their Central Division rivals, the Detroit Red Wings, then the defending Stanley Cup champions, on New Year’s Day. Construction began on Dec. 16, and included several nods to baseball: the rink’s exterior mirrored the brick wall of the box seats, and a modified version of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” was performed midway through the third period. A rule change required teams to switch sides at the first whistle after the halfway mark of the third period to account for weather. The Blackhawks jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Red Wings scored three goals in the second to take the lead and eventually won 6-4. The rink stayed up until Jan. 4, 2009 for community ice skating.


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.