If you blindfolded me and transported me to Wrigley Field, I would know where I was just from the smell of the concourse. The evidence of more than a hundred years of Cubs fans oozes ever so gently from the concrete in the Friendly Confines. A hint of Italian beef and sausages, jumbo hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, and for many years, the cigars and cigarettes, still linger in the air.
Sure, the old ballpark has changed a lot. There was a controversy about the lights. But the job was done so artfully that you hardly notice them. From an architectural point of view, they could have been there when the Chicago Whales of the Federal League played the first game. The same cannot be said of the Diamond Vision boards that block the view from the brownstones behind the bleachers on N. Sheffield and Waveland Avenues. But these additions have not changed the aroma. It is like no place else on earth.
If you have been there a few times, you know what I’m saying. What you don’t know, even if you’ve been going there for forty years, is that there was another subtle change. Sometime in the eighties, the old press box that hung from the rafters under the upper deck and above the box seats, was replaced with luxury boxes. I was broadcasting at the time, and it made for a long hike to the booth. The Cubs ferried Harry Carey up the ramps in a golf cart, which infuriated his arch-rival Milo Hamilton when the Astros were in town.
It took considerable effort to get up there with a heavy briefcase, but it was worth it. The view wasn’t quite as good, but the broadcast booths and press box were far more commodious. The only thing I truly missed about the cramped quarters of the old days was the bathroom – singular. When Wrigley Field’s formerly named Weeghman Park was built in 1914, there were no female reporters. In fact, there were very few reporters at all compared to the press contingent that covers every game these days. Only one bathroom was needed and that’s what was built. One toilet, one sink, in a space so small you could hardly turn around. A hook on the door jamb and a loop on the door to lock it. That was it. Broadcasters had to run from their booths to beat the writers between innings.
That was funny but it’s not the best part. That is the part I invite you to relive in your own way. It is the list that was scribbled on the wall of that cubicle. Back in the day, someone wrote the words “Bring Back” on the wall and underlined them about six feet up. Underneath, a list of names started and was lengthened year by year in that Wrigley Field bathroom, with all manner of writing implements until another column had to be formed.
I can’t remember the first name, but all the names were distinctive in the sense that they were either odd or obscure. No player with a standard name or a plaque in the Hall of Fame was on the list. Who knows, Ring Lardner or Peter Gammons may have added a name. I scribbled Doug Rader up there myself. So, I invite you to start a new list in the name of Jack Brickhouse. I will start it. You can take it from here:
Van Lingle Mungo