Two-hour TV special celebrates Wrigley Field’s 100th birthdayContinue reading.
Wrigley Field feels like home for many former players, Cubs or not
Andre Dawson believes Wrigley Field rejuvenated his career in 1987 and helped set him on a path to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Dick Butkus cherishes Wrigley Field because it was the place that validated his pro football career.
And their memories are as genuine as the countless millions who have sat in the bleachers or upper deck watching them in a 10—year-old playground.
“It’s a field—just like when you’re a kid and you played on a field,” said another Cubs Hall of Famer, Billy Williams. “I left home [Whistler, Alabama] in 1956 and I didn’t know if I would make it to the major leagues—and the chance to come to Wrigley Field, it was a joy.
“To have played in Wrigley Field and played all those day games in the 60’s and 70’s [before lights in 1988], and to be around some of the greatest players who played the game—it was right here in Wrigley Field.”
Wednesday was about commemorating the centennial of the park christened Weeghman Park when it opened. And the party included appearances by past greats who roamed its grass and a salute to its first game between the Chicago Feds and Kansas City Packers of the Federal League.
But if the uniforms and names were about what happened 100 years ago, the celebration was about what has endured at Clark and Addison.
“The mystique is about how much the fans love the club and how other players love the city,” Dawson said. “There’s just something about it—the intimate angles, how close the fans are. You’d walk around and saw `wow.’ It had that unique character.”
The nearness of fans to the playing field is part of its uniqueness.
“You can hear conversations going on,” Dawson said of his years playing rightfield. “People don’t realize you can get into conversations with the fans. You’d be amazed what things you’d talk about.”
South Side native Butkus didn’t get to Wrigley Field until his pro career started, but he delighted in seeing fans close enough to shower the Green Bay Packers with less than welcoming words.
“We had a locker room that was too small for a basketball team and the field tilted [for football dimensions] and they had to paint some of the grass—but to me, it meant I was a pro. And a pro could play anywhere.”
Sayers’ famous six-touchdown game on Dec. 12, 1965 was as memorable as any baseball game, “but the funny thing was Halas took him out when we were at the one yard line [on one play],” Butkus said of Bears owner George Halas. “If [Sayers] had scored seven touchdowns, he never would have heard the end of it.”
“God gave me a gift that day,” Sayers said of that day. “It was just the right time at the right place.
“Playing here was an advantage because it might have been small, but we knew we had the crowd on our side.”
For Williams, having his retired number flying on the rightfield foul pole and his likeness in a statue outside the park means being intertwined with the historic field.
“When you look at those two things, it connects me to Wrigley Field,” he said. “We were here for a long time, and it makes us intertwined with what’s going on today.
“So many greats played here, and the history made here is still housed here.”