Monday, May 13, 2013

How to Be a Met Fan In Chicago -- 2013 Edition

This Friday, the Mets will begin a 3-game series in Chicago at Wrigley Field.  This season,
I should have gotten to this one sooner, since the series that starts tonight at Wrigley Field is the Mets' only visit to Chicago this season, and the Yankees' Interleague schedule does not include a visit.

Disclaimer: While I have been to Chicago, and I have seen games at Wrigley Field, the last time was in 1999, and things may be a bit different now. Nevertheless, Wrigley Field is the 2nd-oldest park in the majors, and by far the oldest in the National League (with Dodger Stadium, 48 years newer, being next), and much of what made Wrigley a great park is apparently still there.

Before You Go. The Chicago Tribune website is predicting high 70s during the day and high 50s for night for the weekend.  So ignore all the stories you’ve heard about Chicago being cold: Yyou’re going to Wrigley to see the Mets play the Cubs, not to Soldier Field to see the Giants or Jets play the Bears.  However, the Trib is also predicting thunderstorms for Saturday and Sunday.  Keep this in mind.

Getting There. Chicago is 789 land miles from New York, and Wrigley Field is 809 land miles from Citi Field. Knowing this, your first reaction is going to be to fly out there.

Unlike some other Midwestern cities, this is a good idea if you can afford it. If you buy tickets online, you can get them for about $800 round-trip.  O'Hare International Airport (named for Lt. Cmdr. Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the U.S. Navy's first flying ace who was nevertheless shot down over the Pacific in World War II), at the northwestern edge of the city, is United Airlines' headquarters, so nearly every flight they have from the New York area’s airports to there is nonstop, so it’ll be 3 hours, tarmac to tarmac, and about 2 hours going back.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue Line train will take you from O’Hare to the downtown elevated (or “L”) tracks that run in “The Loop” (the borders of which are Randolph, Wells, Van Buren and Wabash Streets) in 45 minutes. From Midway Airport, the Orange Line train can get you to the Loop.  Both should take about 45 minutes.

Bus? Greyhound’s run between the 2 cities, launched 5 times per day, is relatively easy, but long, averaging about 18 hours, and is $221 round-trip. The station is at 630 W. Harrison Street at Des Plaines Street. (If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies, Midnight Run, this is a new station, not the one seen in that 1988 film.) The closest CTA stop is Clinton on the Blue Line, around the corner, underneath the elevated Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway.

Train? Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited (formerly known as the Twentieth Century Limited when the old New York Central Railroad ran it from Grand Central Terminal to Chicago's LaSalle Street Station) leaves New York's Penn Station at 3:40 every afternoon, and arrives at Union Station at 225 South Canal Street at Adams Street in Chicago at 9:45 every morning. It’s $156 each way ($312 round-trip). The closest CTA stop is Quincy/Wells, in the Loop, but that’s 6 blocks away – counting the Chicago River as a block; Union Station is, literally, out of the Loop.

If you do decide to walk from Union Station to the Loop, don’t look up at the big black thing you pass. That’s the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, which, until the new World Trade Center was just topped off, was the tallest building in North America, which it had officially been since it opened in 1974. If there’s one thing being in New York should have taught you, it’s this: “Don’t look up at the tall buildings, or you’ll look like a tourist.”

But since you’ve come all this way, it makes sense to get a hotel, so take a cab from Union Station or Greyhound to the hotel – unless you’re flying in, in which case you can take the CTA train to within a block of a good hotel.  There are also hotels near the airports.

If you decide to drive, it’s far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. The directions are rather simple, down to (almost but not quite literally) the last mile. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key.

If you were going directly to Wrigley Field (not a good idea, as it has that one awful trait that all the pre-1930s ballparks had, minimal parking), you’d take Exit 48B for State Route 64/North Avenue, turn right onto North, turn left on Sheffield Avenue, and then turn left on Clark Street. Wrigley is bounded by Clark Street (3rd base), Addison Street (1st base), Sheffield Avenue (right field) and Waveland Avenue (left field).

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, and half an hour in Illinois before you reach your hotel. That’s 13 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Chicago, it should be no more than 18 hours, which could save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not flying.

Tickets. In spite of the White Sox normally being the better team on the field, the Cubs have had the better attendance. Last season, the Cubs averaged 35,589 for home games, the White Sox just 24,271, even though the Sox finished only 3 games out of 1st place in the American League Central Division, while the Cubs lost 101 games and were a whopping 27 games out of the National League Wild Card race.  In fact, the Cubs have had a higher attendance than the White Sox every season starting in 1994, even though the Sox were then in a very good period and have actually won a Pennant and a World Series since: Even in their title season of 2005, the Sox trailed the Cubs in per-game attendance by plenty, 24,437 to 39,138. The Sox’ single-season record is 36,511 in 2007, and the Cubs had 39,040.

So, as you might guess, getting tickets to Cubs games isn’t easy. Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, scalpers swarm the streets, asking, “Anybody buyin’? Anybody sellin’?” Like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, you should avoid them.

Also like Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, even from legitimate sources, you’re probably going to pay a bundle. Lower-level seats go for $111 for Club Box Infield, $86 for Club Box Outfield, $59 for Field Box Outfield, $56 for Terrace Box Infield, $51 for Terrace Reserved Infield, $56 for Infield Upper Deck Boxes, $40 for Outfield Upper Deck Boxes, $42 for Terrace Reserved Outfield, $33 for Upper Deck Reserved Infield, and $29 for Upper Deck Reserved Outfield.  Forget the legendary Bleachers, those are sold out well in advance, and the Bleacher Bums don't much like Met fans anyway.

As for seats on the rooftops on Waveland and Sheffield, price and availability depends on the landlord, but why would you go all the way to Wrigley Field and NOT be IN Wrigley Field to watch the game?

Going In. A derivation of a Native American name, "Chikagu" was translated as "Place of the onion," as there were onion fields there before there was a white settlement.  Some have suggested the translation is off, that it should be "Place of the skunk." Others have said, either way, it means "Place of the big stink."

Founded in 1831, so by American standards it's a young city, Chicago's long-ago nickname of "the Second City" is no longer true, as its population has dropped, and Los Angeles' has risen, to the point where L.A. has passed it, and Chicago is now the 3rd-largest city in America.  But at 2.7 million within the city limits, and 8.7 million in the metropolitan area, it's still a huge city.  And its legendary crime problem is still there, so whatever precautions you take when you're in New York, take them in Chicago as well.

The city's street-address centerpoint is in the Loop, at State & Madison Streets.  Madison separates North from South, State separates East from West.  The street grid is laid out so that every 800 on the house numbers is roughly 1 mile.  As Wrigley is at 1060 West Addison Street, and on the 3600 block of North Sheffield Avenue, now you know it's a little more than a mile west of State, and 4 1/2 miles north of Madison.

To get to Wrigley from downtown, do not drive.  If you drove into Chicago, leave your car at your hotel.  Driving around Wrigley is ridiculous, and parking around Wrigley, while probably safe due to a large police presence, is a fool's errand.  Take the Red Line train to Addison. It’s about a 20-minute ride, making it faster than from Midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.

The area around Wrigley, originally known as Lake View (even though Lake Michigan isn’t really in view) but known as Wrigleyville almost continuously since the Cubs’ 1969 “September Swoon” season, should look and feel familiar, as it is reminiscent of a lot of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and North Jersey. The first time I visited, I thought I was in Newark, Bloomfield, Belleville. Only nicer.

You’ll be most likely to enter by the right field gate at Addison & Sheffield, or the home plate gate at Clark & Addison, under the legendary marquee saying:


The last time I visited, there was a Cubs Walk of Fame outside the home plate entrance. I’ve heard that it’s no longer there. I hope it is still in place.

At the right field gate is a statue of Harry Caray, who broadcast for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945-69), the White Sox (1971-81) and the Cubs (1982-97). He’s posed as if he’s leaning out of the press box window, his microphone catching the sound of the fans as they sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with him in the 7th Inning Stretch.  (On my first visit, in 1990, he was leaning so far out of the press box, I thought he was going to fall out. He didn’t, and kept broadcasting for the Cubs until he died just before the 1998 season began.) The base of his statue is a replica of Wrigley itself.

The place is surrounded by famous bars, including, going clockwise: The Cubby Bear (on the opposite corner of Clark & Addison), Slugger’s and Goose Island (across Clark from each other at the corner of Eddy Street), Casey Moran’s (at Clark & Patterson Avenue), Bernie’s Tavern (at Clark & Waveland), Gingerman’s (up Clark at Racine Avenue), and Murphy’s Bleachers, probably the most famous of them all (on the corner of Sheffield & Waveland). Fortunately, the streets surrounding the park have lots of souvenir shops and stands, another easy comparison with Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. Unfortunately, this very commercial area also has a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell and a Starbucks.

The distances are 355 to the left field pole and 353 to right, 368 to both power alleys (making it hard for a pull hitter but great for an alley hitter), and 400 to dead center, although the farthest point is a little to the right of that, as Wrigley is not symmetrical.

The seating capacity is officially 41,019, although it was around 38,000 almost continuously from the addition of the bleachers in 1938 until 2005.  The first thing I noticed when I went exploring on my first visit is how much smaller the ballpark building is than the New York stadiums were: A walk from the left field corner to the right field corner was shockingly quick. (Although I should point out that there wasn’t a lot of obstruction on the concourse: There were only 15,495 fans in the park that day, September 13, 1990. The Cubs beat the Phillies, 6-5.) Note also that, like the old Yankee Stadium, you can’t get into the Bleachers from the rest of the park.

The park opened in 1914, as the home of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League, owned by Charles Weeghman, owner of a chain of lunch counters that were the precursor to today’s fast-food joints. When the FL folded, “Lucky Charlie” bought the Cubs, and moved them into Weeghman Park. But he fell on hard times, and sold the team. In 1921, it became Cubs Park, and the NFL’s Chicago team moved in, changing their name to match the Cubs: The Chicago Bears. William Wrigley Jr. bought the team in 1925, renamed it Wrigley Field, and added an upper deck in 1927. He died in 1932, and his son Philip K. Wrigley owned the team until his death in 1977, and his son William sold the team to the Chicago Tribune Company in 1981. The Trib finally sold the team in 2010, after presiding over the team’s most profitable, yet most frustrating, era.

The ballpark faces northeast, away from downtown and the city’s skyscrapers. If you’re expecting a nice view, forget it: It looks rather ordinary. Besides, at Wrigley, “the view” is the ballpark itself: The support poles, the brick wall surrounding the field, the ivy on the outfield wall, the bleachers, the old scoreboard. The ivy and the scoreboard were both put up by Bill Veeck, future Browns, Indians & White Sox owner, when he worked for the Cubs in 1937. His father, also named William Veeck, had been a Chicago sportswriter and Cubs executive. Previously, ivy had been on the walls of Forbes Field in Pittsburgh and the park of Indianapolis’ Triple-A team.

So the park’s three best-known features -- the ivy, the bleachers, and the big hand-operated scoreboard -- “only” go back to 1937.  This means that, while they were there when the Yankees played there in the 1938 World Series, they were not there in 1932 when Babe Ruth… well, you know what they SAY he did there in that Series..

Which brings up the question: What is the longest home run in Wrigley Field history? The Babe's "called shot" was suggested to be the longest home run ever hit in Chicago to that time.  It's also been suggested that, had the scoreboard been up at the time, the ball would have hit it.  (That's never happened, with Roberto Clemente supposedly coming the closest, sending a ball within inches of grazing it.) If this is accurate, it would have been at least a 475-foot shot.  But the Cubs have had a lot of sluggers sending balls out onto Waveland and Sheffield Avenues.  In 1976, Dave Kingman crushed one out onto Kenmore Avenue, which extends north from Waveland, and for years people talked about it as 620 feet; the person who found it was later found, and he showed where it landed, and it was measured at 530, still a tremendous blast, and the longest ever officially measured at either Chicago ballpark.  (Although a few balls cleared the roof at the old Comiskey Park, one by Mickey Mantle in 1955 that was not measured but may have gone 550.)

Food. As one of America’s greatest food cities, in Big Ten Country where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Chicago ballparks to have lots of good options. The White Sox do. The Cubs? Not really. In fact, aside from not being car-friendly, I’d say Wrigley’s biggest flaw is its food. The food is okay, but nothing special like the Sox have always had.  Considering that the park’s builder, Charlie Weeghman, was a restaurateur, this is a bit surprising.

There are concession stands all over, including one in the upper deck, an open patio right over the famed marquee. The Sheffield Grill and the pricier Captain Morgan Club are in the right field corner (Sections 137 to 140).  They have a hot dog stand called “The Works Loaded Dogs” at Section 121, a pizza stand called the Italian Hot Spot at 112, and CC’s Frozen Drinks at 115 – not connected to CC Sabathia.

Team History Displays. As I said, the Cubs had a Walk of Fame outside the marquee entrance, but I don’t know if it’s still there. They have flags on the foul poles honoring their retired numbers: 10, Ron Santo, 3rd base 1960-73, broadcaster 1990-2010; 14, Ernie Banks, shortstop and 1st base, 1953-71, a.k.a. Mr. Cub; 23, Ryne Sandberg, 2nd base 1982-97; 26, Billy Williams, left field 1959-71; 31, dual retirement for pitchers Ferguson Jenkins, 1966-73 and 1982-83, and Greg Maddux, 1986-92 and 2004-06.  Banks may still be the most popular athlete in Chicago history, ahead of Walter Payton, Bobby Hull and even Michael Jordan

The Banks, Santo and Jenkins flags are on the left field pole; the Williams, Sandberg and Maddux flags are on the right field pole. Banks, Williams and Jenkins are in the Baseball Hall of Fame (Jenkins is the only Canadian-born person in it), Maddux becomes eligible in 2014, and Santo, long one of the players not in the Hall who is most often cited as deserving of election, was finally elected in 2011, about a year after he died.

Santo, who called himself “the single biggest Cubs fan of all time,” was recently honored with a statue outside the park, to go with Caray's.  So were Banks and Williams.  Another legendary broadcaster, Jack Brickhouse, is honored with his signature call “Hey Hey” in red letters going down each foul pole.  Brickhouse does have a statue in the city, but it's not at Wrigley.

Stuff. Clubhouse stores are located on the first level of the park, behind home plate and at each outfield corner. The usual items that can be found at a souvenir store can be found there.  Lots of souvenir stands are also around the stadium on the outside, just like at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

As one of those supposedly “cursed” teams, and playing in a literary city (Chicago has produced a LOT of great writers), a lot of books have been written about the Cubs. Peter Golenbock, who wrote the oral histories Dynasty about the 1949-64 Yankees, Amazin’ about the Mets and Bums about the Brooklyn Dodgers, wrote Wrigleyville, which includes first-person accounts going back to the beginning of the franchise in 1876, thanks to writings left behind by early Cubs greats like Al Spalding, Cap Anson and Mike (King) Kelly, and 1940s interviews with the famed infielders Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers (Frank Chance having died in 1924 without having left a memoir) and Mordecai “Three-Finger” Brown.

Available DVDs include Chicago Cubs: The Heart and Soul of Chicago, Chicago Cubs: We Believe (a variation of a similarly-titled video about the Red Sox, including reminiscences of some of the many singers and actors who came from the Chicago area and are Cub fans), the Harry Caray tribute Hello Again Everybody, and the new tribute video Ron Santo: A Perfect Ten.

Only once since the official World Series highlight films started have the Cubs won a Pennant, so if you want to see them on an official WS film, you’ll have to get the Detroit Tigers’ package that includes the 1945 World Series.

Instead of titling a package The Essential Games of Wrigley Field, they have Chicago Cubs Legends: Great Games Collector’s Edition. This box set includes the entire broadcasts of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game in 1998, Sammy Sosa hitting his 61st and 62nd homers of the 1998 season, Maddux’s 300th win in 2004, and a 5-for-5 game by Derrek Lee in 2005, plus a few extra clips such as Banks’ 500th home run in 1971, and the final outs of their 1984, 1989, 2003 and 2004 Division clinchers and the 1998 Wild Card Playoff.

During the Game.  Will you have to worry about wearing Met gear in Wrigley Field? I doubt it.  Milwaukee Brewers gear, possibly, as the Bears-Packers rivalry might kick in (although Brewers fans hate the Cubs much more than vice versa). St. Louis Cardinals gear, definitely.  But it's been 1993 since the Mets and the Cubs were Division rivals, and 1998 since they were competing for the NL's Wild Card Playoff berth.  So while there will be Cub fans who remember 1969, most of them will be age 50 and up, and not in a position to fight.  As for the ones who remember 1984, don't worry about them: The Cubs won the NL East that year, so they won't hold it against you.  Just be aware that night games will be edgier than day games, and don't provoke them.  (Not a problem this time, as all 3 games in this series are afternoon games.)

Wayne Messmer was the longtime public address announcer, and usually the National Anthem singer, having also done the Anthem for Chicago Blackhawks hockey games. While he no longer does either duty, he has a radio talk show on WDCB, 90.9 FM, a public radio station.
 The Bleacher Bums, first semi-organized in 1967, were the original Bleacher Creatures, the first large group of baseball fans acting in concert since the Boston Red Sox' Royal Rooters of the 1910s. They got called “bums” because the games were all in daytime, so why weren’t they at their jobs? In fact, many of the originals, in the late Sixties, were students at area colleges such as DePaul University, Loyola University, Northwestern University and the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. After getting beaten up by Cardinal fans (the Cards won Pennants in ’67 and ’68), one of them came to the next game wearing a bright yellow construction worker’s hard hat. Soon, lots of fans were wearing those, and some of these can still be seen in the Bleachers today.

These guys started the tradition, no longer allowed at any other ballpark, of throwing back home runs hit by opposing players. (This can be seen in the 1993 film Rookie of the Year.) On my first visit in 1990, Dale Murphy, then with the Phillies, hit one out off Rick Sutcliffe, and it went onto Waveland. Not a seat-seeking missile, a street-seeking missile. I figured, That’ll prevent it from getting thrown back. Wrong! A guy on the street threw the ball into the Bleachers, "hitting the cutoff man," if you will, and then it was thrown back onto the field! These people are dedicated.

A fan you might see is Ronnie “Woo-Woo” Wickers. Harry Caray called him “Leather Lungs” for his ability to yell, “Cubs, woo! Cubs, woo!” for hours at a time. Although he’s black and not quite as old (he's 71) and doesn’t have a pan and a spoon, it’s fair to say he’s the Cubs’ answer to the late Yankee Fan Freddy “Sez” Schuman.

Another fan you might see is Jerry Pritikin, who calls himself the Bleacher Preacher. He wears a propeller beanie, and to new Cub fans, the Preacher lays his hands on them, and baptizes them, “In the name of the father, Bill Veeck Sr.; the son, Bill Veeck Jr., and the Cubs’ holy spirit, Charlie Grimm.” (The father being the team president, the son being the scoreboard-builder and ivy-planter who went on to own other teams, and Grimm was a Cub player, manager, and all-around ambassador, managing them to the 1932 and ’35 Pennants.)

A fan you will almost certainly not see is Steve Bartman. You know the details; he’s the anti-Jeffrey Maier. He was sitting in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113. Along with the red seat in Fenway Park’s bleachers, where Ted Williams hit the (supposed) longest homer the park’s history, it’s probably the most famous single seat in baseball. To his credit, Bartman asked Marlin fans offering him gifts, including money, to send it instead to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the Cubs’ official charity due to Santo’s involvement, having dealt with the illness. Bartman was once offered $25,000 to autograph a picture of himself after the incident, and turned it down. Where is he today, and what is he doing? Apparently, he’s still in the Chicago area, still working in the same field, and still coaching youth baseball.

Due to WGN cameras focusing on attractive women in the stands in that 1984 season, the Cubs may have the highest percentage of female fans of any team. But don't quote me on that: Both times I was there, Wrigley didn't exactly have an overly feminine atmosphere. It wasn't like a WNBA game or a figure-skating meet. But there have been times when the Friendly Confines seems like the world's largest singles bar. (As opposed to the old Comiskey Park, which Bill Veeck famously nicknamed "The World's Largest Saloon.")

For years, but no longer, Cub radio broadcasts began with the Harry Simeone Chorale (interestingly, based in Newark, New Jersey) singing “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Ball Game,” which can be heard at the beginning of some of the World Series highlight films of the 1960s. The Cubs have a semi-official theme song, sung by then-broadcasters Jack Brickhouse and Vince Lloyd during their ultimately failed 1969 Pennant run, invoking both men’s catchphrases: “Hey Hey! Holy Mackerel! (The Cubs Song).” It went, “Hey hey, holy mackerel, no doubt about it, the Cubs are on the way... ” Yeah, I know, not much better than “Here Come the Yankees” or “Meet the Mets,” and not nearly as good as the crosstown team's "Let's Go, Go-Go White Sox."

Wrigley is supposedly a hitters’ park, due to the close power alleys and the wind. Don’t be fooled by this: Half the time, the wind is blowing in, and when that happens, it becomes a great pitchers’ park. The Cubs have never been worth a damn without good pitching; when they have had it, such as in 1945, 1969, 1984, 1998 and 2003, and have taken advantage of the true nature (literally) of Wrigley Field, they’ve been tough to beat.  So why haven't they won a Pennant since 1945 or a World Series since 1908? The answer, my friend, may just be blowin' in the wind.

The Cubs don't do a mascot race.  They don’t have a mascot. For years, they didn’t need one; they had Harry Caray. He started his tradition of leaning out the window of the press box and leading fans in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch at the old Comiskey Park when he was doing White Sox games in the Seventies; Sox owner Bill Veeck heard this, and suggested Harry keep the radio mike on so that everyone could hear it. Harry took the tradition with him to Wrigley, and when they made their Pennant run in 1984, on WGN, one of the nation’s first cable “superstations,” suddenly everyone knew about it.

That season, that station, that song, and that broadcaster saved, if not the Cubs, then certainly Wrigley Field for at least one more generation: Had that Playoff run not happened, there’s a very good chance the Cubs and Bears could now be sharing some antiseptic dome out in the suburbs, maybe out by O’Hare. (The Allstate Arena, formerly the Rosemont Horizon, is out there; DePaul University plays its home basketball games there, as do the WNBA's Chicago Sky.)

With Harry gone, celebrities take turns singing the song. In the first season after Harry’s death, 1998, opposing broadcasters were the most frequent singers, including the Phillies’ Harry Kalas, the Cardinals’ Jack Buck (Harry’s former partner) and the Dodgers’ Vin Scully. (I don’t think any of the Mets’ broadcasters did; if they had, it would have been put on the local news.) Chicago and Chicago-area sports legends have taken their turns, including Banks, Sandberg, Mike Ditka, and, the last time I visited, former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. I do not know who will be doing it this week; hopefully, it won’t be Ozzy Osbourne again.

Traditionally, when the Cubs win, a white flag with a W goes up on the flagpole behind the scoreboard, underneath the Stars & Stripes. When they lose, it’s a blue flag with a white L. Chip Caray, Harry’s grandson and now a Cub broadcaster, waits for the last out, and says, “White Flag time at Wrigley!” This caught on, and now fans bring their W flags to games.

However, much more often, the Cubs will lose. Steve Goodman, who wrote the classic song “The City of New Orleans,” and was himself dying of leukemia, wrote “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.” This song will NOT be played at Wrigley, but it sums up what being a Cub fan feels like:

In 1984, Goodman wrote and recorded "Go Cubs Go," and was invited to sing the National Anthem before one of their Playoff games. But his leukemia called him out, and he died late in the season. His recording of "Go Cubs Go" is now played after every win.

After the Game. The neighborhood should be safe after a day game, but after a night game – they still play only 18 night games a year there, to keep the tradition going – with all that extra time to drink, it can get a little rough.  You probably won’t get anything more than a little verbal, but be on your guard.

Of the surrounding bars, I liked Murphy’s Bleachers the best, but I wouldn’t recommend going to any of them after the game. Better to try one of them before the game, when Cub fans are less likely to be agitated (positively or negatively) over the game.

If you want to be around other New Yorkers, I found listings of 4 Chicago bars where New York Giants fans gather: Red Ivy, just south of Wrigley at 3519 N. Clark Street at Eddy Street; The Bad Dog Tavern, 4535 N. Lincoln Avenue at Wilson Avenue (Brown Line to Western); Racine Plumbing Bar and Grill, 2642 N. Lincoln Avenue at Kenmore; and Trinity, at 2721 N. Halsted Street at Diversey Parkway (Brown or Purple Line to Diversey for either Racine or Trinity).

And I found these 2 which show Jets games: Rebel Bar & Grill, also just south of Wrigley at 3462 N. Clark at Cornelia Avenue; and Butch McGuire's, 20 W. Division Street at Dearborn Street (Red Line to Clark/Division).

Sidelights. Chicago is one of the best sports cities, not just in America, but on the planet. Check out the following – but do it in daylight, as the city’s reputation for crime, while significantly reduced from its 1980s peak, is still there:

* Comiskey Park – old and new. The longtime home of the Chicago White Sox, 1910 to 1990, was at 324 W. 35th Street at Shields Avenue (a.k.a. Bill Veeck Drive), and is now a parking lot, with its infield painted in. This was the home field of Big Ed Walsh (the pitcher supposedly helped design it to be a pitchers’ park), Eddie Collins, Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest of the “Black Sox,” Luke Appling, the great double-play combination of Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the ’59 “Go-Go White Sox,” Dick Allen, the 1977 “South Side Hit Men” of Richie Zisk, and the 1983 Division Champions of Carlton Fisk, LaMarr Hoyt and Harold Baines.

The old Comiskey was also where future Yankee stars Russell “Bucky” Dent and Rich “Goose” Gossage began their careers, and where, in the last game the Yankees ever played there, Andy Hawkins pitched a no-hitter – and lost, thanks to his own walks and 3 errors in the 8th inning. The NFL’s Chicago Cardinals played there from 1922 to 1959, and the franchise, now the Arizona Cardinals, won what remains their only NFL Championship Game (they didn’t call ‘em Super Bowls back then) there in 1947. And in 1979, during what was supposed to be intermission between games of a White Sox vs. Tigers doubleheader, was Disco Demolition Night. Today, it’s called a fiasco, but the sentiment was right: Disco really did suck. But the biggest music event there was the Beatles' concert on August 20, 1965.

The new one, built in 1991, is across the street at 333 W. 35th Street. It was called Comiskey Park until 2003, when it became U.S. Cellular Field, a.k.a. "The Cell." Here, the White Sox won the 1993 AL West title, were in position to win the 1994 AL Central title when the strike hit, won the Central in 2000, went all the way in 2005, and won the Central again in 2008. A lot of people don’t like this park, but I do. Red Line to Sox-35th.

* Previous Chicago ballparks. The Cubs previously played at these parks:

State Street Grounds, also called 23rd Street Grounds, 1874-77, winning the NL’s first Pennant in 1876.  23rd, State, and Federal Streets & Cermak Road (formerly 22nd Street).  ed Line to Cermak-Chinatown.

Lakefront Park, also called Union Base-Ball Grounds and White-Stocking Park (the Cubs used the name “Chicago White Stockings” until 1900, and the AL entry then took the name), 1878-84, winning the 1880, ’81 and ’82 Pennants.  Michigan Avenue & Randolph Street in the northwest corner of what’s now Millennium Park, with (appropriately) Wrigley Square built on the precise site.  Randolph/Wabash or Madison/Wabash stops on the Loop.

West Side Park I, 1885-91, winning the 1885 and ’86 Pennants.  Congress, Loomis, Harrison & Throop Streets, now part of the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  Blue Line to Racine.

South Side Park, 1891-93, just east of where the Comiskey Parks were built.

West Side Park II, 1893-1915, winning the 1906 and 1910 Pennants and the 1907 and 1908 World Series, the only World Series the Cubs have ever won.  Taylor, Wood and Polk Streets and Wolcott Avenue, now the site of a medical campus that includes the Cook County Hospital, the basis for the TV show ER.  Pink Line to Polk.  (Yes, there's a Pink Line.)

Prior to the original Comiskey Park, the White Sox played at a different building called South Side Park, at 39th Street (now Pershing Road), 38th Street, & Wentworth and Princeton Avenues, a few blocks south of the Comiskey Parks.

* United Center and site of Chicago Stadium. From 1929 to 1994, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks played at Chicago Stadium, “the Madhouse on Madison,” at 1800 W. Madison Street at Wood Street. The NBA’s Bulls played there from 1967 to 1994. The United Center opened across the street at 1901 W. Madison at Honore Street.

At the old Stadium, the Blackhawks won Stanley Cups in 1934, ’38 and ’61, and the Bulls won NBA Titles in 1991, ’92 and ’93. At the United Center, the Bulls won in 1996, ’97 and ’98 and the Blackhawks won the 2010 Cup. The Democrats had their Convention at Chicago Stadium in 1932, ’40 and ’44, nominating Franklin D. Roosevelt each time; the Republicans also had their Convention there in ’32 and ’44. The Democrats held court (or rink) at the United Center in 1996, their first Convention in Chicago since the disaster of 1968. And Elvis Presley gave concerts at the Stadium on June 16 and 17, 1972 -- giving the last of these as burglars were breaking into the Watergate complex in Washington.

Blue Line to Illinois Medical District (which can also be used to access the site of West Side Park II and ER), or Green or Pink Line to Ashland-Lake.

* Soldier Field. Opened in 1924, and for years was best known as the site of the Chicago College All-Star Game (a team of graduating seniors playing the defending NFL Champions) from 1934 to 1976.  It was the site of the 1927 heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, the famed “Long Count” fight, which may have had what remains the greatest attendance ever for a U.S. sporting event, with figures ranging from 104,000 to 130,000, depending on who you believe. It definitely was the site of the largest crowd in the history of American football, 123,000, to see Notre Dame play USC a few weeks after the Long Count.  In spite of various expansions, the universities of Michigan and Tennessee and Penn State still can’t top this. Games of the 1994 World Cup were also held at the old Soldier Field.

Amazingly, the Bears played at Wrigley from 1921 to 1970, with the occasional exception. The story I heard is that Bears founder-owner-coach George Halas was a good friend of both the Wrigley and Veeck families, and felt loyalty to them, and that’s why he stayed at Wrigley, despite it having just 47,000 seats for football. But I heard another story that Halas was a Republican and didn’t like Chicago’s Democratic Mayor, Richard J. Daley (whose son Richard M. recently left office having broken his father’s record for longest-serving Mayor), and didn’t want to pay the city Parks Department a lot of rent.  It also could have been all money and no politics, as Halas was known to be cheap: Mike Ditka, who nonetheless loved his old boss, said, “Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.” The real reason the Bears moved to Soldier Field in 1971 was Monday Night Football: Halas wanted the revenue, and Wrigley didn’t have lights until 1988.

A 2002-03 renovation demolished all but the famed Greek-style columns that used to hang over the stadium, and are now visible only from the outside. It doesn’t look like “Soldier Field” anymore, as opposed to the new Yankee Stadium having been designed to look like the old one did before its 1973-76 renovation. Capacity is now roughly what it was in the last few years prior to the renovation, 61,500. And while the Bears won 8 NFL Championships from 1921 to 1963 while playing at Wrigley (8 more titles than the Cubs have won there), they’ve only won one more at Soldier Field, the 1985 title capped by Super Bowl XX. The Monsters of the Midway have been tremendous underachievers since leaving Wrigley. 1410 S. Museum Campus Drive, at McFetridge and Lake Shore Drives, a bit of a walk from Roosevelt station on the Green, Orange and Red Lines.

* Site of Chicago Coliseum. There were 2 buildings with this name that you should know about. One hosted the 1896 Democratic National Convention, where William Jennings Bryan began the process of turning the Democratic Party from the conservative party it had been since before the Civil War into the modern liberal party it became, a struggle that went through the Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt years before it finally lived up to its promise under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. It was here that Bryan gave the speech for which he is most remembered, calling for the free coinage of silver rather than sticking solely to the gold standard: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Now a part of Jackson Park, at 63rd Street & Stony Island Avenue. 63rd Street Metra (commuter rail) station.

The other was home to every Republican Convention from Theodore Roosevelt’s in 1904 to Warren Harding’s in 1920, including the 1912 Convention where TR split from the party after being maneuvered out of the nomination to return to office, and his subsequent Progressive Party Convention was also held there. It was also the original home of the Blackhawks, from 1926 to 1929 and briefly again in 1932. In 1935, roller derby was invented there. In 1961, an NBA expansion team, the Chicago Packers, played there, becoming the Zephyrs in 1962 and moving to become the Baltimore Bullets in 1963. The Coliseum hosted a few rock concerts before the Fire Department shut it down in 1971, and it was demolished in 1982. The Soka Gakkai USA Culture Center, a Buddhist institute, now occupies the site. East side of Wabash Avenue at 15th Street, with today’s Coliseum Park across the street. Appropriately enough, the nearest CTA stop is at Roosevelt Avenue.

* Site of International Amphitheatre. Home to the Bulls in their first season, 1966-67, and to the World Hockey Association’s Chicago Cougars from 1972 to 1975, this arena, built by the stockyards in 1934, was home to a lot of big pro wrestling cards. Elvis Presley sang here on March 28, 1957. The Beatles played here on September 5, 1964 and August 12, 1966. But it is best known as a site for political conventions. Both parties met there in 1952, the Democrats in 1956, the Republicans in 1960, and, most infamously, the Democrats in 1968, with all the protests. The main protests for that convention were in Grant Park and a few blocks away on Michigan Avenue in front of the Conrad Hilton Hotel, one of the convention headquarters (now the Chicago Hilton & Towers. 720 S. Michigan), but the Amphitheatre itself, torn down in 1999, was at 4220 S. Halsted Street, where an Aramark plant now stands. Red Line to 47th Street. NOT to be visited after dark; indeed, unless you’re really interested in political history, I’d say, if you have to drop one item from this list, this is the one.

* Northwestern University. Chicago’s Big Ten school is just north of the city, in Evanston. Dyche Stadium/Ryan Field, and McGaw Hall/Welsh-Ryan Arena, are at 2705 Ashland Avenue between Central Street and Isabella Street.  (Purple Line to Central.) And while Northwestern’s athletic teams have traditionally been terrible, the school has a very important place in sports history: The first NCAA basketball tournament championship game was held there in 1939, at Patten Gymnasium, at 2145 Sheridan Road: Oregon defeated Ohio State.  The original Patten Gym was torn down a year later, and the school’s Technological Institute was built on the site. Sheridan Road, Noyes Street and Campus Drive. Purple Line to Noyes.

Welsh-Ryan, under the McGaw name, hosted the Final Four in 1956: Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, soon to be Boston Celtics stars, led the University of San Francisco past Iowa.  These are the only 2 Final Fours ever to be held in the Chicago area.

* Museums. Chicago’s got a bunch of good ones, as you would expect in a city of 3 million people. Their version of New York’s Museum of Natural History is the Field Museum, just north of Soldier Field. Adjacent is the Shedd Aquarium. On the other side of the Aquarium is their answer to the Hayden Planetarium, the Adler Planetarium. And they have a fantastic museum for which there is no real analogue in New York, though the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is similar: The Museum of Science & Industry, at 57th Street & Cornell Drive, near the University of Chicago campus; 56th Street Metra station. The Art Institute of Chicago is their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 111 S. Michigan Avenue, just off the Loop.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. If you’re a fan of that movie, as I am (see my 25th Anniversary retrospective, from June 2011), not only will you have taken in Wrigley Field, but you’ll recognize the Art Institute as where Alan Ruck focused on Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Other sites visited by Ferris, Cameron and Sloane were the Sears Tower, then the tallest building in the world, 1,454 feet, 233 S. Wacker Drive (yes, the name is Wacker), Quincy/Wells station in the Loop; and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 335 S. La Salle Street, LaSalle/Van Buren station in the Loop (also where Steve Martin & John Candy finally reached Chicago in Planes, Trains and Automobiles).  The von Steuben Day Parade goes down Lincoln Avenue every September, on or close to the anniversary of Baron von Steuben's birth, not in the spring as in the film.

While the Bueller house was in Long Beach, California, the Frye house is in Highland Park, north of the city.  Remember, it’s a private residence, and not open to the public, so I won’t provide the address, even though I know it. And the restaurant, Chez Quis, did not and does not exist.

Nor did, nor does, Adam's Ribs, a barbecue joint made famous in a 1974 M*A*S*H episode of the same title.  Today, there are 18 restaurants in America named Adam's Ribs, including two on Long Island, on Park Boulevard in Massapequa Park and on the Montauk Highway in Babylon; and another on Cookstown-Wrightstown Road outside South Jersey's Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. But only one is anywhere near Chicago, in Buffalo Grove in the northwestern suburbs.

Not far from that, in the western suburbs, is Wheaton, home town of football legend Red Grange and the comedic Belushi Brothers, John and Jim. John and Dan Aykroyd used Wrigley Field in The Blues Brothers, and Jim played an obsessive Cubs fan in Taking Care of Business. Their father, an Albanian immigrant, ran a restaurant called The Olympia Cafe, which became half the basis for John's Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, better known as the Cheeseburger Sketch: "No hamburger! Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger... No fries, chips!... No Coke, Pepsi!"

Don Novello, an SNL writer who played Father Guido Sarducci, said the other half of the inspiration was the Billy Goat Tavern, originally operated by Greek immigrant William "Billy Goat" Sianis, originator of the supposed Billy Goat Curse on the Cubs, across Madison Street from Chicago Stadium, from 1937 until 1963. At that point, Sianis moved to the lower deck of the double-decked Michigan Avenue, since it was near the headquarters of the city's three daily newspapers, the Tribune, the Sun-Times, and the now-defunct Daily News. Mike Royko, who wrote columns for each of these papers, made it his haunt and frequently mentioned it in his columns.

Novello and Bill Murray, Chicagoans, were regulars at the Billy Goat, but John Belushi later said he'd never set foot in the place, so while the others may have drawn inspiration from it, his came from his father's restaurant.

Sam Sianis, nephew of the original Billy, still serves up a fantastic cheeseburger (he was there when I visited in 1999), he deviates from the sketch: No Pepsi, Coke. It's open for breakfast, and serves regular breakfast food. It looks foreboding, being underneath the elevated part of Michigan Avenue, and a sign out front (and on their website) says, "Enter at your own risk." But another sign says, "Butt in anytime." 430 N. Michigan Avenue, lower deck, across from the Tribune Tower. Red Line to Grand. The original location near Chicago Stadium has effectively been replaced, at 1535 W. Madison Street.

The Tribune Tower is a work of art in itself.  Its building, Tribune publisher "Colonel" Robert R. McCormick, had stones taken from various famous structures all over the world: The Palace of Westminster in London, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canyon.  (He must've paid a lot of people off.) These can be seen at near ground level, but the building itself is so grand that it doesn't need it.  The building is also the headquarters of the TV and radio station that McCormick named for his paper: WGN, "The World's Greatest Newspaper," a line that has long since disappeared from the paper's masthead.  435 N. Michigan Avenue.  Red Line to Grand.

The Wrigley Building is right across from it, at 400 N. Michigan.  The block of North Michigan they're on is renamed Jack Brickhouse Way, and Brickhouse's statue is on the grounds of the Tribune Tower.

You may notice some other film landmarks. The Chicago Board of Trade Building was used as the Wayne Tower in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. And Chicago stood in for Metropolis in the Superman-themed TV series Lois & Clark, with the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower as standout landmarks.

TV shows set in Chicago include The Untouchables, about Eliot Ness and his Depression-era crimebusters; Good Times, set in the infamous, now-demolished Cabrini-Green housing project; the related sitcoms Perfect Strangers and Family Matters (Great shows? Well, of course, they were, don't be ridiculous!); Married... with Children, Fox's longest-running non-cartoon (though the Bundy family was pretty darn cartoonish); the 1990s hospital dramas ER and Chicago Hope; Boss, the current show with Kelsey Grammer as a corrupt Mayor; and The Bob Newhart Show, with Bob as psychiatrist Dr. Bob Hartley.

Nearly every one of these shows was actually filmed in Los Angeles, and the exterior shots were also mostly L.A. sites, so don't bother going to look for them.  However, a statue of Newhart is at the Navy Pier, near its amusement rides, between Grand Avenue & Illinois Street at the lake.


Every American should visit Chicago. And every baseball fan should see a game at Wrigley Field. Along with Fenway, it's the last ballpark standing from before World War I -- and now, one of the last two still in major league use from before the JFK years. It's the last ballpark in which Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson played, and along with Fenway one of only two left in which Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams played. And Wrigley has an added advantage that Fenway doesn't have: No Red Sox fans!

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