Disclaimer: Similar to Fenway Park, I will say it’s grossly unfair to compare new parks to old parks. There is no way to objectively measure the unparalleled sense of history and authenticity of Wrigley Field. So I won’t go into as much detail regarding the architecture, and I’m not going to rate it or rank it! If this seems like a copout, Wrigley Field would score somewhere in the 80s. But what does that mean?
Rating a park that opened in 1914 based on 21st century standards doesn’t really tell us anything about the quality of the ballpark. It must be looked at solely in its historical context. You can have a conversation about Wrigley Field and Fenway Park (and while it’s not comparable, I’d add Dodger Stadium for these purposes), then you can talk about the other 27 ballparks in baseball.
Below is a quick summary, written in 2018. The subsequent analysis is in the format of a photo essay, with detailed analysis posted along with the pictures, written in 2011.
By: Cole Shoemaker
Now affectionately known as The Friendly Confines, Wrigley Field really shows that it matters more how ballparks evolve than how they are built. In the 1910s, Shibe Park, Comiskey Park, and Forbes Field were regarded as the irreplaceable greatest parks of the era, as Wrigley Field was overshadowed by other more expensive and grandiose “jewel box parks.” Even a place like Ebbets Field benefited from an accumulation of lore into the mid-20th century.
Circumstances (such as Cubs decision not to install a second deck in the outfield in the 30s) and alterations (namely Veeck’s idea to plant the ivy) made Wrigley Field the historic cathedral we love today, something we should keep in mind when assessing the wave of post-1990 parks.
Considered one of the best local scenes in professional sports, Wrigleyville not only has a vibrant pre-and-post-game bar scene, but also evokes a classic residential vibe, reminiscent of the urban neighborhoods of the early-mid 20th century. As a concept, Wrigley Field’s cozy location has contributed to its venerable and timeless image.
Compared to the ornate Shibe Park, cast in cartouches and terra cotta with a French Renaissance design, Wrigley Field’s exterior design was (and is) rather simple. The now famous art deco style marquee was installed in 1934. Moving into the interior aesthetics, Wrigley Field really begins to shine.
Wrigley Field is godfather of the retro emphasis on downtown views and integrated community aesthetics. It was the only park from the era to continue to emphasize a connection to the local community throughout the mid-20th century. Even in the lower level, we see the community seep in through rooftop bleachers and distant skyscrapers. Wrigley Field is aesthetically superior due to its emphasis on vertically limiting outfield seating to better facilitate contextual integration and the green Ivy covering the outfield walls.
Wrigley Field is beautiful in its own right, not just beloved for history.
Its decking structure is also functionally superior. Unlike almost every other park of its era, Wrigley avoids the common overhang issues in the lower deck, but the upper deck is still closer to the field than nearly every park in baseball today.
It’s the perfect balance, in my opinion.
Unlike Fenway Park, Wrigley’s seating geometry is good as well. All seats are adequately oriented toward the infield. Old-timer ballpark nerds love to talk about support columns, cantilevers, and field proximity, but angling the seats correctly is just as important, something that Fenway and Tiger Stadium whiffed on. Superior sightlines are Wrigley Field’s most overlooked quality, as it played a significant role in its more timeless appeal.
Starting in the mid-2010s, Wrigley Field began to upgrade its functionality and amenities. As someone who grades these aspects, this has been more of a mixed bag than you might think.
I almost never object to oversized, state-of-the-art videoboards, but I think the ones at Wrigley Field nullified some of the charming contextual connection with its neighborhood environs that was essential to timeless appeal. They simply block out too much of the view from the lower bowl. The enhancements to the amenities (i.e. clubs, concessions) have been excellent across the board, though.
At the beginning of the decade, just on a “gut” feeling, I would say Wrigley Field was the greatest park of all time (and up there with my current personal favorites) due to its superior contextual integration, interior aesthetic attractiveness, natural aesthetic vision, relatively superior sightlines, and excellent neighborhood.
With the out-of-place videoboards muddling the interior scene, I’m not 100% sure I’d give it the edge over Fenway (where the amenities/videoboards fit in more seamlessly) anymore. I’d probably still favor Wrigley, but we’ll have to see upon my overdue return to both in 2019/2020.NEXT - Setting