TELANDER: Wrigley’s charm can’t be remodeled

Written By BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist Posted: 06/08/2014, 02:33am

Let’s talk Wrigley Field.

Let’s try to think rationally about this sporting structure that is equal parts historic, unique, gorgeous and a dump.

And it is all those things. Which is the difficult issue facing the troubled Cubs franchise and the Ricketts family ownership.

What do you do about this place that could never be built again, is tucked in a bustling city neighborhood, has virtually no amenities, breaks many modern-day safety and comfort codes and, because of those very facts, is so unusual as to be a landmark that must be protected because, like the Wrigley Building and the Water Tower, it is rare American history?

The Rickettses want to rearrange and update it.

They want to monetize it.

They say there is no way the Cubs will ever be any good without max signage revenue and new player facilities.

They are partly right. But they are a lot wrong.

The rooftop owners, with whom they seemingly cannot agree on anything, have been brought deep into the discussion because of a loony licensing contract signed with them back in 2003. This sucks for the Cubs, but so it goes.

In truth, the rooftops are now as much of the charm of the stadium as the towering pines are to Augusta National Golf Course. And Augusta National is a perfect parallel to the charm and old-school nature of Wrigley.

Both venues are very old, very unchanged and one of a kind. And each grows more dear in the minds of sports fans inundated with new this and new that on a daily basis.

More amenities? New Yankee Stadium has everything you could want. So does every major golf tournament everywhere. So does every everything anybody builds anywhere.

We are surrounded by comfort and instant access to all information. But everything new becomes common. U.S. Cellular Field is a very nice park. Big concourses, big skyboxes, big everything. But special? Not a chance.

The irony of progress is that it’s praised at first, then despised. Even worse, it becomes boring.

I remember going to Jacobs Field in Cleveland back in the ’90s when it was packed, sellout after sellout, because the Indians were pretty good and the park was a wondrous upgrade from Municipal Stadium, a vacuous, massive, decrepit and charmless football arena. That was 20 years ago. Now, the Jake almost never sells out. It’s nothing special.

Same with Camden Yards in Baltimore. Same with new parks around the nation.

But the Masters at Augusta National is so special that you almost can’t get in. Before an extremely limited raffle system was created recently, tickets to the tournament hadn’t been available to the general public since 1972. Waiting lists have started and promptly closed. Passes to the four rounds can go for up to $12,000 on the secondary market. People want to see the beauty of the golf club.

And what is the beauty? Almost nothing but the green course itself. There are no electronic scoreboards, no corporate tents, no TV monitors, no fancy party salons, no speaker systems, no high-tech anything. Use a cell phone at Augusta and your ticket is taken away, for life. Run at any time on the course or sidelines and marshals will warn you before escorting you to the exit.

There are scarcely any colors at Augusta except for the lush green and white of nature, the manually operated update boards and the old boys’ jackets.

There is a small but elegant clubhouse, which both the players and the fans use. Interviews are conducted near the veranda, under ‘‘The Big Oak Tree,’’ planted in the 1850s.

Old-school. People are thrilled because all the bells-and-whistles crap of daily life is gone. There is a barely suppressed joy to being at the Masters, made clear by the smiles on attendees’ faces. Peace. History. A pause in the relentless march of technology. And Augusta National is only 80 years old.

Wrigley Field, as you should know by now, is 100 years old. In still-young America, this passes for Stonehenge, the Parthenon.

The Rickettses need to remember this, to extol it. A million signs? A massive Jumbotron? What park doesn’t have that junk?

‘‘The biggest question in my mind is if they really understand the competitive edge they have with Wrigley Field,’’ former lakefront Ald. Mary Ann Smith, a member of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, said to the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman on Thursday. Smith will likely vote against the Cubs’ million-watt, Times-Square restructuring plans.

‘‘Do they really understand how much fun people have and why people from all over the world . . . go to Wrigley Field?’’ Smith asked

Clearly not. And if they simply want to wreck that antiquity, they should do as threatened and move to the suburbs.

Build a ball-mall, Cubs. And good luck.

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