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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Japan Saves Baseball In Chicago

I know not all of you are baseball fans—why not?!—but I am. I'm even coaching a Little League team this year (assistant coaching, really) - in the same league that Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto played in when he was a kid.

Yeah, I was a soccer coach before this... I suppose I like teaching people - hence this blog, eh. Sorry, my Canadian slipped out.

Although I probably know more about hockey, a lack of true skating skills stops me from volunteering my time there.  

I am also a huge history, so any time I can combine two or more 'hobbies' here in this blog, it's a bonus. Actually, I guess I'm combining four hobbies: baseball, history, Japan and writing... if it had involved women and comic books, I would have been all set.

Where as I don't collect women, nor claim an encyclopedia knowledge of them, I still find them a fascinating topic and yearn to delve deep into the subject matter.

So - let's look at the photo up above... gardening in 1937... I don't known much about gardening, and have in fact managed to kill three bonsai trees over my career as a horticulturist, with a combined age of 293-years. Have you ever tried to count tree rings on a bonsai tree? Not something I would recommend to anyone, but I am a curious sort.

What we see here in the photo are a couple of gentleman working on planting the original ivy at the famed Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs of Major League Baseball's National League.

Constructed in 1914, Wrigley Field is the second-oldest MLB ballpark after Boston's famed Fenway Park, built in 1912.

The field was originally known as Weeghman Park and was not home to the Cubs, but rather to upstart third baseball league known as the Federal League.

Charles H. Weeghman had a team in the Federal League, initially known as the Federals, and later as the Whales.

With a seating capacity of 14,000, Weeghman Park cost the extravagant amount of $250,000... but it did not have the famous ivy growing along the outfield at that time.

I don't know if this is fact or fiction, but after the Federal League folded, and the Cubs moved in, for its first ever ball game there, a bear cub was in attendance. I assume he had a ticket.

I don't believe that Cub had anything to do with the naming of the field or the team, rather it was an homage to Chicago's stock market business sector... complete with the whole Bull and Bear market (hence there is also the Chicago Bears of the NFL and Chicago Bulls of the NBA).

If you must know, the Cubs were originally known as the Chicago White Stockings when it was established in 1874, becoming the Cubs in 1907.

They have, despite their long history only won two World Series championships in 1907 and 1908, making their fans either as stupid as Toronto Maple Leafs fans (of which I gladly count myself as one), or the best in the world.

By the time that the Wrigley family of the chewing gum empire purchased the team and field in 1920, it became known as Cubs Park, but was renamed as Wrigley Field after the owner William Wrigley Jr. in 1926.

In 1937, the outfield bleachers and scoreboard were replaced and renovated to create more seating capacity.  

In September of 1937, Cubs General Manager Bill Veeck decided to add ivy to the walls in an effort to 1) beautify the ball park; 2) provide protection for outfielders who might accidentally run into the brick wall. Owtch.

The beautiful Wrigley Field replete with ivy covered outfield wall - hiding the bricks.
While I'm no gardener, I can appreciate beautiful things, and the wall of ivy at Wrigley Field is that—perhaps because it is so damn unique in the grand old game.

I'm unsure if Veeck was a horticulturist - he certainly had a lot of compost available after the Cubs seasons... but he used two types of ivy... at the base, he used Boston Ivy, and at the top planted Japanese Bittersweet Ivy.

Yes, there's the bittersweet link.

But dammit... BOSTON ivy? In Chicago?

Oh, the shame of it all.

Maybe they could have someone create a variant plant - Cubbie Ivy or something... 

Anyhow... I have found that Japanese Bittersweet Ivy is also known as Oriental Bittersweet Ivy, and that Boston Ivy is actually also known as Japanese Creeper.

So, even if the Japanese Bittersweet is better known as an Oriental Bittersweet, there is still the Japanese connection with the Japanese Creeper, also known as the Boston Ivy.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata also known as Japanese Creeper, Grape Ivy, or Boston Ivy.
If you are wondering WHY a team general manager would be planting anything, keep in mind that Bill Veeck was the son of then-president of the Chicago Cubs, but Wrigley was still the owner...

It was probably Bill Veeck's idea however...

Veeck was a showman who did whatever it took to bring the crowds into the stadium. He created the immensely popular 10-cent beer night, and Disco Demolition Night.


Disco Demolition Night was an ill-fated baseball promotion that took place on July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. At the climax of the event, a crate filled with disco records was blown up on the field between games of the twi-night doubleheader between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers. Many of those in attendance had come to see the explosion rather than the games and rushed onto the field after the detonation. The playing field was damaged both by the explosion and by the rowdy fans to the point where the White Sox were required to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader to the Tigers.

Aside from the stunts, he also brought in Larry Doby in July of 1947, making him the first Black MLB baseball player in the American League, playing for Veeck's Cleveland Indian team (he was owner and president of the team)... Jackie Robinson had beat him by a few months, playing for the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers (now LA Dodgers). Doby was also the second Black MLB manager (after Frank Robinson).
Larry Doby and Bill Veeck (right)
So... back to the ivy... Veeck planted 200 Boston Ivy plants and 350 Japanese Bittersweet Ivy plants... plants that continue to bloom every Spring...

Apparently the ivies are supposed to be symbols of hardiness and longevity... and even to prevent intoxication...

Prevent intoxication? Perhaps Veeck should have held his infamous June 4, 1974 10-cent beer night at Wrigley Field rather than in Cleveland...

To get more fans to the fame, Veeck offered a 12oz (355ml) cup of 3.2% beer for 10-cents each (regularly 65-cents) - with a limit of six per purchase.

The kicker for those looking to get smashed, was that there was no limit to the number of purchases you could stumble up and make.

Back in 1971, there was even a five-cent per beer promotion in Cleveland - apparently no incidents.

The biggest problem of 10-cent beer night, however was that the Cleveland Indians had a week earlier played the same Texas Rangers in a series with bad blood erupting between them... as such... in the 9th inning of the June 4, 1974 game, pissed and drunk Indians fans ticked off at the Rangers supposed dirty play then and in this game, got involved in a brawl between the two opposing teams... throwing beer and hot dogs at the Rangers players.
A shortage of dimes caused this riot... okay, beer helped cause the riot.
 The crowd's behavior caused the game to be forfeited by the Cleveland Indians...

Believe it or not, the Cleveland Indians had yet another cheap 10-cent beer night on July 18, 1974 - this time limiting the purchases to two at a time - though you could obviously crawl up and ask for more.

Still, my all-time favorite Bill Veeck story was from August 19, 1951 when he signed the 3'-7" (little person) Eddie Gaedel to a baseball conytract and suited him up in a kid's costume to play for the crappiest team in baseball, the St. Louis Browns.
Now THAT'S a batting stance!
 He popped out of a huge cake set up in Sportsman's Park in St. Louis between doubleheader games... and was allowed to bat as a pinch-hitter... the opposing pitcher was laughing so hard as he tried to find the tiny strike zone (between the knees and chest) made even smaller by Gaedel crouching... after three straight balls sailed over the plate but all too high, the pitcher, Bob Cain, just rolled the last pitch towards the batter, who upon being issued a walk, trotted down to 1st base where he was relieved by a pinch-runner. It was his only at-bat, and pretty soon the MLB banned the use of little-people... though I'd bet such a thing would not be upheld in a court today... you can't discriminate against someone because of their perceived lack of height!

Oh yeah! Gaedel's uniform number was 1/8! I'd wear that uniform!


You can't make up stories like this...  baseball history is so amazing!

Now for this blog's sign-off, I have two: 

Somewhere taking a Tinkers to Evers To Chance... (baseball fans will get that one)

Or:

Somewhere she has that chewing gum walk - very Wrigley, (Simpsons fans will get this!)
Andrew Joseph
PS: I know... a tenuous relationship with Japan... but maybe I just really wanted to write about baseball for a change.

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