A SHY MAN AT A PICNIC

Chicago's seldom-interviewed boss, Phil Wrigley, wants everybody to have a good time at Cubs Park. And everybody does—except the Cubs and Wrigley himself
April 14, 1958

Philip Knight Wrigley, the owner of the Chicago Cubs and the head of the Wrigley chewing gum company, is an extremely shy man. Although he has served as a club president longer than anyone now in the National League, he has received less publicity than the rankest newcomer. As far as Phil Wrigley is concerned, that's fine. He boasts that he was the first competing owner to get through a World Series unphotographed, and he later reaffirmed his passion for virtual anonymity by declining to pose for a color portrait for FORTUNE. He never has been on radio or television, and he has given only two public speeches in his life, both of which plunged him into cold sweat. Two years ago the Chicago Tribune, which proclaims itself to be "The World's Greatest Newspaper" and does business right across Michigan Avenue from Wrigley, was so slap-happy about an interview with Wrigley that the editors unblushingly put a special copyright on their coup. And well they might have, for at times Wrigley's desire for privacy becomes so overwhelming that he bemoans his own name.

The man whose name and product have passed every American's lips at one time or another since the turn of the century hates to be called P.K., insisting that the famous brand of gum was named not for him but for the capital letters in the slogan, "Packed tight, Kept right." The very name Wrigley makes him writhe. "He hates to carry a product name around," says a business associate. "He's not an identity. He's a gum." When Wrigley bought the Wilmington Transportation Company, he changed the name to Catalina Island Steamship Lines. He felt that people would think the block W on the steamers that plied between the California mainland and the luxurious weekend spot stood for Wrigley.

"My ambition is to go live in a cave somewhere with no telephone and roll a big rock over the door," Philip Wrigley, now 63 years old and the best-known unknown man in the realms of sports and business, morosely told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. His ambition becomes somewhat more understandable when one realizes that the Cubs have finished deep in the second division of the National League for the last 11 straight years.

In many ways Wrigley is the exact opposite of his father, the late William Wrigley Jr. Known as one of the greatest hucksters of his time, William Wrigley Jr. was a complete extrovert who would smile for a photographer two blocks away. He got into the chewing gum business by a roundabout route. A soap salesman in unwashed Chicago, he gave away baking powder as a come-on. When the call for baking powder exceeded the demand for soap, he switched to selling baking powder and offered boxes of gum as the come-on. When the clamor for gum outstripped the market for baking powder, he jumped into the gum business and made a fortune.

Philip Knight Wrigley (call him Phil, not P.K.) was born in Chicago on December 5, 1894. Almost from birth he was raised to assume responsibility. When he was 5, he listened to his father expound on selling and people. "Phil worshiped his father," says a friend. "He has always attempted to live up to him." As a boy he was shy and withdrawn. He went away to Andover to prepare for Yale, but he did poorly even though his father hired a tutor. He left Andover in 1914, a year before graduation. An avid crapshooter at school, he says that he learned one thing: "When the dice are against you, there's nothing you can do about it. I suppose in many ways it's like baseball. Sometimes you can't do anything wrong, and sometimes you can't do anything right."

Determined to prove himself, he asked his father to send him to Australia to set up a new plant. "I guess it was a success," he says. "It's still running." Upon his return home he enrolled at the University of Chicago just to take a course in chemistry. Nevertheless, he says he was listed for years as a graduate, and he is now of the belief that Robert Hutchins removed his name from this august list after he refused to give money for a dormitory. (Hutchins says: "I don't recall having any financial discussions with Mr. Wrigley. However, if he thinks I could have removed his name from the list of graduates, he has a highly exaggerated impression of my power.")

During World War I, Wrigley served in the Navy. He rose from the ranks (he was a machinist's mate) and became a lieutenant (jg) and superintendent of the school of aviation mechanics at Great Lakes Naval Training Station. While in the Navy he married Helen Blanche Atwater of Garden City on Long Island. They have three children, of whom William, the youngest and only son, is the heir presumptive to the Cubs if not the chewing gum empire. Bill, 25, is currently helping to write a brochure to attract youngsters to baseball.

The Wrigley family interest in the Cubs goes back to 1916 when William Wrigley Jr. first bought stock in the club. Phil Wrigley began buying stock on his own in 1926—a fact not often recognized by sportswriters who accuse him of lacking interest—and in 1929 joined the board of directors. He acquired his father's shares upon his death in 1932, but he didn't assume the presidency until two years later. "I finally decided I'd be president of the Cubs because I got all the blame anyway," he says.

From the first, Wrigley's ideas about baseball have been radical. He aggressively promoted Ladies' Day and children's tickets despite cries of anguish from his fellow owners. He followed his father's lead in broadcasting—during the '20s the Cubs had as many as five stations carrying the games at one time—reasoning that coverage would create fans, particularly among women. In 1938 he hired Professor Coleman Roberts Griffith, director of the Bureau of Institutional Research at the University of Illinois, to test the physical characteristics and reflexes of the Cubs. "It was a coincidence that he was the head of the psychology department," Wrigley says.

Professor Griffith and his associates moved into the park with tape measures and movie cameras. The Cubs, aroused by the press, regarded him as something worse than a Japanese spy. Wrigley laments the reception accorded the professor. "If you want to make the best knives in the world, you buy the finest steel," Wrigley says. "But you can go out and spend $250,000 for a ballplayer and he may not cut butter. That's one reason I got Professor Griffith. We figured if we could measure the physical characteristics and reflexes of established ballplayers, we could test prospects and know what to look for. If you know what makes a player who does come through in the majors, you have something. It's surprising how many players can play Triple-A but not make the majors. Everybody said we were crazy. We were too far ahead of the times.

"Take another thing we did. Around 1933 or '34, we took the sleeves off the uniforms and had sweat shirts knit the same color as the uniform. It gave the players more freedom of motion, but they practically ran us out of the league for that. We had to go back to the conventional uniform because they were kidding our players, calling them pantywaists. I got the idea while I was in Canada at a directors' meeting. We went some place where there was bowling. Canadians wear waistcoats, you know. They took their coats off to bowl, but they left their waistcoat on. They had freedom of motion. Look at the change in baseball uniforms! They've hardly changed!

"Last year, we had to make a rule about protective helmets. No one would wear them. Yet construction workers have been wearing them for years. In case someone dropped a rivet on their heads or something. Another thing was the socks! The socks stretched up to the thigh, then they rolled them down around the knee and wadded them. The player's got all that wadding—and they expect him to break a record running to first! I often think baseball must have been invented by an Englishman—it's so hard to get anyone to change."

The same year Wrigley hired Professor Griffith he paid St. Louis $185,000 for a sore-armed Dizzy Dean. "We knew his arm was questionable," Wrigley says. "We bought him regardless of the condition of his arm. What happened? We won the pennant, set an attendance record and paid a dividend. So I thought it was a pretty good deal. Dizzy Dean had a psychological effect on the team. That's what we wanted him for. We'd announce Dizzy Dean was going to pitch, and we'd put on 10 extra ticket sellers. People wanted to see if his arm was good or bad. Baseball is a very controversial game. Take the controversy out and you'll kill it."

In his early days as president of the Cubs, Wrigley suffered in silence for a while and then set out to make some adjustments in his own quiet way. "Once I called on William Randolph Hearst personally," he says, "because I thought his sports pages should be run better." On another occasion he wrote a memorandum to Colonel Frank Knox, the publisher of the Chicago Daily News, protesting against sports page criticism of the Cubs. Instead of mailing the memo, Wrigley marched over to the Daily News Building and proceeded to read it aloud to the startled colonel, who had lately been operating in a vastly more important and dignified arena as candidate for the vice-presidency on the Republican ticket.

"He kept excusing himself every few minutes," Wrigley says, "and I wondered what he was doing. After I finished he said, 'I'm sorry to be hopping around like this, but I've just been appointed Secretary of the Navy by Franklin Roosevelt.' "

When Lloyd Lewis, the sports editor of the Daily News, later ran a midseason ballot asking Cub fans to vote for a new manager, Wrigley got fired up again. He wanted to run a ballot as a paid ad in the News asking readers to vote for a new sports editor. His advisors talked him out of it. "I'm sorry they did," he says.

Nowadays Wrigley confines his criticism to himself. Short and trim—he is 5 feet 9 and weighs 158—with brown hair and blue eyes, he has the face of a worrier. He gnaws at problems with dogged persistence, but all sorts of things seem to happen to him. "If there's a Cub roster without a staple, I get it," he says, flourishing a multipaged Cub roster without a securing staple. "If there's a worm in the salad, I get it. If there's a glass with lipstick on it, I get it." A perfectionist, Wrigley does everything for himself, except read. (Since he reads so little, he is a poor speller. Once he misspelled his own name signing stock certificates. He dropped the r, and it came out "Wigley.") If news is important Mrs. Wrigley will read the paper aloud at breakfast. He is in his office on the 16th floor of the Wrigley Building, a gaudy wedding cake piece of architecture erected by his flamboyant father, by 8:45, where, bound to his desk, he sees himself as a put-upon tycoon. "I don't think I've ever done anything I've ever wanted to or ever will," he says. He works in his shirtsleeves, and no detail is too small for him to handle. He once got a dime tip while picking up a stray towel in the men's room. He writes almost all the advertising copy for the gum company and sometimes for the Cubs, too. "We also know that this year's rebuilding job has been a flop," he wrote in an ad to Cub fans in 1948 in a burst of coldly analytical honesty that only an entrenched owner could expect to get by with.

Wrigley runs the gum company and the baseball company as separate and distinct enterprises. He carries this to the point of refusing to allow any announcers employed by the gum company even to mention baseball, much less the Cubs. He doesn't see why the stockholders of the gum company should be made to pay for a plug for the Cubs or the business they're in, however innocent the reference. If the occasion demands it, he will personally impose his taste on the design for a new Cub uniform. "I've always preferred CHICAGO rather than CHICAGO CUBS on the uniform," he says, "CUBS ends up on the stomach, and that emphasizes it. Just CHICAGO across the chest makes them look huskier. And all that lettering, CHICAGO CUBS, makes it look like JOE'S GARAGE."

During World War II he started a women's softball league and saw to it that all the players went to a Helena Rubinstein beauty salon as part of their spring training.

One of the chores Wrigley assumes without complaint is talking to Cub fans who telephone with complaints. Among them is a carpenter who frequently talks for an hour. "I listen to him because he's interested in baseball," Wrigley says, suggesting the fine regard he has for all fans. If he himself has any complaint about Cub fans, it is against those who persist in thinking he actually wants a losing team. "That amazes me," he says, "and they come up with the damndest ideas! 'If you get three 20-game winners you'll be all right.' Who the hell wouldn't? I think Tom Yawkey did a great thing for baseball. He came in and spent unlimited sums and proved you can't buy a pennant. But the average person—maybe they get the idea from the movies—thinks that if you have money you can do anything."

Wrigley eats lunch daily in the Wrigley Building restaurant, which is on the ground floor of his building and open to the public. Some years ago he thought the customers were getting gypped. The double Martinis looked too small. He told the bartenders about it, and soon they were serving Martinis in eight-ounce glasses. Wrigley thought that everything was fine until too many of the patrons began slumping happily to the floor during lunch hours.

Wrigley tries to leave for home by 5. "Mr. Wrigley's favorite television show is Robin Hood," says his chauffeur, Gus Settergren. "He likes to get home to see it if he can. That's his relaxation."

If the Cubs are in town Wrigley may drive up from his office to the park around the seventh inning after watching on television. He doesn't attend many complete games. In 1945 he passed up the first three games of the World Series with Detroit to stay in Chicago answering letters from fans who couldn't get tickets. It annoys him to be criticized for failing to attend more games. "It's pretty hard to do anything right in baseball," he philosophizes. "If you don't butt in, you're not interested; if you do, it's front office interference. The thing is, my job is planning ahead. I'm generally working with the future rather than the present. I'm out ahead somewhere like an advance man for a circus. I suppose that's why people think I'm not interested in things—because I don't hang around. I never have a chance to enjoy anything's going well. My job is that of a trouble-shooter."

Inside Wrigley Field, Wrigley indulges his passion for privacy by slinking around the stands to get the fans' point of view. "Generally I sit up in the grandstand where the real fans are," he says. "I don't like any special treatment. I haven't sat in the Wrigley box for years—ever since they put in an outlet for an electric blanket. That's when I moved out." He is so anonymous the ushers don't recognize him. One-Eye Connelly, a gate crasher turned usher in his later days, tried to bar him from a World Series game. On another occasion, a vendor insisted upon sitting in his lap with a large pot of coffee. "He wasn't supposed to be sitting down," Wrigley says indignantly. "He was supposed to be selling coffee."

In keeping with his belief that baseball is a controversial game, Wrigley once redrew an architect's plans for the bleachers. Originally they were to extend from foul line to foul line. Wrigley cut them away at the sides so that the outfield ran back alongside the bleachers near the foul lines. "If the batter doesn't pull the ball sharply, it's a homer into the bleachers," he says. "If he hits it into the outfield where I cut out the bleachers, the outfielder can catch it. So when a ball is hit to right field or left field, everybody stands up, gets excited and yells to see if the ball is going to go into the bleachers or where I cut them out. If our side hits it and the outfielder catches it, people say, 'Gee, if he'd have hit it a little more to the center we would have gotten a homer and won the game.' " Wrigley is so convinced fans live for excitement that he became quite disturbed when he noticed the first and third basemen weren't fielding foul grounders. "The average fan in the stands got the feeling the players didn't care," he says. He spoke to the manager, and the Cubs began making heroic but futile stops. Wrigley prefers it that way. "We're in show business," he says.

Wrigley will do anything to please the fans. He has cut down on the number of seats in a box to build wider seats and provide more leg room. He sees to it that the hot dogs are hot, the beer cold and the prices reasonable. He pioneered free drinking fountains. He introduced the use of yellow numerals in the scoreboard to show how many runs have been scored during an inning in progress. All told, he has spent at least a couple of million dollars to beautify Wrigley Field. "It's probably because I'm a frustrated engineer or mechanic at heart," he says. "You like your engine room in tiptop shape. We can't guarantee a winning team, but we can guarantee the physical properties. We can take care of that. But when you're dealing with human nature and individual achievement you can't guarantee anything." A year ago he had Arthur Meyerhoff & Co., a Chicago advertising firm, conduct a survey on why don't people go to ball games. The results confirmed Wrigley's thinking: in the summertime people like to be out in the open air with their family and friends. This is the pitch of Cub advertising.

"The idea is to get out in the open air, have a picnic," he says. "We mention that the things people like to do, to enjoy, are all in the ball park. We stress the green vines on the wall. We stopped calling it Wrigley Field. Instead we call it Cubs Park. You see, people want to go to a park. We are aiming at people not interested in baseball. These are fans we want to get. Dyed-in-the-wool fans want us to tell about batting averages. Why should we tell the dyed-in-the-wool fans? They know where everything is, what's going on." While some sports-writers have scoffed at this approach, claiming that the visiting teams are the only ones who have a picnic, General Manager John Holland of the Cubs swears by it. "I don't say this because I work for Mr. Wrigley," he asserts, "but because I know it's so. When I was president of the Los Angeles club in the Coast League we had a hot team. We were in first place by 16 games, so I went to see Mr. Wrigley and asked him if I could change the advertising. Instead of telling the people about the advantages of the park, we'd tell them to come out and see a great ball club. We could guarantee it. Mr. Wrigley said, 'Okay, but I think you're crazy.' He was right. We changed the advertising, and our attendance fell way off."

Through the years Wrigley has resisted night baseball. "All you do with night baseball is to increase attendance at night games while the day games drop to practically nothing," he says. "We put lights in Los Angeles, and we're speaking from knowledge, not guesswork. There's a lot less competition in the daytime. The only entertainment that competes with us is horse racing. It would be different if night baseball had come about by popular demand, but the public never demanded it. It was put in by the owners to try and boost the gate. Besides, we're in a nice residential neighborhood, and we'd kill the neighborhood if we put in night baseball. You wouldn't want to live in some place with 20,000 to 30,000 people hollering up to midnight."

After a game Wrigley drives home and tries to relax. "I haven't many friends," he says sadly. "When I was married, I was asked for a list of my friends for the wedding announcements. I could only think of one. That's because I was born and raised in a mass business. I don't think of people as individuals but as lots of people." On weekends he puts on overalls and tears engines apart either in his Chicago garage or in the lavishly equipped boathouse on his estate at Lake Geneva, Wis. "I like to work with my hands," is his explanation. "When things aren't going so good I can take it out on my work." The idea of a losing team haunts him constantly. When Cincinnati beat the Cubs 22-2 last year he heard it on the radio at Lake Geneva. "He turned gray," says a friend. "Baseball is very frustrating," Wrigley says. "Maybe that's the reason I like mechanics. It's precise. Everything happens when it's supposed to. Maybe I ought to put gears into a center fielder. It's complete frustration. There's absolutely nothing you can do. When the team is going bad, I can't eat or do anything else. I don't read the newspapers, but if there's something unpleasant, somebody clips it out and sends it to me. There isn't anything a winning team won't cure. When the team is going bad, it's my team. When the team is going good, everybody's talking about our Cubs. I have a lot of people after me who think I should sell. But I'd certainly never sell them while they're down. The only reason I'd sell them would be to protect Bill. It seems very foolish to have him get stuck with a lot of things."

Each spring Wrigley takes his family to Phoenix, where they live in splendid isolation in a Spanish-type mansion (neighbor Frank Lloyd Wright calls it a monstrosity) atop a small mesa overlooking the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, another Wrigley property. "I do this because I want to be as close to the team as I can," he says. "Once the season starts, we're practically committed to a given course. A few trades may come up, but everything's been planned, laid out. The only place I can be of any use is on the business end. Somebody's got to keep some balance. I'm involved with 31 or 32 corporations. I always liken my job to a guy standing in the middle of a teeter-totter. Sometimes I throw my weight one way, then another to keep an even balance. A real fan cannot be of real help to a ball club as president. His personal feelings are too emotionally involved. So I try not to get too emotionally involved. A fellow hits three home runs and you want to give him a raise. He doesn't hit, you want to trade him for a bat bag. Once last season I got completely burned up. This young Drott was pitching an exhibition. I felt that he needed encouragement. In the ninth Bob Scheffing pulled him, and I thought that showed a lack of confidence in him. I felt tempted to go to Scheffing."

Wrigley blames himself for the Cubs' poor showing. "I knew Judge Landis all my life," he says. "My father was active in getting him in as the first commissioner. He was very opposed to the farm system, and he fought it all the time he was commissioner. Because of our high regard for the Judge, we had no farm system. When there was an open market for ballplayers, we had good teams. As that market disappeared and the team got older, we just didn't have the material. We started late. World War II came along. Starting late, we went in for quantity rather than quality. We had a lot of ballplayers, but none of them was very good. But we think we've got that licked—I hope so." He refuses to predict where the Cubs will finish this year. "Baseball is the most uncertain thing in the world," he says.

Sportswriters have argued that the Cubs have done poorly because Wrigley is too softhearted. "It isn't so much a matter of being softhearted as of being fair," he replies. "I have an influence over thousands of people, and if I'm going to make a mistake, I'd rather make one too slow than too fast. It's too easy to hurt someone. I think that some of our trades have been criticized because we think of ballplayers as human beings with feelings, and we always look upon the interest of the over-all picture, maybe a little too much. As a good example—and I don't think this is any secret—Kiner. We had a chance to make a trade and put him in the American League, much to our advantage. But he was the player representative for the league, and a new agreement on the pension plan was being discussed. It would have been necessary to look around for a replacement for him. We were thinking more of the over-all picture than of what would be strictly to our advantage. So we kept him another year. By then he had slowed down tremendously." Two years ago, there were reports Wrigley was planning to hire Leo Durocher, who is definitely not of the softhearted school, to jazz up the Cubs. Wrigley denies this. "No, sir!" he exclaims. "Wouldn't have him as a gift!"

Wrigley has been even more outspoken about baseball in a larger sense. When it looked as though his fellow magnates (the word magnate amuses Wrigley) would never give major league ball to the Pacific Coast, he preached heresy by telling the Coast League to break away and set up its own major league. Five years ago he predicted that major league ball would be on the Coast by 1958, and three years ago he foresaw that the majors would take over in Los Angeles and San Francisco. "I do think that if baseball moved around a little more it would be the national pastime," says Wrigley, who has no intention of moving the Cubs. "I've always been in favor of another major league. A third, maybe a fourth. The country's growing. I think there's room. The argument is that there aren't enough good players around. There are only 400 major leaguers now. But if you had more top jobs open, there'd be more fellows going out."

To implement this, Wrigley would like to see the owners put some of their minor league money into baseball scholarships. "You'd give the money to a university, and you wouldn't tie up a ballplayer," he says. "But most baseball men feel that the colleges are more interested in developing football players. There have been very hard feelings between the colleges and baseball." To help the minor leagues, Wrigley would abolish the term minor leagues. "To me, professional baseball is professional baseball," he says. "I don't know of any product that should deliberately label itself second-rate. In automobiles the cheapest—make that the lowest priced, nothing is cheap—in the line usually has the fanciest name." The very nature of baseball vexes him. "In any other business, if you can put your competitors out of business, that's a worthy ambition," he says. "But you can't do that in baseball. Your competitors are your partners. It's a strange setup. There are very few people left in baseball who devote any amount of time to it as far as I can see." He cites a Red Smith column in which it was said that at all baseball meetings there is a checkroom where the participants are asked to leave their brains before entering. He believes the publicity emphasis on individual stars should be changed. "People want to see a close ball game," he says. "But we don't publicize the game. We publicize the individuals. Same thing as the movies. 'Who's in it?' people ask. I'm beginning to think that baseball is getting in the same class as grand opera."

Despite his unorthodox opinions, Wrigley has the respect of baseball men. "He is the fairest man I ever met," says General Manager Gabe Paul of Cincinnati, "the only owner I ever knew who would vote against his own best interests if he thought it was good for baseball." Paul's remarks are typical. Stan Hack, who was fired by Wrigley, says, "Mr. Wrigley is an outstanding businessman who carries that ability over into baseball. I think he's been ahead of many of the other owners in his thinking of baseball as a business and the future of the game. Players should remember that he played an important role in the pension plan. When we were going bad, he'd get in touch with me and offer to help in any way possible. I never got any of those crazy calls on the telephone like some managers have received. I had no ownership interference and was grateful for it. Mr. Wrigley was the one to tell me I was through as manager. I didn't have to read it in the newspapers or hear it over the radio as some others have. Strangely enough, in my career as player and manager, I had only one owner to work for—Mr. Wrigley. If it was my lot to work for just one all that time, it was also my good fortune to be associated with a man like him." Wrigley's own opinion of himself is not so kind. "I've decided I am very unimpressive," he says with glum finality.

PHOTOWRIGLEY OUT WEST wears a locally popular ornamented string necktie and a bleak expression as he watches the hapless Cubs play an exhibition game at Mesa, Arizona. PHOTOTHE YOUNG WRIGLEYS, son Bill and daughter-in-law Alison, look almost as worried as Phil as they watch game at Rendezvous Park, the Cubs' winter home in Mesa. PHOTOREWARDED WRIGLEY, holding Bill Slocum Award for meritorious service to baseball, shares spotlight with Mickey Mantle at 1957 Baseball Writers dinner in New York. PHOTOFAMILY PORTRAIT with only son Bill, now 25 and the youngest of three children, was made during European trip. Mrs. Wrigley is the former Helen Blanche Atwater.
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)