FIELD OF SCREENS
Good fences don't always make good neighbors, as Wrigley's
faithful are discovering. A lifelong Cubs fan looks past the
feud and points up the real dilemma
Every decade or so, there erupts a Wrigley Field controversy
that invariably involves the bruised sensibilities of
tradition-bound Cubs fans set against the inexorable march of
progress. In 1988 it was the addition of lights to Wrigley. This
year it's the outfield screens that the team has erected in an
attempt to impede the views from the rooftops adjacent to the
stadium, much to the dismay of Wrigley's neighbors. Predictably,
two weeks into the new season the debate has already consumed
Seemingly all of Chicago has taken up sides. Neighborhood
landlords, naturally, are crying foul, citing the longstanding
tradition of rooftop viewing. (It's funny because when I was a
kid, it was considered a hazard to live in those buildings, as
an errant Ernie Banks home run could break a window. Nowadays,
those houses are prime real estate.) Wrigley's neighbors would
have you believe that the Tribune Company, owner of the Cubs, is
taking the game away from a modern-day knothole gang. However,
the team points out that like the Cubs, rooftop viewing is a
business. Landlords charge admission to their roofs--$100 a seat
is not uncommon--and many of them have corporate sponsorship
deals. "When they were up there with Weber grills and lawn
chairs it was romantic," says team spokesman Mark McGuire, who
adds that what the rooftop denizens are doing today is
Bottom line: What does this all mean for baseball? In one sense
it means a lot. With apologies to Fenway, Wrigley Field is the
Vatican of the sport. Any alteration or adjustment to it chips
away at its tradition, and that understandably upsets the fans in
Chicago and beyond.
But in another sense the big green fence around Wrigley is just
so much wire and plastic obscuring a more important issue: The
Cubs can't win. They thrill us, they tease us, they torture us.
The tragedy of '69. The horror of '84. The beat goes on--the Cubs
In 1977 I conceived and co-wrote a play called Bleacher Bums,
about a group of fans in Wrigley's cheap seats. My intent was to
explore the kind of fanaticism it takes to continually follow a
losing cause. An interviewer at the time asked me if the play
would still be relevant if the Cubs ever became world champions.
My response was, "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
Twenty-five years later I still haven't had to cross that bridge.
The players change, the fans age, the minor controversies come
and go. But we all still gleefully continue our pilgrimage of
springtime hope and autumn sorrow to our Mecca at Addison and
Clark streets. Turn on your lights, put up your screens--we will
still have that one eternal truth that connects the fans of the
past and the fans of the future: The Cubs can't win. God bless
them, and God bless Wrigley Field. --Joe Mantegna
The author, a native Chicagoan, is currently starring in CBS's
First Monday. Bleacher Bums airs on Showtime this month.
DAVID BECKHAM'S INJURY
A BAD BREAK
If you think the U.S. media hyperventilates over sports,
consider the reaction in the U.K. last week to the news that
English soccer captain David Beckham may miss the upcoming World
Cup finals--which begin on May 31--after breaking a bone in his
left foot during a game for his club team, Manchester United.
BECKHAM FACES END OF THE WORLD, screamed The Guardian, lamenting
the injury that was also described as THE MOMENT THE DREAM DIED
(The Sun) and OUR WORST NIGHTMARE (The Mirror). "Nothing is more
important to England's preparations," said Prime Minister Tony
Blair through a spokesman, "than the state of David Beckham's
For his part Beckham said he was "overwhelmed" by the outpouring
of support, the result of his remarkable transformation from Bill
Buckner status to national icon. Only four years ago Beckham was
hung in effigy after being ejected from a World Cup match for
childishly kicking at Argentina's Diego Simeone. England was
eliminated on penalty kicks in that second-round game, and fans
blamed Beckham. Since then he's rebuilt his image by guiding Man
U to one European and three Premier League titles, gaining the
captaincy of the English team and scoring on a last-second free
kick against Greece last October to qualify England for the Cup
finals. Beckham, the husband of former Spice Girl Victoria Adams,
is so ingrained in British pop culture that on Friday, Bend It
Like Beckham opened in London; the film depicts a girl who longs
to make a ball swerve the way it does off one of Beckham's free
Adding to last week's drama, Beckham's broken metatarsal was
caused by a reckless two-footed tackle by Aldo Duscher, a
midfielder for the Spanish club Deportivo La Coruna who happens
to be Argentine. England and Argentina have a long and bitter
rivalry, and Duscher was unrepentant. "Football is a man's game,"
he said. "I have nothing to be sorry for." Nor did it help
matters that the Argentine sports daily Ole crowed DON'T CRY FOR
The countries will meet in a World Cup match on June 7, and
England's hopes may depend on the health of Beckham, the world's
finest taker of free kicks and crosses. By week's end doctors had
shortened his expected recovery time from eight weeks to six,
which means he could be back in time. Leaving nothing to chance,
psychic (and soccer fanatic) Uri Geller asked fans last week to
lay their hands on a televised picture of Beckham's foot and
"visualize the bone knitting together." If Geller can mend bones
as well as he bends spoons, then England--and its Captain
Fantastic--might be in luck. --Grant Wahl
Rank of Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field among vegetarian-friendly big
league parks according to PETA, which praised the Devil Rays'
stadium for offering garlic knots, black beans and rice, and
University of North Carolina players--Adam Boone, Neil Fingleton
and Brian Morrison--who have transferred out of Matt Doherty's
basketball program since December, one fewer than the number
who'd left the Tar Heels in the previous 10 years.
Percentage of the nearly 6,000 players in baseball's minor
leagues who are foreign-born.
Straight seasons that the Blues have made the NHL playoffs, the
longest postseason streak in pro sports.
Feet that a home run by Cardinals outfielder J.D. Drew traveled
last Friday, the eighth-longest homer in Busch Stadium history;
the rest of the top 10 were hit by Mark McGwire.
Strokes of Genius
The U.S. Patent and Trademark office has granted more than 8,000
patents for golf-related inventions in the past five years. Some
1,400 of these are for clubs, nearly 1,000 are related to ball
improvements, and some, like these, seem more goofy than golfy.
--Golf ball heater appliance (patent No. 6,130,411) Your game may
be ice-cold, but your balls will be toasty in this
waffle-iron-like heater. Legend has it that warm balls fly
--Golf ball with remotely activated sound generator (No.
6,011,466); alarm system for forgotten golf club (No. 6,040,772)
Two inventions to help you stay close to loved ones. A radio
signal makes the ball chirp, no matter how deep in the woods it
is; the club finder automatically alerts a golfer who strays too
far from his stick.
Twins Hall of Fame outfielder, on the skills of Minnesota
centerfielder Torii Hunter: "The better he gets, the better he's
going to be."