Stadium Journey published the much-anticipated debate between me and Joe Mock – and our locking horns over which of America’s two oldest ballparks is a better place to see a ballgame. I thought we put it together well. Hope you enjoy the read. (Click here to see the PDF from the magazine; click here to visit the excellent Stadium Journey website.)
BALLPARK VERSUS BALLPARK
Fenway or Wrigley – Which is the best?
Joe Mock (www.BaseballParks.com) and Kurt Smith (www.BallparkEGuides.com) are webmasters for two of the most popular ballpark-themed websites on the net…and both are foremost authorities on what makes Wrigley Field and Fenway Park special. But which ballpark takes the top spot in the battle of the two classics?
The two disagree on the answer, with Joe preferring Wrigley and Kurt siding with Fenway. Let the debate begin!
Each Ballpark’s Place In History
JOE: When you have two parks that date back over a century, that’s a LOT of history. Wrigley, though, wins in this category, but not by a lot.
Simply standing within the Friendly Confines fills you with a sense of history that can’t be matched by any other facility – of any sport. One reason for this is because of the way the park looks. The stately stands. The bleachers. The ivy. Just everything.
In 2014, I got to cover the 100th birthday of Wrigley for USA Today, and the way the Cubs put on the event showcased that history. While wearing throwback uniforms, they played as the Chicago Whales of the 1914 Federal League. You had no trouble envisioning the Whales playing in that ballpark. And to give the proceedings an extra air of century-long authenticity, the home team blew a lead and lost the game.
From the legendary called shot by Babe Ruth to the tragedy of Steve Bartman to the mind-blowing prowess of Jake Arrieta, Wrigley is history.
KURT: I agree with Joe that both Fenway and Wrigley can’t help but feature history as the backbone of their greatness…Babe Ruth (supposedly) called his shot at Wrigley and pitched at Fenway…but I disagree on the key point Joe makes about the ballparks’ look, at least now.
The Red Sox and Cubs have both recently renovated their classic ball yards, but the Red Sox enhanced the historic aspects of their ballpark, while the Cubs disrupted it. The Red Sox placed seats atop of the Green Monster and closed off Yawkey Way during games to create a great pre-game atmosphere, and the new video boards in Fenway actually look like the hand-operated classic in left field and blend in very nicely.
By contrast, the Cubs placed a huge, high-definition video board in left field that is anything but historic…and many fans agree looks completely out of place. In doing so the Cubs not only blocked the view from the Waveland Avenue rooftops, but also made the hand operated out-of-town scoreboard in center field look completely unnecessary. The rooftops and scoreboard, to these eyes anyway, were as iconic as the ivy. Maybe they had to install the video board, but it’s impossible for me to believe it couldn’t have been done better.
Before both parks were renovated, I might have given the history nod to Wrigley, but the Red Sox seemed to have much more of an eye for the ballpark’s history in their renovations.
JOE: While I like the street fair atmosphere of Yawkey Way before a Sox game, you have to admit that it’s somewhat contrived. A street that is normally open to traffic is shut down for a few hours when there’s a baseball game. That’s the opposite of being “organic.”
Wrigleyville, though, is Wrigleyville 365 days a year. From the bars across the street (I mean, everyone knows the Cubby Bear, right?) to the Addison station of the red line of the L train to the neighborhood businesses and tenements that come right up to the ballpark’s footprint, nothing compares.
And does Fenway have anything like the rooftops across Sheffield and Waveland? Hardly.
No, just mentioning the “corner of Clark and Addison” evokes images of the one-of-a-kind neighborhood that surrounds Wrigley.
KURT: Again, Joe is right about Wrigleyville and the entire neighborhood being part of a Cubs game celebration…but unfortunately, the Cubs are disrupting that too, with their plans for a high end “plaza”.
Fenway has one very special surroundings element that Wrigley doesn’t…sausages. Lansdowne Street alone has almost a dozen purveyors of pregame sausages, dogs, chicken teriyaki or steak tip sandwiches…each one unique and many with their own brand of hot sauce.
Fenway also is right there with Wrigley in your choices of pre- or post-game party…play ping-pong at Game On, have a Bunker Hill Blueberry Ale at Boston Beer Works, or get some very cheap eats at the Baseball Tavern. Or even watch the game for free from the Bleacher Bar for a few innings. There’s something for everyone.
And while Yawkey Way may be contrived to be similar to Eutaw Street in Baltimore, it’s not a bad idea…I wouldn’t mind the Cubs turning Sheffield Avenue into part of Wrigley during games.
KURT: The Green Monster says it all…this ballpark is not only built on one city block, but that block is shaped such that if we put a normal fence in left field, bloops just barely out of the infield could become home runs.
The big wall in left field is the centerpiece of a design so asymmetrical that a team would be accused of ridiculous contrivance of dimensions if they tried it today. Fenway Park almost looks stretched sideways looking at it from overhead.
I’ll never argue that Wrigley has a million unique things about it, but its dimensions aren’t one of them. It was built on one city block too, but the block is square and as such the dimensions don’t give a hitter an advantage on either side of home plate.
Only in Boston could a ballpark be shaped like Fenway…it makes the ballpark one of the more architectural wonders in a city with quite a few of them.
JOE: Kurt, it’s interesting that you bring up both Fenway’s shape and its dimensions, because I believe both are drawbacks.
Regarding the shape of Fenway’s footprint, I would term it “misshapen” more than “stretched sideways.” Like a lot of parks built during the concrete-and-steel era in the first couple of decades of the 20th Century, Fenway’s design evolved over time (but was always limited by the non-square parcel of land).
But this evolution has created a truly undesirable arrangement of seating in Fenway, where a ridiculously large percentage of seats are beyond right center field and, worse, in the right-field corner beyond the foul pole. If you’ve tried to watch a game from a seat in that corner, you’ll know what I mean.
Wrigley, though, evolved in an orderly way that the original architect, Zachary Taylor Davis, could’ve easily envisioned. Hence you have a true upper deck with fantastic views of the field – even from its farthest reaches – and outfield seating that makes sense.
Regarding the dimensions of the two fields, I would again apply the word “misshapen” to Fenway. With foul poles that are 302 feet away in right and, we assume (since the Red Sox discourage anyone from actually measuring it), 310 feet in left, and the silly “triangle” near center, it makes for bizarre dimensions. While I like some originality in outfield dimensions (like the two “wells” in Wrigley’s outfield), the number of oddities in Boston outfield are far too numerous.
KURT: When the Red Sox expanded the ballpark, so to speak, into Yawkey Way (now Jersey Street), they created a wonderful pre-game atmosphere for kids of all ages. The old-time band playing, Big League Brian on his stilts, carts selling roasted peanuts and Luis Tiant selling Cuban sandwiches…that’s baseball at its best.
Red Sox and Cubs fans both deserve props for their dedication, and both teams’ fans are raucous and show up in large numbers. But while I’m not knocking anyone’s reason to come to a ballgame, there are fans at Wrigley that are there more for the party than to cheer the Cubs. It’s not just me saying that…I’ve read that a lot. Red Sox fans are rarely accused of this. Everyone in the ballpark lives to hear “Dirty Water” blaring on the PA after a Red Sox victory.
Not to harp on the renovation point again, but the Cubs also did some damage to the gameday atmosphere with the video board and strong arming of businesses like street guys selling programs. The Bucket Bangers, for example, are essential Wrigley…I don’t know if the Cubs were responsible, but I didn’t see or hear them in my last visit. And I missed them.
JOE: While I concede that the Cubs’ current owners made a number of changes based on business decisions rather than aesthetics, it’s still a blast attending a Cubs game. Without the need for the contrived closed-off-street of Yawkey Way, the area around Wrigley is truly alive before and after games.
And there’s something endearing about fans who for generations have come to the Friendly Confines more for the park and the experience than to root for the perpetually losing team. And you can’t say it’s not an “experience” to go to a Cubs home game, win or lose. The front office makes sure of that. The entire season of Wrigley’s 100th Birthday in 2014 was a testament to that.
KURT: Both Wrigley and Fenway are relatively simple in their concessions, at least compared to places like Nationals Park (shawarma) and Progressive Field (Froot loop dogs). When it comes to the basic ballpark food…the basic hot dog…Wrigley doesn’t have the uniqueness of the Fenway Frank. Mushy white bread buns are part of baseball.
Actually, one could argue that there’s a better variety at Wrigley, and there is, at least inside both ballparks. Wrigley does have Gilbert’s sausages and Hot Doug’s dogs, and Giordano’s deep dish pizza is better than Papa Gino’s. But when you add the outside sausage vendors, Fenway has a definite edge…the Inner Beauty hot sauce at the Sausage Connection and the plain sausage and peppers from the Sausage Guy are without peer even inside of Fenway.
Plus Fenway has lobster rolls, so Wrigley featuring Italian beef doesn’t weigh in favor of Wrigley as much…
JOE: I’ve always felt the concessions at Fenway were fine, but never in the top ten in the Majors. If you insist, Kurt, on including food sold outside of the ballpark, that does elevate Fenway’s food ranking, but not by much.
I agree that the Giordano’s pizza at Wrigley is better than what’s in Boston, but I think the difference isn’t slight. I think it’s huge. Giordano’s is that good.
The sausages and franks at Wrigley speak for themselves, and far outpace anything of the sort at Fenway. New this year are variations on chicken sausage by Gilbert’s.
And since you’re including food found outside Fenway, I’ll do the same with Wrigley. In the Wrigleyville area, you’ll find perhaps the best corned beef sandwich anywhere at DMK Burger Bar, and next door at the Fish Bar there’ a zesty po-boy that includes both shrimp and crawfish, and a wonderful lobster roll (!). And at Giordano’s sit-down eatery, you can experience their entire array of scrumptious pizzas of varying crust thicknesses, and a savory chicken parm.
JOE: In 2013, USA TODAY asked me to write an article about each MLB park. They then ran one article per week in their Sports Weekly publication, doing a countdown from number 30 to 1. My top park was Wrigley. I supported that ranking by pointing out the wonderful gameday environment there and the stupendous sense of history.
There’s no doubt that both Fenway and Wrigley are national treasures, and are among America’s most beloved parks – probably the top two on that list. Wrigley, though, edges out Fenway, especially when you consider architecture, surroundings and concessions.
KURT: In the pre-renovation years of both ballparks, I had actually preferred Wrigley to Fenway, largely because there were a lot of pitfalls to mar the experience at Fenway…small concourse space, parking difficulties, and lots of not so great seats. Now that I have researched both ballparks thoroughly, I’ve come to realize that the challenges of Fenway are what makes it great…it’s not a ballpark for amateurs, and it brings out the best in fans.
Wrigley is still a fantastic, iconic venue and as Joe says, a Cubs game is still a blast. It’s just going to take some time for me to get used to the gigantic video boards…and the loss of the rooftops and many of the nearby vendors. There is a stark contrast to how both teams handled their renovations, and it what makes Fenway superior these days, in my totally humble opinion.
Enjoy this article? Check out more about ballparks from Joe and Kurt!
Joe Mock is the writer and photographer for BaseballParks.com, which dates back to the dawn of the Web in 1997. He also writes regularly for USA TODAY Sports. Kurt Smith is the owner and author of Ballpark E-Guides, the highly acclaimed (even by Joe Mock!) detailed fan’s guides to 15 major league ballparks, including Wrigley and Fenway. He is also a staff writer for JerseyMan and BostonMan Magazines.
Even if you don’t live in Chicago, you probably have a few Cubs fans in your life. Rooting for the Cubs is a universal sentiment for millions of Americans everywhere. And for any Cubs fans are on your list, I’ve compiled this superb list of ideal gifts for Cubs fans – especially for when they’re headed to Wrigley Field for a ballgame.
Full disclosure here: Ballpark E-Guides is an Amazon affiliate, so if you use the links in this post to purchase an item, this website earns a commission…at no extra cost to you. So thanks for your support!
Gifts For Cubs Fans, Part 1: Staying Warm at Wrigley
No Chicago native needs to be told how chilly it can get in the Friendly Confines…there’s a reason (cool Wrigley tip coming!) that April games feature the cheapest tickets (that’s the tip!).
But more importantly, fans need to stay warm when this team is playing in October.
So here’s a few gift suggestions for comfort at the Friendly Confines…
First, let’s not take leg warmth for granted. They make some truly cool Cubs socks, so click here to see all of the styles available.
Ever have your feet get cold at a sporting event? All the time, right? I think sneaker slippers are a pretty cool idea! Great for keeping fan feet warm on those chilly October nights at Wrigley, and they actually look pretty cool too. Check them out here.
Next to leg warmth, neck warmth can be overlooked too…so check out this selection of Cubs scarves.
The Cubs fan in your life will love this hooded sweatshirt. And this championship hoodie is pretty cool too. It’s only been a few years since the glorious triumph of 2016 for Cubs fans…short enough to still celebrate the ending of a century long drought, but also long enough that championship gear is available at a pretty nice price.
If we’re talking hoodies, I like this one too…a cubby bear flying a blue W flag with ivy. One simple logo capturing multiple elements of being a Cubs fan at the Friendly Confines.
You’ll need a windbreaker if you’re sitting in those shaded Terrace Reserved seats (I speak from experience), especially in the early months of the season when the stiff wind blows in from Lake Michigan. This nice looking one from Majestic includes fleece lining and it can even be financed!
And while we all wish cooler heads had prevailed when a fan reached for a foul ball, it’s still a smart thing to keep your head warm at Wrigley. Here’s a nice selection of a few knit hats for the Cubs fan in your life.
Gifts For Cubs Fans, Part 2: Showing Your Cubs Fan Allegiance
A sea of blue in the stands at Wrigley does not happen without each and every Cubs fan contributing that individual effort. When the Cubs fan in your life is visiting their favorite home for baseball, accessorizing is a must.
Let’s start with the obvious…caps, jerseys and T-shirts.
This here Cubs cap is my favorite style, and I own one myself…the big red C with the walking blue cub. In the interest of honesty, I will tell you that I found mine cheap from one of the ubiquitous outside vendors at Wrigley…but this version is still cheaper than what you’ll pay inside the ballpark.
Stop paying ballpark prices for your Cubs gear and souvenirs!
As far as jerseys, Amazon’s prices are much better than the MLB shop…check out this away Cubs jersey here and here to see the price difference (Prices are subject to change, but the difference was close to $40 as I wrote this.)
That said, MLB Shop does have a far better selection regarding jerseys…so far be it for me to tell you to not check that out here.
But again, there’s considerable savings on these things on Amazon, and you can probably find a very cool jersey for the Cubs fan in your life here. I even checked the free shipping box for you!
Finally, there’s no better way to bring out the awww factor than bringing a tiny new Cubs fan to their first game at Wrigley Field…wearing a Cubs fan onesie of course. (You can tell I’m a dad, knowing what a “onesie” is.) And of course, be sure the baby is wearing a bib for their Old Style milk.
(Yes, I know Old Style doesn’t make milk. Do not think for a minute I’m suggesting filling a baby bottle with Old Style anything.)
Gifts For Cubs Fans, Part 3: Other Wrigley Accessories
The proper attire isn’t the only thing a Cubs fan needs to bring to Wrigley Field on game day. As regular readers of this site know, you can bring your own food and non-alcoholic drinks into Wrigley Field. (Read more about that here.)
Your favorite Cubs fan will need something to keep all that cheap grub in, right? Be sure to equip them…and let them know about that little loophole the Cubs offer if they weren’t aware already.
This cooler makes a great compartment, even though you can’t bring in alcohol. Store your Subway sandwich or El Burrito Mexicano carry out in it and keep it warm, or grab a couple of bottles of water and keep them cold.
This lunch bag is on the pricey side, but it’s ideal for storing sandwiches or drinks.
Or ladies can use this tote bag, to carry other stuff as well…like any souvenirs they’re buying at the game.
If none of those work for you, here’s a larger selection. But definitely consider a cooler bag for anyone who makes frequent trips to Wrigley. Nothing against the extremely impressive Wrigley Field food selection, but BYO is a big money saver.
OK, so now you’ve got your gear and your goody bag, just a couple more things…remember there’s no retractable roof at Wrigley, so if you’re in the bleachers especially, you could be scrambling in a rain delay to find a covered spot. Or you could sit under this fine umbrella. Sweet, huh?
Speaking of enjoying the Wrigley bleachers, this seat cushion can make life a little easier on the back of your favorite Cubs fan.
And needless to say, every Cubs fan needs to be prepared to wave the Blue W following a Cubs victory…so here’s a perfect stocking stuffer gift for a Cubs fan: a Blue W flag!
Gifts For Cubs Fans, Part 4: Winter Reading
OK, maybe it’s not something to take to Wrigley, but your favorite Cubs fan still needs to pass the time until baseball season. What better way to do it on a snowy Chicago day than some great Cubs reading? Here’s a few I recommend…
I confess to not yet having read The Chicago Cubs: Story of A Curse, but judging from the reviews it’s very good, and I would certainly get it for a Cubs fan in my life.
I did read the next two, and while Cubs fans are no longer waiting until next year for the end of the lifelong misery, they are still both great reads:
And The Cubs Fan’s Guide To Happiness is from the authors of The Heckler, a Cubs fan magazine. I lent this one to a Cubs fan friend of mine, and he handed it back to me with one word: “Hilarious!”
Gifts For Cubs Fans, Part 5: Because Neon.
Finally, not much to say about this one…nor is it something you bring to a ballgame, but I saw it and decided this sign would be an essential mancave item for a Cubs fan. It is just so…Christmas. (Not the sign in the picture below…if that was on Amazon I would own it!)
There you are my friend, a helpful list of gifts for Cubs fans, especially the ones you see in Wrigley Field from April through October.
By the way, I’m full of other great tips for Wrigley visitors and regulars…I’ve got 1*10^6 ways to save money and enjoy a better experience. Get some great tips for Wrigley and other ballparks by clicking here!