The Chicago Cubs are celebrating the centennial of Wrigley Field this season by having throwback games on each homestand. The 1910s — the first decade that baseball was played at what we now call Wrigley Field — was commemorated by the Cubs and Diamondbacks on April 23, and the results on the field could not have been any more disastrous.
The results weren’t much better off the field, either, as the team’s birthday cake version of Wrigley Field was summarily tossed into a dumpster. It could be argued there’s nowhere for the Cubs to go now but up.
As one who appreciates the game’s history, it makes more sense to me to have a throwback game against the Cardinals than the younger-than-I-am Diamondbacks franchise. The Cardinals and Cubs have been playing each other continuously since the late 19th century. Since theirs is a rivalry that existed back in the 1920s, having these teams step onto a field together in throwback unis makes sense.
But let’s not get carried away too far on this. There are some variances between what will be seen at Clark and Addison on Sunday night, and what baseball really was back in the 1920s. This seems like as good a time as any to point these variances out, so here goes:
First and foremost, playing the game at night — not just at Wrigley Field, but throughout the majors — was not possible in the 1920s. Wrigley famously lacked lights until 1988, but before the first night game was played in Cincinnati in 1935, no team anywhere was equipped to hold a game after dark.
The game will no doubt be broadcast far and wide on television. But in the 1920s, the best anyone could hope for was to hear a game on the radio. Putting the game on coast-to-coast television wasn’t possible in the 1920s.
Other differences will be noticeable to those who want to see them. Neither team should wear numbers on Sunday, because both teams started doing this during the 1932 season. Additionally, neither team should identify their players by name on the back of their uniforms, as this did not happen until the 1960s.
No, the biggest throwback fail on Sunday night will be the free and easy beer sales throughout the park. Beer sales were illegal when the 18th Amendment to the Constitution went into effect in January of 1920. The ban remained in place until struck down in 1933, meaning no drinks were served legally yin any ballpark during the 1920s.
I hope to watch some of the game on Sunday night, as well as all other Cubs throwback games this season. But I’m under no illusions that it will be stepping backward into time, either.