Today in Cubs history: The Cubs considered artificial turf for Wrigley Field

Can you imagine Wrigley Field with artificial grass?

According to an article in The Sporting News published today, November 30, 1968, 52 years ago, this has been seriously considered.

In the article, Jerome Holtzman wrote:

The boy’s owner, Philip Knight Wrigley, says he is seriously considering plowing the grass at Wrigley Field and replacing it with tartan turf, one of the new plastics.

Said Wrigley:

“I have no doubt that these new artificial surfaces are what is to come. We’ve looked at the development and there is no doubt that it would pay for itself within a few years – lawn maintenance is expensive. “

Then Wrigley added:

“It’s more about when we can afford it. When we have the money we will probably install some artificial turf. But it won’t be this year (just in time for the 1969 season) as we have already earmarked $ 500,000 to rebuild the right top field deck. “

(FWIW, $ 500,000 in 1968 is about $ 3.7 million today.)

Artificial turf was definitely the new up-and-coming thing in 1968. The article goes on to say that the Cardinals considered placing artificial turf at Busch Stadium in 1969 – something they pushed and did – and that the new stadiums were then under construction in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh would have artificial grass. From 1970 to 1978 artificial turf was installed in Candlestick Park in San Francisco, and in 1969 the White Sox laid artificial turf in a bizarre half-size in the old Comiskey Park – but only in the infield. The Sox removed that and put grass back in 1976.

Holtzman’s article noted Cubs manager Leo Durocher’s disdain for artificial turf, which at the time was only in one stadium, the Astrodome, and quoted him as saying:

“They spent $ 20 million building a ballpark and then they put in a 10-cent infield.”

The article notes that tartan turf considered by the Cubs and other teams was superior to AstroTurf:

Unlike AstroTurf, which is laid on the ground, tartan turf is laid on a layer of fine, textured asphalt that in turn covers six inches of gravel. While no games have been played on Tartan Turf, it is possible that it is not as fast as AstroTurf.

According to Holtzman, team owners at the time not only thought they would save money on maintenance, but also that artificial turf would reduce injuries. The latter obviously turned out not to be true. Think what happened to Andre Dawson, who played on poor artificial turf in Montreal for the first decade of his career. It also didn’t prove to be inexpensive as it faded and worn out quickly and had to be replaced quite often.

At the height of artificial turf heyday, after Skydome opened in Toronto in 1989, 10 of the 26 teams had man-made lawns (Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Montreal, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Seattle, and Toronto). After new parks were built in the 1990s, that number slowly dropped to two (Toronto and Tampa Bay) in the mid-2010s, but now a few other parks (Arizona and Texas) have created artificial surfaces. Technology has improved significantly over the years, with artificial grass looking and playing a lot more like the original.

If the Cubs had actually installed artificial turf in 1969, they would probably have torn it out in the 1980s or 1990s, as many other teams did. Personally, I’m glad they put the project on hold and didn’t do it at all.

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