Today is Opening Day in Major League Baseball and George Will is out with a timely book, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred. One of his arguments? The team has struggled in part because Wrigley was built and marketed as “a destination whose appeal was largely independent of its tenant’s won-loss record”:
The strategy wasn’t always foolproof — attendance dipped as the Cubs slogged through particularly wretched stretches — but by and large, Wrigley Field gave the team’s owners a comfy cushion of fan loyalty through thick and (mostly) thin. But Will’s provocative hypothesis, which over the course of this slender book’s 223 pages comes to seem indisputable, is that the ballpark is “part cause and part symptom of the Cubs’ dysfunctional performance.” If the Cubs ownership hadn’t been able to rely so heavily on the stadium’s enduring popularity with fans, Will argues, it might actually have been forced to field a winning team.
Joseph Epstein recaps that dysfunction:
The Cubs’ last World Series victory was 1908; its last appearance in a World Series was 1945. Since moving to Wrigley Field in 1916, the team’s winning percentage has been a dispiriting .488, its overall record 7,478 wins to 7,833 losses. The question is: Has the antique elegance of Wrigley Field been an enticement for the team’s owners to do nothing to improve the team, since the fans, allured by the field’s fading grandeur, come out in any case?
Larry Thornberry looks at the evidence Will provides:
The latest stats, dreamed up by a couple of quantitative sports guys named Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, claim to demonstrate, with charts and graphs, that the attendance at Wrigley Field is less sensitive to the Cubs’ winning than is the case with any other team and any other ballpark.
I’ll spare you the boiler-plate, but the average “attendance sensitivity” in Major League Baseball is 1. The Yankees sensitivity is 0.9, meaning attendance tracks the pin-stripes’ won-lost percentage pretty closely. The Red Sox are also at 0.9. The Cubs are at 0.6, leading Moskowitz and Wertheim to label the Cubs “America’s Teflon team.” In fact, the pair finds the price of beer in the park tracks attendance better than the Cubs’ won-lost percentage.
Update from a reader:
Another problem with Wrigley is that due to the eccentric lake winds, it’s nearly impossible to establish a home-field advantage. Despite its reputation as a homerun-happy bandbox, when the winds blow in – as they regularly do, especially early in the season – Wrigley is really a pitcher’s park. So there’s no clear blueprint for a winning edge like there is at, say, Yankee Stadium (load up on lefty power to take advantage of the short porch in right) or the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis (where the Cardinals memorably stocked their outfield with gazelles to roam the cavernous gaps). Add to that the fact that all those day games really do mess up the players’ circadian rhythms and it’s no wonder the Curse of the Billy Goat has held so long …
Via The Daily Dish.