A DIY Tour of 150 Years of Chicago Baseball History
Statues, plaques, markers, monuments, bars and a museum you didn’t know existed
Chicago is America’s best baseball city. New York would beg to differ, but we haven’t lost any teams to the West Coast and we still have one of the last remaining baseball temples. It seems that everywhere you look in the Windy City, there’s a tie to America’s pastime. Here, we’re highlighting a few of the landmarks and tidbits of Chicago baseball history — as well as a Hall of Fame you most likely didn’t know existed — that should satisfy fans of both clubs.
Before we go any further, please know this is coming from a pro-Cubs, pro-White Sox, pro-I-just-like-hot-dogs-at-a-game place. Both teams were the White Stockings at one point, both teams played at South Side Park before their current homes, the Cubs played World Series games at Comiskey Park (not against the White Sox!), both teams had Hall of Famers Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray as TV announcers, and Ron Santo played for both clubs. Also, baseball history is American history, so regardless of your knowledge of obscure MLB stats, there’s something interesting to discover about the game/nation throughout the city.
Cubs come first because they’ve been around longer. Also, Wrigley Field is baseball’s best (or second best, if you’re talking to someone from Boston) ballpark. Even people who despise the Cubs understand its place in MLB history. But it’s not the Cubs’ first home.
The Chicago Cubs started in 1870. Their original name was the Chicago White Stockings, and they joined the National Association (later the National League) in its first year of its existence in 1871. They didn’t play for two years after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
When the Cubs returned to play in 1874, they did so in present-day Chinatown. They then moved to what’s now Millennial Park from 1878 to 1884, decamped to the West Side Grounds and played at West Side Park (version 1) from 1885 to 1891, then South Side Park in 1892 and West Side Park (version 2) from 1893 to 1915 — before finally moving to Wrigley Field. (During their time there, the club abandoned the “White Stockings” name and ultimately became the Cubs.) West Side Park 2.0 is where the Cubs won the 1907 and 1908 World Series. As you’re well aware, the Cubs didn’t win a World Series at Wrigley until 2016. The only marker for this earliest era of Cubs baseball is a plaque near 950 S. Wood Street and the entrance to the Neuropsychiatric Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The Chicago White Sox were originally the minor league Sioux City Cornhuskers of the Western League. Charles Comiskey brought the team in 1894, moved them to St. Paul, Minnesota, and changed the name to the St. Paul Saints. In 1900, he moved the team to Chicago and took the name Chicago White Stockings. They played at South Side Park from 1900 to 1910, and in 1904, they were renamed the Chicago White Sox. There’s no marker for any of the fields that were in South Side Park, though one of the fields is currently Parking Lot L for Guaranteed Rate Field.
Comiskey Park was the Sox’s home from 1910 to 1990. Across the street from the team’s current park, there’s an updated version of their old home plate. New for 2023, it honors the team’s history much, much better than its previous iteration. It’s probably the best thing they did all season, other than the ketchup bell.
Baseball is better with beer. Bad baseball is remarkably better with beer. Both clubs have a strong tie to their local bars. The two must-visits for every Cubs fan are Murphy’s Bleachers, conveniently located behind the Wrigley bleachers on the corner of Sheffield and Waveland, and Full Shilling Public House. Meet up with your group before a game at Murphy’s, then enjoy a free hot dog after the game at Full Shilling (they have free dogs an hour before first pitch and an hour after the last out). Then stop by both well-loved, historically significant (Murphy’s opened in 1930, Full Shilling is the oldest bar in Wrigleyville) watering holes year round.
Though there aren’t as many bars near Guaranteed Rate, there are two that should be on every baseball tourist’s itinerary. Shinnick’s Pub is the obvious stop, open since the 1880s, predating the birth of Chicago White Sox baseball. It’s a little more than a half-mile southwest of the stadium. Another favorite is Bernice’s Tavern, which doesn’t have as much history as Shinnick’s (it’s only been there since 1933) but caters to an artsier crowd.
We’re focusing on the statues that fans can visit on non-game days. The must-see statue outside Wrigley is the Harry Caray-emerging-from-hell sculpture. The very pleasant statue you might like outside Wrigley is of Ernie Banks. But if you’re only visiting one, you gotta see Harry or he might drag you to hell.
The can’t-miss statue outside Guaranteed Rate Field is on White Sox Champions Brick Plaza. The white bronze and granite sculpture celebrating the 2005 White Sox World Series Championship is at the center of the plaza, with a depiction of the franchise’s historical timeline along the diamond’s base paths. The statue weighs more than 25 tons. Similar to the Cubs’ nine statues inside the park, it’s just too much.
The statue that unifies both North Siders and South Siders is outside the old Tribune Tower. The Jack Brickhouse statue honors the man who called the most games for both squads. He does not look like he’s in hell.
Chicago is the birthplace of softball — the game began on Thanksgiving Day 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club (3016 S Lake Park Ave.). There was a marker at the site of the boat club, but it was destroyed by vandals. Rather than get bummed that you’re no longer able to visit what looked like a grave marker, just hop on the blue line to Forest Park and visit the 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame.
If you hate the Cubs and believe in curses, you’ll want to stop at the original Billy Goat Tavern. If you love the Cubs and believe in broken curses, you’ll want to stop at the original Billy Goat Tavern. If you’d rather see an NBA or NHL game than hear any more about baseball, you’ll want to stop at the less historic Billy Goat Tavern near the United Center — it’s a really great option before Blackhawks and Bulls games.
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