Lifelong Wrigley fan celebrates ‘the most beautiful place’

Wrigley 100It would be hard to imagine anyone in television better than Bob Vorwald to capture the majesty and the magic of Wrigley Field on its centennial.

The veteran Chicago sports producer and longtime director of production at Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9 has fashioned “Wrigley 100: A Century Celebration,” a beautifully crafted two-hour homage to The Friendly Confines, premiering at 7 p.m. April 20 (with a rebroadcast at 4 p.m. April 26 on Channel 9 and WGN America). It’s narrated by Steve Cochran, morning personality at WGN AM 720.

A lifelong Cubs fan who grew up in southwestern Wisconsin, Vorwald attended his first game at Clark and Addison on his seventh birthday in 1969.

Bob Vorwald

Bob Vorwald

“It was amazing walking up those stairs and seeing how incredibly green and wonderful everything was,” he later recalled in Wrigley Field: 100 Stories for 100 Years by Dan Campana and Rob Carroll. "We got there early, and when the gates went up, we found some seats in the terrace behind home plate. The Cubs won 5-4 that day, and it was just the most exciting thing I’d ever seen in my life. That first day was magical. I got an autograph from Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, and it was just something I’ll never ever forget. It was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen in my life.”

By 1982, just before his junior year at Northwestern University, Vorwald landed a job as a sports assistant at WGN, where he worked for legendary sports editor Jack Rosenberg and got to rub shoulders with broadcast giants Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. Since 1998, he's been director of production.

When WGN marked its 60th anniversary of Cubs broadcasts in 2008, Vorwald not only wrote and produced a great two-hour special, “Cubs Forever,” but he authored a highly acclaimed companion book, Cubs Forever: Memories from the Men Who Lived Them.

For the latest special, which he called “an 18-month labor of love,” Vorwald taped more than 60 fresh interviews and combined them with others he’d saved from earlier projects. Some of the rare footage he found, dating as far back as the 1920s, has never been shown on television before.

Though heavy on baseball history, “Wrigley 100” also gives football its due, considering that the field doubled as home of the Bears from 1921 to 1970. What narrator Cochran calls “the greatest individual performance in Wrigley history” happened on December 12, 1965, when Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers.

Some of the sharpest observations of being a fan at Wrigley Field come from Lin Brehmer, morning personality at WXRT FM 93.1. “I lived in the neighborhood; I had a sign ‘No lights in Wrigley Field.’ ” he says. “Now I want to tell you what kind of committed guy I am. As soon as they put lights in Wrigley Field, I said, ‘Hey, I think I can get season tickets now!’ ”

The spirit of the place is summed up by Major League Baseball historian John Thorn, who recalls a line from Larry Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times: “The best part of baseball today is its yesterdays,” and then adds: “And that’s on sale every day at Wrigley Field.”

Here’s a brief preview: