Saturday, January 15, 2011

Whitlow's Wall....What the Heck is Whitlow's Wall?

Did I catch your attention with the title? Do you know what Whitlow's Wall is? The wall ties in with a couple of Cub oddities, the College of Coaches and Astroturf at Wrigley Field. Allow me to tell you the story.

In 1960 the Cubs were bad. So bad that Cubs owner PK Wrigley traded his manager, Charley Grimm to WGN Radio for the color man, Lou Boudreau. The odd trade didn't do much for the team and after the season, Wrigley came up with an even stranger plan, the College of Coaches.

I've got more about it here, but essentially, the concept was that there would be no manager, but instead a committee of rotating coaches would run the team. The coaches would move between the minor league teams and the Cubs. The thought was there would be continuity throughout the organization and that it would speed player development. Most of you probably are somewhat familiar with the plan, which, of course, ended up a colossal flop.

Two years later, Wrigley took the whole college thing one step further. And this part of the story you may not know. Wrigley felt the team lacked some "spark," so before the 1963 season he hired an Athletic Director. That's right, the Cubs had an AD. And in the team's chain of command, he was higher up than the GM or the coaches.

The man Wrigley hired was a retired Air Force Colonel named Robert Whitlow. He was a military guy, not a baseball guy. But he outranked the GM and the coaches. And as you can imagine, the GM John Holland and the coaches were not too thrilled.

June of 1963 saw Whitlow's most noted accomplishment. Claiming the players asked for it, he had a green eight foot fence installed atop the center field wall to serve as an additional hitters background. Ivy was also planted to match the rest of the outfield. It was derisively know as "Whitlow's Wall." Bob Kennedy, the head coach, said the whole thing was news to him, which tells you what he thought of the whole idea. I can't imagine that the players would have wanted something that would have made home runs more difficult to hit. Raising the center field wall by eight feet would certainly do just that.

These events took place years before I was old enough to follow baseball, but I've read about them. I have never seen a picture of Whitlow's Wall. Maybe the Cubs wanted to destroy all evidence of this dumb idea. But last week, a picture of the wall was posted on the Baseball Fever Message Board. I've got it for you here:

Thankfully, both Whitlow and his wall didn't last too long. Both were gone after the 1964 season.

In 1967, the Cubs took a different approach to making a better hitters background in center field. These cards show you their solution: Astroturf.

The Astros were the first team to install the fake grass; the Cubs were the second. You can read more about that here.

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