A strange thing recently happened at Wrigley Field. Something that, quite possibly, had never happened before.
On Saturday, May 16, the Cubs were playing the Pirates. Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the third inning with a single, and promptly tried to steal second base. He was called out on a close play, and Joe Maddon challenged the call. None of this was out of the ordinary.
What made it different was that, rather than waiting in relative silence for the umpiring crew’s decision, the nearly 39,000 in attendance—including my wife and I—could see the replay for themselves. In fact, we saw it repeatedly, from all the available angles, over and over, in vivid and larger-than-life detail on Wrigley Field’s new video boards.
I’ll admit I was one of the skeptics who immediately turned up my nose at the idea of adding a giant video screens to Wrigley. For years, I have proudly defended the Cubs’ lack of a Jumbotron. Even when it was clear that it would greatly increase advertising revenue for the team, I was a staunch opponent. I didn’t need to be bombarded with ads after every half inning. I didn’t care about expanded stats for pitchers and batters, or having a better look at opposing players’ headshots. I didn’t want whatever meager insights we’re meant to glean from those awkward team Q&As. I had no interest whatsoever in an animated shell game. And while I’m always down for a good blooper reel, I didn’t need any of that, either.
To me, the only mildly persuasive argument for a Jumbotron was always the ability to show replays. And even then, I didn’t believe that one improvement was worth breaking up the picturesque outfield skyline.
I was wrong.
The Cubs have done a remarkable job integrating the new video boards into the look and feel of Wrigley Field, and showed a great deal of restraint as they stretch the legs of this new park feature.
For starters, I’d like to thank whomever it was that decided to stick with Wrigley’s established color palate for all the new graphics. It’s not necessarily something you often think about, but virtually all the signage at Wrigley falls in line with the colors on the scoreboard. Almost every printed surface you see in the park is a muted green background (just like the scoreboard façade) with white lettering (just like all the letters and numbers on the scoreboard), with occasional flashes of yellow (the color used to track hits for each team and indicate scoring in the current inning). I’m not sure the scoreboard first established that color palate, but it seems clear that it sets the tone for everything else in the stadium—including the new video boards. It’s a subtle touch, but a welcome one for those of us who obsess over pay attention to such things.
The same goes for highlighting the blue W in the Wintrust sign above the larger of the two boards after Cubs wins. Subtle, clever touches like that let you know that someone in the Cubs organization is paying attention.
But even in the less subtle uses, the Cubs have kept it classy. Check out this video that runs before each game, welcoming fans to the Friendly Confines. (Upon further review, it seems this is a slightly different edit of the welcome video, but it gives you the gist.) Pretty impressive, huh? It makes me wish I was there right now. Whether it’s your first time at Wrigley or you’re a season ticket holder, that video is a welcome reminder that you’re in a very special place.
And I haven’t even mentioned the quality of the replays they’re now able to show. My wife and I were in town for a couple games. Both times we sat in the left field bleachers, under the big Jumbotron—usually the worst vantage point for replays and other media on the video boards (by comparison, it’s virtually impossible to see anything on the Dodgervision screen from LA’s left field pavilion). But in Wrigley, I had no problem seeing the screen. In fact, the visual detail was fairly stunning.
Every eye in the stadium that day was glued to Jumbotrons. It was a little surreal to be able to watch it the replay over and over—watch the highlight from the game, and you can hear the crowd cheer as Fowler sneaks his hand in underneath the tag. Even the Pirates announcing crew spotted the difference in the fans’ engagement in the action thanks to the advent of the video boards.
But the video evidence we all enjoyed wasn’t enough to convince the MLB staff in New York. The umpires upheld the original, incorrect call, and the fans booed vigorously in response. Some things never change.