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Chicago Cubs

Wrigley Field scoreboard going strong at 75

Two members of the Wrigley Field scoreboard crew look down at the fans in the center field bleachers during the seventh inning of an interleague game between the White Sox and Cubs on July 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Two members of the Wrigley Field scoreboard crew look down at the fans in the center field bleachers during the seventh inning of an interleague game between the White Sox and Cubs on July 1, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHICAGO – A step inside Wrigley Field’s iconic scoreboard is a step back in time.

The scoreboard turned 75 years old this season and despite the on-field disappointment, the relic is a constant reminder of what has made Wrigley one of the country’s most beloved ballparks.

Darryl Wilson, 47, has spent the past 22 seasons manning the scoreboard, part of a three- to four-man crew in charge of running one of baseball’s most cherished relics.

“I’ve been up there for so long it’s like I’m living there,” Wilson said. “It’s exciting. After running up and down those stairs and changing the plates and the cuts and the bruises, it’s become normal.”

One of only two hand-operated scoreboards left in the baseball – the other is at Boston’s Fenway Park – the Wrigley scoreboard features three floors with its original 1937 metal behind the forest green facade. The Cubs annually put $10 million to $15 million into the ballpark, including the scoreboard, for upkeep.

About three years ago the Cubs finally purchased a laptop to provide score updates, though only because the paper that was used in the ticker tape machine was no longer being made. A website was specifically set up so the scoreboard crew can easily access in-game updates.

“It makes it a lot easier than reading yards and yards of paper for three hours with every baseball event and sporting event that goes on,” Wilson said.

Wilson is responsible for reading out the scores for all the other games to his crewmates. Actually, make that screaming out the scores.

“I have to yell each score and each pitching change to each guy in the scoreboard because it is so loud,” Wilson said. “When it’s a full board, as we call it, and you’ve got the targets from the other scoreboard operator punching the outs and strikes and batter’s numbers and stuff like that, it gets pretty loud in there.”

For all of the fun moments – “I like looking out the scoreboard and seeing people having a good time” – the work isn’t as easy as it looks, Wilson said. The numeral plates, which must be taken out and replaced for any pitching changes or whenever a score needs updating, weigh three to four pounds. That’s a lot of lifting with 12 of a possible 15 games and 24 of a possible 30 teams listed on the board, especially when multiple games are under way simultaneously during night or Sunday afternoon games.

“If it’s hot outside, the plates are extremely hot,” Wilson said. “That makes you work a little faster when they’re hot.”

Although both Chicago teams are always listed under their respective National and American League sides, the Cubs decided this season to put all NL Central Division games on the board if they’re playing, regardless of records. The next spots go to playoff contending teams.

The Cubs face a minor challenge next year when the Houston Astros move to the AL. With 15 teams in each league, interleague play runs the entire season. But for those games they expect to follow the same format as they have since interleague play was adopted in 1997 and list the game under the home team’s league.

One noticeable omission from Wrigley is the presence of a jumbotron. The Cubs added an LED board above the ivy in right field before this season and the new addition has been well received.

However, there are no plans to add a jumbotron or video board to the iconic scoreboard, said Julian Green, vice president of communications and community affairs. If the Cubs ever did decide to add a video screen, their proposal would have to go before the city council landmarks committee because of the scoreboard’s landmark status.

“We’re not changing or making any alterations to the scoreboard because it’s a central part to what makes Wrigley special,” Green said.

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