WGN-TV to air 2-hour Wrigley Field anni special

WGN-TV’s nostalgic two-hour special “Wrigley 100: A Century Celebration,” is scheduled to air April 20, 7-9 p.m. CDT, 14 months after WGN-TV’s production chief Bob Vorwald began production. 

Writer/producer Vorwald, author of a Cubs history book, estimated he conducted 73 interviews with retired players around the country, with 65 making the cut. “Between the interviews and the hundreds of tapes we made, this could’ve been a much longer show,” he said. “Hopefully we will leave you wanting a bit more.”

Interviews include such Cubs Hall of Famers as Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Fergie Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux. Other Hall of Famers who played so well in Wrigley Field, such as Hank Aaron and Mike Schmidt, were taped, as was incoming Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who played one game as a Cub in 1973.

Prominent former Cubs players, including Kerry Wood, Rick Sutcliffe, Keith Moreland, Derrek Lee and Ken Holtzman were interviewed and WGN archives brought out clips with deceased plays like Hall of Famer Ron Santo, Andy Pakfo, Woody English and Don Cardwell were used.

With the Bears having played in Wrigley Field for 50 seasons (1921 to 1970), Vorwald talked to NFL Hall of Famers Gale Sayers and Mike Ditka, along with Bears chairman George McCaskey and ex-players Ronnie Bull, Ed O’Bradovich and Bob Wetoska.

Two players decline interviews

Surprisingly, Mark Grace, one of the more popular Cubs of the past 25 years, declined to be interviewed. After a second DUI conviction that sent him to a work-release jail sentence in 2013 in Phoenix, Grace is keeping an uncommonly low profile. Late 1970s slugger Dave Kingman, a difficult interview in his day, also declined “multiple offers to participate,” said Vorwald.

The special also will contain vintage Cubs baseball game tapes dating back to 1960, which had been preserved in its original two-inch format.

Bob Vorwald talks to Ryne Sandberg in PhiladelphiaBut Vorwald has included some even rarer vintage film from around the ballpark in the 1950s, especially of a young Ernie Banks,” he said.

“I was able to negotiate for the use of some great home movies from 1929-34, including Babe Ruth’s ‘called shot.’ I shot several hours of footage around the park during the 2013 season as well with cameraman Jim Tianis.

“Cartoonist Drew Litton (his work appears in Chicago Tribune sports section) created some fantastic original drawings to introduce each segment.  I’ve always been a fan of ‘The Sting’ and Drew came up with some beautiful cartoons for each segment in that fashion.”

Most of the shooting was handed by camera operators Jim Tianis, Greg Gressle, Joe Pausback, Wyn Griffiths, Mike Clay, Steve Scheuer and Bob Albrecht. Editor was Terry Bates.

George Castle is a longtime Chicago sportswriter, author and sports historian.