Why is there a basket on the Wrigley Field wall?

CHICAGO — One of the Chicago Cubs’ unsung heroes from Friday night’s NLDS Game 1 win over the San Francisco Giants didn’t pitch, throw or bat a single baseball.

It certainly did catch one though.

Javier Baez’s solo shot in the eighth inning — the only run of the game — would not have gone for a homer had Wrigley Field’s wall looked like any wall in Major League Baseball. But while a stiff Chicago wind punished Baez’s blast, the chain-link basket in left was more forgiving. It gobbled the baseball up and let Baez circle the bases at a leisurely pace.

But just barely.

“If the basket wasn’t there, I would’ve caught the ball,” Giants left fielder Angel Pagan said. “But you got to respect that basket because that basket’s been there as long as I remember or as long as I lived.

“But I want to say that about an inch less and I would have caught the ball. But hey, that’s the way it is. He got lucky and got the home run.”

Pitchers both home and away have been issuing similar gripes ever since 1970, when the basket was installed at the top of Wrigley’s red brick and ivy-covered wall. The addition was made in response to the wild 1969 season, when the park’s famed “Bleacher Bums” would jump onto the field after wins and an even wilder 1970 home opener when fans poured out onto the field and tussled with both players and Andy Frain ushers.

The first game with the basket was played on May 7, 1970.

As the Chicago Tribune noted in 2007, the basket “also prevented them from draping coats and jackets over the wall — a practice that used to inspire Cubs public address announcer Pat Pieper to playfully declare: ‘Will the bleacher fans please remove their clothes?'”

While the basket may annoy pitchers and fans when a homer is hit against them, it does allow fans to remain on top of the game. Most major league parks are built now with a waterless moat between the fans and the outfield wall.

Wrigley’s basket is sometimes needed. Pictures of fans “falling” into the basket often make their way onto the internet and I’ve seen such idiocy with my own eyes.

It can’t stop the most determined of fans, though. One fan was seriously hurt in July when he climbed on top of the basket and attempted to jump to the warning track below. Another decided to commemorate Mark Grace’s 2,000th hit during a game in August 1999 with a “jump” to the center field warning track. He was carted off by security in apparent pain.

But most of the time, the only time the basket makes its presence known is during home runs.

“Thank God for that basket,” Cubs catcher David Ross said after the game.

Baez’s response to any sour grapes from the Giants and their fans was even funnier.

A fan grabs a ball from the Wrigley Field basket in a 2011 game. (Getty Images)
A fan grabs a ball from the Wrigley Field basket in a 2011 game. (Getty Images)