For decades, the Cubs had a spring training home in paradise
Like many baseball fans, I am concerned about the coming season and the ongoing CBA talks that have seemingly gotten nowhere so far. It has me thinking of a time when Chicago Cubs spring training was unique in all of baseball.
I have a black and white photo on the wall just inside my entryway. It shows four Cubs players in forties vintage uniforms, leaping up to catch a baseball under the gaze of then manager Jimmy Wilson.
This time of year, near the end of winter, throughout the 1920s, 30s and 40s, Cubs players would begin dreaming of ocean vistas, an idyllic setting and what new pranks to pull off during their spring training on Santa Catalina Island.
Located about thirty miles south-southwest of Long Beach, the island is a rocky piece of land, 22 miles long and eight miles wide at its greatest point.
For three decades the Cubs wended their way westward to Santa Catalina Island, usually shortened to just Catalina Island, which was owned by William Wrigley. During a vacation visit in 1919, Wrigley’s wife Ada looked out on the beautiful Pacific vistas and longed to make the island her home. Her husband, a soap entrepreneur turned chewing gum magnate within two years, bought it.
It was an inspired bit of commercialism.
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He brought his baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, to the island for spring training then he promptly began to market his acquisition. Wrigley had posters produced showing bear cubs tossing baseballs to each other under a bright California sun. The posters proclaimed: “The Cubs are here! Why not join them?”
Wrigley is credited with first creating the all-inclusive spring training regimen that is now universal to all baseball. He created a slogan for his venture: “In all the world, there is no trip like this.” Within less than 10 years, Wrigley increased tourism to his island more than eight times what it had been before he bought it. Some gamble, huh?
Players and their families enjoyed the locale greatly with the options of many ocean and land-based activities available to them when practice was over for the day. Wrigley even built a casino on the island.
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During the Second World War, the island was closed to tourism and spring training activities. By 1952 the team found it more cost effective to move their spring training to Arizona.
In 1972 Phillip Wrigley, William’s son deeded 90 percent of the island to a conservancy group, Catalina Island Conservancy, a non-profit. It is still a popular tourist destination today.