When the shadow of the Goodyear Blimp crossed the Wrigley Field diamond early in today's playoff game, the local media of the nation's perennial Second City took it as a sign from heaven.
"Now you know we're important," said Chicago freelance sports writer Ron Berler from his seat in the penultimate last row of the lower deck. "It's like being covered by People magazine."
You bet. More than 700 reporters, editors, cameramen, sound men, photographers and general press factotums have gathered here to record the events unfolding on the most drought-ridden pasture in the big leagues.
The media have found ancient Wrigley Field's facilities out of date. No wonder. The last championship season here was 39 years ago and until this year the Cubs attracted only the interest of the faithful, the resolute and the embattled.
The team meant little to the fickle world of the mass media.
One out-of-town editor confided that many of his colleagues are hopeful the Cubs will lose the playoff series "because the facilities are so bad." Antiquated might be a better word.
The press box, a long thin precinct hanging from the front rim of the upper deck, accommodates just 77 journalists. A temporary press box along the first base side made of canvas handles another 82. A large section high in the lower deck along third base provides 400 more seats. There are 60 television and radio crews here and an estimated additional 100 "rovers" are free to circulate in the ballpark, but don't have permission to sit down.
Bob Ibach, who has been handling the media for the Cubs, said there have been very few foulups. He seems not to be aware of any grousing. He said there had been the usual difficulties with telephones that either did not work or were not installed properly, but that was all. If the Cubs win the playoffs, he said, he expects about 800 media will be accredited for the World Series.
Chicago's local media has treated everyone to an example of the kind of tough newspaper competition for which the city is famous. The tabloid Chicago Sun-Times, owned by Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch, and the Chicago Tribune, which owns the Cubs, have used the playoffs in their own circulation war. The Sun-Times is producing a 20-page special daily playoff section wrapped around the main paper. "It's very popular -- it's one of the new ideas we have around here," said managing editor Kenneth Towers.
A Sun-Times circulation official said the playoffs supplement has added thousands to its daily circulation. The paper has been rushing final editions to commuter rail stops to pick up straphanger sales.
But the special section hit a snag today when it produced a large centerfold photo of Wrigley fans and identified the picture in a caption as having come from the game "yesterday." But a cursory examination of the photo showed that the visiting team was the Pittsburgh Pirates and not the San Diego Padres, whom the Cubs defeated Tuesday, 13-0. The error was picked up by lots of readers who called it in -- and also by the Tribune.
"Credibility is the key to this business," declared Trib editor James Squires. "Everybody in this building spotted it right away."
"Ahhhh -- an error," said Towers, who said the picture was being replaced in later editions.
Whatever the out-of-town media may want in the way of press box facilities, Wrigley Field has an enduring charm all its own. At the start of today's game, the public address announcer warned the out-of-towners who had congregated in the press box to beware of foul balls headed their way.
"The glass in the press box is not shatterproof and a foul ball can break it," said the announcer helpfully. "This has happened many times in the past."
But many times in the past, hopes broke even more easily than glass. And those days seem gone from Wrigley Field this year.