Surveillance was permanently altered due to a riot at which MLB ballpark?

By Scott A. Rowan

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chicago became the epicenter of violent demonstrations protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. (Though it is widely referred to as the Vietnam War, the U.S. military presence in Vietnam from 1955 to 1974 was never actually declared a war by Congress. Only Congress can declare war and it has done so just 11 times in United States history, the last occurring during World War II. Military actions in various locations such as Vietnam, Korea, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan are referred to as wars but they are technically conflicts or military actions, not official wars.)

This excerpt is from “The Cubs Quotient: How the Chicago Cubs Changed the World” by Scott A. Rowan. Available now at Amazon and

The peak of those protests came during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in August of that year, which sparked five days of violence between police and demonstrators, leading to the trial of seven activists who were the first Americans ever charged with the Civil Rights act, created that year, that made it a federal crime to cross state lines to incite a riot. Known as the Chicago Seven, the activists were indicted on March 20, 1969, and after nearly a year of contentious trial deliberations the group was given a guilty verdict by a jury on Feb. 14, 1970, and sentenced to five years in jail. Even their lawyers were found guilty of contempt of court by the judge. Two months later, on April 14, a riot broke out at Wrigley Field after the first home game of the season.

Cubs officials should have taken more precautions given the ugly atmosphere brewing across the country prior to the game that day. To their credit, team officials did make important changes after the incident—and the security measures that the Cubs put in place after what is known as the Home Opener riot would eventually become customary at every major ballpark and stadium in the world. In fact, even entire cities, including Chicago, have adopted some of the same tactics the Cubs established in April 1970 to deal with unruly behavior.

It’s hard for anyone who wasn’t alive during the Vietnam era to fully grasp the fervor of the emotional protests that were erupting around the country at that time. Just five months prior to the Cubs’ home opener, Washington D.C. had witnessed the largest anti-war demonstrations in the nation’s history, with an estimated half million protesters flooding the Mall on November 15, 1969. The Kent State shooting, which left four college students dead after members of the National Guard opened fire on a crowd, occurred just 18 days after the Opening Day riots.

Opinions vary about how the riot at Wrigley started, but what everyone can agree on is that after the Cubs defeated the Phillies 5–4 in the Cubs’ home opener, all hell broke loose. Reports regarding the incident clearly state that Wrigley’s usual “Bleacher Bums” were not part of the incident. Rather, all witnesses seem to agree that it was young fans described as “out-of-towners” who caused the riot—drunken teenagers and young adults who hurled objects onto the field, specifically trying to hit ushers. That is when things got out of hand. Dan Helpingstine described the incident best in his book The Cubs and the White Sox: A Baseball Rivalry, 1900 to Present:

Fans in the bleachers were cursing and throwing things at the Andy Frain ushers who had stepped out to protect the field at game’s end. One seventeen-year-old either fell or jumped from the bleachers down to the field. A group of ushers surrounded the teenager and started kicking him. Fans rushed onto the field from other directions and fights ensued. Another fan tried to rip the cap off Glenn Beckert’s head and scratched his forehead. Beckert felt fortunate that no damage had been done to his eye. Reportedly, the Bleacher Bums were in the bar across the street and were disgusted when they saw how things had gone out of control at the ballpark. “These kids are animals,” one Bum said. “They dress like us and try to look like us. But they’re bums, not Bums.”

It is one thing for a few objects to be thrown at opposition outfields. It is another when one of your own players feels threatened, the ushers you employ to keep order beat someone senseless, and the ushers themselves are attacked. The Cubs brass responded quickly.

E.G. “Salty” Saltwell, who was in charge of Wrigley Field operations at the time, talked about that day in Stuart Shea’s book Wrigley Field:

The Chicago Police Department said they should have forewarned us [of the anti-war protest group. The protestors] were out-of-towners, not locals, that were gathering for the demonstration. [A police official] told us that they were sports fans, and logic would have said if the Cubs were playing, they would have shown up there.

St. Louis had a problem in controlling the crowds at Busch Stadium. My counterpart, Joe McShane, with the Cardinals, heard about it. He called me [and told me about the baskets in front of the Busch Stadium wall.] He said, “C’mon down here, I’ll show you what we did.”

The Opening Day Riot forged a cooperative spirit between longstanding rivals the Cubs and the Cardinals. Saltwell, who would later serve as team general manager in 1976, took the advice offered by the Cardinals’ McShane. In early May 1970, the Cubs installed wire mesh baskets that still ring Wrigley’s outfield wall, preventing anyone from dropping down onto the field.

Basket fencing that rings the outfield wall at Wrigley Field.

Interestingly, the baskets also shortened the distance for a home run by three feet. On May 10, 1970, Billy Williams became the first player to benefit from the shortened distance when his long fly ball, which would previously have been able to be caught for an out, landed in one of the baskets for a home run.

In addition to installing these baskets, the Cubs also limited beer sales and stopped selling standing-room-only bleacher tickets. And these changes were only the most visible parts of the Cubs new security measures. The organization also installed security cameras throughout the park to monitor fans’ behavior. “It was the first use of cameras at any park in baseball,” historian John Snyder chronicled in his book Cubs Journal. Today, every ballpark and stadium uses an array of camera systems to monitor crowds—but the Friendly Confines embraced the idea first.

The city of Chicago began to apply the use of video surveillance, pioneered at Wrigley Field, to many parts of the city early in the twenty-first century. In 2003, Chicago began installing highly visible video monitors in high-crime areas. But that was only the beginning for Chicago’s video monitoring. “Chicago has gone further than any other U.S. city in merging computer and video technology to police the streets,” claimed a Wall Street Journal article in 2009:

The networked system is also unusual because of its scope and the integration of nonpolice cameras. The city links the 1,500 cameras that police have placed in trouble spots with thousands more—police won’t say how many—that have been installed by other government agencies and the private sector in city buses, businesses, public schools, subway stations, housing projects and elsewhere. Even home owners can contribute camera feeds.

Rajiv Shah, an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has studied the issue, estimates that 15,000 cameras have been connected in what the city calls Operation Virtual Shield, its fiber-optic video-network loop.

The transformation of Chicago from being the City of Big Shoulders to becoming the City of Big Brother has been a source of contentious debate among citizens and civil rights activists who argue the virtues and drawbacks of this system. But what cannot be ignored is the fact that video surveillance is now a real and omnipresent part of our everyday world—and a major step in the evolution of such practices began with a group of young fans storming the field at the Friendly Confines on April 14, 1970.


Daniel Helpingstine, The Cubs and the White Sox: A Baseball Rivalry, 1900 to the Present (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 40.

Shea, Wrigley, 269–70.

John Snyder, Cubs Journal (Cincinnati: Emmis Books, 2005), 465.

William M. Bulkeley, “Chicago’s Camera Network Is Everywhere,” The Wall Street Journal, November 17, 2009,


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