Peering over the short, black-painted iron bars atop Jim Murphy’s Bleachers, there isn’t much hidden from the eye.
Looking out to the south awards the clearly visible silhouette of downtown Chicago. To the east is the vastness of Lake Michigan. And straight ahead is the picturesque view of legendary Wrigley field, home to baseball’s Cubs.
A cloudless sky on Saturday afternoon permits the sun to beat down on fans sitting high above the field, but a breeze off the lake provides relief.
Sitting across the street from Wrigley, behind right-center field is this historic apartment complex owned by Jim Murphy.
At the base of the building is Jim Murphy’s Bleachers, a bar packed tight by fans both prior to and after Cubs games. For fans, the atmosphere is second to none. The bar is filled with autographed jerseys and other paraphernalia from former and current Cubs, all of whom visited the bar on a regular basis.
Some of those players include Mark Grace, Brian McRae and Randy Myers. Other personalities who would frequent the bar, according to Jim’s wife, Beth, were former announcers Steve Stone and the late Harry Caray.
While it’s easy to get lost in the nostalgia of Jim Murphy’s, it’s difficult to find oneself in the bleachers on the roof because the seats are only sold for group events. Not even tenants are allowed a free pass.
Similar apartment buildings line the streets surrounding Wrigley Field, many topped with bleachers where people can sit and watch the game from an unique perch.
On the sidewalks below are fans equipped with baseball caps and mitts, hoping to snatch the next home run ball that flies over the fence during batting practice.
They wait interspersed in the lines of people waiting to purchase tickets on Waveland Avenue, which runs behind left field.
Jim Murphy’s Bleachers sits on the corner of Waveland and Sheffield, a historic building in its own right.
In the 1930s, the building at 3655 North Sheffield was known as Ernie’s Bleachers, a drive-up hot dog stand that sold beer by the pail. During the Second World War, Ernie built a tavern on the site, which he sold at the end of the war.
The tavern became JB’s Bleachers for a short time until JB became ill and sold the place back to Ernie. In 1965, Ernie sold the tavern yet again, this time to Ray Meyers, and it was renamed Ray’s Bleachers.
Then in 1980, Ray sold the bar to Jim Murphy, and it has since become a much larger watering hole with a great reputation.
Beth said the bar does have quite a few regulars, but they are nowhere to be found amid the game-day commotion.
The pregame atmosphere borrows from college football, a spirited mix of carousing and camaraderie. John Graf, a former tenant of Murphy’s apartments, offered many stories about his experience.
Graf moved into the “ultimate bachelor pad” with two of his friends in 1991. Like the seats on the roof, places are difficult to get because Murphy will only rent to people he knows. The rent itself, Graf said, is not unreasonable, very similar to what three college students might pay elsewhere.
In 1994, Graf married and moved a few blocks away, but still finds time to visit his friend Murphy and watch a couple of games a year.
Chicago took on Milwaukee in Saturday’s matinee, and as game-time drew near, the old speakers crackled to life and began playing the widely recognizable soundtrack to the movie “Field of Dreams”.
It is easy to get lost in the moment. Listening to the music, visions of Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella looking out over the ballpark he created in his Iowa cornfield wash in and out of the mind. What would it be like to have such a beautiful ballpark, a work of art, right in one’s own backyard?
Baseball fans could drive themselves mad with those kinds of thoughts. But for those living on Chicago’s North Side, this experience is very real. The history, nostalgia and the baseball way of life are all part of the daily routine.
Two of the most memorable moments, according to Graf, occurred in 1998.
During the most famous homerun race in major league history, the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa hit his 62nd homerun at Wrigley, making him only the second man – behind Mark McGwire – to better Roger Maris’ record of 61 dingers. The electricity among fans outside waiting for the ball to be hit over the fence was indescribable.
The stadium’s atmosphere also reached a fevered pitch at the end of the season. The Cubs lost their final game of the season and needed San Francisco to lose in order to make the playoffs.
The Giants lost, and within a matter of five minutes, there were more people celebrating outside Wrigley than anyone had seen before. Beth Murphy described the crowd as “appearing out of thin air.”
The stories told about events which took place in and around Murphy’s Bleachers are infinite. Many of the yarns revolve around the legends and moments born or made at Wrigley Field.
Being a part of even one of those special moments would be a considerable treasure. To have all of this taking place right in your own backyard – just as those who live in Murphy’s apartments do – is unfathomable.
Standing atop the building overlooking Wrigley, the Field of Dreams music still in my head, I recall a scene from the movie which fits the moment.
Terence Mann, played by James Earl Jones, described Kinsella’s cornfield ballpark as unbelievable. Kinsella, scanning his backyard paradise, replied with “It’s more than that…it’s perfect.”
Is this heaven? No, it’s Murphy’s Bleachers in Chicago.