Thursday, August 9, 2012

24 years since “Game suspended due to darkness” concept became history

It has been 24 years since the day that the Chicago Cubs played their first official ballgame under the lights at Wrigley Field.

Wrigley, w/out the light towers

The concept of a stadium used by a Major League Baseball club without light towers became history. Wrigley Field had to come into the 20th Century more than four decades after every other ball club gave in and installed lighting systems for night games.

I REMEMBER THE occasion because I was working the overnight shift back then at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago. I showed up for work just as Aug. 8 was becoming Aug. 9 and couldn’t help but see the humor in the fact that the Cubs’ big attempt to put on pomp and circumstance to match up to the “history” being made totally fizzled out.

For the game that was supposed to be played on Aug. 8, 1988 (as in 8/8/88, get it?) got rained out after a couple of innings. It didn’t even come close to the point of being an official ballgame.

So all the people who went out of their way to buy tickets (most likely at inflated prices) for the Monday night game so they could claim to have been on hand when the lights went on at Wrigley wound up getting taken. They got drenched.

They got nothing!

CITY NEWS, ALONG with many other news organizations, did their best to document the sports history moment that wasn’t. Although I suspect at least a few sportswriter-types who were in need of a bath benefitted from getting showed upon by the heavens.

And it was the people with the 36,399 tickets sold for the Tuesday night game played 24 years ago today who got to see the first official Cubs home game played at night – a 6-4 victory against the New York Mets.

I always thought that alone provided a sense of poetic justice!

Although those people missed out by one game on what some would consider real sports history – the fact that relief pitcher Rich Gossage (now a Hall of Fame member) got the 300th save of his career just a couple of games before in a 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

THE PEOPLE WHO saw the first official night game at Wrigley Field had to settle for viewing Gossage get Save Number 301.

This moment is one I always think about whenever I hear sports marketing types go on and on about the great significance of any particular event. This particular event got washed away by Mother Nature (who was taking a break from those Chiffon margarine commercials she used to do many decades ago).

Many other events fizzle out into such ordinariness that, looking back, we wonder how anyone could ever have been delusional enough to think there was anything historic about it.

If anything, true sports history moments are the ones that happen on a Wednesday fternoon when only about 10,000 people are sitting in the stands. They are the truly unexpected events that everybody later wishes they could say they attended – and probably will try lying to say they were there anyway.

SO IF IN the future, you encounter someone who claims “I was there” the day that Wrigley Field was lit up after dark, ask them how soaked they got! Then you can figure out which night they were truly on hand.
The Los Angeles version

Then, you get the people of a certain age who probably think they’re “life-long Cubs fans” who are too young to remember a time when Wrigley had no lights.

They probably also don’t realize there was once a Los Angeles ballpark that bore the same name. Some people just have no sense of history. What a shame!


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