Thursday, August 9, 2018

It seems kind of quaint that Wrigley Field once didn’t have light towers

I’m old enough to remember the days when Wrigley Field didn’t have light towers and the Chicago Cubs tried to claim a sense of superiority out of the fact they didn’t play baseball at night in their home ballpark.
A very popular poster of the past
Which means I must really be getting old if it has now been 30 full years since the date the Cubs were able to get in a full ballgame under the lights.

NOTE THE SIGNIFICANCE of the phrasing of that last sentence. For many news organizations have published stories that focused on Wednesday being the 30th anniversary of the first night game. When actually, it was Thursday.

Yes, the Cubs tried playing baseball under their then-newly-installed light fixtures on Aug. 8, 1988 (the marketing people liked the idea of the first night game ever being played on 8/8/88). I also remember all the hoo-hah that arose once it became apparent the people determined to keep lights out of Wrigley Field were going to lose.

It was regarded as a significant moment in city history – almost as though they think the Chicago city flag ought to get its fifth star to celebrate the lights being erected at Wrigley Field!

But it rained that night. They barely got in a full inning before heavy rain came down and (more than two hours later) the game had to be called. Since baseball rules say five innings must be played for a game to be considered official, the happenings of 8/8/88 officially didn’t mean a thing.
The light-less Wrigley Field, compared to … 
IT WAS THE following night that the Cubs got in a full game, and started the fight that continues to this day – the one about just now many night games can be played in any given season.

For the simple fact is that more people are capable of going to ballgames if they’re scheduled around the standard-issue work day. Even the Cubs realize that, and likely wish they could be like all the other ballclubs that typically have about 60 of their 81 home games played in the evening hours.

As one who back then, and still to this day, is more inclined to check out Chicago White Sox games (personally, I could care less about anything related to the National League), the whole idea of thinking anything special about day baseball was always strange.
… the brightly-lit environs of Comiskey Park
If anything, the idea of going to a game following a day of work seemed to make the event all the more a treat. Because all too often, being able to go to a weekday day game means you’re skipping work or school – or else you’re unemployed and one-time Cubs manager Lee Elia wasn’t exaggerating that long-ago day of his obscenity-laced rant about Cubs fans.

AND EVEN IF you’re not old-enough to remember pre-lights Wrigley, you’ve heard enough about the “85 percent of the world that works” compared to the rest of the people who have time to go to daytime Cubs games on a regular basis.

For what it’s worth, I wasn’t at that “first” Cubs night game. That particular year was the one during which I worked an overnight shift for the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago.

Meaning I remember covering the overblown outcry over trying to play night baseball, but was actually asleep when they attempted a ballgame.
Elia had own thoughts about day game crowds

When I came in the following early night, it seemed almost humorous to learn the marketing efforts fell to naught, and that the Cubs had to come crawling into the 20th Century some 53 years after the Cincinnati Red brought night baseball to the major leagues (May 24, 1935 – the night that then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a Western Union telegram message to the Reds, giving team President Larry MacPhail (whose grandson, Andy, became Cubs team president many years later) the go-ahead to turn on the lights.

SO FOR THE record, the first successful attempt at playing night baseball at Wrigley Field was 30 years ago Thursday.

The Cubs played the New York Mets and actually managed to win 6-4, with Cubs pitcher Frank DiPino getting credit for the victory and Hall of Fame pitcher Rich Gossage getting a “save.”

Somehow, I doubt there will be any similar remembrances next week – which technically would be the 79th anniversary of the first night game played in Chicago overall. The White Sox beat the St. Louis Browns 5-2 on Aug. 14, 1939.

I suspect more people next year will point out the 40th anniversary of Disco Demolition Night (or maybe even the 100th anniversary since the 1919 World Series) than the 80th anniversary of night baseball in this city.


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