TBT: The Night the Lights Were Turned On at Wrigley Field
31 years ago today, August 8, 1988, the unthinkable happened on the North side of Chicago. For the first time in history, the Chicago Cubs played a baseball game under the lights at Wrigley Field. What is considered completely normal among baseball fans, and even Cubs fans now, was considered almost sacrilegious 31 years ago. Tradition, more than anything else, was feared would be sacrificed by the simple switching on of stadium lights.
It was a long time coming for Wrigley Field, which was the 2nd oldest ballpark in the game that night (behind Boston’s Fenway Park) and still holds that honor today. The first professional baseball game to be played at night under the lights took place in 1930 between two minor league teams in Des Moines, Iowa. After seeing a vast increase in fan attendance in the minors, the major leagues decided to try it out five years later. In 1935, the Cincinnati Reds hosted the Philadelphia Phillies at historic Crosley Field under lights and won the game with a 2-1 score. The Reds went on to play seven more night games that season and with much financial success, the rest of the major league stadiums also had lights installed over the next 13 years. That is, with the exception of Chicago’s Wrigley Field.
The Cubs upheld their 74-year old tradition of only playing day games at Wrigley until one August night in 1988 with a game scheduled against the Philadelphia Phillies. After many disagreements and legal disputes with the city, the two sides finally reached an agreement for lights to be installed at the ballpark. The crowd was exceptionally enthusiastic that August night, dressed in white, anxiously awaiting the new era to begin. Frank Sinatra’s “Night and Day” played over the stadium speakers before it was time for the first pitch. As Cubs’ pitcher Rick Sutcliffe delivered the historic toss to home plate, flashing cameras around the stadium added additional light to the scene.
On just the fourth pitch of the game, Phillies’ Phil Bradley took Sutcliffe deep for a 1-0 lead and the first home run under the new lights. But Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg would follow with a 2-run homer of his own before the team added a third run. Then in the fourth inning the skies opened up and heavy rain continuously fell on Wrigley Field, one of the few rainstorms that summer in an exceptionally dry year. The baseball game was called for the night, but wasn’t considered complete due to the necessity of having to play at least five innings. So, the next night the Cubs tried it again, this time against the New York Mets, and officially recorded their first night game as a 6-4 victory.
Baseball is a very traditional-minded sport, especially on the North side of Chicago. When the city first allowed night games to be played at Wrigley Field in 1988, they only allowed for 18 per season. Even now, only 43 are allowed and the Cubs are the only major league team that plays the majority of their home games during the day. That’s why if you have the opportunity to attend a Cubs game at Wrigley, you should opt for the day game because there is such a special and traditional feeling that encompasses it. But night games provide a special atmosphere as well, which the Cubs finally came to realize 31 years ago today.