Friday, August 8, 2008


(Photo of Wrigley Field 8/8/88)

(For those of you not interested in arcane baseball facts, just read the bold parts below.)

Today is, of course, 8/8/8, an auspicious day and the first day of the Olympics. It’s also the 20th Anniversary of the first scheduled night game at Wrigley Field. The game on that day 8/8/88 against the Phillies was rained out after 3 ½ innings, making the first official night game at Wrigley Field the following evening 8/9/88 against the Mets, and I was there!

My family had bought tickets to the game early in the year before the dates of the first night games had been announced. We just happened to luck into it.

Why was it such a big deal? Because Wrigley Field had been the only Major League Baseball stadium without lights for some 40 years. The first night baseball game of any kind was played in 1880. The Majors resisted the innovation for years until the Reds added lights in 1933 and quickly saw their attendance skyrocket as people with regular jobs could now go to games. By the late 40’s every team had lights save the Cubs. As other teams saw their attendance and TV revenues grow, the Cubs trudged along, the sole hold-out to tradition, largely because the team’s owners, the Wrigley family, hated night baseball. (Sources on the history of night baseball: 1, 2)

Then the Tribune Corporation bought the team and started the battle for lights. After the Cubs played in the postseason in 1984, the commissioner’s office decreed any future postseason games would have to be played at an alternate site with lights to accommodate the TV broadcasts. Fights with the city and the neighborhood continued (Wrigley is in a residential neighborhood). The team threatened to move to the suburbs. According to wikipedia the Cubs almost played a season across town at Comiskey in an attempt to show the neighborhood what they’d be missing if the team left. Then in 1988 a compromise was reached. The Cubs get lights, but the number of night games they can play is limited by law.

To put all this in perspective, I was playing night little league games before the Cubs were playing night games at Wrigley. That’s a little ridiculous. Still, purists, myself included, really did not want to see lights at Wrigley, but once they were installed... Well, I found this article from the New York Times in 1988 where an old time Cub fan pretty much sums it up in his reaction to seeing a picture of the park all lit up:

''I hate it,'' he said. ''It looks beautiful.''

Boy is it ever. I snapped the picture that night I still keep on my desk at work. I’ll never forget the atmosphere and just how damned loud everyone was especially when chanting “Darr-yl” to raz Darryl Strawberry of the Mets. The Cubs won 6-4 (Box Score from Retrosheet) and featured amazing line-ups on both sides. Hall of Famers Gary Carter of the Mets and Ryne Sandburg, and Goose Gossage (who picked up the save) of the Cubs played in the game. Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux was in the dugout for the Cubs. Also in the line-up for the Mets: Keith Hernandez, Lenny Dykstra, and the improbably named Howard Johnson. For the Cubs: Mark Grace, Andre Dawson, and Raphael Palmeiro (who would be a future Hall of Famer if he hadn’t been caught doing steroids). Cubs starting pitcher Mike Bielecki a few years later would have the dubious distinction of leading the team in RBI’s a week into the season (it’s never good to have your RBI leader be a pitcher). Cub catcher Damon Barryhill would play on the great Braves teams of the early 90’s. For the die-hard Cub fans, Dunston was at short and Jody Davis pinch hit. And on the bench, Cub pitcher Calvin Shiraldi had two years earlier been the loosing pitcher for the Red Sox in game 7 of the World Series.

I've probably never had more fun at a baseball game than I did that night, and what makes it even more special as a memory is that I was there with my family. I was 14. My sister's were in college or about to be. But we all went to the game and had a great time. That's probably the best thing sports has to offer: the ability to bring people together and create shared memories.

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