Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Wrigley Field’s First Night Game: A Rain-Drenched Affair

There was light and then there was rain. Buckets of rain.

Thirty years ago, the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies attempted to play baseball under the lights. Today, that's commonplace. But during the waning days of the Reagan administration? Night baseball headlines were front-page news. The Cubs were 53-56 at the time and sat in the National League East's fourth spot. The fifth-place Phillies, 48-62, won two of the first three games of the series. Since spring training, the Cubs endlessly promoted the first night game at Clark and Addison as 8-8-88.

From the day Wrigley Field (then known as the Federal League's Weeghman Park) opened its doors for business in 1914 through August 7, 1988, the Chicago Whales and Cubs played every home game under the summer sun. During that span, the closest they came to hosting night baseball was almost exactly 50 years earlier. On September 28, 1938, Cubs catcher Gabby Harnett belted his legendary "Homer in the Gloamin'" against Mace Brown of the Pittsburgh Pirates. That game started at 3 p.m., but it ended moments before being called due to darkness.

On that evening back in 1988, I raced home and slammed a VHS cassette into my parents' VCR and recorded the rain-drenched affair. Harry Grossman, a 91-year-old Cubs fan, "turned on the lights" with a ceremonial button held by Mariellen Kopp. Starting pitcher, Rick Sutcliffe, threw out the first pitch. To lead off the game, Phil Bradley slugged the first home run under the lights. In the bottom half of the frame, Ryne Sandberg did the same. Later, the former National League MVP fell victim to Morganna the Kissing Bandit.

After 3 1/2 innings, the skies opened and the showers never relented. Greg Maddux (in only his second full MLB season), Jody Davis, Les Lancaster and Al Nipper decided to entertain the soggy fans by treating the tarp as the league's largest Slip-and-Slide. Management decided to levy fines on the players for their antics. After waiting two-plus hours, the game was postponed.

Following all the hype and hoopla during the season, the game did not count. All of the statistics and historic achievements were washed away. The first "official" night game occurred the next evening against the New York Mets as Cubs starting pitcher Mike Bielecki recorded the first victory under the lights.

I am amazed that I have known Wrigley Field with lights longer than without them. That's 15 years without lights and 30 with them. The Cubs did not install lights until I was in high school. While growing up, I remember watching games where the shadows from the upper deck would blanket the entire infield and stretch into the outfield. WGN would proceed to flash graphics that read, "Today's game postponed due to darkness." The Cubs were the last Major League Baseball team to install lights. The Cincinnati Reds played the first Major League game under the lights, oddly enough against the Phillies, on May 24, 1935. The Chicago White Sox installed lights at Comiskey Park in time for the 1939 season. Supposedly, the Cubs planned to install lights during the 1940s. Ultimately, the melt was donated to support the World War II effort.

A local organization, Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine (CUBS), fought the installation for years. A few years ago, the initial agreement with the City of Chicago expired. According to that arrangement, the Cubs could only host 16 night games each season. Now they host significantly more games at night, not to mention other activities like concerts during the evening.

I attended my first night game at the Friendly Confines on April 12, 1989. The Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-2. Since 8-8-88, the Cubs have finally won a World Series. While that title has relegated most moments in Cubs history to quirky side notes, it's still fun to reminisce.

Here are some photos from June 1988. The lights were completed on the third base side, but not on the first base side.

An earlier version of this blog was posted in honor of the 20th anniversary of the rainout.

Photo: Chicago Tribune

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