Wrigley lights up the night for 20 years
A timeline of struggles and successes to host night games
Friday marks the 20th anniversary of night baseball at Wrigley Field. Aug. 8, 1988, was the first scheduled game under the lights, but rain washed it out after 3 1/2 innings. The next day, the Cubs played the New York Mets in the first complete game under the lights. Here's a timeline of the lights, compiled by baseball historian Ed Hartig.
JULY 1941: On assignment from P.K. Wrigley, Bill Veeck was sent to Milwaukee to investigate a new lighting technique, possibly for Wrigley Field. The new idea employed a hydraulic system where the lights could be raised and lowered in a "telescopic fashion." The cost for the equipment was $70,000 -- far more than what Wrigley intended to pay.
FALL 1941: Wrigley ordered light standards for the park to be installed in February or March of 1942. The material for the lights was stored underneath the bleachers at Wrigley. The Cubs assembled the steel, cable, reflectors and electrical equipment for the most modern lighting system in baseball and moved it into storage in late November.
The lights were not intended for "true" night games. Instead, Wrigley wished to schedule some twilight games, starting at 6 p.m. The twilight games would allow patrons to attend a game after work while ensuring that the neighborhood settled down so that residents could enjoy a restful evening. As such, the Cubs and City Council agreed on an ordinance that prohibited an inning starting after 8:00 p.m.
DEC. 8, 1941: A day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Wrigley donated the 165 tons of steel for the light standards to the U.S. war effort. Later, when President Franklin Roosevelt requested more night baseball games, the Cubs looked into using wooden poles and second-hand equipment to erect useful, but not beautiful, lighting for Wrigley.
The Cubs would eventually submit plans for lighting at least three times, but those plans were rejected by the War Production Board.
JAN. 20, 1942: As Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner of baseball, announced plans for a Feb. 3 owners meeting to consider expansion of night baseball, Wrigley revealed he had been working on the plans for lights for Wrigley Field but the attack on Pearl Harbor had ended those preparations. Wrigley said that the 165 tons of steel, 35,000 feet of copper wire and other items of equipment had been turned over to the government.
"We felt that this material could be more useful in lighting flying fields, munitions plants or other war defense plants under construction," Wrigley said.
He also acknowledged that he might consider opening negotiations with the White Sox to rent Comiskey Park to allow the Cubs to play some night games.
"It would be a blow to our pride to play elsewhere than in our own park, but we feel that under the circumstances this would be the only sane and logical thing to do," he said.
FEB. 3, 1942: Landis announced Major League Baseball's plans for added night games increasing each team's allotment from seven to 14 games -- Washington would get 21 games. With the announcement, the Cubs officially entered into negotiations with the White Sox for a limited night schedule at Comiskey Park.
FEB. 12, 1942: The White Sox and Cubs ended their talks. The major problem was that MLB would only allow 14 night games at Comiskey Park. Every Cub night game at the park would mean one less for the White Sox.
MAY 20, 1942: Wrigley announced the Cubs' plans for night games are not dead. He pointed out that a supply of lumber for light standards was already en route and that transformers and lights would be available.
"Eight 120-foot poles are on the way here from Oregon now, for use in the outfield," he said. "The battery of lights directed at the Wrigley buildings, which were removed from their place on the southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue bridge, would be used in lighting the park. They are now being used in construction work at Great Lakes, and should be ready for use soon. The transformers at Catalina, which haven't been used since the Casino was closed down, can be loaded on flat cars and shipped here on short notice. The actual installation would probably require only a couple of weeks."
Wrigley said plans to add lights would be determined by fan interest. He also said he thought baseball was an "outdoor, daylight game, where you went out and bought a bag of popcorn and absorbed fresh air and sunshine."
JUNE 25, 1943: The Cubs played a twilight game against the Cardinals starting at 6 p.m. CT. Under current baseball definitions, this twilight game would be considered a night game. There is no mention of needing lights to be considered a night game. This date was chosen because June 25 is one of the longest daylight days of the year.
MAY 8, 1944: For the third consecutive year, George W. McMurphey, director of recreation for the War Production Board, denied the Cubs' request for materials for night baseball at Wrigley. McMurphey suggested there was still a possibility for more night games in Chicago if the Cubs used Comiskey Park. McMurphey also invited the Cubs to resubmit their request for 1945.
The shortage of critical material and "other factors" prompted denial of the Cubs application by McMurphey.
"The release of materials alone was not the deciding factor," McMurphey said. "While materials may be available, this office also took into consideration that construction could not be completed before August, which would leave only 21 weekday dates available to the Cubs in their home park.
"Under such circumstances, the expenditure of material and labor does not seem justified for so few night games."
James T. Gallagher, vice president and general manager of the Cubs, said the club would seek night games in 1945 if they had a need. Gallagher said the proposal could be submitted in time to install lights before Opening Day.
"However, the Cubs have not been, and are not now, sold on night baseball," Gallagher said. "But this situation may change after the war. If there is a trend toward night baseball after the war, we may take some action then."
OCT. 20, 1945: Wrigley declared there would be no lights for the ballpark next season.
OCT. 12, 1960: The Cubs announced that Wrigley Field would eventually have lights -- not to play night games, but rather to assure that day games could be completed. The lights, however, would not be purchased until the Cubs became contenders. Wrigley would not speculate when that would occur.
MARCH 17, 1966: William Shlensky, a 27-year-old Chicago lawyer who had owned two shares of Cubs stock since he was 14, filed suit to force the Cubs to install lights at Wrigley Field. The suit was filed in Circuit Court of Cook County against Wrigley and the members of the Cubs board of directors seeking to force the team to play night games at Wrigley.
Shlensky's suit charged mismanagement, claiming that by installing lights the Cubs would be in better position to compete against other NL clubs, increase gate receipts and buy more talented players.
Wrigley responded by saying only four or five years ago, he received a petition signed by 3,000 neighbors requesting the Cubs not install lights.
MARCH 10, 1982: General manager Dallas Green publicly stated that lights will be installed in Wrigley Field "or we'll have to think about playing in another ballpark." The comments prompted protests from a Wrigleyville citizen group -- Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine (CUBS).
AUG. 23, 1982: Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson signed legislation effectively banning night games at Wrigley Field. "Wrigley Field is located in an old, established neighborhood," Thompson said. "[Night baseball] would impose an undue hardship on nearly 60,000 residents who live within a four-block area of the stadium."
AUG. 25, 1983: The Chicago City Council, by a vote of 42-2, passed an ordinance banning lights at Wrigley Field. Before the ban, the Cubs were allowed to have lights but these lights had to be turned off by 8 p.m.
MID-SUMMER 1984: The Cubs, network TV executives, and Iowa-based Musco Mobile Lighting held behind-the-scenes talks about erecting portable lights at Wrigley for potential playoff games. Nothing came of the talks.
AUGUST 1984: MLB announced that the Cubs would lose home-field advantage in the World Series, if they got that far. Under the typical AL-NL rotation, the NL club was to host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 of the World Series. Without lights, however, network TV commitments would force Game 1 from Wrigley Field to the AL home park. In subsequent years, the Cubs explored the possibilities of playing night World Series games at Comiskey Park and St. Louis' Busch Stadium. Without lights, baseball owners feared a loss of $700,000 per club for lost television revenue if World Series games would be played in the daylight.
In later years, Green would claim the Cubs lost the home-field advantage in the NL playoffs -- but they didn't. The Eastern Division Phillies had home-field advantage in 1983, which meant the Western Division-winning Padres were scheduled for the home field in 1984.
DEC. 19, 1984: The Cubs take the light fight to Cook County Circuit Court, filing a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Thompson that would seek an injunction to prevent the city and state from enforcing laws that block night baseball.
MARCH 25, 1985: Circuit Court Judge Richard L. Curry rules to uphold prohibitions against night baseball. Curry criticized Cubs management and Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who had threatened to deny the Cubs future postseason games at Wrigley Field if lights were not installed.
"On the basis of an alleged necessity to play championship games at night, they ask for a reversal of the status quo which has existed at this ballpark for 70 years," Curry wrote in his ruling.
JUNE 30, 1985: A Cubs spokesman said the team has given up trying to persuade the General Assembly to allow night games at Wrigley Field. "The lights issue is dead," the spokesman said. The team considered moving out of Wrigley FiIeld.
JULY 19, 1985: In a letter to season-ticket holders, Green announced the Cubs would not be able to use Wrigley Field in 1985 for playoff games "because of a light situation at Wrigley Field."
Alderman Jerome C. Orbach scoffed at Green's letter, saying the Cubs could use temporary lights at the park, which was in Orbach's ward, for postseason games.
FEB. 6, 1987: Legislation that would allow night games at Wrigley was introduced in Springfield, Ill.
JULY 2, 1987: Chicago Mayor Harold Washington gave his strongest support to date on the lights issue, saying regular-season night games "seems within the realm of fairness."
NOV. 13, 1987: Mayor Washington announced his support of a compromise amendment that would allow 18 night games per year. The amendment appeared to be headed for approval in time for lights to be installed for the 1988 season, but Washington's death less than two weeks later put the light issue on the back burner.
FEB. 25, 1988: With the backing of acting Mayor Eugene Sawyer, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance, 29-19, that the Cubs could play night baseball at Wrigley if they complied with a list of terms. One of those terms was that the Cubs would be limited to 18 night games a season through the year 2002 (eight in 1988). Also, the Cubs would agree to no beer sales after 9:20 p.m. and no organ music after 9:30 p.m.
APRIL 7, 1988: The first helicopter lifted the first of three towers onto the roof along third base. Pre-fabricated steel structures had been brought to the park in trucks the night before.
Helicopter crews began working daily by 8:30 a.m. and finished by 4:00 p.m. There were no lifts on weekends. Most of the project was completed in June and July when the Cubs were on the road. When the Cubs were home, work continued until 10:00 a.m. on game days.
Each of the light towers had two three-foot catwalks, and each tower was fitted with a 3,500-pound bank of lights.
APRIL 26, 1988: All three of the third base light towers were in place.
JUNE 20, 1988: At a press conference at Wrigley Field, the Cubs announced a slate of seven night games for 1988, to be played on Aug. 8, 9, 22 and 23, and Sept. 6, 7 and 20. The games on Sept. 7 and Sept. 20 were scheduled for a 6:35 p.m. start time. The others were 7:05 p.m. games. The Cubs also announced a phone lottery for the remaining 13,000 tickets for the Aug. 8 game.
JUNE 21, 1988: The last of the six light towers was installed -- three each on the third- and first-base sidelines. The wiring for the towers would be completed by mid-July.
JUNE 28, 1988: The Cubs held a ticket lottery for the remaining 13,000 tickets for the first scheduled night game. Over 1.5 million phone calls were recorded during the 3 1/2-hour lottery.
JULY 7, 1988: The auxiliary lighting was tested -- on the scoreboard, flag lights, ramp lights, exterior lights, parking lights -- and it worked.
MID-JULY 1988: The field lighting pattern was tested over a two-day period using a 148 sample matrix.
JULY 25, 1988: The Cubs hosted "Cubs Care" under the lights from 6 to 9 p.m. The club held an informal workout and home run hitting contest featuring Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg. Ken Holtzman and Fergie Jenkins were the pitchers.
AUGUST 1988: WGN Radio and True Value Hardware held a promotion, giving away 500 tickets to the first scheduled night game. They received approximately 400,000 applications.
AUGUST 1988: Resident permit parking was implemented from 4 to 11 p.m. for all night games. About 6,000 parking permits were made available to persons living in the area bounded by Ashland Avenue, Irving Park Road, Lake Shore Drive and Belmont Avenue. Only people with permits were allowed to park on residential streets within this area. Those without permits would be towed and fined $105. Most cars would be towed to a municipal lot at the southwest corner of Belmont and Greenview, where the Department of Streets and Sanitation opened a new towing lot for night game violators.
AUG. 8, 1988: Opening Night at Wrigley Field. At 6:06 p.m., 91-year old Harry Grossman, a Cubs fan since 1905, flipped the switch for the first home night game in team history. Philadelphia's Phil Bradley was the game's first batter with Rick Sutcliffe's first pitch coming at 7:01 p.m. Midway through the fourth, the game was stopped by rain. After a two-hour 10-minute delay, the game was called by home plate umpire Eric Gregg.
AUG. 9, 1988: The first official complete night game at Wrigley Field was played. The Cubs defeated the New York Mets, 6-4. Lenny Dykstra hits the first official homer off Chicago's Mike Bielecki in the fifth inning.
JUNE 18, 2001: At a press conference at Wrigley Field, the Cubs officially announced plans for an $11 million renovation to the ballpark. The Cubs also proposed adding as many as 12 more regular-season night games, raising the total to 30.
Mark McGuire, vice president of business operations for the Cubs, said, "We need additional night games for scheduling flexibility and to improve attendance primarily on spring and fall weekdays when children are in school. We believe night game operations have worked well for the past 13 1/2 seasons and we look forward to discussing our plans with the community." The agreement, which allowed for 18 regular-season night games, expired after the 2002 season.
2003: With the limit of 18 nights per year expired at the end of the 2002 season, but no resolution to the proposed bleachers expansion, the Cubs played 18 home night games.
FEB. 6, 2004: The Cubs and the City of Chicago tentatively agreed on a deal that would allow the Cubs to increase the number of night games at Wrigley from 18 to 30 by 2006. Under the agreement, the Cubs would be able to add four nights per year to the 18 currently allowed by city ordinances.
As night games were added, an equal number of 2:20 p.m. Friday games would be moved to 1:20 p.m. to ease traffic congestion in the area by rush hour. No Friday or Saturday night games would be scheduled, unless required by Major League Baseball.
FEB. 11, 2004: After several years of negotiations, two critical issues in Wrigley Field's future were settled with two unanimous votes by the Chicago City Council. The Council voted to allow the Cubs to phase 12 more night games into their schedule over the next three years -- four additional night games per year added to the existing 18 allowed under the City ordinance. Under the deal, the Cubs would be required to address neighborhood problems, including traffic congestion and litter.
The Council also voted to approve to officially landmark certain parks of the ballpark, including the scoreboard, the exterior brick wall, the ivy and front entrance marquee. The deal officially granted permission for the Cubs to add 200 premium box seats behind home plate. The Cubs had started building the new section of seats a few weeks earlier after the city gave them the go-ahead. The passing of the landmark order gave them the "official" go-ahead.
APRIL 12, 2005: Final details were announced for a Labor Day Weekend Jimmy Buffett concert at Wrigley. Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band would play two shows at Wrigley Field at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4, and 2 p.m. on Sept. 5.
The deal was finalized when the Cubs agreed to play one fewer night game in 2006, stage no concerts that year, and donate, with Buffett, $150,000 to Lake View schools in exchange for the right to hold the concerts. The Cubs would "sacrifice" home night games for the Police concerts in 2007 and for the "Road To Wrigley" Minor League game on July 29, 2008.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.