On This Date in Sports August 8, 1988
In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
After more than 70 years, Wrigley Field turns on the lights for the first time as the Chicago Cubs host the Philadelphia Phillies. A 91-year-old fan Harry Grossman turns on the lights in a pregame ceremony. Phil Bradley led off with a home run, as the Cubs rallied to take a 3-1 lead before rain halted the game in the fourth inning washing away the game.
Wrigley Field on the Northside of Chicago opened in 1914 as Weegham Park, home to the Chicago Whales of the Federal League. After the Federal League folded, the Cubs took ownership of the stadium and have played their ever since 1916. The stadium was renamed Cubs Park and eventually became Wrigley Field in 1926. Ivy was planted in the brick outfield walls in 1937 at the suggestion of team President Bill Veeck. The Ivy covered walls would become the signature feature at Wrigley Field.
After Crosley Field in Cincinnati hosted the first night game in 1935, teams began installing light across the majors. The Cubs planned to add lights for the 1942 season, but after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Owner P.K. Wrigley donated the lights to the war effort. After the war, there no movement to add lights to Wrigley Field, leaving the Cubs as the only team to not play night baseball at home. This became a blessing and a curse for the Cubs, as it helped make Wrigley Field a special place but hurt the Cubs in their efforts to build a winning team. In 1984, when the Cubs won their first division title, the lack of lights became an issue as the networks wanted the World Series played at night. There was a discussion of moving any potential Cubs World Series game to Busch Stadium in St. Louis or making the Cubs play the middle three games, losing home field if they had won the NLCS. The Cubs would end up losing the series in five games after winning the first two games at home, but the threat of losing home playoff games was the spark that led the Cubs to begin exploring the addition of lights.
One reason that lights were never added to Wrigley Field, as that the people who lived near the stadium were opposed to night games, fearing the brightness of the lights and the crowd noise would hurt property values. When the Cubs began exploring the addition of lights, they had to get these hurdles out of the way. As the debate raged on the MLB dangled a carrot for Chicago, allowing Wrigley Field to host an All-Star Game soon after lights were installed. The Cubs even began threatening to build a new ballpark, if they were not allowed to add lights. Finally, a compromise was established limiting the number of night games the Cubs could play in a season as they were given the right to host the 1990 All-Star Game. Still, people were unhappy and protested as the Cubs prepared to turn on the lights.
The Cubs held a public workout under lights to get a feel drawing a sellout crowd when the night finally came Wrigley Field was packed with celebrities, press, and baseball dignitaries despite both the Cubs managed by Don Zimmer and Phillies led by Lee Elia, being far out in the playoff chase. Elia had once managed the Cubs and ripped the fans who did not have jobs and could come out for day baseball. A 91-year-old fan named Harry Grossman, who attended his first game in 1906, hit a button that turned on the lights. The Cubs with a record of 53-56 had their Rick Sutcliffe on the mound, while the Phillies at 48-62 had Kevin Gross making the start. The Phillies did not take long to get the first run as Phil Bradley on the third pitch of the game hit a home run. Mitch Webster led off the bottom of the inning with a single as Chicago looked to strike back quickly. Next batter was Ryne Sandberg, but before he could step into the box there was a commotion as Morgana the kissing bandit came on to the field looking to give a peck to the Cubs second baseman. However, the big bosomed fan who famously ran on the field kissing baseball players for more than two decades was stopped by security. Sandberg than proceeded to hit a two-run shot to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead. Each side wasted a chance to score in the second as the skies began to turn ominous, as a hot day in Chicago had led to the threat of thunderstorms. In the third inning, Sandberg sparked another Cubs rally with a leadoff walk as he scored on an RBI single from Rafael Palmeiro after a steal of second and advancing to third on a bunt by Mark Grace. Sutcliffe was settling in meanwhile and retired the Phillies in order in the fourth. However, before the Cubs came to bat the skies opened leading to a rain delay. As the night wore on and the rain continued, four Cubs Les Lancaster, Jody Davis, Al Nipper and Greg Maddux began using the tarp covering the infield as a slip in slide. This amused their teammates and the Phillies, but not Don Zimmer who fined each player $500. Eventually, the umpires made the decision to call the game, wiping out all the stats, as somebody up above apparently did not approve of the Cubs playing a night.
With the rainout, the Cubs first official night game would be played the following day in a Nationally Televised game on NBC against the first place New York Mets. The Cubs had Mike Bielecki on the mound, while Sid Fernandez got the start for Davey Johnson and the Mets. The two pitchers were in control early as neither team scored in the first four innings. In the fifth inning, the Mets scored first as Wally Backman led off with a single and scored in front of Lenny Dykstra’s home run that was the first official night home run at Wrigley Field. The Cubs got a run back in the bottom of the inning on a triple by Rafael Palmeiro. They would tie the game an inning later as Shawon Dunston singled, stole second and later scored on a grounder by Andre Dawson. While Frank Dipino silenced the Mets bats, the Cubs took the lead after the seventh inning stretch as Jody Davis got an RBI double with two outs to knock Fernandez out of the game. Roger McDowell came in relief but failed to get an out as Dunston, Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Dawson all singled to make it 6-2. Terry Leach came on and retired Vance Law end the inning. The Mets got a run back in the eighth as Howard Johnson homered off Pat Perry. In the ninth, the Mets tried to rally as Gary Carter who was in the middle of a frustrating three-month drought looking for his 300th career home run led off with a double against Goose Gossage. Dave Magadan followed with an RBI single, but Tim Teufel and Lee Mazzilli popped up, while Dykstra grounded out to end the game a 6-4 Cubs win.