- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2005

“God is talking. He doesn’t want night games at Wrigley Field.”

Fan Jim Herrmann,

Aug. 8, 1988

The hue and cry that rose above Chicago’s North Side 17 years ago today seems rather quaint — just like the Cubs’ storied ballyard itself.

Night baseball had been played in the minor leagues since 1930 and the majors since 1935. But for 40 long years, Wrigley was the only big league venue where every game unfolded under what old-timers liked to call “God’s own sunshine.” (Unless it was overcast.)

But all good and bad things come to an end, and so it was that at dusk on Aug.8, 1988, a 91-year-old Cubs fan named Harry Grossman pushed a button at the so-called Friendly Confines and paraphrased the Book of Genesis by crying, “One … two … three … let there be lights!”

The Chicago Tribune, which owned the Cubs, described the scene this way: “There was a sickly peach color that slowly began to grow green and then bright as 110,000 watts of floodlights swelled into full power (revealing the fourth-place Cubs and fifth-place Philadelphia Phillies in all their lack of glory).

Presumably legions of traditionalists on the scene then gnashed their teeth and rended their garments before settling down to watch the ballgame after Cubs Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Billy Williams made ceremonial first tosses.

Harry Caray, the Cubs’ legendary broadcaster, refused to exclaim “Holy Cow!” as he so often did on the air. “I don’t know why this is history,” he said. “We’ve had night baseball for a long time.”

But traditions die harder in baseball than in any other sport. For years, a neighborhood group calling itself “CUBS” — Citizens United for Baseball in the Sunshine — had explored every legal angle to keep arc lights out of Wrigley.

Because the ballpark is located in a residential area called (surprise!) Wrigleyville, many feared night games and the resulting traffic jams would destroy their peace and quiet. But when the City Council voted in February to allow eight night games at Wrigley during the 1988 season, the fight was over.

Not to worry. This season the Cubs are playing 24 of their 81 home games at night — the smallest number of any club — and Wrigleyville still thrives. But there have been no scenes as frenzied as those at the first nocturnal contest — which came after 6,852 afternoon affairs for the Cubs at the 74-year-old park.

Cubs right-hander Rick Sutcliffe threw the game’s opening pitch, the first of his two appearances in historic contests. Four seasons later, in 1992, he won the first game played by the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

“I didn’t know where that pitch went,” he said later. “I never saw it. It seemed like 40,000 flash bulbs went off, and the whole stadium lit up.”

Unfortunately, Sutcliffe got a good look at his fourth pitch as Phillies leadoff man Phil Bradley — who also turned up later with the Orioles — smacked it out of Wrigley.

Of course, the home run and all other stats vanished when the game was rained out. Afterward, Sutcliffe suggested divine intervention might have been responsible for the downpour, saying, “Wrigley Field has always been known for sunshine and day baseball. It was just like the Good Lord said, ‘I’m going to show you.’”

His manager had no such regrets. “It was beautiful — the lights were great,” Don Zimmer said. “This was the first night game in Wrigley Field.”

Whatever that meant.

The game started at 8 o’clock. At 9:15, the skies opened in the bottom of the fourth inning with the Cubs leading 3-1, and play was halted. After a delay of two hours and 10 minutes, the game was called — turning the next evening’s date with the New York Mets into the official first night game at Wrigley. The Cubs won that one 6-4.

With many of the 39,000 spectators bored, tipsy or both, the long rain delay wasn’t as mundane as usual. At one point, about a dozen fans ran onto the field, and some took turns sliding on the wet tarpaulin before being escorted off by stadium security.

Obviously inspired, Cubs players Greg Maddux, Al “Little Dog” Nipper, Jody Davis and Les Lancaster emerged from the dugout and followed suit. Understandably, the rental cops did not interfere this time.

Earlier, in the first inning, Morganna, baseball’s notorious “Kissing Bandit,” bounced and flounced onto the field and toward Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg after he hit a two-run homer. She was apprehended before she could reach him and pucker up.

Fun and games — even, as it turned out, without a game.

“As far as we’re concerned, we saw the first night game [even though it was rained out],” Gerri Williams said. “They can call it official, unofficial, whatever, It won’t be the same tomorrow night.”

Fellow fan John Meervaum, who paid $200 for a pair of bleacher seats, agreed. “I think it was great, wonderful.” he said. “I saw everything I wanted to see, and everybody had a great time.”

Said 16-year-old Brian Lustig: “This is bigger than the World Series [which the Cubs haven’t won since 1908 and haven’t reached since 1945].”

Jim Rabe went him one better: “It was bigger than anything.”

Bob Weinberg had the hairiest description: “This is like seeing a moustache on the Mona Lisa — very bizarre.

But probably the most common reaction of those on the eerie, soggy scene was voiced by Lynn Heintz.

“A hundred and twenty dollars for a ticket and we get three [full] innings,” she said. “That was good enough for me.”

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