A Day In Wrigley Field History: January 20, 1942

Courtesy Mike Bojanowski

On this day, a decision was revealed that would affect Cubs history for decades to come.

You all likely know the story, often told, that P.K. Wrigley was ready to install lights at Wrigley Field for the 1942 season, only to donate the steel for the light towers to the United States' war effort in World War II after the Pearl Harbor attacks.

January 20, 1942 was the date this decision was revealed, as reported by Irving Vaughn in the Tribune, along with a proposal you probably didn't know about:

The Cubs may play night baseball "at home" next season, but their home for such events would be Comiskey park, domicile of the White Sox. This scheme, as yet in the infant stage, was unfolded yesterday by James Gallagher, Cubs' general manager, who at the same time revealed that contracts had been let for a Wrigley field lighting plant, but the rights to the material had been waived in behalf of national defense. 

In making the announcement Gallagher explained that it grieved him to think of moving away from Wrigley field even for a few games, in fact, that he is not a night baseball addict, but that if President Roosevelt, as indicated by his letter to Commissioner K.M. Landis, favors expansion of the after-dinner program during the war period, the Cubs are more than eager to join the parade.

The Wrigley field lighting plant on which preliminary work had been done, was to have cost approximately $155,000 and was to have been completed by next April. Specifications called for 165 tons of steel, 35,000 feet of copper wire, and 800 aluminum reflectors. The lights were to be clustered on six towers, two in the outfield and the others in the grandstand.

Just imagine how that might have looked -- far different than the light standards that were eventually constructed in 1988. Taking out the inflation calculator again, we learn that $155,000 in 1942 is the rough equivalent of $2.2 million today.

To explain further the "expansion" mentioned above, in 1941 there had been a limit of seven night games per team. Night games were seen as a "novelty" and no one thought they would become a staple of baseball as they are in 2013. The expansion was to give 14 per team (21 in Washington, likely due to the larger number of people there connected with war work). Negotiations went on between the Cubs and White Sox until March, when the teams and the American and National Leagues issued this joint statement:

Our city is divided into sections, and there is as much rivalry between the north side and south side of Chicago, in fact more than there is, for instance, than between Chicago and New York, and inasmuch as rivalry and competition is the spirit of baseball, managements agree that it would be better not to use the same ball park, even for a limited number of night games.

In fact, this is an agreement to disagree, and the rivalry between the two clubs will continue not only between the teams themselves but on the part of the managements, each to cater to their own fans and do the very best they can for them.

Just 24 years earlier, of course, the Cubs had played World Series games at Comiskey Park due to its larger capacity. But times change.

The Cubs still considered putting in lights, even temporary ones, as late as March 21, according to interview with P.K. Wrigley published in the Tribune:

"We anticipated the installation of a modern lighting plant as far back as a year ago," Mr. Wrigley said. "Our intention then was to make it the finest of its kind, but the war situation naturally made it difficult to obtain materials and we abandoned the plan temporarily. The stories that we were opposed to night baseball, because it would destroy the beauty of the park for daytime baseball are without foundation. It's our job to give the fans what they want, and if we find they want night baseball, they'll have it.

"The entire national picture in relation to sports may shift to such an extent in the case of work hours that night baseball may yet become a demand. As yet I can't see the night side of the game as a wartime measure. I was raised to regard baseball as an outdoor, daylight game where you went out and bought a bag of popcorn and absorbed fresh air and sunshine."

Mr. Wrigley then pointed out that a supply of lumber for light standards is already en route here, and that transformers and lights also are available for immediate use.

"Eight 120 foot poles are on the way from Oregon now, for use in the outfield. The battery of lights directed at the Wrigley building, which were removed from their place on the southeast corner of the Michigan avenue bridge, would be used in lighting the park. They're 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."

But this never happened. James Gallagher had been quoted as saying the Cubs might try to play "twilight" games, starting at 6 p.m., when days were at their longest in June and daylight saving time was in effect. This did, in fact, happen once, in 1943 -- I wrote about this a year ago in the "Game From Cubs History" series.

Why didn't night baseball happen at Wrigley in 1942, after P.K. Wrigley strongly hinted it would? The only clue is this un-bylined article from the Tribune dated June 1, 1942:

The Cubs are going to let their 1942 night baseball idea die a natural death. Last March, owner P.K. Wrigley admitted it might be attempted by assembling a batch of bulbs from his other holdings and erecting them on wooden poles until such time as completely new equipment could be obtained.

Which didn't happen until long after Wrigley had passed away and his family sold the team. What would have happened if Wrigley Field had lights in the 1940s? Very possibly, the residential character of the neighborhood might have changed; with cars becoming more plentiful after World War II, perhaps some of the buildings which now line Waveland and Sheffield would have been demolished for parking lots -- that was happening all over Chicago in that era.

It would have been a very different future life for the Cubs franchise and Cubs fans if P.K. Wrigley had made the decision to go ahead with lights in 1942.

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