It's going to start next week. What is "it"? The proposals made by the Cubs for changes in and around Wrigley Field are going to begin to be placed before the Chicago City Council for approval.
First up: an increase in the number of night games:
If the City Council agrees to raise the night-game ceiling from 3O to 4O, the Cubs have agreed to schedule just 35 of those dates and hold five in reserve for night games dictated by Major League Baseball or its national television contract. If MLB dictates more than five night games a season, the Cubs want the City Council -- or the corporation counsel if time is too short -- to authorize it without "counting" those games against the 4O-game ceiling. Playoff games, re-scheduled games or the All-Star Game would not count, either. All of that is in addition to four concerts-per-season and six 3:O5 p.m. starts on Friday afternoons.
Naturally, the neighborhood groups around Wrigley Field are speaking out in opposition:
Will DeMille, president of the Lakeview Citizens Council, said Friday he’s is holding to the organization's demand of no more than 37 "night events" per season -- including concerts and 3:O5 p.m. starts -- with a maximum of 4O when MLB broadcasts and re-scheduled games are factored in.
And here's a voice that I've criticized in the past:
Jill Peters, president of the Southport Neighbors Association, has also demanded a reduction. “As far as we’re concerned, 3:O5 p.m. starts should also be included in the 4O. They end at the height of the rush-hour as people are trying to get into and out of their neighborhoods. It’s gonna prevent them from doing that,” Peters said. “The earlier time for Friday day games was a concession for the 12 additional night games given to the Cubs in 2OO4 so it wouldn’t impact the rush-hour commute. Now, we’re having to give that up, as well. It will have a tremendously detrimental effect.”
Here's a point I want to examine in greater detail. It was actually 2002 when the Cubs were granted their increase from the original 18 night games (agreed to when the lights were constructed in 1988) to 30, but according to schedules I consulted, they continued to play some Friday afternoon games at 2:20 through 2004. The schedules also indicate they began the 2:20 Friday dates in 1991; before that I can recall a couple of what they then termed "experimental" 3:05 weekday afternoon starts in the mid-1980s, before the lights were installed.
I've disagreed with Peters before, but on this topic I will agree with her. 3:05 games really help no one; players dislike playing with the shadows coming across the infield (which they would mid-game for a 3:05 start even on the latest-sunset days of summer) and having fans stream out of Wrigley around 6 p.m. on a Friday is just not a good idea.
What I'd like to see the Cubs focus on instead is asking for two or three Friday night home games coming off road trips. This would be far more beneficial to the team than a 3:05 start, and they could continue the 1:20 starting time on other home Fridays. Perhaps this is something the city and the team could work out as a compromise for some of the things the neighborhood doesn't want. In general, I support the Cubs' request for 40 night games, with a handful more added for national television purposes. Most teams play about two-thirds of their home schedule at night, somewhere around 50-55 games (depending on the team); 40 would still be fewer, but close enough to accomplish two things:
- Playing essentially the same game-time schedule as other teams, and
- Preserving some of the historic value of day games at Wrigley by having about half the schedule during the day.
To give you concrete examples of how a handful of Friday night home games would help the Cubs, let's look at this year's schedule. There are xx Fridays when the Cubs are coming home directly off a Thursday road game:
- June 21 vs. Astros; Cubs play a night game in St. Louis June 20
- July 5 vs. Pirates; Cubs play a day game in Oakland July 4
- September 20 vs. Braves; Cubs play a day game in Milwaukee September 19
All the other homestands this year either begin after an off day or with a night game following a Sunday road game. By major-league rules, the schedulers can have the Cubs play those Friday home games after playing in Milwaukee or St. Louis because it's less than a two-hour flight. The September date above isn't too taxing, because the team will simply bus home after facing the Brewers at Miller Park and should be home at a reasonable hour. But the June 20 night game in St. Louis requires a flight, even though it's a short one, and even with a fairly quick game, the Cubs would not land until around midnight, then have to get home before the quick turnaround to a day game June 21. The same situation exists with the game in Oakland July 4; that game's likely to end around 6 p.m CT, and with a four-hour flight to Chicago from the Bay Area, again, the Cubs are likely landing at midnight.
All of those situations would be alleviated if those three home games could be played on Friday night. I have checked schedules for previous recent seasons and three is about the maximum number of times this situation comes up per year. I can't imagine it would be too difficult for area residents or business owners to have three Fridays -- out of 52 Fridays per calendar year -- with the Cubs playing at Wrigley at night.
So that's what I would do if I were in a Cubs management position -- offer to reduce the number of night games requested, in return for that Friday night scheduling break. That's what's called "compromise", which seems to be a lost art in the early 21st Century.
The Cubs also released Friday a new rendering of the entrance to "Cubs Plaza", which you see at the top of this post. This is the pedestrian bridge the team is proposing over Clark Street, which would connect the proposed hotel on the west side to Wrigley Field on the east. I think it looks pretty good, actually, and would fit in well with the other proposed buildings in the area and the restoration of Wrigley Field.