It Was 25 Years Ago Today...

Al Yellon

The lights went on for baseball at Wrigley Field for the first time on August 8, 1988. That game never made it to five innings, so it's not in the record books. Here's what happened on that night 25 years ago.

For several years in the early and mid 1980s, the Cubs under Tribune Co. ownership had wanted to install lights for night games. After contentious negotiations with the city of Chicago and local neighbors -- shades of what's going on now with the Wrigley restoration project! -- the lights were approved and installed during the spring and early summer of 1988. Seven night games were approved for 1988, with 18 per year to be permitted through 2002.

A guessing game went on among fans -- what game would be chosen? It was assumed that ABC -- then carrying a "Monday Night Baseball" franchise -- would want to televise the game, so sights were set on two dates: July 18 against the Giants and August 8 against the Phillies. Both of those dates quickly sold out; that led to the odd sight, once the 8/8 date was chosen, of an announced crowd of 19,289 at the July 18 game with empty seats scattered everywhere (remember, in 1988 the announced crowd was the actual turnstile count; the National League did not begin to announce tickets-sold totals until 1993).

As it turned out, with the Cubs and Phillies both non-contenders in 1988, ABC didn't choose the 8/8 game, so it was televised, as all games were in those days, on WGN.

1988 was the hottest summer I can remember. A record was set that year with 47 days of 90-plus temperatures; that record still stands. Further, after the end of May, it barely rained at all; the heat and dry weather was worse than we had in 2012.

So it was that August 8 dawned hot and humid; the temperature reached 99 degrees that afternoon, and it was oppressively hot at Wrigley as an estimated 40,000 fans (it would have been the largest crowd of the year) and over 500 credentialed media gathered. But the Cubs and weather forecasters were watching -- obviously, no smartphones existed in 1988 so none of us in the stands could watch -- an ominous thunderstorm cluster forming in northwest Illinois, heading for the Chicago area.

Even though the game was scheduled, as night games are now, for a 7:05 first pitch, the teams and the umpires agreed to start a bit early, so as to try to get an official game (at least) in before the rain hit.

Rick Sutcliffe's first pitch to the Phillies' Phil Bradley was thrown at 6:59. It was deposited into the left-field bleachers; had the game not been rained out, Bradley would have been in the record books as the first player to hit a night-game homer at Wrigley.

In the bottom of the first, Mitch Webster led off with a single. With Ryne Sandberg at the plate, Morganna the Kissing Bandit raced out of the stands and attempted to kiss Sandberg. Cubs security grabbed her and raced her off the field -- I was lucky enough to capture this moment in the photo you see at the top of this post. You can see the bemused looks of Webster, Phillies first baseman Ricky Jordan and Cubs first-base coach Jose Martinez as Morganna is taken away.

Sandberg launched Kevin Gross' next pitch onto Waveland Avenue to give the Cubs a 2-1 lead.

Because this game never made it to official status, you won't find this play-by-play anywhere else. I transcribed it from my scorecard, which I have saved to this day (I have my ticket stub, too; figured I'd keep it as a souvenir of the day instead of turning it in for a refund. Of course, it was easier to do when tickets were $3):

Top 1
Phil Bradley, HR to LF
Milt Thompson, groundout, 5-3
Juan Samuel, flyout, 8
Mike Schmidt, foul popup, 3

Bottom 1
Mitch Webster, single to CF
Ryne Sandberg, HR to LF
Mark Grace, lineout, 3
Andre Dawson, struck out swinging
Rafael Palmeiro, flyout, 8

Top 2
Lance Parrish, groundout, 3 unassisted
Chris James, foul popup, 3
Ricky Jordan, single
Steve Jeltz, single, Jordan to third
Kevin Gross, popup, 6

Bottom 2
Vance Law, foul popup, 3
Damon Berryhill, double to LF
Shawon Dunston, flyout, 8
Rick Sutcliffe, walk. During this AB, Berryhill wild-pitched to third
Webster, groundout, 3

Top 3
Bradley, groundout, 5-3
Thompson, groundout, 5-3
Samuel, double to RF
Schmidt, groundout, 6-3

Bottom 3
Sandberg, walk
Grace, sacrifice, 3 unassisted, Sandberg to second
Dawson, groundout, 5-3, Sandberg to third
Palmeiro, single to RF, Sandberg scored
Palmeiro caught stealing, 2-4

Top 4
Parrish called out on strikes
James, groundout, 1-4-3
Jordan, triple to RF
Jeltz, struck out swinging

As you can see, the Cubs extended their lead to 3-1 in the bottom of the third, and with the wind starting to kick up and the sky getting dark -- partly from sunset, which had occurred at 8 p.m. and partly from the approaching storm -- Steve Jeltz struck out to end the top of the fourth, the game just six outs from being official.

Too late. The rain came, suddenly and hard, with almost no warning or drizzle before the downpour, at about 8:15. The grounds crew had to race to get the field covered, and those of us in the stands were getting drenched. Several fans raced onto the field to do bellyflops on the tarp; so did Cubs players Al Nipper, Les Lancaster, Jody Davis and Greg Maddux. (The fans were arrested; no word on what sort of punishment, if any, went to the Cubs players.)

They waited as long as they thought they could, but with the rain still falling in buckets at 10:25 p.m., the game was called.

And so it was that the first official night game at Wrigley Field, instead of occurring on 8/8/88, was the next day, August 9, 1988 against the Mets, a 6-4 Cubs win. Instead of Phil Bradley's homer being the first night home run at Wrigley, Lenny Dykstra gets that record-book honor when he homered in the fifth inning on August 9 off Mike Bielecki. And instead of Sandberg's blast being the first Cubs home run under the lights at Wrigley, that distinction goes to Damon Berryhill, who homered off the Astros' Mike Scott in the second night game at Wrigley on August 22. (Interesting note: check that boxscore. A skinny kid named Craig Biggio homered off Goose Gossage in the 10th inning that night, his first major-league home run.)

August 8, 1988 was wet at Wrigley, and the only day I can think of since then where a storm even close to as fierce as 8/8/88 hit the ballpark was August 4, 2008, when tornado sirens went off in the area and Lance Berkman was frightened by the thunder and lightning.

It's a sobering thought to me that you'd have to be in your early- or mid-30s now to have any clear memory of Wrigley Field as it was before lights. The Cubs have still played better under sunshine than at night over the 25-year history since night baseball began at Clark & Addison: they are 1022-979 (.511) overall at home since the lights were installed, but better during the day: 759-715 (.515) in home day games, 263-264 (.499) in home night games. (Thanks as always to Ed Hartig for his gracious assistance in compiling those numbers.)

Anyway, I'm glad I went to the non-official game that day 25 years ago; it's a part of the lore and history of the Cubs, and the city of Chicago... and it's hard to believe that a quarter-century has gone by since that first baseball under the lights.

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