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Oh! The Suspense! A History Of Wrigley Field Suspended Games

Today will mark the 23rd suspended and resumed game in Wrigley Field history. Here are details of some of the more memorable among the previous 22.

Wrigley Field as it appeared in 1969
Wrigley Field as it appeared in 1969
Diamond Images/Getty Images
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2011 Cubs Maple Street Press Annual; I thought it would be interesting to have a look back at Wrigley's suspended-game history as we prepare to play another such game this afternoon.

For most of Wrigley Field’s lightless history, games that were called for darkness were simply stopped and the score at the time recorded – most memorably so, on Opening Day, April 12, 1965. That afternoon, a four-hour, nineteen-minute game that had its first pitch at 1:37 p.m. was called at 5:56 p.m., tied 10-10 after 11 innings. In 1965, Daylight Saving time didn’t begin until the end of April, and sunset in Chicago on that date was 6:28 p.m. When the umpires decided it was too dark to continue, it was put into the books as a tie. In those days the Cubs generally had one or two such games every year, since there was no suspended game rule that applied to Wrigley Field at the time. Other games ended by darkness simply were declared wins or losses based on the score in effect when the sun went down.

It wasn’t until 1969 that a game called for darkness caused such an uproar that the National League agreed to have all such games suspended. On Sunday, June 22, 1969, the second game of a doubleheader with the Expos was stopped after six innings, with the Cubs behind 5-4. The time of day was 6:25 p.m. June 22 is just after the summer solstice; it’s nearly the longest day of the year and sunset in Chicago on that date was 8:29 p.m., more than two hours later. Several Cubs players, according to the Chicago Tribune recap of the game, were very upset when the game was called. Billy Williams was emphatic:

"I wasn’t having any trouble seeing the ball," said the usually mild mannered Williams, who was steaming at the umpires’ decision. "I only had trouble hitting it."

And a Cubs backup catcher made a comment that turned out to be prescient:

"It’s a lousy rule in the first place," offered Gene Oliver. "They ought to suspend these games. That’s a sin to call this game when we had nine outs left."

Oliver got his wish. The Cubs complained to the National League office, and three days later team owners changed the rule. Second games of doubleheaders that were called for darkness would now be suspended and completed before the next single game between the two clubs involved, as long as the game had been played long enough to become official. Later, this rule was amended to provide that any game at Wrigley Field, not just the second game of a doubleheader, could be suspended.

It didn’t help the 1969 Cubs, but between 1971 and 1988, when the lights installed at Wrigley Field made the issue moot, the Cubs played 22 home games that were suspended for darkness. Despite their 1969 complaints, they might as well have not bothered – the Cubs were 6-14-2 in those games. You might wonder why there were two tie games, given the fact that part of the reason for this special rule was to avoid ties. Both of those games had special circumstances; here are some of the most memorable suspended games at Wrigley Field.

Forever And A Day

Two of Wrigley’s longest games were the result of the suspended game rules. On May 10, 1979, a game with the Reds was suspended after nine innings with the score tied 7-7. The game was resumed on July 23. The teams played nine more innings; both teams scored a run in the 11th and the Cubs won 9-8 in 18.

A game against the Dodgers on August 17, 1982 was suspended after 17 innings with the score tied 1-1. In that game, no one had scored after the Dodgers tied the game 1-1 in the top of the second. It was resumed the next day, and in the top of the 21st inning, plate umpire Eric Gregg ruled Steve Sax safe on a close play at the plate. Replays showed he was probably out. In this game, the Dodgers ran out of outfielders and used pitchers Bob Welch and Fernando Valenzuela in the outfield, rotating them between left field and right field depending on which side of the plate the batter was hitting from. (Irony: the real Dodger outfielder who switched back and forth with the pitchers was future Cubs manager Dusty Baker.) This remains the longest game by innings (21) in the history of Wrigley Field.

Ties For The Record

On September 8, 1985, the Reds were at Wrigley Field and according to current research that has discovered discrepancies in Ty Cobb’s hit total, it was the day Pete Rose really broke Cobb’s hits record with his 4,190th career hit. Officially, it is still the day that Rose tied the record. The day began hot and humid with temperatures in the upper 80s. A tremendous thunderstorm blew through; the game was delayed two hours, and when it resumed, the temperature had dropped into the upper 50s. Eventually the game was suspended for darkness after nine innings, tied 5-5. At the time, the Reds were eight games out of first place and marginally in contention. The National League announced that if the resumption were necessary for playoff consideration, it would be resumed the day after the regular season ended. When the Reds were mathematically eliminated, the game went into the books – Rose tied Ty in a tie.

The other suspended Cubs game that resulted in a tie occurred thanks to labor strife in baseball. On April 29, 1981, the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals was suspended at 5:50 p.m. due to darkness on a very cold, windy and rainy day with the score tied 2-2 after 11 innings. It was supposed to be resumed at noon July 3, which was the date of the next scheduled game between the Cubs and the Cardinals at Wrigley Field that year. On that date the players were on strike. The next possible resumption date was September 21, the first game of a scheduled two-game series between the two teams in Chicago. On September 8, the National League cancelled the resumption of the game due to disagreements and confusion over which half of the split season the result would count in, and the game was declared a tie.

Cliff Johnson’s Day For The Books

According to the record book, which considers all stats for suspended games as occurring on the date the game started, Cliff Johnson had a remarkable day on May 28, 1980. Johnson, a journeyman pinch hitter extraordinaire, began the day as a member of the Indians with a single against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, and ended his day as a Cub with a grand slam.

The Cubs game against the Expos on May 28 was suspended with the score tied 3-3 at the end of the 10th inning. Johnson, who had been traded to the Cubs on June 23, finished the game on August 8, 1980 with a walkoff slam in the 14th.

Arrested Development

In 1986, two memorable debuts took place at Wrigley during suspended games.

On April 20, 1986 a game with the Pirates was suspended after the 13th inning with the score tied 8-8. When the game resumed on August 11, Barry Bonds, who had been in the minor leagues on April 20, entered the game – and essentially had a chance to redo his first official major league at-bat for the sake of posterity. His actual debut on May 30 had included three strikeouts in an 0-for-5 showing. But he made the most of his second chance at his first chance, and drove in the game-winning run with a single in the top of the 17th.

Greg Maddux also made his major league debut in a suspended game. On September 2, 1986, a game against the Astros started by Jamie Moyer and Nolan Ryan was suspended after the 14th inning with the score tied 4-4. It was resumed the next day. In the 17th inning future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux made his premiere in a Cubs uniform – as a pinch runner for Jody Davis. After he was stranded at second base, Maddux remained in the game to pitch and gave up a solo home run to former Cub Billy Hatcher, which was the difference in an 8-7, 18-inning Houston win.

Cubs "Home" Night Games Pre-1988

If someone told you that the Cubs were the home team in a game played under artificial light before 1988, he or she would be right. How could this be? Read on, and you could win yourself a trivia contest.

The first suspended game at Wrigley Field occurred on August 11, 1966. It was an otherwise routine and meaningless second game of a doubleheader between the eighth-place Houston Astros and the tenth-place Cubs that had been made necessary by a rainout the previous day.

The teams had agreed before the doubleheader started that no inning would begin after 5:30 p.m., since both teams had to fly to the West Coast for games the following day.

Play began at noon and the Cubs took 11 innings to defeat the Astros in the first game, 9-8, in a game that took two hours and 49 minutes to complete. (Historical oddity: Randy Hundley hit for the cycle in that first game; only three other Cubs, Ivan DeJesus in 1980, Andre Dawson in 1987 and Mark Grace in 1993, have matched that feat in the 48 years since Hundley’s cycle.) Thus, the second game didn’t begin until about 3:15 p.m., necessitating its suspension with Houston leading 8-5 after seven innings. Since it was the Astros’ final game in Chicago in 1966, it was scheduled to be completed in Houston on August 26, the Cubs’ next visit to the Astrodome, which caused the Tribune’s Edward Prell to note:

Technically, the Cubs will be the home team and this may create a tricky sports question of the future when a smarty will bet that the Cubs played under the lights at home.

The Cubs wound up losing that game by the same 9-8 score, despite scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth and having the tying run on second base with one out.

A similar scenario played out on July 20, 1978, when a game was suspended in the eighth inning at Wrigley with the Giants leading the Cubs 9-8. Since it was the last scheduled game between the Giants and Cubs in Chicago that year, it was suspended and finished in San Francisco eight days later, with the Cubs the "home" team, as they had been in Houston 12 years earlier, also prior to a regularly scheduled night game. Once again, the Cubs had the tying run on second with one out, but failed to bring him in and lost yet another game 9-8.

The last two suspended games at Wrigley Field before today occurred on consecutive days: July 9 and 10, 1987 against the Dodgers. The July 9 game, suspended in the sixth inning with the Cubs leading 12-5, was completed on July 10. That was a Friday afternoon; in those days the Cubs began Friday games at 3:05 p.m. The Cubs tied the game with one out in the ninth inning and Manny Trillo was thrown out at the plate trying to score the winning run just as a heavy thunderstorm started drenching Wrigley Field. After a two-hour rain delay, the umpires ruled the field was in poor condition and it was too dark to continue, and both managers agreed to waive a MLB rule that stated the game actually had to be in progress to be suspended. The Tribune quoted Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda:

"I didn't have to agree with it, but the field isn't playable," said Lasorda. "I told the guys to warm up, throw one pitch, and he could call it. He (umpire Bob Engel) asks you, but you really have no choice."

Players complained about the late starting time:

"I don't think they should start games at 3:05. What happens if we play six innings again? We get suspended again," said Dodgers shortstop Mariano Duncan.

That game was resumed at 1:35 on July 11, before yet another scheduled 3:05 p.m. start; the Dodgers won the suspended game in the 10th inning, and the Cubs won the regularly scheduled July 11 game 7-0 without need for further suspension, making the July 10, 1987 game the final suspended game at Wrigley Field due to lack of lights. The following year, after lights were installed, the Cubs agreed to give up 3:05 p.m. starts in favor of night games, although they have since brought back games starting at that time with changes in the night-game ordinance.

The most recent chapter in the history of suspended games at Wrigley Field before today was written on July 16, 1988, even though there was no game actually suspended that day. That date was after the lights had been installed and tested, but about three weeks before the first scheduled night game. There was a long rain delay in the top of the ninth of a Cubs/Dodgers game with the score tied 2-2. The weather began to clear, but it was getting toward early evening and Cubs management did not want the umpires to order the lights -- which had been certified for game use -- turned on before the first "official" night game, so they prevailed on the umpires to call the game because of the rain. The game was declared a tie and made up as a new game, not a suspended game, as part of a doubleheader the next day.