Recently, Cubs President of Baseball Operations Crane Kenney went on record as saying he’d like to increase the number of night games at Wrigley Field so they’re closer to the major-league average of 54. The city of Chicago quickly quashed that notion, but Friday, manager Joe Maddon joined the chorus, saying that maybe the day-game-heavy schedule contributed to the World Series drought:
He also brushed off the notion that the Cubs' opponents are at any sort of disadvantage by coming into Chicago and playing more day games than normal.
"They're only here for a couple days," Maddon said. "They get through it and they move back to a normal schedule. I think 107 years indicates that it wasn't such a good idea."
It wasn't exactly a mic drop, but Maddon laughed and walked out of the room, figuring nothing else needed to be added.
Let’s examine this in more detail. First, while night games were first played in MLB in 1935, the vast majority of games were played during the day until well into the 1950s. Thus I think you can eliminate that as an excuse for the Cubs’ pennant winners from 1945 and earlier who didn’t win the World Series. That knocks 37 years off that number.
Second, the all-day-game schedule didn’t prevent the 1984 Cubs from winning 51 games at Wrigley Field and having the best record in the National League. It wasn’t the day games that kept the ‘84 Cubs from winning the World Series.
In 1969, many Cubs (particularly Ron Santo) claimed the day-game schedule hurt the team. It might have, but only because the team had no good bench players who could have given the regulars a rest from time to time. Leo Durocher played those regulars until they just couldn’t do it anymore. That might have happened even if that team had been able to play night games from time to time at home.
Having said all this, Maddon does have a valid point, which he made earlier in Friday’s discussion:
"We just play too many day games during the week," Maddon said. "We just do. I'm just being honest. Guys need their rest. When you're constantly going night-day or day-day-day and it's hot during the summertime, it matters."
Maddon is all about rest for his players, as evidenced by how cautious he's been of them during his time here in Chicago. He routinely is monitoring players' off-days and workloads and as a result, the Cubs have seen strong results in August and September (and in the postseason) over the last few seasons.
This is absolutely correct. The Cubs took batting practice on only two of the four games so far on this homestand and I think you’ll be seeing more of that as the summer goes on. Maddon went on to say:
"It'd be wonderful if we could get to a more conventional method regarding number of night games vs. day games," Maddon said. "If not, then we'll just have to deal with it. We did OK last year. Moving forward, when you're able to just come to the ballpark a little bit later, get your proper rest and then just be a human being. Get your laundry done, go shopping, get your hair cut. All those things. Seriously.
"For me, I'd love to just see day games on Saturdays and Sundays only. I don't mind the getaway weekday game as being a day game and I don't mind the holidays, but I think this constantly having to get up and rush to the ballpark and not having a normal method during the course of the day because then you go on the road and it's entirely differente."
One thing that Maddon asked the business side to do was to stop having so many different starting times, to at least try to be more consistent with 1:20 p.m. day games and 7:05 p.m. night games (instead of having noon starts or 3:05 p.m. starts as had been the case in past years). That’s been done and I do believe it helps the team out. Of course, there are other starting times mandated by national TV contracts and all teams are affected by those.
This is the 30th season of night games at Wrigley Field — next summer will be the 30th anniversary of the first game under lights there. You’d have to be in your late 30s or older to have any real concrete memory of the all-day-game schedule. It was enjoyable, a trip back into a different time, and the tradition of having some day games during the week has been a Wrigley Field attraction. Many of those weekday games draw more fans than a comparable weeknight game. It’s a fine throwback to baseball days of the past, but it is no longer realistic for the way the modern game is structured.
The issue of player fatigue and needed rest is a valid one. The physical demands on players in modern baseball are far greater than they used to be, and teams are beginning to acknowledge that. For example, many teams now play their Saturday night games at 6 p.m. local time before a Sunday 1 p.m. game, in order to give their players more rest for that night-to-day turnaround. Former Cubs manager Dusty Baker concurs:
Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who managed the Cubs four years, agreed with Maddon on the need for more night games.
"It's hard to get extra work," he said. "I'd love more night games (at Wrigley). That's why they put up lights."
The Cubs have proven they can be good neighbors while having night baseball games and other night events at the ballpark. They’ve put money into having extra security and police protection for those events, and paid for neighborhood cleanup. It’s just pigheadedness, in my opinion, for Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) to continue their opposition to the Cubs’ request for more night games.
It’s 2017, Mayor Emanuel and Ald. Tunney. Major League Baseball is vastly different now than it used to be. The Cubs are an economic driver of the Lakeview community and indeed, the entire North Side of Chicago. Let them join the 21st Century so they can compete on equal footing with the 29 other clubs by playing the same number of night games as everyone else. It’s past time.